Last night I got real down on myself. Real down. Not so much on my Self, at least not at first, but on my body, which was suddenly, yet again, alien to me. I recall gazing at, prodding, examining my body as a young child, and while it was quite mysterious then, it was not so much alien as animal. I was in awe of the biological wonder that made up a human being, and in recognizing my own anatomy – a working muscle under this calf, peach fuzz on my forearm, delicate veins under my eyelid – I realized my own Humanity, and for the first time received a sense of being both special and Special. I am a human. We are many, I am one. “What fun!” I thought. “What will I grow into? What kind of women will I look like?” I asked, perhaps too eagerly. Even then, unaware of the weight and meaning of the words, I knew that it was valuable to be beautiful, sexy, pretty… and I wanted those adjectives mightily without even knowing why.
I have grown since then, and yet gazing into a full-length mirror is still a mystery. This time it was this space between my breasts (breasts I only started wholeheartedly loving within the last year) and my rather ample hips and thighs (still working on those) – this space where a flat stomach could, would, should (?) be. What is this torso, and to whom does it belong? Me? Really? How did I become this way? Is this okay? I saw laziness. And sadness, and boredom. Heartache, failure, fear, stress, apathy, and, best of all, insecurity. I really just love that one.
Objectively, I could say I saw fat, but if it were that simple I wouldn’t be writing this. For one, I don’t want to say that one body type is better than another and there is SO MUCH INTENSELY COMBATIVE discussion of fat and fat-shaming and thin-shaming and disorder and pride that I am even tentative to write this at all. But I will, because looking in the mirror is a subjective experience for every single one of us, and shame and pride and love and loathing come in all sizes and shapes and moles and hairs and scars.
I acknowledged that I’m probably sucking in at least 30% of the time, maybe 80%, I have no idea. Sometimes it’s conscious and sometimes it’s not. I also have no idea why I do it (aside from mass media capitalist hegemonic patriarchal antiquated ancestral traumatic spiritually disconnected material culture). Body dysmorphia – often described as a preoccupation or obsession with a minor or imagined flaw, often to the point of disordered behavior- is not easily understood because it varies so greatly in its manifestation from person to person. But I would go as far as to say that everyone experiences some level of misperception of self (side note: we are all divinely beautiful and powerful creatures). Of course, some of us come to a point of ill health and chronic suffering, while others may fleetingly wallow in loathing for just a day or two – but we have all had the experiences of self-doubt, illusion, and fear, particularly around our body-image and notions of attractiveness and worth. I once offended a group of friends, some of whom had suffered through anorexia and bulimia, by suggesting that if I’d ever had body dysmorphia, it was in reverse, or somehow scrambled. I would look in the mirror and see someone beautiful, only to see a photo, later, of the same night and feel horrified at the denial I had allowed myself concerning my fitness and appearance. Insecurity transcends time and place because it isn’t really about this or that body part or awkward phase so much as a deep internal conflict about who we are.
I want familiarity with my body again – I long for the confidence and awareness that came with regular yoga practice, the smoothness and precision that came with being a dancer for most of my life. I catch a glimpse of my hands, my knees, and yes, my fat, and I think “Where did that scar come from? Are these the pizza dough arms Grandma is always talking about? Ouch, I should have stretched before doing a victory split at the bowling alley, white Russian cocktail sloshing onto the waxed floor while I lie here, hamstrung out.”
While this familiar scene of “Ugh” was playing out in front of my mirror, my actual Voice spoke up, from somewhere between my spine and heart and skin and brain and vagina, all like “Girl, why you doin’ this again?”
I didn’t have an answer for her, er, Me, at that moment, but the question itself may have been enough. This Process, the self-critique/shame/grossout-leading-to-hopefully-a-new-burst-of-inspiration-and-motivation thing, is not new. It happens here and there- usually when I’m a little heartbroken (I am), a little unsure of my direction (I am), a little disappointed in my seeming inability to get up just 20 minutes early to do yoga (I am), and when all my finances and hygiene and immediate food supply are in order (they are). The triple combo of Vulnerability, Awareness and Stability force me to hone in on what, if anything, is keeping me from Happiness. So, Girl, I am doing it again, but it’s not about the fat, or all the clothes I just bought with my tax refund to look hot, or the fact that a guy I really loved is probably eating something greasy and delicious with his very beautiful, thin, new girlfriend. These are symptoms.
The disease is, I think, Fear. As usual. Fear that I won’t be beautiful enough for the next partner. Fear that there won’t be a next partner. Fear that if I REALLY went after my dreams it would mean a whole lot more responsibility, and power, than I’ve ever had. Fear that if I really ate healthily and exercised every week for me, and not for x-y-him, I’d have to stick with it, day after day, and that’s hard. Fear that I quit things when they’re hard. Fear that if I don’t make this decision now it will affect me for the rest of my life. Fear of the rest of my life. Fear that the person I keep claiming I am, or claiming I will be, is in fact right here, and always has been, and will be for the rest of my life, and it’s MY FAULT that I don’t feel connected to her, that I shy away from her, intimidated by her immense potential, unexplainable wisdom and seemingly effortless awareness and confidence. I am afraid of myself, and I’m sorry.
Once I manage to forgive myself (I do), and acknowledge that this wave of despair will pass (it has), the obvious remedy is Love. But I don’t mean love in just the sense of self-acceptance and compassion – both of which are extremely important, valid and needed, as well. I mean love in the celebratory sense – to revel in one’s own existence and honor it by the perpetuation of a thriving life. To get up and stretch, or skip that cocktail, or go for a run (or even just a walk) because you love You so much that you want to ensure a long, healthy life in which you can learn constantly, share your abundance with others, contribute to other’s happiness, and find contentment in your own.
Okay, well…I took notes this time, so I think I’ve got it. Thanks, Jessalyn. I’m gonna hold you to it.