Posts Tagged: body image

Sep 14


I feel more confident now, in myself, than I ever have. Is this because I am nearing 40? Is this just what happens with age?

I remember being a tween (probably around 12 years old), feeling like the walk from the bathroom to the swimming pool was some sort of walk of shame. I remember trying to hide the birthmark on my upper right thigh with the palm of my hand, wishing my legs were smaller and less noticeable. Wishing that my…my…everythingwere….different. Because surely no girl should have to live in the body that I inhabited. A body that was, at 12 years old, a woman’s body. I remember getting catcalls from older boys and just wanting to absolutely die, to shrink, to disappear. It was unwanted attention. I thought it was bad, thought I was bad. I wanted to be like those tiny little skinny girls, the ones who were still girls.

Now, more than 25 years later, with 100% more thigh jiggle and overall skin droop, I walk without even a thought. I walk because that is how you get from point A to point B, bathing suit be damned. I’m not getting catcalls anymore (well, from my husband, because–bless him–he happens to still find my aging body attractive). I’m just a woman, a grown woman. A woman comfortable in her own skin.

Do I have my moments? My moments of doubt? Where I become that 12 year old girl again, full of self-doubt and remorse and dread? Sure. Of course.

Do I think my body is “perfect?” (What the hell does that mean, anyway???). Nope, of course not. I try to avoid fashion magazines. I remind myself that those models are mostly 20 years my junior and that they live on lettuce and air and cigarettes. Or that they come from a different genetic stock. I remember what it was like when I weighed just over 100 pounds, after my pancreatic surgery 4 years ago, how my hipbones hurt at night from the pressure of the mattress. How my concaveness scared rather than delighted me. I’d rather be a slightly rounder version of me. The version that is healthy and whole and eats cookies (sometimes too many) and drinks wine and doesn’t obsess over looking exactly SO. I remember what it was like to be 25 and to count calories and to sometimes eat too many and then to throw it up or exercise for hours and hours, a punishment. A punishment for not being perfect. A struggle not worth those tears.

My body is me, but I am not my body. I am more than my body.

My body can do things. My body made babies and fed them. My body got sick and then got better and continues to serve me pretty darn well. My body gets me from here to there and it bends over to pick things up and it lifts things and it twists and accommodates and holds it all up. My body can breathe the air and it can take in deep gulps of water, of life.

I am strong and I am capable and I have my head in the right place, finally.

I still wear a bikini because, well, I find it more comfortable and because I don’t generally like the constriction of swimsuit fabric on my stomach and because I don’t think I have anything to hide. I have been on this earth for 38 years and I hope to be here a while longer and I might as well enjoy it with the warm sun and the sweet breeze tickling my skin.

Do I need to apologize for the space that my body occupies? To I need to apologize for my body’s bumps and lumps and scars and hair and general imperfection?

I am so much more. We are all so much more.

Nov 10

Which is worse?

I was just now staring regretfully at my face, which has decided that it didn’t have enough fun making me self-conscious in my adolescence and is now bumpy with zits. I thought to myself for a second (just ONE little second) about how nice it was to not have pimples for the entire duration of my cancer treatment. And then I remembered that when I was completely and totally bald, I did, at one point, sport a LOVELY head rash which anyone, obviously, could see (as I was BALD and all). So….actually….maybe these aren’t that bad after all. I’ll take face zits over bald head zits any day.

Nov 10

In the times of desperation

What do you do, in those moments of quiet desperation? I imagine that we all have them. The moments when you look around and feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of the to-do’s in life. The moments when noises seem to loud, colors too bright, people too near. The moments when you are undecided, between so many possibilities, paralyzed into inaction.

Today I woke up, felt great, went for a hike up Jesusita trail. I felt good, strong, healthy, grounded. And then I got in my car, drove home and arrived in the chaos that I had left behind: dishes in the sink, thank you notes to be written, various things to be dealt with. I sat down at my computer, got up, sat down again, got up and ate. And ate. And ate. Trying to fill the cavernous hole inside with food.

I feel ashamed that I do this sometimes.

