A friend of mine recently posted about her “stress diet”:
Why no, I haven’t been a Size 4 all my life. Actually, not even for most of it. That was a result of the 2008 Divorce Diet, the diet where you’re in so much emotional turmoil food of any kind is unbearable for almost a year. Today I ran across a CD of pictures my brother took when we went to Spain together, six years ago. We booked the tickets on a whim, and we both needed the trip badly for different reasons related to events in our lives that still reverberate somewhat today.
I was two years out from pregnancy and childbirth in these pictures, and I hadn’t lost much of the weight. I still struggle today with loving the woman in these pictures, but showing them here is a step in that direction.
When I asked her how she felt now, as compared to then, she responded:
Krista, that’s a really interesting question. Physically I feel a lot better. I feel like I can run/hike/do whatever forever. I love, love, love that feeling. But I’m really conflicted by the other feelings. I feel a lot better about myself, a lot more secure, a lot more confident. I like myself more. But that gives me pause. One of my fondest dreams is to look the way I did in those pictures and *still* feel confident, secure, and like myself. And yet, I don’t think it’ll ever happen. So I live in fear of gaining weight. Awesome, huh?
(Thanks, Jennifer, for permission to repost your note!)
Not too long ago, I was pretty fat. Borderline obese, though not quite there (according to my estimated BMI at least, which, I agree, is an outdated and inaccurate measure of health). A few months ago, at the beginning of February, my workplace sponsored a “Biggest Loser” contest, with prizes to the person who could lose the highest percentage of his or her body weight over the course of 12 weeks. I took it seriously, I made some real changes in my eating and activity habits, and I now weigh more than 20 pounds less than I did at the beginning of 2010. I completely understand what Jennifer means when she says she feels both physically and mentally better than she did before.
Her statement that she feels that her increased confidence and self-love is somehow wrong made me cock my head to the side, though. I understand exactly what she’s saying, of course. We’re supposed to love ourselves completely no matter what we look like. It’s drilled into our heads that it’s what’s on the inside that matters – the only thing that matters.
But…does loving yourself mean loving everything about yourself? Am I required to be madly in love with this lousy, between-cuts hairstyle? Do I have to titter with joy at the half-flapping, half-blubbering sound my arms sometimes make when my less-than toned triceps catch a stiff breeze? Do I have to not only accept, but embrace the spare tire which has lodged itself firmly around my waist? I can totally get on board with learning to love, or at least accept, things we cannot change about ourselves. I used to hate my nose, but I’ve learned to like it. It matches my level of quirk, I think. But the things I have the power to change? Do I have to love those, too? Would I be expected to love my hasty temper and tendency to feel superior to certain people? Should I embrace my self-destructive procrastination habit? Should I refuse to even try to change these behavioral tendencies because they’re part of who I am and I love me? ALL of me?
Of course not. But somewhere along the way, women started thinking that loving ourselves means every single part of ourselves. If we love every single part of ourselves, why should we ever try to improve? Why should we ever work to become better people? If we accept all our flaws as perfection, because they are who we are, how will we ever grow and progress in life?
I can love myself – the real essence of me, without loving every single detail of my appearance. And, in fact, I don’t love myself because I lost weight. I lost weight because I love myself.
Healthy choices take more time, effort, willpower, concentration and resolve than ever. We are what the CDC calls an “obesogenic” society, which they define as “environments that promote increased food intake, nonhealthful foods, and physical inactivity.” I am the first to admit it was HARD work, and continues to be hard work, to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly, because those are not the default setting for our society. And, in fact, we’re led to believe we shouldn’t even want to be skinny (even if it’s just the byproduct of choices that are healthier for our bodies and minds) because what we look like shouldn’t matter, and I can totally admit that when I was overweight, I used to happily and self-indulgently judge women who were working hard to change their lifestyle as shallow and body-obsessed. You know what, though? I am worth the hard work. I deserve to dedicate the time, energy and money to myself. I love myself, and because I love myself, I choose to care for myself.
I had the best workout today. I worked so hard, and I was completely drenched in sweat, and despite the fact that I only got 3 hours of sleep last night I felt amazing. I still do, in fact, 3 1/2 hours later. And as I was driving home, glowing and feeling powerful – not only physically, but emotionally and mentally, like I could not only kick anybody’s ass, but I could conquer any metaphorical obstacles to happiness, too – I was thinking, “Why would anybody not want to do this for themselves??” Believe me, I’m shocked to hear myself think that. Six short months ago, I loathed all forms of exercise. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling good after a workout. And I didn’t start out feeling good after, either. But now that it’s a regular routine, I can see that it doesn’t just make me skinnier. It makes me a better person. I get angry less. I’m more optimistic. I’m more confident. I never would have thought it could be possible, but I actually freakin’ enjoy life more when I’m getting regular exercise.
So, why would anybody not want to do that for themselves? Priorities. Most of us are last on our list of Things of Which I Must Take Care. We’ve got work, significant others, children, friends, homes, possessions, etc. etc. etc. And putting ourselves anywhere on that list that would actually lead to regular self-care makes us, in the eyes of many of the people who are dangling as an afterthought from their own priority lists, selfish assholes. Why are you wasting your time exercising when you could be working harder!? You’ll never climb the corporate ladder if you don’t put in 80 gabillion hours of overtime, and if you don’t reach the top of the corporate ladder, how can you ever be considered successful!? Why would you be spending time and money on yourself when your children are growing up so fast!? You may miss the one-time-only adorableness of their first shit on the toilet while you’re at the gym!!
We convince ourselves that it is too hard, that it is not important, and even that it is wrong, but the reality is, even though it’s constantly hammered into our heads that we have to love ourselves, we don’t even allow ourselves to CARE for ourselves. Love yourself, but don’t actually spend any time nurturing yourself or helping yourself become a better person, because you’re supposed to be taking care of everybody else. Well, fuck that, yo. I don’t struggle with loving the person in this picture:
She totally rocked as much then as she does now. But I refuse to force myself to love the fact I looked like an overinflated balloon. And I’m unapologetic that driving this new, shiny body around:
makes me feel better than driving around the Jalopy of old. It’s mine to enjoy…I bought it.