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.


Stas Buttler said...

Losing weight is probably one of the most difficult challenge to complete.

batgirl said...

Well, in part because it's never completed. Like being fit, you have to keep on with what you've been doing forever. Like working at your job without any prospect of retirement - or taking meds for a chronic illness.
Which is why I'm trying to pick exercises and food I like - if I'm stuck with them forever, I should enjoy it.

Terri-Lynne said...

It has been so long since I've been here. I'm a bad blogging friend! But I blame FB. I see you there ALL THE TIME, and then forget to check in here.

True story--I was anorexic as a thirteen year old. Went down to 107 lbs at 5'7". A 22 inch waist--and I was still losing. My rebellion is what saved me, because skinny as I was, little as I ate, someone actually questioned the wisdom of me biting into a cinnamon roll. I ate the whole damn thing when I might have otherwise just taken a nibble of it--as my intake for the entire day.

My cousin was also suffering from anorexia, but she never rebelled back. She lost all her hair. Her bones were like spun sugar, she has lingering heart problems to this day.

Skip ahead about thirty years, I am in the company of this woman's mother--a woman who nearly lost her child to anorexia. My mom had brought out pictures of me, back then. My aunt picked up the pic and said, "look how pretty you were!" And I said, "Aunt Louise, I was anorexic." And what does she say? "But you looked so good!"

Insanity. I am perfect as I am, whatever weight/size/shape I am. Hmmph! :)

batgirl said...

Yes you are! And you are strong, which is what counts, body and mind.

But, agh, Terri, it's pretty obvious how much your aunt contributed to her daughter's illness. This reminds me horribly of how it's the mothers and grandmothers who keep female circumcision going, and who perform the operation, even though it causes their daughters terrible pain, health problems, and sometimes kills them.
Why do we do this to each other and to our children?

Terri-Lynne said...

It's so sad, Barbara, the harm women inflict upon women. It's almost WORSE when we do it to one another because it validates the harm done by men. (And I know not all men, by any means.)

Like women who rally against contraception laws, equal opportunity, feminism. It's gaining power (or so they thing) by working with those against the notion of women having equal say, equal rights--or worse, those who don't think there's a problem to rally against.

Ugh--I'm rambling, but this sort of thing makes me a bit frothy.