Weighing in on Body Image

Last night I wrote a half-joking status update about doing "emergency crunches and lunges" in advance of a weekend trip to the lake. I say half-joking because I was, indeed, doing the crunches and lunges, but I knew they would of course have no observable impact on my bikini appearance two days later.

My friend responded with "throw in a few emergency self acceptance exercises too." I dug what she was saying. And I liked that she wasn't saying "instead of" but rather "along with."

Finding the equilibrium between accepting one's self (in this case, one's body) as-is and doing what one can do to improve and feel better...it seems to be one of the most pervasive conundrums women face. Sometimes we see a fit body and think 'I would like very much to look like that...I'm gonna step it up at the gym, maybe add in some of that giant rope shit,' and sometimes it's 'fuggit, I'ma eat these BBQ Lays (like, the *whole* bag).'

Sidenote: Yes, I know men face this conundrum as well; I will be writing about women because 1) I am a woman and 2) I've had dozens of conversations with women on this topic and very few with men.

As I get older, I'm starting to realize that the balance, for me, comes from responding not as much to how I look but to how I feel. Sometimes how I feel is related to how I look, but mostly it's related to what I know I have or haven't done to be good to my body and the extent to which I'm enjoying life as a result.

While I agree that it's important to seek out the positive and to accept one's self, I don't think this should stand in as a substitute for actual health.

When I've felt the worst about my body, it was because I wasn't eating well or I'd fallen into a state of inertia. What's to feel good about in that case? Sometimes the feeling was exacerbated by the fact that unhealthy behaviors often have observable consequences (i.e. muffin top). Trying on clothes and discovering we've graduated up a size or two is not as thrilling as it was when we were kids; I will THROW DOWN with anybody who tries to claim the contrary.

But physical appearance isn't everything, either. When I'd gained 30 pounds during pregnancy and had power cankles, I actually felt pretty healthy because I was exercising regularly and eating healthy foods (healthier than I did when I wasn't pregnant...tiny humans growing inside can be incredibly motivating!). Our bodies know the difference between healthy and unhealthy, regardless of our size.

For me a good litmus test is also the question of whether or not I feel sexy. I like to feel sexy (I mean, who doesn't?), and while feeling sexy can have a lot to do with self-esteem in general and the state of one's mind, both of those things are often affected by the knowledge of how kindly a person is treating her body.

Women are quick to lambaste men who report not feeling attracted to their wives because their wives have "let themselves go." Fine. It's okay to be outraged about that. But I personally don't feel as excited to get down when I'm feeling like a blob. I think a lot of partners pick up on this mental block that occurs for women when they're not feeling healthy. A woman who feels sexy is sexy. She is comfortable in her skin, magnetic. Rather than simply expecting our spouses to suddenly become attracted to blobs (meaning women who feel like blobs), why not also do what we can to get ourselves out of the blob-like state of mind?

(Disclaimer...not all spouses. Not all spouses pick up on women's state of mind and respond accordingly. Some just really will not be attracted to a woman who's gained 15 pounds. These partners will have a hard time in life, as will their wives. This is unfortunate.)


Finally, for me, becoming a mother has motivated me to strive for the balance I mentioned earlier because I don't want my body image issues to keep me from taking my kids to do fun things, namely things involving water and bathing suits. I was the girl sitting by the pool fully clothed for a full decade of my life (20-30...I should have been flashing strangers at pool parties in Vegas!). 

My gym/exercise routines are sporadic, at best. My weight stays within a 5-pound range, but sometimes that extra 5 pounds can feel like a deeeeeply unhealthy 5 pounds. Time to rein it in, get things bank inline, feel better as a result.

And then, there IS this part: There are times when I just have to go with the self-talk and say, 'No, I don't look exactly like I want to look, but I'm not gonna be a hermit about it in the meantime. I am not hideous. My cellulite does not define me. I will own what I've got and, most importantly, HAVE FUN. Just go out there and LIVE, and shake my booty if it makes my young son laugh and let my boyfriend grab my love handles (or lonjas, the Spanish slang I've taught him and which he uses with much affection) and know that it's the laughter and the memories that we are forming that are what is important. SHAME on me if I let it be about my lack of perfection.

And then...yes, be healthy, as healthy as you need to be in order to feel healthy...and keep on keepin' on...


