Monday, February 27, 2012

Bodies.



Today I had my usual weigh-in at 
my 34 week check-up. It ain't pretty.

However, I sat in ease and comfort in the doctor's office, mostly confident in my inner-knowing of how to grow a child and eventually shed the excessive pounds resulting from the cookie binges that serve as reliable coping mechanisms during a loooong pregnancy. There was once a day when I would have declared that death was a better option than packing on forty pounds in a sacrificial effort to create life. I am so glad I am past that time in my life, but the memory is still fresh.


I don't know exactly what triggered it, but I began an unhealthy preoccupation with my weight at a fairly young age. Ironically, I would say I grew up in a healthy home with a mother who was an excellent example of womanly confidence. I don't remember hearing her frequently bad-mouth her body, obsess over calories, or enviously pine after the emaciated physiques of Hollywood elite. Never once did she mention or suggest anything contrary to the notion that my body was fine just as it was. Looking back there were the occasional intermittent and laughable exercise fads she bought into that included the trusty Thigh-Master, Suzanne Sommers, and a brief {unsuccessful} stint at serving our family vegetarian  meals. But beyond that, body image did not dominate the topic of female conversation or thought in my household.

I remember the day clearly when I panicked. I was thirteen, and my Mom and I went clothes shopping. I remember the size of pants I had normally worn no longer fit, and I moved into the next size category. Suddenly, I questioned myself...is this normal? Is this too big? Despite my mother's reassurance, I couldn't ignore the awful, sinking feeling overcome me in the dressing room. I felt out of control. Suddenly, new clothes didn't seem exciting.

It was that day when I decided my "size limit" and from that point on, remaining within that self-imposed size, regulating a self-imposed "weight" restraint, became my goal. And for the next few years it took over, the obsession of it all.

I guess I can proudly state that I never succumbed to a serious eating disorder. Which is weird really, given that I think my obsession was more hazardous than a legitimate stint at anorexia or bulimia. In my warped teenage view I considered myself worse than a bulimic, more pathetic than an anorexic...because at least they had the cajones to control themselves and drive their obsession to some foreseeable results! In my mind, I wished I had the discipline to be an anorexic. I envied the thought of people worrying about my bony fragile physique and urging me to eat and 'put on more weight'. I attempted bulimic behavior but never fully mastered the technique, and vomit just wasn't my thing. Obsession without a viable outlet seemed to be my only problem. I viewed it as the Loser's Approach to Eating Disorders.

Daily, from sun-up to sun-down, weight was on my mind. Exercise was a sort of self-testing punishment, a cathartic method of allowing myself the excuse to stake a claim as an attractive female. I could forgive myself for not being smaller or more muscular or sexier as long as I had drained myself a gallon's worth of sweat or hammered out 450 sit-ups that day. 

And looking back...gosh, how sad: I was pretty. To any outside observer, I was normal. Medically speaking, I have never been overweight in my life. But to a very distorted teenage mind, the slightest bulge was unacceptable. The fact that my stomach would roll over if I bent down to touch my toes was inexcusable. The media messages attesting to the power of female sexuality in the form of bodily exploitation were in full force (just as they are today, only worse) and I wholeheartedly bought into every perverted message coming my way: 
To have power
to have happiness
to have a male's attention
to have love
to have it all
you must. look. like. this.

Or in other more teenage friendly terms (and to embarrassingly date myself):

God wasn't really God, 
Britney Spear's physique was God.

What a dangerous message for a budding control freak bent on perfectionism.
You see, perfectionists are merciless. We aren't warmed or inspired by charming platitudes of "it's the inside that counts", and "love yourself", and "healthy at any size". Kindness to ourselves is nothing more than weakness if it means sugarcoating the cruel reality that weight and appearance appeared to be the main form of exchange to attain what is most valuable in life.

And oh what a lie, lie, lie that is!!!! This massive, enormously evil, money driven lie that is spoon-fed to young girls from birth! It has taken years, a more developed spiritual framework, a healthy marriage, motherhood, and lots of introspection to yield the sort of 20/20 hindsight I have when I look back upon those years. 

I came across an article a year ago that made my head spin with excitement, from an author who I particularly admire when it comes to her perspective on women's issues (Katherine Soper, many of her essays can be found at Patheos , she is the founder/author of Segullah, and her personal website). I practically stood and cheered as I read her  perfectly articulated synopsis of what was at the heart of a female's struggle during those teenage years of mine:

"Our increasingly voluptuous bodies were reliable tools of status and control. The power was heady, but confusing, because wielding it always left us feeling empty and weak. And it was treacherous, because its force attracted not only the male peers we were aiming for, but also troubled stepfathers and leering strangers. But by the time we realized the perils, we'd grown dependent on this means of power. Of course it didn't yield true power, because it didn't originate within ourselves: it originated within the perceptions of the boys and men we hoped to entice. Yet in our economy of success, sexual attraction was the only currency we thought we held. And counterfeit money was better than nothing."  
(complete article found here)

Never in my life did I feel more empty and worthless then when I was obsessed with maintaining my body and my appearance as that "currency" for attention, for love, for acceptance. Boooooyaaaa! Thank you Katherine Sop-a-genius!! Bankruptcy is the ultimate end for this type of power play, this bogus monetary system.

