Saturday, March 23, 2013

Body image and me

I've been circling this post topic for a while, poking at it with a stick and nudging it, but not getting anywhere, and unable to put together anything else thoughtful, because this one was in the way.
So let's give it a shot to get it out of the way, if not gracefully or cogently.

On the whole, I've been pretty lucky with body image issues. Of course I have some--I'm a woman in North America--but being in the laid-back NWest Coast and being too lazy to commit to the whole beauty/diet/pursuit of perfection thing, I've mostly accepted the body and face that I've got.

During puberty I was not happy. Menarche meant lying on the bathroom floor doubled up with cramps and puking, and the awkward messiness of pads. My body went from the comfortably thin and sexless child's body, good for swimming, tree-climbing, biking, horseback riding, to one lumpy with breasts and buttocks (and not even the right kind of breasts etc., but some inferior brand).
The worst part of the body change was thighs. I was used to legs that weren't much thicker than my arms, so to sit down and see my thighs flatten out on the chair seat into these flabby sausage-things was creepy and alarming.
I've mentioned before that body-mod, especially non-con body-mod, is a major squick for me. It's probably because of my pubertal thigh trauma.

Eventually I was reconciled to the newer format, a body that wasn't athletic or beautiful, but that did what I needed it to do and didn't give me many problems.
Pregnancy, which might have been expected to freak me out even more than the thigh-thing, was actually pretty damn cool. Because of walking, martial arts and a pregnancy-fitness class, I was in good shape, and my body was, again, doing what I needed it to do. There's also a certain fascination to growing another human being in an interior lab, I gotta say. Particularly in late pregnancy, when you could actually see the bony little knees and elbows track across the front of my t-shirt.

Zooming to the present and my actual point. About a year ago I started working with weights, aiming to improve my upper body strength, which in my toddler-toting, martial-arts days wasn't bad, but had much diminished. Legs were okay because of bicycling.
Then I cracked my tibial plateau and was on crutches for a couple of months. This was good for my triceps, but left my legs all flabby and wobbly. So, physiotherapy, add leg exercises. I'd lost weight--I couldn't carry anything on crutches, and sitting in a chair was tiring--and I thought I'd try keeping on with the smaller meals and see how that went.

I managed not to be squicked about the flabby pallid calf revealed when the immobilizer came off, and the bruises were actually kind of cool (is my inner child a 9 yr old boy? maybe). But my new model thinner-and-stronger legs, those make me uneasy. I look down and they don't look like my legs. Like the old woman in the song, whose long skirts are cut off by thieves, I look down and think 'Lawks-a-mercy, this is none of I!'
My clothes don't fit. I can shimmy my trousers off without unzipping them, even trousers I really like and was comfortable with. I knew for a brief happy while what size I should buy (since the sizing of women's clothing seems to be entirely random) but not any more.
I went for decades not knowing my weight. Now I weigh myself every damn time I go into the gym. Apparently I can have self-control around food, but not around weighing myself.
I know I should feel better, more attuned to my body. Instead I feel diminished.
All of this bothers me, but has been really difficult to write about because N American culture is so weird about weight and body image that having any negative emotions around weight loss is suspect. I mean, people undergoing cancer treatment have been told that they look great because they've lost weight.
(Side-note: My mother died of cancer when I was in my teens. Yes, that probably influenced my attitudes around weight-loss and health.)

I wondered how to write about this without coming off as humble-bragging: oh look, I'm thinner but I'm all modest about it. And no, it's not entirely negative, and I don't want to go back to slow-and-steady weight gain. Eventually I guess I'll be reconciled, the same as I eventually accepted my post-pubertal thighs (which I still have. Yeah.).
But some childish part of me feels cheated by the grand promises that our culture makes about weight loss, that if only you burn enough of your body on the altar, your life will be perfect. So far my pony has not arrived.