Breath, the Body, and Our War on Ourselves

yoga breathing

I don’t remember exactly when I first started to hate my body. Do any of us? I remember standing, looking naked in the bathroom mirror during middle school, and deciding which parts of myself I wanted to keep, which parts I would trade in. My straight nose and hazel eyes were okay. My pimply chin and my breasts, red with new stretch marks, were awful. I knew I was supposed to hate my body, and how could I not, considering how rapidly it had changed. I had been a puppy-like girl with comically overlarge feet, tall and clumsy–a clumsiness that came from long limbs and a near-complete lack of self-awareness for my own body. What sweet heaven. Suddenly I had breasts and zits and hair in all sorts of confusing places. In puberty our bodies become alien to us, and sadly I think that for most women they remain forever foreign–dark and dangerous places that have us trapped.

Employing some twisted logic, I think I was, even then, trying to give myself an alternative narrative. My body was betraying me, and I hated it for that, but I on some level I knew my body needed to remain home. So I found some safe places. My eyes, the birthmark on my right ankle shaped like Ireland, my height. I might not be beautiful, I was telling myself, but these individual parts were okay. And there was comfort in that, even as I was carving myself up and marking whole body parts for “discard.”

I also don’t remember when I first stated hating my belly, but in this war on my body she has become mortal enemy #1. I remember analyzing the girls in my high school, and longing for their tiny waists. I remember noticing, with sadness and jealousy, that a friend’s belly carried her weight in front, rather than to the sides like mine. She didn’t have “love handles;” she could hide it better. It gave me a perverse sense of pleasure when, years later, I gained enough weight that I started noticing it in the front, too. And years after that, when I was skipping meals in the dining hall, I remember laying in bed and resting my fingers in the space between my belly and my sharp hip bones, thinking how good it felt, and wondering how good it would feel to be just a little bit smaller.

Every outfit I have chosen, every day for over 15 years, has been assessed first and foremost for how well it masks my belly. My sense of fashion–this very personal sense of self in our capitalist world–has always always been shaped by trying to hide this “problem area.” I’ve read many a style guide for “apple shaped” bodies, cheered the return of slightly-higher rise jeans, and when I stand before the mirror, now fully dressed, my eyes have a laser focus on my stomach, to assess how it looks, always within the range of not-that-bad to catastrophic.

Sadly, I don’t think this story is unique. I tell you all this to share with you a recent realization on my part, from a beautiful weekend retreat at Kripalu Center, out in the Berkshires. But first, try something for me. Wherever you are reading this, take a deep breath. Breath deep and, with your breath, fill up your belly. Pay attention, for a moment to what it feels like to breath into your belly, and then pay attention to what it feels like as you soften and release the air. What sensations did you experience? How do you feel?

I hope your experience is different from mine, because I’ll tell you what I experience–nothing. It’s like someone gave me a shot of Novocain first. I have been practicing yoga and meditation, off and on, for years, and “Breath deep into your belly” is the equivalent of a layup; it’s a tool to warm you up, loosen you up, and get you centered. If you’re rattled or distracted, it’s a simple drill that can help you get your groove back. But, to stick with my basketball metaphor, for me it’s a Harlem Globetrotter-esque dribble-between-the-knees-and-shoot-from-halfcourt move. Focus on breathing into my throat? Breath deep to fill up my chest and lungs? There is a tangible sensation to all of these ways of being and breathing for me. But to breath deep into my belly, I can experience only as a void.

How can we wage decades long wars against our bodies, and not carry that hatred and anger and sadness in our bodies themselves? I can’t even look at myself without fear and derision for my stomach; how could I honestly feel what is happening here, what I’m feeling there. I’ve pushed my belly, emotionally, as far away as we can push anything that is physically attached to us, and, again, I don’t think I’m alone. I’ve ignored it and hated it like some kind of poor orphan child living under my stairs. And during years of on-again, off-again yoga practice, when “breath deep into your belly” was an empty experience for me, I assumed that I wasn’t concentrating the right way, that I was just breathing wrong. Again, the narrative I told myself was try harder, be better.

