A weighty question

Operation Rad Bod has been kicking my butt this week.  For some reason, I’ve been really struggling with thoughts that I am not the right size, that I am taking up too much space in the world.  I find the Olympics incredibly inspiring — the stories of victory as well as watching how champions handle inevitable defeat and disappointment.  However, I think two weeks of watching perfectly chiseled bodies has chipped away at my newly found sense that my body is awesome, just the way it is.

I keep noticing scales in people’s bathrooms, and feeling the temptation to step on them and see what number will arise.  But really, I have been basically the same weight range for 4 or so years, barring the 9 months of pregnancy.  What would a couple of ticks up or down on the scale really tell me about myself?  Would it tell me how I’m doing in my life, if I’m succeeding or failing?  Would it inform me that I was a “good enough” woman, mother, member of society?  Nope.

I am realizing that whether we intend to or not, we use the scale as a measure of self worth, because there is no real way to tell if you are a worthy person.  You can’t get that feedback from others — their perspectives are way too jangled up with projections and needs.  You can’t let the culture at large tell you, because everyone knows the messages you’ll get there are a freaking disaster of cookie-cutter forms you’re supposed to mold yourself into, no matter how much of you gets pushed out the sides.

So, how do you measure your self worth?  You can step up on the scale and let that number be your focus, or strive to wear a particular size or look a certain way in photographs.  Or, you could use all that energy and gusto towards working on your soul.  I truly believe that self worth will never be measured up on a scale — it has to come from within.  But your self can be a scary place to be, if you are not practiced in hanging out there, alone and with a good flashlight.

I have been trying this summer, as gently as possible, to redirect my attention from my weight to my soul, as often as I need to.  What this looks like is: a) I have a negative thought about my body  b) I feel bad about having that negative thought about my body (come on! this is supposed to be Operation Rad Bod!)  c) I try to accept the thought rather than fight it  d) I replace it with a question: How are you doing, Rhea?  What is causing you to get down on your corporeal being?  What’s really bothering you?

Usually I am able to find the source of the insecurity that led me to gnash at my image of myself.  I take a deep breath.  If I have the time, I look to my inspirational sources to give me a jolt of the “You are ENOUGH” message we all need so dearly.  As a mama reminded a mama-to-be at the baby shower I attended this weekend, “You can do anything for 2 minutes”, and two minutes is usually all it takes to get me out of the pattern of self-hatred, and redirected into one of acceptance.  It may only last for another two minutes before I have to do it again, but constant practice in self-acceptance is so much better than giving in to the spiral of self-destructive “I should be different” thinking.

Can these people just follow me around all the time? That would save me a lot of effort!

Everyone agrees that children should be encouraged, but it is harder to get folks interested in giving positive messages to adults.  It seems silly, like we shouldn’t need to be told we are awesome, that it’s self-centered to work towards a positive self-image, or something we should have figured out long ago. It seems like every other book I read to my almost-two-year-old is about how she should feel so very awesome about being herself.  Be you!  You’re amazing!  You’re great just as you are, big nose, stinky feet and all!  You just go on being yourself and the world will fall at your feet, doors will open automatically for you, and you will know the secrets of the universe!  And literature goes on like this, throughout childhood, with titles such as It’s OK To Be Different, I Like Myself, and What I Like About Me.  Modern children are told, over and over, that if they celebrate their own damn selves, they’ll be doing okay.

I love these kinds of books, and I read them aloud to smiling mamas and nannies at the story/song/dance times I run at Dolores Park and at Rare Device, and sometimes I think to myself, “Will it really be okay with you?  When your kid turns out to be transgendered, wants to be a dancer instead of a doctor, or unpopular in school?  Will it be okay with me, if my child becomes a Bible-thumping Republican, joins the army, or eschews all artistic expression as ‘lame sauce’?”  If I want to be accepting of my child, I need to be accepting of myself.  Children are notorious for sniffing out inauthenticity, and a parent who says, “You are beautiful just as you are, honey”, but is desperately trying to change their own visage or is really down on themselves in other ways will make their child unsure of their credibility.

