Friday, April 17, 2015

Age 23

“That girl over there is so thin, I would love to be like her.” And so it began. At a mere ten years of age, I began to notice, and indeed analyze, women’s figures and weight.

I was lucky enough to have wonderful parents who provided my siblings and I with healthy, home-cooked dinners every night. Takeaways were unheard of in our house. We were taught to have a positive attitude towards food and we understood and appreciated the necessity to eat nutritious food in order to stay healthy. We were also taught the value of staying active and fit. Family hikes, cycles and tennis matches were an integral part of our childhood. And yet, with this one comment made by a childhood friend of mine, everything I was taught about nutrition and exercise was partially sidelined, as I began to focus more and more on physical appearance, as opposed to physical health.

Throughout my teenage and college years, I worked hard to maintain a slim figure. At various points throughout these years (usually when I was stressed about other aspects of my life), I developed an obsession with my weight. I would calorie count – keeping my intake of calories well below the recommended daily intake, whilst simultaneously engaging in vigorous exercise. An eating disorder is characterized by an abnormal attitude towards food that causes someone to change their eating habits and behavior (HSE). In hindsight, I can recognize that my attitude towards food was indeed abnormal, and in fact, it had major implications on other aspects of my life. Food and exercise were constantly on my mind and I never felt truly happy with how I looked – despite consistently remaining a size 6. I always thought I could “be thinner,” “look better.”

In September 2014, I started a new job. I joined a gym which was close by to my workplace and found myself settling back into old habits – calorie counting, excessive exercise. I was training hard and running quite a lot so I entered a 10km race to have something to work towards. I ended up coming 4th in the women’s section of the race and it was this result that began to change my attitude towards my body. My body had done something amazing – it allowed me to train, compete and achieve something I never thought I could do. My body is amazing.

And it is that thought that I want to share with the world. It saddens me that there is so much focus put on achieving an unrealistic figure presented to us in magazines and on runways. Young women want to be “thin,” “slim,” “have a flat stomach” and I too wasted so much of my life aiming for these ludicrous ideals. This is not what our focus should be on. We should not be starving ourselves of nutrition and putting our bodies under strain with the aim of achieving the unachievable. Our bodies can produce amazing results if we fuel them and look after them correctly. As a nation, we should be encouraging everyone to get the most out of their body, as it has so much to offer.

Since decisively changing the way I view my body, I have adapted a positive attitude towards food. Each day I ensure I am feeding myself with enough nutrients and protein to fuel my training and as a result I have gained 2kg of muscle in two months, making my jeans a bit tighter! In the past, this would have made me stressed, unhappy and obsessive about losing more weight. However, I am now healthier and happier than ever and feel physically fantastic. My positive attitude towards my body has improved my quality of life as a whole – I spend less time worrying about food and exercise which has allowed me to focus on other aspects of my life.

The human body is a spectacle – it fights illness, creates new life and enables us to achieve so much in life. Why has society taught us to look at it critically, and often in disgust? Our body is a powerful instrument. If we fuel it appropriately and look after it with the love and attention it deserves, it can help us to realize and accomplish our goals. Our bodies are amazing.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Age 20

I see you every day, and I want to look away.
Come back, where do you think you’re going is what you always say.

I see you every day, and you always promise truth.
But here I am in front of you, nothing but lies produced.

I see you every day, and nothing seems to change.
I look right at you, and my heart fills up with rage.

I see you every day, something never feels right.
Why do you have this hold on me, no matter how hard I fight?

I see you every day, and here we are again.
You’re always quick to point out my knobby little butt chin.

I see you every day, and always end up froze
As you remind me that I have a crooked nose.

I see you every day, dreams reaching toward the sky.
But here they come crashing down as you point out my eyes.

I see you every day, and always let you win.
Why must you always mention this uneven skin.

I see you every day, with joy in my soul.
Until quietly you whisper, cover-up that mole.

I see you every day, but today it’s not the same.
I’ve realized something beautiful; maybe you’re not to blame.

I see you every day, but now I know who’s at fault.
I’m the one who fills you with all these mean insults.

I see you every day, the mirror in my room.
You only reflect this self-hatred by which I am consumed.

I see you every day, but today I look away.
Because I’ve found my inner beauty.
And it is here to stay.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Age 22

What do I see? I see imperfections. I see flaws. I do not see me - not the real me. I see and feel ugly. I feel powerless to stop the self-loathing and negativity my reflection invokes.

I started puberty at fourteen and ever since then I have hated myself. All I want to be is beautiful. I want to have the body of my dreams - toned, slim, healthy. But when I look in the mirror I see myself, my reflection, and I'm instantly depressed.

I have to hold back tears. I have to hold my head high and pretend that I am a drop-dead gorgeous woman when I don't feel gorgeous. My facade is good. People don't see through it. My armor impervious to the scrutiny of others, but underneath that armor I'm the same.