I don’t know how to fix this, exactly; I’m still living with the enemy, working towards seeing it (myself) as neutral, normal even. Good, even. How radical would that be? A voice in my head whispers, if you make it (your belly, yourself) small enough, you will like your belly, yourself. But I know that’s bullshit; I want to reject that narrative. The survival technique I came up with at 13, to carve myself up into good and bad (where at least there is still some good), isn’t working anymore. The new project is to like my whole self. Even writing that feel strange–simultaneously like an inspirational poster in a guidance counselor’s office, maybe with cats, and also like a lie. Maybe some meditations where I breath into my belly, sending love and kindness that way will help. Certainly more yoga, which helped me see the tangible effects of the cruel narratives I’ve been telling myself all these years. And, I suppose, openness–to myself, to the world, to breathing.

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Small moments of gratitude

Monday’s are hard. Monday’s in the winter, when all you want to do is stay curled up in your warm bed, are especially hard.

Today I’m grateful for the time I stole back in bed, sipping my tea, holding off the mad dash of the week for just a few moments more.

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What are you grateful for today?

2014: My Year in Books (& the year I saved myself by reading)

2014 books 2

As already established, I’m a bit of a nutjob New Year’s resolution enthusiast. Some years I have many (eleven this year) and other years I take a minimalist approach. Last year I had only one: Read 55 books.

I went into 2014 feeling depressed: I was unhappy professionally and adrift personally. I didn’t like my job, and, because I spent all my free time watching House Hunters and reading crap on the internet, I didn’t know who I was outside of my miserable job. Life felt empty, and I was floundering for meaning and joy. I knew something needed to change, because I was turning into someone I didn’t recognize or particularly like–and that someone certainly wasn’t happy.

There were lots of things I wanted to change: I wasn’t working out, I was drinking too much, I was spending more money than I made, I ate a lot of candy, and I probably wasn’t calling my mom enough. But I also knew, fragile as I was, I wasn’t going to change everything at once. And as much as I craved a major life overhaul, I felt it best to focus my energies. What, I asked myself, used to bring me joy, outside of my work and my relationships with the (beautiful, crazy, smart) people in my life? And I remembered the little girl, blankets piled high even in the summer to block out the flashlight, reading (and sweating) far past her bedtime. And the teenager who underlined her books and excitedly ran into the kitchen to read lines out loud to her mom and aunt. And the college freshman with e.e. cummings poems taped to her wall, who felt electric and alive and a little scared reading the crazy priest sermon in The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. Somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten how to read for the pure joy of it. I’d stopped reading almost entirely; my books were turning into decorations.

So I printed out a calendar for January 2014 and I set a goal–50 pages per day–and I tracked my progress. A month in, and I could feel myself waking up. The refreshing sort of stretching and yawning and tingling that happens after a good, long nap. I like to think that we all have a thing that brings us a joy and acts as a benchmark of a well being. My best friend is an incredible athlete, and if the world feels crazy or scary or dark, she goes running and feels brave and sane and strong. Another best friend is an artist, and practicing her art wakes her up; the happier she is the more she draws (and the more she creates, the happier she is). In 2014 I learned that I’m a reader, and if I’m not reading then my whole world is out of synch.

So I set out to bring balance back into my world with the ambitious goal of reading more than one each week. This past year books pulled me, page by page, out of my depression. They were a lifeline to something I wanted to be part of–something that gave me meaning and purpose and, best of all, joy.

Fifty-seven books later, I thought I would share my some of my favorites with you:

Favorite novel:
Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
I read this book early in January, but it held onto this top spot for the entire year. It’s so delightfully unexpected and the language pulled me in and did not let go. It’s a true literary novel, with a rich and complex and lively plot. This book was like coming home to reading, and finding out someone has left the light on for me.

Runner Up: The Known World by Edward P Jones

Favorite memoir:
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed
A book about a long, arduous & solitary hike should be about as monotonous as that hike itself. But this book is so vibrant and warm and full of triumph. It made me feel incredibly grateful to be living, and I may have gone on a spent the summer daydreaming about my own hiking adventure.

Runner Up: Not that Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (Haters gonna hate. This book is beautiful and smart and insightful.)

Favorite YA:
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
This is a beautiful story about first love, but for me it was also about the first time you loved a story. Reading it felt intoxicating in a way that only reading as a small girl has felt. I stayed up until 3am reading this book, and as soon as I finished it, I wanted to start over again at the beginning because I couldn’t bear to leave these characters.