It is a funny thing now, looking back on those years, because my evolution of self-image has so dramatically taken a turn. Don't get me wrong, I still don't enjoy weighing an extra forty pounds. I love to flirt and explore my femininity with my husband, the shoe department at Macy's could rightfully be appointed my second home, and health is a top priority. Or to borrow again from Soper's words, I am gaining a better grasp on the difference between utilizing a body to "express one's self" rather than to "secure a self". 

It's sounds really kumbaya-ish and weird to sum up in a nutshell as it was such a gradual process of discovering new truths about myself that would eventually redirect my energy to something amply more positive and fulfilling, but now: I can honestly say that I view a body as a celebration. (Kuummm baaa yaaaaaaa, my Lord, Kum baaaayaaaaa...anyone in the mood to belly dance?)

What a magnificent machine this is, I tell you! The way I can move and deliver affection and eat and spin around and fall asleep and wake up and swim in lakes and grow babies!?!. Are you kidding me?!!! Grow BABIES?!!! I can feel and see and laugh and do all of this crazy. stuff.

 For reals: this is NUTSO ya'll. 

Maybe it took examining my own daughters' little figures to see it as clearly as I do. Every morning as I help London tie her shoes or assist Lily in zipping up her dress or squish Ellie into her pants, I can't help but declare a variation of the same recurring thought: you are perfect! I love these little legs, these feet. Your eyes and your lashes and the way you stand. The way you breathe effortlessly. Your belly giggle. You are such a miraculous and wonderful creation! 
Don't you 
ever
ever 
ever
hate this. 
Don't you criticize this. 
Don't you misuse this.
Don't you harm this gift and put things in it that would cause you despair.
And especially, don't you dare get fooled into the exchange of it for fleeting and false power (Yo Mama will get reeeeally upset about this one.)

Run and feel and use this body for good
Move and exercise and eat nutritiously because you love your body, not because you hate it!

And if you don't, Mama will weep, because she worked so hard to help create it. It took a while to figure out, but I think finally your Mama sees it
a little bit more
how God sees it.


And that vantage point holds the best definition of body image a girl can get.













7 comments:

Joan said...

Once again, dear friend, well said.
I wish I had something more intelligent/interesting to say but alas, I don't...except for: I like you a lot and I'm glad we're friends :)

Alexis said...

Thank goodness for "Ah ha" moments. Where we finally get it. It took me having my sister becoming an invalid, confined to a wheelchair in bed all the rest of her life after age 42 to finally "get it". I no longer obsess about the "jiggle" in my legs - because they help me walk and run and do a myriad of things my sister wishes she could do.
While I still struggle on and off again to lose 20 pounds - I don't beat myself up anymore. Our bodies are gifts...some just spill out a wee bit more from their packaging:)
MOM

The Mrs. said...

I love this.

I have grown (physically and spiritually ;) ) since having children.

It's interesting though-the most obsessed with my body that I ever have been was right before I got pregnant with Jacob-I learned major lessons through the 9 months about my body and body image. I swear that the Lord wanted me to learn those things now, and it was only through pregnancy and all it's sacrifices and lack of health that I could learn all those "kumbaya" things. I am still learning and I sure do have my days and moments when I fall back on my old ways of thinking, but I know that there is so much more to me than how my body looks. I also see everyone else in a better light.

Oh my gosh-sorry about the lengthy comment. You're great. Love your writings and your thoughts.

xoxo

Lacy said...

WOW..I am actually speechless (which is not a common occurrence,) with tears in my eyes. What an inspiring, truthful, motivational, uplifting, honest post!!! Thanks Rae for such positive and wonderful insight!! Just TONIGHT I was telling my OB nurse friend how I think a woman voluptuous, pregnant body is the sexiest because she is growing life, and I just love it!! Please write a book!!!!!!!!!!

rae said...

Jamee,

I know exactly what you mean, it really does make such a difference to be stripped for a (brief) time of feeling healthy to re-prioritize what really matters: and thigh circumference suddenly falls to the bottom of the list.
I didn't know how much I fell back on looks to navigate life until I felt so darn fat and ugly all the time. And thank goodness for it! It forever altered my perspective for the better.
But I'm right there with you, I'm a work in progress too. There will always be days when i have my moments and fall back into old thought patterns...thanks for your lengthy comment. My favorite!

rae

rae said...

Lacy Lacy lacy!

I have to tell you a weird/funny story...I actually thought about you when I was journaling this post. I remember so distinctly a day in high school when you heard me once again obsessing over what i was eating or some ridiculous exercise thing I was doing or talking about my body. You finally put your foot down and declared something to the effect of, "Rachel! Seriously! This is ridiculous. You are not fat and you are not ugly and we are so sick of hearing you constantly talk about it. I love you but it is getting really hard to be around you!"

I wish you knew what a shocking/lightbulb moment that was for me! It was so true and i needed to hear it and I'll always appreciate your sweet and well-intended honesty with me!

love you Lacy, always will!

Jamie Dallas said...

Great post Rae! I'm still a reader, but sorry I never comment. Ahh the days when Britney Spears was our God...that turned out well. I'm so glad you blog because I love to know all of your thoughts on every subject :) I'm pretty sure I had a similar situation when I was thirteen or fourteen...And I always look back and think, wow I thought I was fat then?! Anyway, it's so good to think of our bodies this way and I'm so glad you wrote about it. It's sad to know that our kids will have to go through all of this and not just learn from our mistakes, but fortunately yours will have a wonderful mama to look up to and hours of blogs to read about! Mine will definitely need therapy.