“To lose confidence in one’s body is to lose confidence in oneself.”
― Simone de Beauvoir
The saying is true and bears repeating at the outset: health is not always about numbers on a scale. It is possible to be overweight and still fit and active, it is possible to be thin and still desperately unhealthy. The numbers on a scale are just one way to measure certain information about yourself.
But that being said…I’m really proud of this number:
This has been a year of a lot of dedicated health changes for me, in fact I just did a recap so I don’t have to go into too much detail here about the specifics. But I did want to write about my weight because it’s something that I’m shallow enough to say has bothered me.
I have never been a naturally thin person. In fact, I’d classify my body as pretty normal overall. I’m shortwaisted, but I do have a normal-ish hourglass figure and not too far off the standard deviation besides that. I had a sweet tooth growing up which has morphed into a salt tooth and carb…face…in adulthood. My metabolism slowed down in my late 20s, once again a totally normal thing. Slowly over time a pound added itself on my frame, a bit here and a bit there, until at the end of last year I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. It’s strange to be “technically” overweight while petite because the numbers on a scale aren’t large generally, but they are large for you personally.
That being said, my overall appearance still felt broadly in the “normal” category. My weight was pretty evenly distributed throughout my body with only the typical fluctuation that I think most adult women experience as a matter of life. At certainly points in my life, my existing clothes would mostly fit, but not sometimes better than others. I have had to size up a couple of times since I was 20, which again I don’t think is too atypical. This isn’t some tale of a heroic journey to health after injury, pain, struggle, or neglect.
But I will say that I didn’t like my body. I’ve had a lot of feelings about my body over the years and it’s surprising how many of them have been very negative. I don’t think self-loathing is unique to women, but I do think we experience a particularly rough cocktail of societal pressure, unreasonable expectation, not enough range of representation, and strange notions about our sexuality that all combine to make our relationships with our bodies harder than they need to be. I am lucky that I have never hated my body. I have never felt the need to tame it in ways that made me badly unhealthy, I have never loathed and resented it, I have never felt like I was in the wrong one. Thank god. I just…didn’t really like mine.
In the past ten years, as my weight has jumped around, I’ve painfully taken down a religious faith that has a lot of conflicting notions about the body. In some ways, Mormonism is radically body positive! The faith posits an embodied deity. The “weird” dietary habits and restrictions for which Mormons are known grow from a belief that the human body is a gift that is to be cared for and stewarded well, and not put in harm’s way. It chucks concepts like original sin and downgrades the centuries old curse of Eve into something more gentle and understandable–some interpretations frame Eve eating the apple as a deliberate and brave choice because it was the only way she could have a family and so kick off the human race. It’s a kinder version of the myth in many ways.
Women-as-mothers are sacred in Mormonism, and this is where things take a turn for the problematic and patriarchal in a big way. Girls’ bodies are policed in a way that boys’ aren’t and from irritatingly young ages. There are cultural dress codes that enforce modesty, most of them badly gender slanted. Female sexuality is desirable and devilish at the same time–a prominent leader caused something of a kerfuffle a few years ago by giving a sermon cautioning girls to not become “walking pornography” to young men by the way they dress and act. Ugh. Devout Mormons are celibate until marriage and let me tell you, the underlying expectation of many sweet naive souls that you will be able to go from modestly draped maiden to sexual afficionada–zero to sixty–doesn’t do a lot of us many favors.
I felt taught to simultaneously revere my body, hide it, respect it, be frightened of it, that it was powerful, and that it was sort of shameful. But I don’t feel that I was taught that it was mine. It was a divine gift that I had on loan and would have to check back in some day like a library book. It was a vehicle for other human life that, maybe, was more important than my own in some way. It was meant to be enjoyed and shared with a partner, but in very strict and limited ways–and believe me, I could write a book on the issues with how male slanted some of the lessons about virtue I was taught were in retrospect. I had this body, but I didn’t really feel in some ways as if I owned it.
Sports or atheletics may have helped me more, but this was something I only really did a low level extracurricular. I took dance classes, horseback riding lessons, and gymnastics as a kid. I took advantage of the fact that I was in a hilariously small Department of Defense high school to join the soccer team for a couple of seasons–something I would never have been able to manage in most typical American high schools where you need something akin to talent to participate! But all in all, I’m not sure I really knew or learned how to use my body.
For about a year now, I’ve been working on my health. I’ve written a lot about how much work I’ve had to do on healing my brain, my emotions, some parts of my psyche…but I don’t like talking about my work on my body because I don’t really like thinking about my body.
So I’ve been trying to change that.
I’ve been listening to it, taking it to the doctor to check on things that have bothered me for years or just didn’t feel right. As a result, I’ve made a lot of positive changes and have helped a few issues that I thought were chronic.
I have acknowledged that I’ve not really been kind to or about my body so I’ve been trying to not actively disliking it. I’ve stopped slagging it off or criticizing it and just letting it be.
I’ve been feeding it better.
I’ve been nice to and about it in my own mind.
And yes, I’ve been working out, though that that feels like least important part of it all. I’ve had to work to build routines and try to stick to them, and I truthfully don’t enjoy exercise anymore than I used to. But I do know that I feel better overall when I do it, so I keep doing it.
The numbers on the scale are not the most important thing, not by a long shot, but the number on that scale represents 20 lbs lost this year alone in 2018. I am proud of that.
Because in my case, I feel like I’ve lost a whole lot more than weight.