Runner Up: Heir of Fire by Sarah J Maas (I have a soft spot for YA fantasy books. Everyone’s got a guilty pleasure. If this is your thing, go read some Sarah J Maas; she is perfect.)

Favorite non-fiction:
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen
The eternal student, I love a meaty non-fiction book, but they are rarely page-turners. This book about Vladimir Putin, written by a Russian journalist who has been observing and reporting-on Putin’s Russia for decades, was incredibly compelling. Gessen is a brilliant writer and Putin a fascinating subject; I could not put this book down. Bonus: Reading this will make you feel very enlightened and worldly, considering how active and menacing Russia has been lately.

Runner Up: Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King (If you want to learn more about Jim Crowe South, the NAACP, and the legislative battles of the Civil Rights Movement, especially after Ferguson, please read this book.)

Most joyful book:
Hero Worship by Rebekah Matthews
This book has the distinction of being the only short-story collection I read, and is therefore in a category all its own. And the category I’ve placed it in, “most joyful,” will likely confuse almost everyone, because I can never describe this quite right, but here goes:

Jacques Lacan has this idea that real joy is always a little bit painful. Think of a moment of ecstasy; it’s such a raw moment that you can’t actually stay in that place. And lurking at the edges of joy you can feel the discomfort; they are always a little twisted together.

(And maybe this is why, in my sadness I had turned away from reading, from something I loved so dearly–I knew it would make me feel electric and alive, and in that there is always also discomfort. Maybe I was just too afraid of any pain, even bundled up as it was in goodness.)

Hero Worship is painful and sad and lonely while also being hopeful and sweet and compassionate. Perhaps it is this combination of things, that are both disparate and also make up the very nature of our human experience, that made me feel excited and alive and a little bit uncomfortable while reading it. I cannot recommend it enough.

Continue reading

Baby Fresh for 2015

I am a giant fan of new year’s resolutions. I know a lot of people make them, most of us ditch them, and the gym is always close to empty by February 10th. But I love the promise and hope of earnest intentions, the nobility of trying to be our best selves, and the clean slate of January 1st. I had a friend once tell me that she’s careful to shave every New Year’s Eve, because she likes to enter the new year feeling fresh and clean “like a baby.” We laughed our asses off but, also, these days, I always shave my legs (already a rare occasion) on New Year’s Eve.

For a variety of reasons, I found myself in a bit of a funk on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, and I was tempted to wallow and spend a lot of time plays “Threes” on my phone. However, I really wanted to make something special out of this self-help loving girl’s High Holiday. So I rallied and began what can only be described as a a mad cleaning and purging frenzy. (This is where I should confess that I’ve been obsessed with Tiny Houses lately, and this was not my first mad purge. Recently my husband pointed out that I have too much crap to live in a tiny house and, never one to back down from a challenge, he came home two days later to find every item of my clothing and most of my shoes strewn across the floor, including a “goodwill” pile large enough to sleep on. A few days later, I spent 25 minutes scrubbing my (seriously disgusting) bathtub and celebrated after by rewatching this guy.) Continuing with this theme, on New Year’s Eve, I threw away a giant trash bag of cosmetics, some of which I’d been hauling around since college (I think? I don’t actually know where most of that stuff came from.), recycled mountains of paper, and discovered an alarming number of dust bunnies.

For years my philosophy has been: Just slam the drawer/closet door shut and look the other way. This has resulted in a mad accumulation of crap, and the only thing keeping me on this side of hoarder-dom was a period in my recent past where I moved every year for about ten years, the itty-bitty nature of my current apartment (only so many closet doors to jam shut), and the patient insistence on the part of my husband that I have “way too much shit.”

The trouble with the just-shove-the-door-closed approach is that nothing ever actually feels clean. Best case there’s always clutter, worse (and more likely) case you have a giant pile of clothes taking up half of your bedroom floor because you’ve run out of room in that closet and the door hasn’t actually closed in months. My new approach is glorious: I’m just throwing everything in the donation bin, the recycling basket, or the trash heap. Turns out I don’t miss any of it! And I found a ton of things, like my most favorite boots from Christmas last year; they were buried behind a yoga mat, my wedding dress, and my L. L. Bean tent in said closet.