And the terrible thing is that it did not help. It only made me feel worse. Worse to know that I finished off Anna’s Halloween candy. Worse to know that I had “undone” my hard work of the morning exercise. Worse that I hadn’t really listened to my emotions, but tried to stuff them down. Worse to know that I didn’t just deal with the things that needed attending to, only putting them off until later. Worse that I wasted away my morning like that, just eating, eating, mindless eating.

It really wasn’t that much, but I really wasn’t hungry, so it was too much.

I stopped. I drank some water. I walked away. I took some deep breaths. I gave myself a stern talking to, yelled at myself as myself shrank and cringed. And then I backed off, told myself that I deserved some kindness right now. That I am obviously struggling. That I am going to learn to use other ways to deal.

This is stripping me down naked here, but this is me.

I weigh 25 pounds more right now than I did a year ago. Granted, I was a 110 pound weakling a year ago, but I didn’t necessarily need to gain back all the weight and then some. I just needed to get back to being healthy.

I’m seemingly healthy, but I’m haunted. I eat when I remember how I couldn’t eat when I was in the hospital. I eat when I remember how I didn’t feel like eating, all those months that they pumped me full of toxic chemicals. I eat (furtively) when Anna is whiney or impossible to deal with. I try to use food to regulate these feelings inside.

I did the same thing, years ago, when I was in grad school, except then it was so much worse because I was alone so much more–I could do more damage. And I did. Extreme dieting, extreme binging, extreme exercise. You name it. I yo-yoed myself right into an eating disorder. I went to therapy. I got better.

I wonder why I have this tendency to tip into….I want to write “mental illness” but I’m not sure that I want to put that label out there. I’m not sure that that is exactly what it is for me right now because I don’t feel quite as messed up as I did back then. But I do wonder why I am wired the way I seem to be wired. Is it a woman thing? Is it simply a legacy of my family heritage, a proneness to psychological processes that are different than the majority of the population?

I am attempting kindness towards myself. It is what I try to practice towards other people, after all. But I am, as are most, my own worst critic.

I don’t know if it is worth focusing on losing weight alone–I am actually a healthy weight for my height (not model skinny, but healthy enough)–but it doesn’t seem healthy (psychologically) to be the way that I am right now. To stuff feelings down. To try and bring myself up with sugar and caffeine and (rarely) alcohol.

I know I am not alone.

So many of my women friends have shared these same things with me. I still hesitate to write, speak, delineate the specifics. I dialed a friend’s number this morning, when I felt the feelings coming on, then hung up, feeling silly for calling to say that my feelings just got so big that I think it will take some chocolate to bring them down. Afraid of…what? Sounding…pathetic? Needy? Disordered? Stupid?

And here I am, for the world to see, all 135 pounds of me. I’m ok, and yet…what is it when I panic with the memory of spewing stomach bile over and over into a basin? Dream of weeping wounds and insertion of IV lines? Swallow over a lump in my throat when I recall the exquisite painfulness of a three week separation from my child, a separation so distressing that I would push the pictures of her underneath my computer, to spare me from the thought of her, as I lay in that hospital bed?

I have to put this here because, as much as this space has become more happy-to-lucky everyday living type stuff (thank goodness), this is still the space for me to write about the real, the raw, the uncomfortable. This is me.

Mar 10

iPhone, do u phone?

So…I got an iPhone. And now I’m all cool like that, running around texting people and listening to Pandora in my car, and playing with stupid Apps. It rocks. This has seriously upped my hipness factor. Unless…maybe the iPhone is on the way out? It could be. I feel like I’m always the last to know these days. Adam laughs at me for my Facebook “addiction” (no, I’m not admitting it because that would mean I would have to change and I’m not willing to stop posting to the world that I am drinking tea or that my kid just said the cutest thing), claiming that it is so passe. Ha. Just because he’s a tech guy, he thinks he knows it all. Well, he kind of does. He’s already ordered the iPad (and I’ve made the requisite menstruation jokes because I am extremely juvenile, when it comes right down to it).

