Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On Becoming Shallow

Today I am 70 pounds lighter than I was a year and a half ago.  Congratulations, right? I should be celebrating.  I'm happy to be healthier, of course, but I can't seem to shed the nagging feeling that I've lost something important along with all the fat. 

When I was a bigger girl (to the tune of 250 lbs), I didn't get my self worth from the appearance of my body.  I was so clearly outside the norms of feminine beauty standards that all I could do--besides staving off regular bouts of "I'm different" induced malaise with pints of Ben and Jerry's Americone Dream--not give a fuck.  Yeah, I knew I was fat, and yeah I didn't wear bikinis ( I still don't), but it wasn't something we talked about.  It wasn't something that mattered.  In a way, my exceedingly generous curves made me feel voluptuous and luscious. 

When I went on dates, I knew that the men who agreed to spend time with me either liked my body as it was, or were interested in my mind and intellect, rather than my temporary packaging.  I could run go places without being notices (sure, I craved attention at times, but preferred my anonymity), and surprise people with my wit rather than my waistline. 

Days when I hated my belly, or the rolls of fat that adorned my frame, I just didn't look in the mirror, wore red, and applied chocolate.  Now, I feel pressure to look good all the time--wherever I go.  Men stare when I'm sweaty and smelly from the gym, or wearing my ugliest clothes so as not to be noticed.  But they still notice.  I MISS BEING INVISIBLE.

And oh the mind of a beautiful fat woman!  I knew I wasn't going to make it in this world based on my looks, so I nourished my mind.  As a highly sexual creature clothed in adipose, I found other ways of making meaning and transferred my eroticism into the world of the intellect.  Rather than losing myself in endless lusts and hookups, I fell in love with poets, ideas, and rousing conversations.  I masturbated with my mind and prided myself on my intellectual fitness, since I could say nothing of my physical fitness.  And knowing that the body in time would fade and grow weak, regardless of it's beauty or lack thereof, I was proud of what a hottie I was on the inside.  Learning to find deep and lasting value within myself that had nothing to do with my dress size was incredible empowering.  I was deep and thick and wide and fucking delicious.

But when an honest lover regaled me with an adoring list of what he loved about my body one evening: "I love your hair, your eyes, your lips, your mind....your arms, fingers, legs, toes...(everything but my midsection)" I tried to accept the compliment.  He loved me, and found me beautiful.  BUT the elephant in the room my was tummy, my overweight, stretch marked, post pregnancy wasteland.  I gazed back into his love filled eyes as my lip quivered and my eyes welled with tears.  All I had heard was..."I love you but I hate your belly."

Struggling through tears, I said "That's what people say to fat girls!  You've got a great personality...Tell me the truth!"  And he did (though I must admit I put him in a terrible position). 

He said, "I'm attracted to you but not to your tummy."  There.  It was said.  I cried.  I cried all night, in fact.  I cried for caring what I looked like, I cried for not looking like all the girls with flat tummies, and I cried to feeling unloved for something as stupid as my belly.  For the first time, I said something aloud that I had never even allowed myself to even think: I was curvy, voluptuous, and sensual, but never fat."  But the truth needed to be said.  "I'm fat."  He looked back at me, grieved at my sadness, and said "What do you want to do about it?  I'm here to support you whatever you want to do, but you don't have to do anything.  I love you as you are and I think you're beautiful."  I could hardly hear him through the pain. 

And that's where it started.  After a year and a half of a no sugar, limited carbohydrates, endless exercise, and no small amount of obsession, I now weigh 170 pounds and have a BMI of 27.  I'm a mere two points away from a healthy BMI for the first time in 13 years.  But I feel so fucking empty.  According to the Tanita scale at the gym, I still have another 30 pounds to lose before I'm at a healthy body weight.  I don't know if I'll ever get there.  My body is practically refusing to let go of anymore weight, dropping a pound to give me two back a few days later.  But you know, all this talk of weight and diet and BMI is exhausting, isn't it?  That's why it's so hard to stay on a diet and exercise regime unless you enjoy it for it's own sake.  It's dehumanizing.  It reduces you to endless obsessions over calorie counts, dress sizes, muscle mass and essentially makes you (or at least it has made me) extremely focused on external things like my appearance. 