Sometimes we gravitate towards things, and we don’t know why or even that we’re doing so. I didn’t know, when I first started sorting through my clothes, that I was angling for a month long house-cleaning and crap-purging project, but I’m so glad I got sucked into this insanity. Because for the first time, maybe ever, my house is really clean. As in “everything has a place” clean. As in “this feels very grownup and I like it” clean. I often focus on some serious self-improvement projects to start the new year; it’s a ritual that I love. For the first time, however, I’ve entered the new year feeling clean and ready, slightly less burdened from the crap we all carry around, and breathing a bit easier as a result. (Seriously those dust bunnies were gross!)

How about you: How has the energy of the new year affected you? Eight days in, how are your resolutions feeling?

Bad Feminism, Roxane Gay, and Being Messy

bad feminist

I recently finished Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. I have not been this excited to read a book in a long, long time. They tell you not to judge a book by its cover, but who isn’t excited about such a striking title, the crisp cover and neon pink lettering?  What even is a bad feminist? I immediately think of someone in high school who aced AP US History and Calculus, but skipped gym to smoke cigarettes in her leather jacket off campus. You know, the kind of girl who is effortlessly cool and also clearly possesses the ability to disintegrate ignorant people with a look. She’s a bad feminist as in bad ass; she gives absolutely no fucks.

But of course, no one is that girl. Even the person who is  that girl, doesn’t think she is.

For me, this book suffered because it couldn’t be the print version of that imaginary girl. I wanted Bad Feminist to be all things. I wanted a book that was equal parts deeply moving memoir and feminist manifesto, something that both spoke to the depths of my soul and rallied the masses. I wanted reading this book to feel like joining hands with Simone de Beauvoir, Judith Butler, and bell hooks as we danced and sang around the maypole (only something less phallic).  In other words, I had entirely reasonable expectations.

 All of this, of course, is one of the very things she’s writing against—the fervent and impossible hope we all carry around—for one voice to speak for and to us all.  Structurally, I think Gay is at her best when she includes her personal, which ranges from funny—an essay about competitive scrabble, another about her hate/love relationship with Shades of Grey—to heartbreaking—a haunting discussion of sexual assault, her own, the language used to discuss others. I think these are the moments she shines, which may say something about me, but it may also say something about what we want from feminism today. The 60s told us “the personal is political,” a phrase that has always felt strangely hollow to me. This is probably because I am a child of the 90s and we came of age, politically speaking, to see a president impeached over an affair, a lie, and something about a blue dress. The personal is obviously political to us, although perhaps not in the way second wavers meant. On top of that, we learned what politics was in the same breath that we saw it as a system, primarily investment in protecting and promoting its own self-importance. That kind of political awareness doesn’t bode well for the spirit of the early motto.

The truth is that feminism is inherently personal; it always has been. In the current age of feminism, I am most interested in the way we struggle to live feminism in our daily lives. How does feminism shape, inform, and help in the space of the personal?

An outspoken male co-worker speaks over and/or down to you at work? How can feminism be a tool to navigate that? The truth is, (and here I’m getting away from Gay’s book, but I like to imagine she’d agree with the idea), the response is different, even if we’re all feminists. Personally, I’m bossy as hell. I’m going to excitedly practice for the next opportunity to put you in your place. (Another way to read that: I’m going to obsessively dwell on your sexism until our next encounter, thereby carrying the burden of your idiocy with me on a near daily basis.) Another woman may see the man’s misogyny and also recognize that her colleagues see this guy for the moron he is. She may use feminism as a lens to place his shitty behavior, and then laugh the situation off, on her way home to her happy life and an OITNB marathon. Feminism is personal; it’s a tool we use to navigate life and sometimes to navigate politics.

Because of this, I like, not only that Gay writes about her personal experiences of living as a woman, as a feminist, but articulates the reality that living feminism means many things. Ultimately, Roxane Gay uses bad feminist to mean something other than my imaginary super smart “bad girl.” She’s talking about an inability to live up to the measure of what a “good” feminist looks like, in much the same way some of us struggle with the desire to be the “good girl.” This “good feminist” ideal, she recognizes, is an ugly combination of our own demons, the unfortunate influence of “feminazi” conspiracy theorists, and other anti-women narratives. Perfectionism is an ugly version of self-hatred-cloaked-as-ambition that I am all too familiar with. So, while I am personally very comfortable to be the feminist in glitter and neon pink lipstick, with a closet full of dresses, I understand the roots of Gay’s anxiety. Wading through that anxiety, Gay comes to an interesting and important place:

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying—trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself.