Also. New Hair News. I can do pigtails. Sort of. Leeetle teensy tiny pigtails, at the base of my skull. Two of them. I am immensely pleased. I would post a picture except I already washed all my makeup off and even though I love you, I don’t love you enough to show you myself in my “going to bed” look (unless your name is Adam Gray, but that only applies to one of you out there and you have already seen this look. And the pigtails because I believe I woke you up early one morning to proclaim my new hair styling ability). I was feeling even better about this yesterday–whoa, amazing! It was like no time at all ago that I was bald! And all of a sudden, my hair is long enough to put holders in it–until I realized that this “all of a sudden” was actually 15 months ago so….yeah, it has actually taken quite some time. Still. Fifteen months ago I looked like this:

My “Baldy McBaldster” Phase (not that anyone called me that to my face but, let’s be honest here, it is an apt description), December 2008. And now I have lots more hair that that.

In other news, my weight is fluctuating like no one’s business. It’s not your business, and yet, somehow, it is, because I am writing about it here, like it or not. I’m not overweight but it is a little bit of a mind-freak to bounce around the scale like this. I’ve gained 15 pounds since I came home from the hospital in January. Which is a lot to gain in a short amount of time (but I was obscenely malnourished after having been on the feeding tubes and TPN). It’s just….weird. I keep fluctuating, in my mind, between “whoa, better get a hold on that before I balloon up” and “life’s short, let’s eat, drink, and be merry!” and the latter attitude, coupled with a needy preschooler, a husband who has been traveling more days than not the last couple of months (to continue for the indefinite future) and….life, it has been difficult to do anything but sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It’s hard for us women to not put a lot of stock into our weight though, isn’t it? We’re going on a cruise at the end of next month and part of me is like, I look fine, I look great, no problems here and then I’ll catch a glimpse of my pale and scarred and not flat belly in the bright light of day and think, holy shit, what the hell happened there! Maybe it is time to buy a one piece bathing suit? Nah. I’m wearing this ol’ body of mine as a badge of honor. If you don’t like it, look away. Also, I don’t believe in tanning. Too many suspicious lesions removed to make that sound like a good idea. Maybe I should get one of those spray tans? I tried the do-it-yourself tanning lotion stuff last year and my sister can vouch for the hilarity of those results (can you say “splotchy???” and extremely uneven?). Time for the professionals?

Anyway. I want to be better about exercising regularly. Just like I want to be more organized and tidy but there are too many other things calling my name right now. I guess I could let one of those other balls drop but I like baking all of our bread. I love sitting down with some knitting in my hands. I need to spend time reading every day. I keep thinking that maybe some day in the future I’ll have time for all of this but I realize that something else will come up then. I’ll be on some committee, like the PTA, or I’ll be sewing Anna a costume for a school play or….whatever. That’s life. It gets in the way sometimes. Or, maybe, just maybe, this life is the way that this life is and to hell with the state of my desk drawers. OH, how I vacillate. I think that this is probably one of those classic “find the happy medium” things. Balance? What’s that? My personality is so ALL OR NOTHING that it is ridiculous. I’m glad that I’ve at least acknowledged that now because I know that I spent a fair amount of time despairing over this or that because it wasn’t absolutely perfect with a capital give me a break.

I’m really cutting myself some slack around here. I’ve found it is one of the perks of age and experience. I realized recently that I’m always waiting to just survive this day so that I can get on to the next big thing. Just hanging on until Friday, the weekend, the dinner out, the vacation, the birthday, whatever. You know what? The ultimate thing we’re all headed for? That big end thing? (Yes, the D word–death). THAT. That is the thing we’re all headed towards. And without melodrama or a sense of the macabre, I’m embracing this time I have right here, right now, even if I don’t have the perfect body or the perfect tan or the perfect wardrobe. Is this all there is? Most definitely, and it is perfect. All of it, messy drawers and all.

I’m not giving up–I’m still fighting the battle of keeping a clean refrigerator (one of my character quirks, for those in the know) but I’m trying to not let myself sweat the small stuff. The small stuff is the stuff that most of the fights in our marriage have been about, not anything of consequence, to be honest. And that is not what I want to remember. That is not what I want the here and now to be about. I want the here and now to be about things like today, the perfect stay-at-home mom day, where Anna and I went to the bank and the grocery store and the bluffs and beach at Ellwood and played with friends and ate delicious food and ended the day happy and content with our lot in life.

