Submitted by megan on Tue, 03/10/2009 - 22:34
This isn't the post I wrote last night.
Weight and body image are tricky things to write about. Particularly if you're writing from closer to the centre than the margins.
I've never been overweight, and I don't and won't pretend to know what it's like to inhabit that kind of body.
That doesn't mean I don't live in a weight obsessed culture, however. Doesn't mean I don't feel the repercussions or understand what's happening.
When I rant, it's with that in mind. I recognize that I don't have a whole lot to reclaim.
Right now, I'm feeling about as comfortable in my body as I ever have been.
Comfortable, to me, means that I feel solid. I feel like I take up the right amount of space inside myself, as well as in the physical world. My lapses into bodily self-hatred can be counted in hours or days instead of weeks or months. Or, sadly, years.
I have felt this solid at only a couple of other times in my life: my last year of high school and when I first moved to Ottawa. In both cases, I was highly physically active. This time 'round is no different.
In the early 90s, I won a pass to the gym. Well, I didn't even. My friend Teresa put my name into a box, and I got a call. It's one of the few things I've ever even kind of won (and right now, I'm hoping that I had the grace to offer it to T before using it). I'd also jigged my school schedule so that I only had classes every other day. My days off, I'd do homework and go to the gym. I had a decent layer of fat over decent bands of muscle.
A month or so into university, I stopped. It was the end of my first wave of working out. Not coincidentally, I don't think, it was also the first time I lost a significant amount of weight.
Not quite a decade later, I moved to Ottawa. I was at my heaviest at this point, for a couple of reasons. First was that I was just off one of my working out waves, one that involved me getting up at 5:30 to bike to the Dal gym to do 90 sit ups and 90 push ups and 30 minutes of cardio and 45 or so minutes of god knows what else. I was stronger than I'd ever been before or have been since.
Second, I was eating compulsively. This was back when I was realizing that dairy didn't agree with me, and I was stressed out at school and eating a lot of frozen yogurt and candy and god knows what else. I put on about 15 pounds of stress weight, and I didn't like that at all. Made me feel like I was carrying my anxiety around with me all the time. The fat wasn't genetic, wasn't what I was born with: it was comprised of sugary nutrient-lacking garbage and bad feelings.
When I got to Ottawa, I was a nicer kind of stressed out. I started eating better. I maybe lost a few pounds, but not much, and I hadn't yet lost my workout bulk. It was fucking great.
There's one mental image I love particularly: I'm running to catch the light across Wellington at the Chateau, wearing a swingy dress that swirls around my knees, my thick-soled sandals slap the hot pavement with percussive joy. The dress hugged my body in a way I found delightful, and the shoes made me feel like I was sinking into the earth with each step, springing back up.
Over the course of the 4 years I was dating my band-boy-ex, that all went away. The joy included.
I started doing yoga just before that ex and I broke up, started running not long after. I'd lost over 20 pounds since arriving in Ottawa, levelling off somewhere around 115. I managed put about 10 of it back on, more muscle mass and better food. Then lost that again, worrying about Eric while he and I were dating.
There is nothing like a failing relationship to melt the tissue right off me.
A few weeks before Eric and I broke up, and you may notice a pattern here, I got more serious about yoga. Going to 4 or 5 classes a week is the only thing that saved me last winter. It also changed my body significantly. For the better, I would say, since I can touch my toes comfortably now, but also elongated my muscles and popped them out. I still have fat, but not a whole lot of it.
It's become a body that sits closer to what's culturally acceptable than I've ever been before.
I'm too tired to go into why that's slightly cognitively dissonant for me. Perhaps another post.
What I want to get at is that how grounded and sane I feel is directly connected to the amount of physical activity I do. When I go without some kind of exercise of some sort, I start to feel crazy. The first sign of that is that I lose all perspective on my body.
I think that most women lack this perspective, in varying degrees, somewhere between some and most of the time. I get it back by exercising. Other women probably get it back in different ways, though I bet most of them would be sensual, somehow. A good glass of wine, a long soak in the tub, a good fuck. Though I would definitely include that last one under exercise. You get it back, I think, by enjoying your body the way you enjoy your body.
When I sit down, my stomach hangs over my jeans. Most days, I either don't notice or adjust my pants if they're pinching, only barely consciously. But after a few days of inactivity, what happens when I sit down is that I think, "God, that's ugly. It's all blobby and aw- oh, for fuck's sake. Shut. Up."
It is an effort to rid myself of the training we all get, starting when we're girls being teased about our baby fat.
Strangely, pilates has the same effect as no exercise. After our first class, wherein I felt like I did everything wrong, and I hated my stupid body, I made a comment to Shelley about how the instructor was all small and compact and without any fat on her at all. In that moment, I was hating her for having the body I wanted - strong and competent, mostly, but compact too.
Shelley looked at me like I was off my noodle. "Looking at you two in the mirror? You look the same. She's got a bigger stomach than you, actually. Maybe had a kid."
I was off my noodle, apparently, because when I had looked in the mirror, that is not what I saw at all.
If my brain can start saying to me - only a year past being underweight - that I'm fat and misshapen, even though I look no different than maybe the day or the hour before when I liked my body, felt good and strong in it, then things are in dire straits indeed.
We none of us knows what we look like. Not really.
What we look like to ourselves is often too warped by the lens of a cultural norm that hates sensual pleasure, that hates bodies in general and women's bodies in particular. If that voice goes away with a good walk that releases some endorphins but does not make one whit of difference in the size or shape of my body, then it's got nothing but bullshit to say anyway.