Roxane Gay is “bad” at being a feminist—so bad that she’s written a collection of brilliant essays on the topic. This book made me want to sit up straighter and be part of this conversation. It made me want to look inward, at my own preconceived notions and the issues I’m sitting on the sidelines for, and it made me throw some shade at some idiots in the world around me. Ultimately, Bad Feminist made me think and it made me want to write; it inspired me to make some noise and to be myself.

#MikeBrown

The news has felt especially heavy lately. Between the ebola outbreak, the fighting in Israel and Palestine, the crisis in Iraq, the refugee children on the US border, and Robin William’s suicide, the world feels frighteningly bleak. I try to follow the news closely, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all the sadness, pain, and suffering that I retreat. So when the story first broke about an unarmed teenage boy being shot and killed by police in Ferguson, my heart instantly fell–and I turned away. As the atrocities continue in Ferguson, it is clear that Michael Brown and his community deserve for us to pay attention, to hear their voices, to care. These kinds of gross abuses of power only continue and flourish when we turn our backs on those in need.

All morning, I have been riveted by the unfolding events–the death of an unarmed black teenager, the arrest of two reporters and a city alderman, tear gassing and shooting of rubber bullets into peaceful crowds, terrorizing black communities by shooting these materials directly into neighborhoods–in short a complete disregard for the lives of the community these police officers have sworn to protect. And I realized I’d heard this whole story before; Ferguson, MO mirrors familiar and tragic stories of Jim Crow south–an era that clearly does not live as neatly in our past as we’d like to believe

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Earlier in the year I read The Devil in the Grove, the story of four young black men falsely accused of rape and the NAACP’s fight on their behalf. Two of the four men are murdered by the cops, an advocate and his wife are killed their house was bombed, reporters, lawyers and everyday black civilians were threatened and terrorized–and the sheriff at the heart of all this terror? The establishment closed ranks around him and he went on to serve as sheriff for many years to come.  The remarkable thing about this story is how unremarkable it was; this treatment was everyday reality for black Americans–and is clearly the present day reality in Ferguson, MO.

We have such a tidy, white-washed history of race in America. Slavery was a terrible thing, but then Abraham Lincoln and the 13th Amendment happened and solved everything. Then racism was really bad in the South (always only the South) and that was bad, too, but Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat on a bus and then MLK talked a lot about being peaceful and ended racism forever.

I distinctly remember watching a film with my parents when I was in 5th grade about a white man who learns on his mother’s death bed that he has a half brother who is black. The movie is about their relationship and the white brother dealing with his racism. I will always remember this movie because it was when I learned that racism is still a problem. I understood it so completely as something that ended with the Civil Rights Movement. MLK had a dream, and hadn’t that dream come true? I turned to my parents halfway through the film, confused, and said, “Why is the main character driving a new truck? Isn’t this supposed to be a set a long time ago?”

But this isn’t in our past. This isn’t something that was fixed. This trauma is in the very fabric of our nation. Ferguson isn’t an aberration; it exists as part of a very long history of state-sanctioned violence against black Americans. The fight for civil rights is not something that lives in history books; we need to continue to fight. These images are taken 50 years apart; the one on the left is from present day Ferguson, MO. 50 Years of Civil Rights Proress

I certainly don’t know what to do or, really, what to say. I remember after Treyvon Martin was killed and then the George Zimmerman verdict came through I felt a profound desire to do something, but I didn’t and still don’t know what action looks like. Sometimes I think I turn away out of a sense of helplessness, but importantly also turn away because, as a white woman, I can. Ultimately, though, if we want a different image 50 years from today, to turn away is to be complicit.

Search Terms: A Lovely Surprise!

Occasionally I like to look through my search terms to learn how people found their way to my little, often neglected, corner of the internet. It’s most a depressing enterprise, because 95% of the time it’s someone searching for naked pictures of women. “Nipple” is probably the number one search term driving people to this site, mostly because of this post from last year.

