Loving the Jalopy (or, Why it’s OK if you’re not in love with your fat)

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  Borderline obese, though not quite there (according to my estimated BMI at least, which, I agree, is an outdated and inaccurate measure of health).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.

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One thought on “Loving the Jalopy (or, Why it’s OK if you’re not in love with your fat)

  1. Krista,

    You and your words are awesome. I have watched many family members struggle with their weight and it is very difficult. Changing a lifestyle is so hard with how society is, with both spouses working, overtime required or *recommended*, spending time with family. Adding in the creation of healthy meals & snacks for all and exercise too can just about drive anyone nutty.

    I think that taking care of your body in the best way you can, shows love for yourself and if you can love yourself, you can love others more freely. Also, it is hard to accept love from anyone else if you can’t love yourself. You can see this in other people when you issue a compliment and they shrug it off. Take the compliment, love yourselves. We’ve all done it though. Guilty as charged. Everyone should try to take 3 or 4 or 5 hours (or more) of the 168 hours in a week to love themselves in a healthy way.

    I battle with my weight in the opposite way of most people (I have trouble gaining weight) and I know it is not the same thing. However, I have to deal with continuous comments about my weight and I battle with loving myself as I am, daily. A few weeks ago, a shuttle van pulling into one of the Sentry driveways actually pulled over, while I was on an afternoon walk and said, “You’re not walking to lose weight, are you?” and she made some other comment that I can’t remember after I told her “no”. Totally just blew me away that someone had that big of an urge to comment on my weight that they had to pull over to tell me! I remember that it was a beautiful day, I was feeling good and actually had a smile on my face. After she drove away, I just wandered for a few minutes, just shocked for a bit. Just because I’m thin doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take care of my body; exercise & love myself. I have to walk daily or my cholesterol is bad (genetics). I have to watch everything I eat because I get migraines from all sorts of things: too much sugar, certain unhealthy foods, etc. I have had people call me anorexic, skinny & ask me if I have an eating disorder. Sometimes people say it as a compliment (kind of), but it never really feels that way. If you want to comment on someone’s weight, don’t, unless they invite a comment. I have always thought, if you want to compliment someone, give a real compliment. If someone looks good, say “You look good! What are you doing different?” or what I say to you is,
    “Krista, You look great! Very healthy & glowing! I think that it is awesome that you are choosing to love yourself and care about yourself as much as you can. All that exercise seems to agree with you!”

    I’m sorry to rant a bit off of your blog, but I feel the same conflict with body image. I go to a Yoga class one a week and to the gym twice a week to lift weights. I try to do something on the weekend like bike or go for a walk. I will start to feel strong & positive again and then will have either negative outside comments or inner dialogue start up (or I’ll get sick and have a set-back) and some days it is hard to keep with it, BUT I remember how good it feels to take care of myself & to feel strong and I keep with it or go back to it. I realized that no one else can take care of my body, but me. Even though I will probably always be too thin & boney for my own liking, I still deserve a few hours a week to strengthen my body and show myself some love (or at least try to), don’t I? Damn straight, I do! And you deserve that too. We all do.

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