There are things I want, things that are cool (like my new iPhone) or would even make life easier (like that big kitchen with plenty or storage that I dream about having someday). But here I am, full belly, full heart, happy for what is, for the now, for the moment. You can’t take that with you, but you sure as hell can enjoy it for the now.

P.S. Some business: Still waiting on my tech guy (cough cough *ADAM* cough cough) to help me switch my site over to WordPress so that I can enable comments again. Haloscan (what I used for commenting before) has kicked the bucket so I’m in a holding pattern for the moment. Please feel free to email me or, hey!, FB me. Be my friend. I just might be lurking on your profile anyway so why not?

P.P.S. I knit this sweater. Aren’t I clever? It is wool. Yay! Just in time for the 70-degree weather we’ve been having.

P.P.P.S. Whoa. How did it get to be so late? Good night.

Mar 10

My own worst critic

I had it happen today, the thing where you are walking down the street feeling fine, wearing your favorite pair of jeans and feeling like you look great, really great, and then you look down all of a sudden and you feel sloppy and pudgy and just not-quite-so-fine all of a sudden. There is no particular reason, but it hits strong enough that you slow down, mid-stride, and glance around, hoping that no one else has seen or noticed this sudden transformation.

I know, in my head, that nothing has changed. I still look pretty much the same, give or take a few disordered hairs on top of my head, as I did when I rolled out of the house this morning. Same clothes, same purse, same face, same body. Different attitude. Doesn’t attitude make all the difference?

It’s so easy for me to lapse into self-judgment, especially about my appearance. I’ll admit it: I’m maybe sort of having a hard time getting older. It’s weird. Not that I’m trying to be a young, sexy thing. No. No no no no no. Just….there is that confidence of youth that I see slipping away from me. It has, to be sure, been replaced by the confidence of age and maturity, but, for me at least, this newer confidence is more about my insides than my outsides. I have come to grips with the inner workings of me, for the most part. The ins-and-outs of being Jen. I feel mostly pretty good about my ability to love, to be in relationship. But, DAMN. It’s weird to be the one slip sliding to forty. More grey hairs on my head, crows-lines around my eyes, laugh lines around my mouth. A fashion sense rooted in what was in style a decade or more ago (having a hard time letting go of some of this, Still!). So I might step out feeling good, but one look around me, one tiny little whisper of doubt in my mind, and that confidence slips down a notch. Or two. Or maybe many. It was different being twenty, twenty-five. Plus, that was before the whole cancer thing (how I am hating this hair growing out process!!!!). This old grey mare, she ain’t what she used to be. I may weigh less than I did in my early-twenties, but now I have the small, droopy breasts of a former breastfeeder, the less than flat abdomen of a body that has grown a baby inside and endured abdominal surgery, not to mention the scars criscrossing everywhere (stomach, neck, arms). Gone is the navel piercing of youth. In its place, an upside down smile–cruel joke of a stretch mark left by my pregnancy with Anna. I blush at the thought of these marks on my body, wonder if I oughtn’t to just hide myself behind voluminous layers of drapey clothing. The voices in my head judge, judge, judge.

When this happens, I’m trying, over and over, to remind myself to love myself just as much as I’m trying to love every other person on this earth. No judgment. No criticism. No harsh, unkind thoughts or words. I am me. I’m rooted in me. This is my body, this is my face, these are the clothes I wear and this is the way I walk and these are the words that come out of my mouth and out of my head. And this, most definitely and without a doubt, is my body. The body that is marked by age, and yet, a body that is to be celebrated for its many accomplishments, from the mundane (legs that can get me from destination to destination, mouth that can talk) to the extraordinary (a body that has bounced back from invasion by cancerous growths, the assault of chemotherapy, and major surgery). I’m no swimsuit model, but damn if this body isn’t a wonderland, after all.

I started keeping a journal again, partly to jot down thoughts that I have right before bed (you know, those things that need to go on the to-do list that will otherwise slip from this aging brain), and partly to encourage myself. I am so my own best self-help book. I write myself encouraging notes, remind myself that tomorrow is another day, tell myself to get my head out of my ass and focus on the important stuff when I’m caught up in painful self-consciousness, gently nudge towards healthy habits of all sorts–diet and exercise and word and deed.

I’d like to think it’s working. By golly, it better. Because I have a feeling that this just goes on and on.