I've never lived with women long-term before (except for my mom, and while I love her, it doesn't feel like it counts). I've either lived with men, like my brother and father, or lived alone. I had female roommates my first year in college, but never for more than a couple months. It didn't pan out. But now, I'm living with women, who I didn't know beforehand, in a small apartment at the University of Idaho for a research fellowship.
Living with women has taught me how to grow into my own skin, the skin that's carried and witnessed it all, the skin acting as my first emotional and physical shield. Like anyone else's skin, I've had some wear-and-tear. This wear-and-tear could refer to baggage, experiences or challenges. Whether I like my wear-and-tear or not, it is inevitably a part of me. A stain on my skin. But fortunately, they are only a piece of me, a piece in a giant mess of ingredients that make up me.
I like to refer to the cumulative parts of me as a recipe.
If you break down a recipe, you have three things: instructions, ingredients and working effort to put that recipe together. I remember looking at a few recipes and being disgusted by an ingredient used in it. It was a certain spice that I just can't get over.
Our recipes aren't much different. There are a few ingredients that don't make sense and aren't your favorite, but the end product is still good, right? My favorite example is not liking tomatoes but liking tomato sauce. (I think I might just be craving pasta, though.)
The women I live with now have convinced me that my recipe is fine as it is. In fact, a little more than fine. I've realized that I've been trying to find replacements for the parts of my recipe that I've despised all my life. The ingredient making the body of the recipe, the ingredient calling for patience to be perfect, the ingredient dictating which others should and shouldn't be mixed.
There is only so much control that we have over our recipes. There are too many elements, too many chemicals, too many factors.
So many have tried, but body image is one of those things. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of your body size and weight are controlled by your genes. I'm sorry, but that means the majority of what your body looks like isn't in your control. And that's OK.
Even though I consider myself to be a (baby) scientist, I still struggle with a well-supported percentage dictating I can't completely control what my body looks like. I know there are things I can do to improve my health and tone my body, like intuitively eating or working out (healthily), but I still get insecure despite knowing the science. Bummer.
By living with women, I've normalized my body. And I feel better. I've had these discussions about body image, appetite and metabolism. I've seen one of my roommates eat like it's their last supper but still be as thin as a Slim Jim, but I've also seen one of my other roommates eating fresh produce and high amounts of protein and still maintain their body composition.
We've talked about body hair, where it is and how much there is, menstrual cycles, outfit styles, etc. I can't tell you how relieved I was when I learned I'm not that special. Someone else is just like me. I wish I'd been able to have these conversations before.
I've learned to process my feelings, both overwhelming happiness and devastating heartbreak. I'm never alone. I can't control most of what happens to me, but I can control how to process it. Let me repeat: I can't decide most of what makes up my recipe, but I can control how I decide to make that recipe.
Not only have I talked about happiness and heartbreak, but I've also talked about jealousy, envy, stress and fear. I overthink. I can guarantee my friends will say that's one of my biggest flaws. I've learned about healthy ways to supersede my overthinking (and jealousy). I've also learned how to establish healthy boundaries with others and myself.
Thank you to the women who have helped me learn what ingredients are in my recipe. Thank you for teaching me that all my ingredients are instrumentally important in what makes me, me. Thank you for normalizing my biggest insecurities and motivating me to grow into my skin that keeps all of these ingredients, these insecurities, these perfections, in one place.
If I can't accept what has happened in my life to be a part of me, I might as well cut off my skin from my body, leaving myself helpless and defenseless. My recipe is mine and mine alone. And my skin is mine and mine alone. And yours is yours.