Wednesday, October 5, 2005

A disturbing paradox

I have something I want to get off my chest. It’s something I have pondered for a few days now, and I finally want to say something about it.

As I was getting ready for bed a few weeks ago, I got on the floor to do my nightly sit-ups. As I started to do the crunches, I was very aware of the way my stomach bulged up every time I did the crunch, then flattened out as I relaxed. I thought to myself, “Don’t worry about that roll of fat you’re seeing- it will go away once you do enough sit ups.” Mind you, that “roll of fat” is in no way visible when I am standing, sitting, or doing anything but sit-ups, but the idea that I looked this way right now upset me to the point that I had to make an immediate mental plan for getting rid of it. I felt horrible, unattractive, and depressed.

A few days ago I was putting lotion on after a shower and noticed that if I put a certain type of pressure on the back of my upper thighs, a slight cellulite affect appeared. I was absolutely horrified, and I was so upset my eyes actually started to tear up. My physical self image, which at that point was pretty good, immediately fell through the floor. A few days before, I had rejoiced with the fact that the weather was warm enough to wear shorts and cute mini-skirts. Now, every time I see those shorts I want to cry. I walk by a mirror and see a girl with fat thighs and a bulbous stomach and it seems insurmountable.

After these two incidents, I have become increasingly aware of how my body feels inside my clothing- constantly wondering if my clothes are too tight for me. I am aware of every bite of food I take, concerned that maybe moving to New York has made me gain too much weight and I will never be able to lose it. I went out to buy skin firming cream, and have cut meat out of my diet again. I felt sexy and desirable a few weeks ago and now I feel fat and unattractive. I have become obsessed with making sure I am exercising every day, and if I don’t, or if I eat something decadent, I can’t fully enjoy it. I am concerned about everything I am doing wrong.

And I am a size 4.

Here’s my beef:

Why is it that we are so able and willing to accept our emotional idiosyncrasies but are utterly incapable of accepting our physical idiosyncrasies?

Over the years and through many long term relationships, I have come to know my emotional idiosyncrasies very well. I know that when I get mad, I just need 3 minutes of not having to explain myself and after that 3 minutes, I will become my usual, easy-going self again. I know that I have a tendency to get scared when I become vulnerable, but that this vulnerability can be one of the more endearing qualities about me. I know that I don’t like human chewing sounds, any type of condiment besides ketchup and tabasco, and I love to eat candy slowly, letting the treat melt in my mouth which can take anywhere from 2-10 minutes to finish. These are all things I don’t try to fix or apologize for. These are things that make me... well, Me.

So, why can’t we feel this way about our physical idiosyncrasies? Why can’t we just chuckle at ourselves and say, “Well, that’s the way I am, and I am comfortable with myself. I am healthy, I am dating a great guy who finds me attractive, and I am capable of doing anything I want without physical limitation.” Why can’t I see myself for the wonderful physical attributes I do have instead of lambasting myself for what I am lacking (or have too much of?) The thoughts are driving me insane, and I just marvel at the vast difference between our physical and emotional self-images. Does society do this to us? Do we do it to ourselves? Wouldn’t we cut someone out of our lives if they were as critical of us as we are of ourselves? Why do we poison ourselves?

I don’t really have any answers. I think some of what I am feeling is because of my move to New York, my lack of routine and the enormous amount of time on my hands. But I just started a new job and will have less time to think about how my body looks in a mirror. But more importantly, I am slowly becoming aware that my physical attributes are what make me Me. And being Me can be a very cool thing.


  1. Will you still be 'you' if you lose your legs in a car accident?

    Will you still be you if you break your neck and live in a chair?

    What makes us ourselves? I would suggest that our bodies are indeed integral, but ultimately secondary to who we are.

    I could go on a rant about body image in the US and how it affects women (and men too, these days), but I suppose I can spare you.

    What you observe is perfectly normal, you just happen to be in a profession where normal is unacceptable.

    So, reduce the carbs (not to 0), eat your veggies and spend some time in the gym every day. But then, I'm an overweight vegetarian so my advice is worthless. ;)

  2. Thanks, Petrol. I appreciate the support!

  3. Wow, E, I had no idea you felt this way... it's interesting because I have been feeling fatter these days too! I'm wondering, though, as human beings are animals all the same, do you think we're putting on a "winter coat?" Aside from that, why DO we get so upset about stomach rolls or cellulite on our thighs? As petrol said, our bodies are secondary: as long as we're taking care of them the best we can, it doesn't matter! I think we have a tendancy to align signs of age (stomach rolls and cellulite) with signs of unhealthiness or ugliness. Our culture treats aging with such disdain I wouldn't be surprised if anti-wrinkle creams and elderly abuse were connected.

    I don't need to tell you that you are beautiful and most certainly not fat. We'll talk.

  4. Maybe we are storing it up for winter. Frankly, I am just not as active as I was 6 months ago and I think knowing this messes with my psyche. But I do feel empowered to take crae of that!


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