But then some glorious person was searching for glorious things:

the house of mirth fanfiction

I’m sorry that you didn’t find any fanfic, but I hope you enjoyed your time here. (Although I can try and dust off my attempt at, essentially turning House of Mirth into a romcom.) I cannot express how immensely happy it makes me this is a thing that exists in the world! Carry on, my good Wharton fan.

It also brings me joy that people searching for various nipple shots are most definitely finding themselves disappointed when they land here, so really–Cheers all around!

I wanted to title this “To be or not to be: Fat”: Signs I’m taking myself too seriously. Or terrible at titles.

While I was writing my last post, I used the adjective “fat” a handful of times, and I distinctly remember thinking “I hope no one feels compelled to tell me I’m not fat.” (In an honest-to-god Freudian slip of writing, I initially wrote for the first two drafts, “I hope no one feels compelled to call me fat.” Yup. Let’s discuss that later.)

In the meantime, let’s discuss my desire to leave let my fat identifier stand. In large part, this is rooted in the truth is: I am, technically speaking, fat. (This is new. I’m saying this online, but I’ve yet to say it in person.) Presently, fat has come to be shorthand for lazy, stupid, and ugly. I am not any of those things, and on a good day I believe that I’m not. When a plus-size lady identifies as fat, and everyone rushes to tell her it isn’t so, it stings in a particular way because you’re efforts–despite coming from a good place–reaffirm that fattness is a really bad thing. Ironically you’re reinforcing that fat = lazy, stupid, and ugly. And we all sure as hell know that your fierce friend is none of those things! But here’s the nasty secret–when we jump up and down about how NOT FAT a plus size lady is, we’re reinforcing that fat is inherently a bad thing, when in reality it’s just a thing.

I grew up in a house with beloved fat relatives. I also grew up in house where, if someone was an asshole and fat, their weight was a legitimate target for ridicule. There were lots of “fat idiots” on the chopping block. I don’t think this experience is unique.

In this moment of my adult life, I am, technically speaking. fat. However, I am not lazy, stupid, or ugly. (Feel free, in the comments, to tell me how active, smart, and beeeeautiful I am. Okay, just kidding.) I think it is a little bit my hope that acknowledging “fat” as a reality, but not a dirty word can take the sting out of all the implications that come along with that word. I am fat. I also have brown hair, glasses, and a birthmark on my right ankle.

And now to the “omg, don’t tell me I’m fat” thing. This, in perhaps obvious ways, is harder to write. I really want this blog to be an honest and feminist space. In order to make the former true, however, I have to give a voice to the negative battles I struggle with. So here’s my confession: I have at many points in my life, looked around to see “how fat I was” in comparison to the people around me. If I could find worse offenders, I could pat myself on the back–for telling myself I was better–whatever the eff “better” meant. (And here’s where I should disclose, despite talking about this as an activity solidly in my past, there’s a 50% chance I did this within the past week.) I’m writing a blog on body positivity, but I’m in this shit deep.

The truth is, I want to be okay with being fat. I also, desperately, want to wake up being 40 pounds lighter. I want to be liberated from the expectations and pressure of our society–but I also don’t want to be engaged in constant warfare with them. In my dream world, I wake up many sizes smaller and, magically, don’t give an eff. I want to both escape and beat the system in one fell swoop. On good days, I know that not giving an eff is more valuable than playing the game, but I’d be lying if I said that was an easy thing to see as truth.

I don’t have a neat conclusion to this post. I think tidiness would actually be really dishonest. Ultimately, it’s important to realize that my complicated relationship with my body is not actually tied to my weight. I’ve been 20, 30, 50 pounds lighter, and still struggled to find peace with this body. I’ve been strong enough to commute 20 miles round-trip on a bike, to run a half marathon, to hike mountains–and I was still at war with this body. Weight gain might bring these issues more sharply into focus, but I’m not struggling to see the strength and beauty of my body because I gained weight. I’ve struggled my whole life to accept my body–whatever it looked like–because the game is rigged; we’re bombarded with reasons to feel dissatisfied and uncomfortable. And, ultimately, what I’m trying to figure out is: can I just stop playing the game?