When is it enough?  When, if ever, will I be satisfied?  How do I even know what healthy looks like beyond the measurements?  Because despite the fact that my numbers are healthier, frankly, I feel like a hollow, shallow bitch.  I've come to believe that my worth really and truly only lies in what I look like.  And you know what?  Even though I'm 70 lbs lighter, I still have a tummy.  I still have stretch marks and cellulite, and I'm starting to get wrinkles on my forehead from all these years of getting that quizzical look on my face when I'm thinking hard about something (which is pretty much always).  I'm getting wrinkles around my mouth from smiling my gigantic smile and more wrinkles around my eyebrows from raising them snobbishly at some absurdity or another.  So, truth be told, even if I keep losing weight, I'll still be, gasp, human.

You see, when I was 250 pounds, I was fat and unhealthy by just about every physical standard.  But I threw out the scale, stopped looking in the mirror, and ate and dressed how I pleased.  And that left so much time for delicious contemplation, for connection, and for being present.  Do you know how much it fritters one's mind to obsess over calories and food and exercise constantly?  It reduces you to a simpering and shallow nitwit--well, perhaps some of you have fared better than I.  I certainly hope so. 

Now the mirror and the scale have become wicked fixations, and I truly (most days) believe that my value as a person, and more specifically, a woman, is reduced to my weight, my clothes size, and the frequency of my workouts.  I've come to believe that success is rigid self control rather than a blissful acceptances of life's inevitable fluctuations.  And now, on the eve of deciding to try to create another child, I find myself poised between the deep desire to let go and allow my body to blossom with new life, and the paralyzing fear of gaining weight.  In my world these last few years, gaining a pound is a terrifying recognition of failure, so how will I handle gaining 15?  or 20?  or 30?  How do I open myself to the loss of control once again that is pregnancy and motherhood, and truly, what it means to authentically be a woman?

I just want you all to know--the women especially, that no one is immune to this creeping cultural phenomenon of reducing ourselves to something external--whether it be our weight, our grades, our success, our marriage, our ability to give or cause orgasms--but all of this isn't who we really are.  Even I, women's right's activist, feminist, and champion of healthy body image, fall short every damn day.  I struggle to see myself as beautiful, and I've struggled with it my whole life.  Whether it was the time I asked my gynecologist what was wrong with my vagina because I'd never seen another one in my life, or all the times I felt something was wrong with me for my generous hips and breasts (still here after all the weight loss), or felt bad for having a tummy.  It got even harder to feel beautiful after giving birth, when my belly was something closer to Santa Clause's bowl full of jelly than it was to the flat bellies we see advertised everywhere.  And even now as I am beginning to do burlesque, I experience anxiety about exposing my belly--still NOT flat and covered in silvery stretch marks. 

Many days I feel that I am not good enough--I'm no longer plus-sized, but am a bigger than "normal" (whatever that is).  I'm "almost" a size 6/8 but not quite, almost acceptable, almost loveable, but not quite.  My thighs still touch at the top, and the second I take my shirt off you can tell I've had a baby.  Is that something to be ashamed of?  Society would say it is.  But I say that's fucked up.  And it's time we began asking THESE questions rather than "What's wrong with me?"  Why, as women, aren't we shown images (and NOT DOVE images, thank you) of real female bodies of all sizes?  Why aren't we shown galleries of vaginas along with all the horrifying pictures of STD ridden cocks and cunts?  I mean, who wants to spend time looking at the variety of wart covered labia?  Why aren't we exposed to breastfeeding women so we know how it's done?  Why don't we proudly share pictures of our post-natal bodies the way we do our firm, swollen pregnant ones?  Is it because it doesn't turn people on?  Fuck that!  We need to learn to see the beauty in out bodies in all their crazy cool manifestations and stop feeling ashamed when our bodies do what they're supposed to do.  We're supposed to get hips and curves, supposed to gain a some weight when pregnant, and it takes time for our bodies to put our organs back into place after we've given birth. 

Who is perpetuating all these lies?  Culture, obviously, but just shouting that angrily doesn't get us anywhere.  We need to start talking about our bodies, loving them, and sharing them ESPECIALLY when they aren't perfect.  And you know what?  If my body was perfect, I'd look like every other flat and homogenous Victoria's Secret model out there, which is completely boring.  It's my wrinkles, my stretch marks, my curves, dimples, freckles, fat, and birth marks that make me ME and different from every other person on this planet.  So--take a look at what you think are your flaws and begin to see them as trademarks--unique aspects of an original work of art.  I'm not saying this is easy--I struggle with it every day.  But let's talk about it and commit to finding the beauty in our imperfections.

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