On Inviting in Challenge...

Today I watched in abject horror as a little hourglass--meant to depict some kind of behind-the-scenes action--ticked off moments on my computer screen at an agonizingly slow pace. My mouth had been dry for at least 45 minutes at that point, my heart racing with impatience and fear.

I'd just finished taking the 2nd in a series of 3 banking-related exams I'd been in the throes of studying for during the previous 4 1/2 weeks, and I was awaiting my score. It couldn't have been more than 10 seconds (was likely only 5), but it was the longest 10 (5) seconds.

When the result came up, (PASS--yay!), I stared motionless for a spell before finally releasing the breath I'd been holding for longer than what is probably healthy.

Comfort did not arrive quickly. I filled out the optional survey about the testing center just to get my sea legs before standing up. I texted my honey and my boss and then emailed my licensing coordinator to report the news. Then I drove to the nearest beach (which, luckily, was about 7 minutes away) to decompress.

As you may have imagined based on the high drama of my description, a lot was at stake. I'd already been out of my branch for over a month. Failing would mean more time away, the loss of the bonus I'll receive only if I pass all three tests the first time, the added drain on my company's/branch's resources (which actually matters to me), and, most of all, the disappointment I'd feel at having failed. I'd be wondering where I went wrong, wishing I could have a do-over, worried I wouldn't be able to pass the next time either.

Passing was as much about feeling relieved as it was about feeling a sense of accomplishment. 

Possibly more. This was not exactly a personal goal I set for myself and then achieved. It was a sink or swim kind of thing: Do this or you'll be looking for another job at some point.

It was a challenge, but not the warm and fuzzy rewards kind of challenge.

It did, however, get me thinking about challenges in general, and about setting personal goals in the first place. I didn't used to do it at all. Any goals I managed to accomplish were sort of pre-formed for me by virtue of the fact that I was a student or held a job. I put forth my best effort in those areas and was pleased when the outcomes were favorable. Until I was about 1/3 of the way through my year-long GGA blogging project a few years back, I truly wondered whether I was even capable of seeing a personal goal through to the end. What a sad thought; I was already 32 years old!

I now know I'm capable, but I haven't done a lot with that knowledge. These recent exams made me realize I missed the feeling of achieving something difficult. The exams were akin to the sort of challenge I'd have faced in school--just thrown down there for me, do it or don't. But the experience made me long for the greater-reward, more meaningful sense of accomplishment I know I feel if, unrelated to anything already expected of me, I decide to put myself up to the task of achieving something difficult.

What was stopping me?

Well, that's easy. It is just so, soooooo much more comfortable to humdrum along and pretend there is nothing more satisfying to be done in this world than to successfully feed a family and get children tucked in for the night. Like having just finished folding the last load of laundry were an orgasmic experience and walking away from day #119 of the 265 days I will spend at work this year were an alarmingly triumphant accomplishment.


This is called getting by. This is maintaining.

Do you realize that while I sit here thinking and writing about how little I challenge myself to do, people are forming foundations, launching innovative products and ideas, overthrowing asshole governments, designing and perfecting and administering and truly stretching the limits of their known skills and abilities? They are running ridiculously long races and researching the shit out of shady goings-on to keep the rest of us informed. They are adopting children with special needs and writing entire albums of songs, working 2 and 3 jobs and figuring out new ways to put together and cook ingredients, rendering the mundane act of nourishing our bodies an unforgettable, transcendent experience.

They are. They are doing those things and so many other things that to simply think about makes me feel tired.

So maybe I don't need to change the world in a sweeping gesture next week. But I need to remember this feeling. This feeling, in words, translates this way:

There are things I can do if I try. I will likely not be able to do all the things I try to do. If I were able to, the things I was trying to do weren't interesting or challenging enough. They were not pushing my limits or causing me to grow. But all the things I dare myself to do will leave me knowing more on the other end than I did before. They will stretch my experience and grow my knowledge, if even just a little bit and even if (especially if?) I fail at them.

They will all be worth more than 100 days spent doing what I know is easy and predictable and comfortable.

So then...what's next?

Kevin's Sketch(es)

Speaking of challenges! Tonight we did a 30-minute Manzanita challenge...I was finishing up my blog and Kevin did these two sketches in that time. Can you guess which one he did with his eyes closed?