Fat. Ugly. Imperfect.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Age 15

I have always been a heavy girl. Always. I remember when I was in elementary school right up to about the start of seventh grade, I was the overweight, "fat" girl of all my classes. I felt like I was hideous and ugly and desperately tried to change myself since elementary. Can you believe it? A ten year old going on Google and typing "how to lose weight.” I never did it to please others as much as myself. Even the doctor said I had to lose weight and that's why I was trying to change myself - for my health - just like any person should.

But middle school changed everything. It was fifth grade and I was being bullied by a group of boys who called me a range of names. Anything from comparing me to the Star Wars character Chewbacca, to calling me an elephant, fat or ugly. It bothered me severely - I started eating more instead of less. I gained more weight going into sixth grade. I was obsessive. My mother put me in karate, but I never lost weight doing it.

Sixth grade was bully-free, but the impact of the bullying from the year before left me eating emotionally. I wore sweatpants and t-shirts most of the time to cover up what was underneath. 

Now it was time for seventh grade. This is where I began losing weight and not because I was being healthy, but because the bullying began once again. One boy was placed in the same class as me. He was one of my former bullies and, my God, gave me the hardest time of my life.

Everything was changing in the seventh grade for me. I was moving houses, my family was homeless for a month and he just piled on more crap. He was, and always will be, the boy who made me despise almost every aspect of my being. Everyday he called me names and got a few other boys to call me names too. One of them even told me to, "Go find a treadmill.” I would tell teachers and they would talk to him, but he wasn't one for change.

I started eating less. My mom took notice and sometimes even forced me to eat. She asked me, "Why?" I just said, "I wanna lose weight." We left it at that. She had no idea about the bullying. I was so uncomfortable with my body it was scary. Of course, I didn't get skinny, but I lost enough weight for people to take notice. But thankfully, seventh grade came to an end and I never saw that asshole again.

In tenth grade, which is now, my best friend used to jokingly call me ugly. I called her one day and started crying. I said, "I know I may look like an ogre, but you don't have to remind me. I know I'm ugly." She started crying and told me it was a joke and didn't mean it and thought I was beautiful, but I feel like subconsciously, somewhere in her head she thinks I'm ugly. I do too. I think about it and still cry. Words like fat and ugly stuck to me…especially coming from someone I love.

But I guess I'll be okay. My best friend stopped calling me fat and ugly. Two boys in my class once called me fat and ugly, but don't anymore. And once my friend called my fat and ugly, but I told him that he can't say things like that to me. After three years of self-harming and hating myself, I've finally began to repair my body image. I'm working on loving myself and my body. I hope one day I can come to terms with my body and accept how it is. I hope one day I can stop worrying about being skinny. Because skinny isn't beautiful, just like fat isn't ugly. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Age 56

I used to be bigger. Not fat bigger. Not taller bigger. I mean muscular bigger - as in I could heft grocery bags without breaking a sweat. As in my arms didn’t sag like a basset hound neck. As in I wore clothes three sizes larger than I now wear. I used to be a bigger, stronger, mightier woman. And I liked it.

I’m 56 and want my old body back. In the past decade, in spite of lifting weights and working out, my muscles seem determined to wither away. The diminishment in body is followed by a diminishment of spirit. I am losing weight and losing heart. Without my armor of muscles and yes, fat, I feel like I don’t take up enough space in this world.

Most woman want to be smaller, not bigger. Even with education about eating disorders, the weight (excuse the pun) of societal expectations of how women’s bodies should look has done little to change how woman feel about their bodies. Lithe may be the new skinny, but muscles are cool as long as you are still zero body fat. Just look at any CrossFit infomercial and you’ll see size zero women with six pack abs. Sorry, but that’s just wrong. The kind of body I miss is one with muscles and enough fat to cover them.

Back in the day I raced bicycles. My thighs were marble-like wonders that allowed me to sprint and push a big gear with minimal effort. It wasn’t just my legs that were super-sized. I was all over bigger - twenty pounds more than I now weigh. My butt was rounded, and my breasts, always larger in proportion to the rest of me, were a cup size bigger as well. I worked in a bicycle store and spent my days carrying steel bikes up and down a long flight of stairs and racing up and down hills on the weekends. I wasn’t Wonder Woman, but I was a strong, fit woman. I could kick ass and I felt good about it.

“There is something profoundly upsetting about a proud, confident, unrepentantly muscular women,” writes David Chapman, co-author of Venus With Biceps: A Pictoral History of Muscular Woman. “She risks being seen by her viewers as dangerous, alluring, odd, beautiful, or, at worst, a sort of rare show. She is, in fact, a smorgasbord of mixed messages.”

Women have always had, and will continue to have, a complicated relationship with their bodies, especially when it comes to depictions of strength. From mythical Amazons and Rosie the Riveter showing off her Popeye biceps, to a ripped post-menopausal Madonna in Versace ads, the ambivalence about women with muscles has always been a delicate negotiation for both genders.

