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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

working out as a means of loving your body

Sorry, kids, no clever title today.  This post is hard enough to write without wasting my finite amount of brain power on making the title something that draws you in. Journalism FAIL.

Why is this post so hard to write?  Well, mainly because I'm afraid it's going to be offensive. It probably is offensive. I honestly have a lot of offensive opinions. Mainly I keep them to myself. Despite my vaunted malevolence, I really try to be a kind person and part of being a kind person is not inadvertently**--or purposely--hurting other people's feelings***. But nevertheless I'm going to soldier on here because this shit's been on my mind lately due to conversation Elsewhere, and hope no one gets so offended they never wanna read this blog again.

Okay!  Back around 2007-2009, I weighed about twenty pounds more than I do right now.  That's the equivalent of about 35 lbs for those of you who can actually reach the top shelves in your kitchen cabinets. (Also? It takes me three tries to spell "equivalent" correctly every time I type it.)  I was deep into perimenopause as well which meant my body was doing all kinds of weird crap. I was depositing fat places I'd never had it before. (Low back fat, holla!) I would have weeks at a time of severe PMS-y bloating.  My boobs were so swollen and tender most of the time, not to mention hyooge, I had to sleep in a bra for comfort. Yes, you read that correctly: it was *more* comfortable to never free my tatas from the underwire. Craziness.  All of this combined to bring up the worst of my body dysmorphic/borderline disordered tendencies. I went through a period of fairly severe body loathing. There were times I'd feel okay about how I looked, but many more times when a clothes shopping trip would send me into a spiral of disgust and depression. There were times I'd feel sexy and pretty but other times I'd feel incredulous that anyone could find me attractive.

Part of the charm of my own particular crazeeness, though, is that it is pretty much self aware. I knew I was being irrational with the self-hatred and with letting it take up so much space in my head. So in an attempt to cope slash fix myself, I started reading a lot of body acceptance bloggers, many of whom were Fat Bloggers, i.e. women who'd taken back the word fat and were not ashamed to use it to describe themselves and who, in fact, identified that way proudly. Though I myself was not fat, I found reading those blogs therapeutic. If these people who weighed 100 pounds more than me could accept and love their bodies, why couldn't I accept and love mine, as middle-aged and seemingly rapidly decaying as it was?

I tried really hard to come to terms with my new love handles, my belly bloat, my suddenly as-ginormous-as-when-I'd-been-breastfeeding (but without the awesome parlor trick of being able to shoot milk across the room) knockers****, and it worked a little.  But then one day someone close to me made an innocent comment about my weight, a comment that was in no way meant to be mean, and it made me aware that I didn't want to accept my new body, I wanted as close a replica to my old as was possible.  So I went on a hardcore diet. And despite the hormonal chaos my body was in, calories in/calories out prevailed. After two or three months of diligence, I was back at my happy weight and feeling pretty damn pleased with myself. Soon after that, I took up weight training. And things were never the same again. I'm not saying I never have a bad "body" day or that I'm always thrilled with what I see in pictures or in the mirror.  But even when loose skin or cellulite or belly bloat get me down, I can flex at myself in the mirror (yes, yes, repeat after me: like a douchebag) and like what I see. I made those muscles. I grew them with my own hard work and perseverance.  They're not like my breasts--a body part I've historically always liked. I didn't get them just by luck in the genetic lottery.  I MADE them.  I'm not joking when I say this has changed my relationship with my body in fundamental ways.

The reason I bring this all up and dump it on you in excruciating detail is that there's another blogger who I started reading in my Fat Blogger days. She was/is not a Fat Blogger, but instead has a fashion blog that is also about body acceptance. Her shtick is that she learned to love her body by dressing it well, in ways that make her feel attractive and play up the parts of her that she likes while downplaying parts she dislikes (in her case, her stomach and upper arms particularly). I slowly slowly slowly became disenchanted with this woman's blog and message for a variety of different reasons, but one thing that's been pretty clear all along is that she *doesn't* in fact like/love/accept her own body now any more than she did when I first started reading her circa 2008 and probably not any more than she did in 2003 or 1997.  She is still filled with angst about a whole vast array of physical "flaws".

