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Posts Tagged ‘body image’

This one’s all about body-image issues.

As you probably know if you’ve read any of my posts, I have a problem with mirrors.  Actually the mirrors aren’t the problem, it’s what I see in them – which is not necessarily what they are actually showing me.  I tend to see a reflection not of myself, but rather of what my mindset is – happiness, confidence or high energy will typically show me someone pretty attractive, while depression, anxiety or fatigue will give me something out of a horror story.  The only good thing about it is that I have finally realized it’s happening, so I’m slowly learning not to take it seriously.  🙂

I’m aware that I’m far from unique in this; in fact, I’d venture to say it’s a leading factor in girls/women beginning the yo-yo dieting cycle that ends, as we all know, in disaster – if it ever ends.

But the other day, something surprising happened when I was doing my usual pre-shower self-critique.  I wasn’t feeling upbeat that day; actually, I’d been bemoaning the loss of muscle tone I’ve experienced due to spotty exercise habits and thinking about how much ground I need to regain.  But as I was examining my poor, long-suffering and much-maligned body, I found myself doing something completely new.  I found myself (and I use the passive form because it was completely unplanned on my part) evaluating my body from a non-judgmental perspective.

I looked at my legs, and thought, “Hmm…okay, there’s a little more fat there than there was a year ago.  We’ve lost some ground there.  But wow, the muscle tone has really held up.  That walking has been doing more good than I thought.  We’ve got a great infrastructure to build on, there.”

I looked at my butt and thought, “Well, it might be sagging a little more than a year ago; it’s hard to tell.  Definitely hasn’t gotten any bigger, though.  That’s great.  That should tighten up really nicely once we’re back in the groove.”

I looked at my stomach and thought, “Oh, definitely not as flat.  I think some of that is bloating though, I really do.  And it’s not super flabby.  I can tighten up the muscles and feel them pull pretty strongly, so we haven’t lost a ton of ground there, either.  That’ll tighten up pretty well, too.”

I went through the whole body that way, but I won’t detail it; I’m sure you get the picture.  For once, I was thinking of my body in terms of a starting point, not in terms of a pathetically inadequate end result.

And that was, for me, a bit of an epiphany.  I’m not done yet! And from that came, I don’t have to be done yet.  I am a work in progress.

I have always said that this process is a marathon, not a sprint.  I have always said that I have the rest of my life to get where I’m going, because the rest of my life is how long I will be doing this anyway.  And for the love of God, my flipping tagline on this blog says, “Notes from a Work in Progress.”  It’s not like this is really news to me. But as I’ve said before, it’s one thing to know this intellectually and another to really feel it.

It’s an amazing thing to be able to look at your body as a great template for the work you know you can and will be doing.  It’s freeing and a little intoxicating to be able to look at your body and simultaneously see the work you need to do and the great things that have already been done.  To be able to see what you need to do and still feel good about it.

I know that there’s a good chance that in a few days, I’ll have lost the immediacy of that experience and be back to sighing over batwings and (a friend said this and it’s too funny not to repeat) the upper-thigh fat that feels like “mudflaps for my vagina”.   Which is, of course, why I blog.  So that when I forget, I can be reminded.  And I need to be reminded, because:

If we’d walked into the Sistine Chapel when Michaelangelo was halfway through the ceiling, would we have been all that impressed?  If we’d seen the Taj Majal when only the foundation was there, would we have sighed in delight at the potential, or would we have shrugged and wandered away?  If we’d watched Da Vinci smudging in the background for the Mona Lisa, would we have shuddered and questioned his artistic ability?

Or would we have known better?  Would we have pursed our lips and said, “Okay, it doesn’t look like much now…but there’s something good coming, I can just tell by the way he holds that brush…”?  I’d like to think we would have.  Knowing what we know now, we’d never judge any of these works of art based on their beginnings.

So don’t judge yourself that way either.  No, you’re not perfect now.  You won’t ever be.  Sorry, that’s just the truth.  Even the Mona Lisa isn’t perfect…but it’s a classic and enduring work of art, and so are you.  You just aren’t done yet.  And that’s okay.  You don’t have to be done yet.

Because remember, Da Vinci didn’t give up halfway through either.  He didn’t look at the half-done canvas and say, “God, this looks like crap.  I’ve worked my tail off, I can’t believe it still looks that bad!  I’m never going to get there.  Forget it.  I’m just going to set this in the corner and go do a nice paint-by-number.  And look for a day job.”

It’s okay to be a work in progress.  It’s okay to know there’s still a lot to be done.  And I have to believe that as difficult and exhausting as it must have been to paint the Sistine Chapel, still Michaelangelo spent every moment knowing it was a labor of love, and a life’s work.  And that passion and joy in creation show in the finished product.

That’s what passes for wisdom from me today.  You are a life’s work, too, and a masterpiece in the making.  Don’t judge yourself on the basis of what you are, what you have, or what you look like today.  Remember that you’re not done yet, and put every ounce of passion and joy you have into the making of what you will be.  And at the end of it all, when you move on to the next life (whatever your belief of that may be), know that you are the work of a Master.

Have a wonderful Wednesday, and a wonderful week!

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The other night, I stumbled. Not with my eating or my exercise – though neither of those were perfect – but with my mindset.

It started with me “stumbling” onto a picture of myself. I was actually looking for pictures of myself, for a particular reason, but I wanted good ones. I didn’t find any of those. For one thing, I have evidently made a practice over the past ten years of being extremely unavailable to the camera. I sort of knew that, but…it’s still sobering to realize just how good I had gotten at it.