I remember taking care of my grandmother. She was in her late eighties and suffering from dementia, I was in my early twenties and affected with the hubris of post-adolescence. One of my tasks was to bathe her which meant undressing my grandmother and seeing her stark naked as she stood in the shower. As embarrassed as my grandmother was to stand unclothed before her granddaughter, I was the one who was horrified. What had become of her once robust body? What I saw when she stood before me resembled a child’s body: skinny, hairless and in need of protection from the world. “My body will never look like that,” I vowed.

Three years ago I broke my left arm and wrist in a bad fall. The limb took close to a year to heal. When I began using my left arm I found I could barely lift a tea kettle much less resume my regime of push ups and power yoga postures. In spite of physical therapy, to this day, the arm remains weak, the muscles flabby and compromised. I’ve yet to accept it won’t bounce back to its pre-fracture form.

In my sixth decade, it’s unlikely that any amount of supplemental hormones and weight lifting will return me to my former physique. Biology is conspiring against me. Which leaves me with the choice of accepting my smaller, weaker body, or railing against the inevitable changes in muscle tone, fat and skin. It’s the weight of my mortality that I need to lift off my shoulders. And no amount of gym time can train me for that.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Age 46

I really hate it when friends post pictures of me on Facebook. I rarely look good on film. Yes, sometimes I do post my own photos, but they are carefully selected by ME. They are ones I feel I look decent in. This is becoming a problem for me and I bet there are others out there that feel the same. What exactly do you say to someone? “Please don’t tag or post a photo of me online?” “Why?” “Because I look fat and ugly.” Then what do you say when they reply “No, I think you look good.” Yikes. Is it wrong for me to want to control my own image on the internet? By merely starting this conversation with friends, I open myself up to:

1. Being a bitch.

2. Admitting I have a terrible body image and hate the way I look.

3. Facing my own insecurities about my physical appearance.

None of the options are appealing to me. For now, I just change my settings to “give permission” for photos. But that doesn’t stop anyone from putting them up on their wall and just not tagging me. Mutual friends will see the snapshots and know it’s me anyway.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of things in like about me. I am smart, I am a working professional, I have a lot of friends, I am funny. I just don’t like how I look.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Age 37

When I look in the mirror, sometimes I see beauty. Then I see a picture of myself and mirror lies.

Friday, October 24, 2014

You're Not Fat

Age 21

I see a lie, a betrayal, a bad experience and a challenge. 

There are only two mirrors in my little apartment, and the one I actually look in only shows my body from the bust down - from this angle it is very easy to fool myself into believing that the worried glances my family gives me about my weight are overreactions. 

When I look in the full-length mirror, I am punched in the gut with the disgusting feeling of the body looking back at me that doesn't feel like the one I believe I have. That mirror betrays me every time by taking away my false sense of security which is why I rarely look in it for very long. 

I can trace my weight gain to high school - sixteen and at a new school where I ended up a very lonely girl no one talked to or bothered to learn my name. I became completely sedentary when the depression of being invisible hit. 

But luckily, life isn't over after one hard blow - I get to go back into the ring for another round. College is a beautiful place where everyone is respected and listened to and people remember your name. 

Taking on the challenge of going to college and working part-time gave me the courage to save up for the trip of a lifetime in Europe that I leave for in 9 months. Signing up for that trip gave me the courage to realize that I am not happy in this body - not because it doesn’t fit into society's standards or because I feel a need to fit into a certain size. I simply don't feel good in this body and I want to feel alive again and am slowly succeeding in that goal - losing 4 pounds in just one week of being active and drinking water! 

Doing it because I want to has made all the difference and I am slowly learning not only to understand and listen to my body, but to love it and the person who lives in it too.    

Friday, October 10, 2014

Age 45

I tend to stay away from looking in the mirror for fear I may not be happy with what I see. I'm overweight. Not obese…well, according to medical standards, borderline "obese." I curse that machine at the local grocer by the pharmacy. At 5'7", I weigh 190-ish pounds. I say "ish" because for the last couple of months, I have fluctuated all over the 190 to 200 pound range.

Don't get me wrong, I am thankful for a body that still works. Nonetheless, I find myself feeling so completely fat and unattractive when looking at other women. It's hard, but I will sometimes like what I see and think, "Yeah, I have some attractive qualities." And then I'll be somewhere and see how younger and much thinner women get all the attention. They may even be not as attractive, they can have a not-so--pleasant personality even, but if they’re thin (it is my experience to see most male species do this), they will always get looked at first – both in social gatherings or on the job.

Recently, I had an epiphany though. I am so tired of being sick and tired and feeling ugly. I am going to push through my fear of failure. I am going to focus on what I do have – nice long hair, big brown eyes and a large chest – and work those qualities! I am going to try to implement healthier eating habits and get some physical activity in my life. Not going to go crazy, just take it…"one day at a time." Most importantly, I'll be doing this for me. Which, in turn, can be beneficial to my family. The way I see it, if I start with me, I can then take care of those I love – mainly my hubby and two boys – for years to come.