Thursday, July 24, 2014

My Body and Me

Nicoleandmaggie's recent post about learning to trust her body (and earlier post about radical self-love) has been on my mind recently, because, as I said in my comment there, my own trajectory has been almost the reverse of hers. I used to trust my body. I used to know what to expect from it, and could predict how it would respond.

But lately... I have felt a certain estrangement from my body. I have gained weight, and don't really know why. I have increased my exercise level, and still the weight stays stuck. I look in the mirror and what I see seems like it isn't really me. I always thought I would age gracefully, but it seems my body has other ideas.

I have been on the fence about whether what I need is a new diet and exercise plan, an attitude adjustment, or a stylist. Probably, I need all three.

The buzz around the essay that jackass wrote in praise of 42 year old women has certainly not helped this 42 year old woman be at peace with her body, but since I have refused to read the essay, perhaps I am being unfair to the author. I have no intention of finding out.

I had the idea that maybe it would help to write a list of the things I like about my body, to counteract the litany of flaws I usually hear in my head. So I started thinking things like: "I have nice ankles."

But then I realized that is the wrong approach. I will never make peace with my body by focusing on what it looks like. I need to focus on what it can do.

I am strong. Several times on our recent vacation, I walked the last 10 minutes or so of a hike holding Petunia, who weighs a little more than 40 lbs.

Exhibit A: hiking with a 4 year old
My body can do things. I can kayak and climb (small) mountains. I have a strong right cross, and can deliver a proficient Muay Thai style roundhouse kick. Actually, I can deliver five or ten strong punches and kicks in a row, as long as I'm aiming at a bag, and not a person. I've never had to find out how my punching and kicking holds up in a real fight, and I never want to.

My body can do other things, too. I grew two babies inside it, and fed them from it for two years each, give or take a month or so. It can still snuggle my kids and make them feel better when something has gone wrong.

My body is resilient. My feet started hurting recently, but some time in orthotics helped them bounce back. I need to wear the orthotics or shoes with good arch support more often than not, but I can still wear my favorite red mary janes, too. 

I started running again, and just this week I ran the furthest I have in years- despite my asthma and the extra pounds. It felt great.

So I guess I can learn to forgive my body the poochy tummy and the extra pounds it seems to want to retain. I can learn to overlook the spider veins on my thighs and the growing number of wrinkles on my face. I can learn to laugh at the fact that my blonde hair is turning dingy instead of grey, just like my maternal grandmother's did. In fact, I can cherish that link with the great-grandmother my kids never got the chance to meet, and use it as an excuse to tell them stories about her. Every time I look at my hair and think it is getting dingy, I hear her voice complaining about the same thing, and that is truly a gift. Her voice has otherwise receded from my memory.

I doubt I'll ever learn to truly embrace the changes age is bringing. I have spent 42 years living in a beauty and youth obsessed culture, after all. But I can try to retrain myself to focus on more important things in addition to how I look. I should probably learn how to dress to minimize the flaws I cannot exercise away, if only to make myself happier when I see pictures of myself. But I should also celebrate what I can do, flaws and all.


  1. Anonymous4:15 AM

    Exercise and being in shape is a different animal-- I think next week we have a post up about *that*, though it might be the week after. I can be normal weight and easily winded! I believe that the current science is that exercise really isn't related to weight very much (except that muscle still does weigh more than fat), but it is still related to health.

    1. Oh, definitely. I actually really like to exercise (especially once I get started), and will keep doing that. I am just used to increasing exercise equaling deceasing weight- and that no longer seems to be true for me, at least not for the amount of exercise I'm willing to do.

  2. I've always seen "aging gracefully" not as looking a certain way, but as accepting that age involves change. My mother-in-law is in fantastic shape and works hard to stay that way, but I love that she has grey hair and wrinkles. She's 80 and beautiful. I'll never have her level of fitness--I don't want to put in the work that it takes--but I don't want to reject the aging process, either. Youth is not the only beauty, although it is hard to really feel that in our society.

    I, too, try to focus on what my body can do. I don't always succeed with that, and it doesn't help that my body can't do as much as I would like it to, as easily as I would like it to. To accomplish that, I do need to lose weight. If I like the way my body looks once that happens, great. But what I want is more activity and energy and ability.

    In both our cases, I suspect that stress is playing a role. You've been through an incredible amount of change in the last few months, and under stress for quite a while before that. And even when change is good, it is stressful. Don't beat yourself up because of the nature of change.

  3. Congrats on being in some of the best shape of your life!

    I'm a proponent of the Heath at Every Size (HAES) movement. We are way too focused on appearance in this country, to the detriment of real/emotional well-being.

    For me personally, I know I am going to be fighting hypertension for the rest of my life, and I've found that regular exercise helps keep my readings normal - but I need a lot more of it than is natural to my personality (read: approx 5 hours/week). After watching the documentary "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead" I also slowly started eating a bit cleaner and using my VitaMix to drink more fruits and veggies (though I still enjoy Coke and McDonald's) and that has been helpful. It's a process for sure.

  4. Congrats on the new running distance! And yes, hauling 4-year-olds around is a workout. It's that awkward age where they can't always walk that far, but you really want them to given their size (and they're close to too big for a stroller...)


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.