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How I Found Body Positivity After Trauma

Kristen McCallum

If someone had told me years ago that I’d ever use the words "body" and "positive" in the same sentence, I wouldn’t have believed it. I mean, this body has been through many years of abuse and degradation so I’d became a prisoner to my defenses. I saw safety in maintaining a cloak of invisibility and had mastered the ability to shrink myself whenever possible—what was confidence?

Somewhere on the right path of navigating my trauma and reshaping my relationship with my body, I went all the way left. I’d replaced invisibility with deficiency and began obsessing over ways to make squares fit into circles. I spent so much time striving to lose this Caribbean tummy pouch for a specific bathing suit, planning to go on a date when I fit the "skinny" jean reveal, and really just wishing it was easier or cheaper to get a "nice" body. For a long time, this was my idea of self-care, because taking steps to become "better" is taking care of myself, no?

Not like that, no.


The concept and subsequent privilege of self-care had been foreign to me as a queer black woman moving through life in survival mode. It always seemed so luxurious to "self-center" and it didn’t help that self-care has historically been presented as inaccessible to people of color because of what it would "cost." In the earlier days, posters in a therapy office would show a group  of women drinking champagne at the spa or men giving high-fives on the golf-course and read "Leave the kids with the nanny today, it’s you time!"

I couldn’t relate.

I had barely seen anyone in my family really rest, unless it was in the hospital, so I wasn’t sure why I deserved that either. I decided that taking care of myself would have to mean working myself numb so the bills got paid, losing weight so I’d feel attractive, and distancing myself from anyone who questioned either. Later that year, I succumbed to a lifetime of numbing and attempted suicide. Surviving that experience, atop the many traumas preceding it, created a non-negotiable shift for me in relation to my well-being. I needed to be well, from the inside out; no band-aids allowed.


These days, as I moisturize my brown body after a long, hot shower and run my fingers over the scars from my past, I’m no longer too anything for self-care. Self-care has become an act of resistance for me in a society that constantly craves outward acceptance. The struggle to maintain the priority of my well-being gets difficult as I navigate the hectic nature of my daily life, but I’m a woman on a mission. There are always going to be days when I’m scrolling through social media with my insecurities on high alert or I’m in a fitting room and nothing fits so I swear to juice cleanse for a month, but I’m learning to be kinder to myself. I am learning to appreciate the things about my body that make me unique and the authenticity of my imperfections.


I am honored to live in this body, that has carried me through the fire and forgiven me relentlessly for losing sight of the privilege. I can only hope to someday attain a relationship with myself that thwarts self-shame before it leaves my mouth but dammit, cheers to baby steps.

I’m a true work in progress, as I continue to find ways to show appreciation for things like my forever food baby, slightly dark knees, and barely manageable head of coils. I’m committed to using the leftover weight of my fading insecurities as a constant reminder that I am never too far gone and what my body deserves is always one positive thought away. 


Kristen McCallum resides in Brooklyn and is the founder of SafeWordSociety, a QTPOC brand and self-titled podcast featured in outlets such as Curve Magazine, Autostraddle, and GO Magazine. She was recently named one of GO Magazine's 100 Women We Love: Class of 2017. You can follow her on Twitter, @_kriskaye, and you can hear the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and iHeartRadio!

(Photos courtesy of Doreen Pierre.)

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