The reason I am doubting our collective exhortation to “be as you as you can be!” is that once you’re an adult, if you’re out there being you all over the place, the world is going to serve you up a nice steaming plate of “sit-down-shut-up-there-are-no-unicorns”.  In fact, there’s a cynical part of me that thinks the titles of these books should be: “Be different!  Be you!  Until You Reach Adulthood, and then Be Like Everybody Else for Frick’s Sake, You Stupid Show-off.”  

But of course that wouldn’t help.  What we need instead are more messages to adults that it’s okay to be who they are, so if they really believe it and live it out, their children will, as well.  This summer, the area I’ve focused on has been accepting my body, but there are many other areas of my life that could benefit from this loving attention.

A friend who has been away all summer came home yesterday, and was so glad that she could actually see my body in the outfit I was wearing!  So, that was a sweet reminder that even if I don’t feel like I am doing it “perfectly”, I am still making strides in Operation Rad Bod.  I think what would be helpful, in making this process less laborious and constant, was to hear more from other people who are trying to love their bodies as they are as well.  So, tell me, how are you loving your body lately?  What do you love about it?  What are you working to accept about yourself?  And, most importantly, where do you find your self worth?

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14 thoughts on “A weighty question

  1. I always feel kind of awkward joining in conversations like this about body appreciation because I’m 5’5″ and none of my big-three (bust, waist, hips) measurements exceed 30″. I’m short-torsoed and long-legged and have exactly zero reasons to feel bad about my body. And most of the time, I don’t. I look fabulous, I feel fabulous, and I generally pay no mind to any self-criticism I could reach to come up with.

    But there are times when I wish I was taller or my boobs were bigger, or when I feel like my jaw is wide or my cheeks are chubby, or any other stupid little nit-pickings that don’t matter. Or it’s my clothes, not my body. I feel like my clothes are boring or don’t fit or don’t accurately represent me. Hardly moments of crisis, hardly serious, I know; but even girls my size can go into a store and find nothing that fits. To some people, though, I’m not allowed into a conversation about body acceptance because I’m (an albeit shorter version of) the standard. Or, if I do join in, I somehow lack credibility.

    This happens even with my friends. My roommate commented to me that her butt had gotten bigger and one pair of jeans didn’t fit anymore. She was a little worried about it. I thought her butt looked amazing and I told her so. She’s short and curvy with a waist my size and boobs and butt double what mine are, and she looks great–but I didn’t really feel like she accepted my praise because I’ve never had her proportions, so how could I possibly understand? I’m not saying that I experience the same struggles as those who have a painful body image, of course not; I just want to feel like it’s okay for me to talk about these issues.

    This is a little off-topic from what you’re talking about, but this is something I’ve wanted to get off my chest and I have a feeling you’ll sympathize, Rhea. Body acceptance means accepting ALL bodies, including the ones that society has deemed fit.

    • This is so funny, Caitlin, because just today I was having the thought “It’s ridiculous that I write so much about this! What am I complaining about? My body is hot. I’m fine. I shouldn’t be struggling with this so much!” But what that line of thinking does is just make us feel bad about feeling bad, which is basically adding a layer of shame onto the body image struggle. Absolutely every woman, regardless of what they look like externally, deals with this issue in some regard, because our capitalistic society is set up to keep us dissatisfied so we keep buying things the dieting and beauty industry are trying to sell us. I’m not even putting a judgment on that — it’s just the way it is. We will all have this cross to bear, and it makes more sense to do it together, rather than saying that “skinny girls can’t relate” or anything like that. So, thanks for weighing in! (pun sort of intended, if I’m honest)

  2. I try to love my body by listening to it and taking care. Lately that means exercising around injuries, which is both an avoidance of & gradual acceptance of the unavoidable aging process. It does help me to try to feel stronger. Sometimes that means doing push-ups and feeling awesome that I can now more easily carry my laundry bag, etc. Or other times, just feeling mentally strong when in public, like walking down the street and imagining what would happen if somebody tried to mess with me, how I would unleash my inner power & rage into super righteous self-defense/combat! Lol.

    To Caitlin’s point above, it is so true that all woman have trouble finding clothes that fit properly, whether or not you are the “ideal.” I have to tell myself that the clothes are the problem, not my body. Can I just say that I hate the idea of Spanx? I realize these type of garments can be useful in certain instances, but to accept them as routine? Ugh.