Still, I did find a few pictures. And I hated them all. But it wasn’t until I found this one, from about four years ago, that I absolutely cringed – and I will warn you now, it’s not pretty. Brace yourself:

What I found appalling is not the way I looked – I was prepared for that – but the fact that I very clearly remember this day, and what I remember seeing in the mirror bears no resemblance whatsoever to what I see in this picture.  I had no idea.  This is, for me, a very clear illustration of the fact that my body image is completely out of touch with reality.  I am not capable of judging my own appearance.  (And of course people aren’t telling me the truth – I mean, who tells someone they love, “Oh, you look terrible, don’t go out like that!”  Come on.  And if they had, or did, I’d be pissed.)

So that scares me.  It upsets me, and it scares me.  And more so because I found another picture – I can’t put this one in because it’s on another computer and I can’t get to it right now, but I’ll add it later if I get a chance – from a few weeks ago that still looks pretty bad, and not at all the way I remember thinking I looked.  60 pounds and a completely different lifestyle and mindset later, and I am still not seeing myself the way I really look.  Again, that scares me.

How am I really going to know when I’m where I need to be?  I have said before that my real, true goal is to be able to take a picture of myself and like what I see.  I am not even close to that, clearly – at least, not a picture from the neck down, and even taking one from the neck up requires intricate planning and positioning.  And I’ve been fighting depression for two days because of this…

And that’s the stumble.  Because I know very well that beating myself up and giving in to despair and self-loathing are the very things that will make me fail.  They are the very things that can and will derail me, if I let them.  I cannot do this to myself.  I cannot mire myself in disgust at my own delusions and fear that I am and will always be disgustingly fat, even when I think I’m not.  We all know what lies down that road, and it’s nothing good.  It’s nothing I want.  I must, and I will, reject that path.

When I realized I was starting that downward spiral that I know from experience would eventually lead to depression-fueled binge eating and lethargy (about ten seconds after I first saw the picture), my mind immediately tossed up a post from GrumpyChair.  She’s talking about her six-week checkup after giving birth and discovering she hadn’t lost nearly as much weight as she felt she should.  The comment that really stuck in my head was, “This did not make me want to go home and pop in an aerobics tape and eat salad.”  (There are other posts in the same timeframe that talk about pictures, and one in particular about how she unconsciously edited herself out of the photographic history of her family.  That one hit home, too.)

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why is it that, when we are faced with a discouraging truth about our weight, our appearance, our health – our immediate reaction is to binge?  To go comfort ourselves with the very things that made us this way?  I know the scientific reasons…I understand how that works…but it’s not okay, and from a psychological and intellectual standpoint it’s insane.  And for me, the bottom line is that I have got to forgive myself for what I became, and I have to do it now.  I have got to stop sinking into the weeping-and-wailing frame of mind and remember that while I may not be where I want to be, I have made enormous progress, and I have every right to be proud and happy about that progress.  I do need to stop deluding myself that I’m done…but that doesn’t mean I have to feel as though I’m back where I started.  Because I’m not.

I know that I look better.  My body image isn’t quite that skewed.  I know I look decent a lot of the time, and sometimes I even look pretty damned hot, based on other people’s reactions.  I just need to accept that my own glances in the mirror are not going to give me honest information.

I knew this at one time.  I started this process out by taking – or actually, having DH take – regular progress photos so I could see where I was headed and how I was doing at getting there.  I’ve stopped doing that, and I think that was a mistake.  (Evidently, this is one of those lessons that takes several repetitions for me to learn.)  I think had I kept it up, I wouldn’t be facing this dark epiphany again right now.  🙂  So that’s something we’re going to start back up immediately.

If you’ve made it this far, I imagine you are despairing of ever reaching the “wisdom” part of the post.  The truth is, you already touched on it.  Forgiveness.  We are taught to try to be the best people we can be.  We are taught to try to do things right and to make as few mistakes as possible.  And there’s wisdom in that, of course, because obviously life is better when you get things right and don’t screw things up for yourself any more than necessary.  But what we aren’t taught is that it is impossible to never make mistakes – we are only human, and we are all going to screw up, a lot.  We will fail.  We will be, at some point in our lives, nearly all of the things we despise the most.  Hopefully, we will catch ourselves before that gets out of hand, but we can’t prevent it entirely, and if we try, we destroy our own joy in life.  One of my favorite lines from a song is from “Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield:  “We are conditioned/to not make mistakes/but I can’t live that way…” And neither can anyone else, though we kill ourselves trying.

And we aren’t taught that when these mistakes or stupid decisions happen, it doesn’t make us bad or worthless or stupid or evil or whatever adjective you want to use in your personal self-castigation.  It makes us normal, and human.  It’s how we learn.  Nor are we taught that when it happens, the right thing, the good thing, the personally beneficial thing to do is to take the lesson and then forgive. We do hear a little bit about forgiveness of others…but rarely do we hear much about forgiving ourselves.

That’s what passes for wisdom from me today.  Forgive yourself.  Whatever you did or didn’t do or said or didn’t say or forgot or neglected or just screwed up…it’s not the end of the world. Even if the consequences are grim, you really aren’t the Dark One for having done it.  You are no worse a person than anyone else for having made that mistake, and mistakes are not all bad if they are turned into lessons learned.  So figure out where you went wrong, and (if you can) why, and then forgive yourself.  You’re only human.  And as bad as it is for you to hold a grudge against someone else, it’s a million times worse to hold one against you.  So forgive yourself.  And I’ll do the same.

(I originally said “try to do the same” but then my mindset was saved by, of all people, Yoda.  “Do, or do not.  There is no try.”  God, I love that quote.)

So go, and do!

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