1000 Words on a Photo

Sometimes it is hard to create posts for this space. First of all, there’s nothing like trying to create honest and interesting content on a regular basis to make you realize that blogging is not necessarily an easy gig. Also, I think it is particularly challenging to write about something as loaded as weight and body image–because I feel different each day, sometimes each hour. (Maybe blogging about parenting feels similar?) I will write half of what feels like a great post, leave it unfinished because of other responsibilities, and by the time I return to the draft my perspective has shifted. While I can completely identify with the voice that wrote that piece, I can no longer access it. So I’m faced with two options–write a hackneyed ending and post it or leave it unfinished and unposted. (Guess which option has won out?)

I always remember this quote from Wordsworth (who I actually pretty much hate), “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” I think good writing needs a equal parts spontaneous overflow and tranquil recollection.  Maybe the trick is to make sure I complete posts in the initial rush of emotion. I can return later to edit, when the honesty of the experience is less raw, but shouldn’t leave writing the ending to the cooling-off period. I think that may be easier said than done. Even though I actively miss writing when it’s not a part of my life, I have a love-hate relationship with the process itself.

But I didn’t want this post to be about writing–for two reasons. 1) Half heartedly writing a blog post once every few weeks doesn’t qualify one’s self as a writer and 2) more importantly, reading things about writing is only interesting, at best, to other people who write. But fucked up perceptions of our bodies? I’m looking to all the ladies to give me a “what, what” in recognition.

Today alone has been such a roller-coaster. I have at turns felt super happy about my cute new t-shirt and shorts, fat, bad-ass for being fat and not giving an eff, insecure that other people judge me for being fat, etc. I took the following picture, which captures an interesting moment, and I want to share some background. My hair stylist (who should win all the awards for haircutting brilliance) is out on maternity leave for another two weeks. I don’t trust any other human to cut my hair (after a decade of hairdresser commitment issues and tragically boring–or worse–haircuts), so this maternity leave has left me with, well, what eventually turned into a mullet.

hair

I was sharing the mullet-related issues with my co-workers, and since we all work from home, I wanted them to enjoy the visual. So I took this picture. Here’s the funny thing about this–I pretty much look like a cross between this guy and this guy–yet, against all odds, I get a total thrill from the picture. In part, I know I can count on my lovely co-workers to take joy in the picture, the fact that I’m worried about my mullet, and the fact that I spent five minutes of my work-day taking back-of-the-neck selfies in my bathroom mirror. But it’s more than that. I took pictures where my not-skinny arm is very prominent, where my neck doesn’t look “skinny” (whatever that means), etc–and I feel pleased with the result. Maybe there was just something so freeing about taking a picture with the intent to make people smile that made me perfectly content about the amount of space take up in the frame. And I think that’s a big part of it–I can see the silly intent of the photo above all else.

One of my oldest, dearest friends was once working her way through a self-portrait assignment, and shared with me a brilliant observation. She said that we’re all so familiar with our perception of ourselves, with the view we carry in our head of our faces head-on, that an accurate self-portrait is next to impossible. Take a look at the greatest artists of our time, and compare what they actually looked like with their own self-portrait. It’s something twisted, familiar and wrong at the same time. To combat this, she set up a system of mirrors, so she was looking at herself from an unfamiliar angle, and drew one of the most life-like self-portraits I’ve ever seen.

And so maybe that’s why I kind of love this bizzaro picture of myself with a mullet.* This is an impossible angle to see without mirrors and cell-phones. I’ve rendered myself a stranger, and in doing so, I don’t feel compelled to bring judgement. You know how now, when you look at a picture of yourself, you look first to your area of insecurity, to see how prominent it is in the photo? In the picture, the joy, memories, and hilarity of the photo come after a thorough scrutiny of our own flaws. What would it mean to start seeing photos of ourselves as we do of strangers? To leave the scrutiny and self-hatred behind, and see the joy, memories, and hilarity we present in any given frame.

I don’t know what this means, and I certainly don’t know how to apply this perspective to the head-on-view of myself I’m familiar with. But it feels like an interesting tool to aim to have at one’s disposal–what am I seeing first–memories or faults? And, of course, how can I embrace the mullet?

*Please don’t feel compelled to comment on how I don’t really have a mullet. I kind of loved my my mini mullet. I have since received an emergency “bang trim but for my neck” and Julie-the-superhero-hairdresser is going to make me look fierce next week. Bonus: she’ll tell me all about her super cute new peanut.