And I can't help but think...what a waste.  If she spent just 10% of the time she's spent in the last 6 years obsessing over the parts of her body she dislikes and how to dress them to her advantage actually seriously working out, those parts of her she very clearly loathes so much would look vastly different. No, she would probably not look like DLB. Or Giselle. Or Serena Williams. Or Gywneth Paltrow. Or whoever her body ideal is, I have no idea. But her abdomen and her arms would look different, if not "perfect", and she could take pride and satisfaction in knowing that *she* changed them.  Not to mention the pride and satisfaction that goes with picking up heavy shit LIKE A BAWSE.

I realize I am probably projecting. And I realize that this completely goes against what I recently wrote about how the main point of exercise is to have fun. But if your relationship with your body is so fraught that you have to have a whole blog focusing on it and yet you're still losing the war, maybe it's worth trying something that will work. Even if it isn't necessarily your first idea of fun.  I dunno. I realize no one asked me.


In other completely unrelated, yet very related, news, have you seen this?  I'm assuming it's making the rounds on Facebook and such because I saw it linked today.  Just an example of how strength training can make you love your body.

**I really want "advertently" to be a word.

***I always feel like I need a big disclaimer that when I bitch about how much I disliked my body when it was 20 pounds heavier than it is now, that does not imply anything about how I feel about anyone else's body.  There are people much heavier (or skinnier or muscular) than me that I find devastatingly attractive. I find a wide variety of bodies beautiful and my ideals for how I wish to look have nothing to do with thinking anybody else needs to look the same. Plus, I don't really think anyone who's not planning on having sex with me should care what I think about their looks anyway. Which I assume means all of you, Readers. Unless Mikey Lowell's found the blog. Mikey, call me!

****I once wrote a blog post (not on this blog obviously) wherein I used about fifteen different synonyms/euphemisms for the word breasts without ever repeating myself. It was genius. (Oh, hush, it was.)


  1. Well, hating your body is definitely not fun. Hence, working out to improve parts of it ought to reduce the not-fun percentage of someone's life.

    "clothes shopping trip would send me into a spiral of disgust and depression." Clothes shopping always does that to me, but not because of my body. It's the so-called clothes. "Why do you not make anything that's not ugly and badly constructed, oh clothing designers? Why is it impossible to discover anything without fibers I'm allergic to? Why do you expect people to give you money for this?" And it's back to the sewing machine.

    Mary Anne in Kentucky

  2. I totally agree with the idea that if one channeled one's supposed body-acceptance to the task of changing one little thing, the resulting momentum could be a powerful force. One of my favorite quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt (and she was a bad-ass, make no mistake!) is "It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan." Words I have put to good use in my own endeavors.

  3. Damn, i was looking forward to being offended, but everything you said makes sense to me.

  4. God I love the way you write.

    Anyway, on the topic at hand: I struggle with my own vanity and the excessive space in my brain taken up with the desire to have a body that is not only strong and functional, but that looks hot.

    Which wasn't so bad when I was younger, and the effort/reward equations were more favorable. But now that I'm middle aged and it seems harder and harder just to maintain, I find I'll embark on some new exercise program or try some nutritional tweak and give up ever more favorite things to eat... only to gain more weight.

    So I have more empathy than I used to for people who have shitty metabolisms and work really hard for years at a time and still end up gaining weight and hating what they see in the mirror. I could totally see giving up on trying to deal with the problem by physical means, and just try (against all odds) to find some peace around it.

    But that said, there is a certain amount of activity one needs to do and dietary common sense one needs to have to stay healthy and functional, and THAT amount is worth doing regardless of where one's head is at in terms of body image. I do find myself feeling judgey around that sometimes.

    Basically, I totally agree with you! But I can understand how some people can end up in a different place where working out and weight loss are too loaded to even look at objectively anymore.

  5. I am *so* glad I was able to express myself such that you guys get what my point is/was.

    And sorry to be so late responding to comments. Slammed at work, then away for the holiday, blah blah excuses!

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