Okay, so I struggle with what most women, and many men I know worry about, fuss over, beat themselves senseless because of and generally fall backwards into like a big vat of butter: My body looks wrong. I don’t think about this with each breath, but far more frequently that I wish I would. Then I worry about worrying too much, and why can’t I be happy as I am: healthy, strong, relatively happy and able to walk long distances on a single café au lait (with soy milk, and whipped cream on top).
I suppose my worry started in those pre-teen “oh-my-god-is-this-what-I-look-like?” moments when I caught a glimpse of myself in a locker room mirror, a mean girl’s comment my father’s bad jokes (“Hey you, don’t get fat until after you’re married. Boys don’t like fat girls”). From there, it’s the garden variety story that most of you dear readers know so well already involving making desserts out of toast, pineapple and anise seed; counting calories, points, grams and portions; writing eager manifestations and making collages out of slimmer women; and alternating between telling myself I love myself the size I am and then having an unflattering picture snap me back into the mildewed-halls of self-hatred.
What’s a girl to do? Like many of us, I’ve driven myself crazy over the reality that despite all the books and articles I’ve ingested on accepting and loving my body as I am, and despite so many journal entries, art projects and long discussions with friends about loving the body we’re with rather than the yearned-for one that looks good in horizontal stripes, I occasionally land on my (too large) butt back on square one. It’s not just the frustration of not moving ahead, but the boredom of thinking – once again – the same thoughts about my size and shape that occupied my mind when I was 15. It’s as if I have a permanent time-share in my brain where such thoughts occasionally vacation, making my life feel I’m anywhere but on vacation.
So I write today without enduring answers, suggestions or perceptions. But I am finding one simple thing to be true for me: Body is as body does. If I’m eating foods with great color, texture, freshness and vitality, I feel more alive. If I’m doing my Lamaze-type breathing to get through Pilates class, holding a Warrior pose in yoga class, lifting weights while trying not to fall off an exercise ball, or taking a long walk in the frost-filled landscape, I feel strong. If I’m soaking in the tub, complete with some kind of lavender or eucalyptus salts, the water as hot as I can stand, I feel calm and clean. There are other things I do that make me feel body-good (of the dark-night-under-the-blanket variety), but in the interest of not humiliating my children or parents if they read this, let’s just move on.
My realization is that living as if I love this body, my body, makes it way easier to pal around with my whole self.
The other thing I found is tangible evidence about how I never have looked as bad as I thought I did. I recently put together a photo timeline of myself from birth to the present, using about 50-60 shots of me lying in a crib, hugging a pony, waving from atop a giant cement turtle, cringing next to my prom date, posing as a nun beside a playboy bunny (Halloween), hiking in Kenya, standing over a cradle while nine month’s pregnant, holding a newborn in one hand and a dissertation in the other, and laughing with friends. Thanks to a glue stick and oversized journal (where I pasted the photos in wavy and curling lines), I found myself all over the place, giving whoever I am now this message: Hey, it’s all good! Or at least, it’s all okay.
Those photos I critiqued in microscopic detail when I was in 20s, 30s, 40s, even last year really are just one angle or another of someone living her life. Altogether, the photos don’t tell the story of a 19-year-old cursing her hips or a 45-year-old fretting over her chins; they just show one woman alive, surprisingly happy, experiencing one landscape of the heart or community or earth at the moment.
All along, it’s always been the same good song: Body is as body does.