    My source of self-worth? I don’t know. For now it could be my sense of strength in my body, or my talents…but (and this is depressing, but I have been thinking about aging as I said above) what happens when those things are gone? I don’t know, so it must need to come from somewhere else. I’m thinking courage or something like, having the conviction to live the life you want…I’m a beginner at that!

  3. having a really hard time with this very thing this summer b/c of job demands & emotional eating. i write affirmations every day as part of my morning pages but in the “fake it til you make it” spectrum i still feel like i’m “faking it” more than anything else. i am hoping that it’s sinking in and i’ll start feeling like i’m “making it” sooner rather than later. i am trying to do much of what you’re doing–check in with myself and ask what’s behind a given thought or behavior. i’m also trying out different exercise classes to see what i might like and stick with, & i’ve become religious about a particular yoga class that’s amazing and affirming.

    self worth so often is associated with my work, appearance, and performance as a girlfriend/friend/family member/co-worker. trying to work towards self worth coming from just existing and from God.

    very difficult work, this is. grateful to read your story & others’ stories & know we’re not alone & that real growth can happen.
    thanks,
    b

    • Thanks for commenting, Becca! It’s true that sharing our stories and finding community is a brilliant way to deal with this, since so many of these self-damaging thoughts come up through comparing ourselves to others. Seeing that everyone deals with this issue to some degree is really helpful!

  4. Just what I needed Rhea! First of all, I’ve been thinking a lot about our conversation last Wed, when you said, “To truly accept your kids for who they are, you have to accept yourself”, so I’ve been working on that (more my emotional states of being rather than physical). Then, this week I was kinda day dreaming about how I would describe my body, and I think its sorta Botticelli-esque (the beautiful curvy woman, except of long flowing red hair, I have lots of curls). Just that thought made me smile. She wouldn’t be a model in today’s magazines, but no one can deny her beauty, so I’m loving my soft poochy belly, child-bearing hips, and booty.
    Thank you for giving us a space to think about this.

  5. Wow, I needed to read this today. I struggle with a bunch of extra “honeymoon weight,” and I always feel badly about myself whenever the numbers on the scale climb. Redirecting your thoughts is so challenging – I fail so often. I’d like to change my negative thinking patterns so my children do not absorb them in the future.

    On a happier note, I have nominated you for a Reader Appreciation Award because I love your blog. If you’d like to accept, please follow the link below and it’ll give you instructions.

    Lawsbians United! 🙂

    http://thecatladysings.com/2012/08/14/reader-appreciation-award-aww/

    • Natalie, you are SUCH a sweetheart. I feel so lucky to have “met” you over the interwebs! I will certainly accept your award — it is very kind of you to bestow it on me! And thank you for your comment about my post — I’m glad it was helpful for you to read today.

  6. My therapist and I have often discussed what being “thin” really means anyway. It’s so much more than the scale can do, it’s more than the clothes; it’s this unattainable perfection that never lasts even if you do get a taste. (no pun intended there, honest) I just try to stay healthy for the long run, and tell myself (repeatedly) that I am pretty enough and everything else enough, no matter what. Repeat. Stop chasing carrot.

    • You are completely right that this is about perfection. We seek to perfect our bodies because we think we have control over them, that if we have the “perfect” shape, we can have the “perfect” life. It’s true that we have to find how we are enough and give up the ridiculous chase for some ideal that wouldn’t satisfy if we got it anyway. When I was rail-thin, I was so unhappy! I’m not saying that thin people are unhappy, but that once I got the body I thought I wanted, I realized that it did not save me. Anyway, thanks for commenting, it was inspiring to hear your perspective!

  7. Pingback: Being Two (The Blog, Not the Kid) | thirty threadbare mercies

  8. New comment to an old post (I just found your blog and love it!) – I’m a marketer by trade, and I will tell you that if adults with disposable income really think “It’s okay to be me! I’m great,” the whole industry, along with probably many others, will probably crumble and die. Sad huh? That our economy functions better when everyone’s unhappy with themselves.

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