whim: an odd or capricious notion or desire; a sudden or freakish fancy

Monday, January 6, 2014

2013 in retrospect: body woes

It's been a few days since I posted about my decision to spend January reflecting on the previous year before I move on with my 2014 resolutions and such. So I started with my 2013 list of favorite books, which was an easy-peasy post (if there's anything I can reflect on, it's books). Other things are less fun to think/write about. Like my body. One of the biggest woes I had in 2013 was a growing animosity for my body and, because it's one of the hardest things for me to talk about, I'd love to get it out of the way and out of my system early in the month.

It's probably better to start this with a general history of this issue in my life. So this post will probably be more of a 2013andbefore reflection, but we'll see where I end up. Thank you for indulging me. 

I should start by saying that I've had body image issues for almost my entire life. I realize that I'm not alone in this. Everyone has at least one thing about their body they'd like to change, right? And I know that it's possible to acknowledge my body's faults while still being comfortable in my own skin––but for me, that's much, much easier said than done. 

To start off, I have this weirdly vivid memory of when I went to visit my friend who was working at a dress shop in the local mall (we were in high school). It was a slow day in the store, so she was picking out dresses for me to try on and we were having a little fashion show. As I was showing off the dresses, she mentioned that she was envious of my curves, because she was so stick straight. I was completely shocked. I could not wrap my head around the fact that someone who was that skinny would ever want to be curvy. I wasn't overweight, but my hips and thighs had always bothered me, and I remember being really confused. I was always envious of her body type––what business did she have being envious of mine? 

I thought that an "ideal" body type existed, and because I did not have this body type, I was unhappy with my body. My body was not good enough; therefore, I was not good enough. The shame I felt for my body colored my whole perception of who I was and what I was worth. As a teenager (and even into the first couple years of my twenties), I held back in so many areas of my life, and I see now that my tendency to hold back was directly linked to my distorted body image. I was an academic underachiever of sorts in high school... okay, I was a straight A student, but I never really pushed myself. I know I could have worked a lot harder than I did. Also, I loved to sing, and had a decent voice, but I never had the confidence to excel vocally. I did audition for a couple musicals in high school, and I made call-backs both times, but when I suddenly had to sing in front of other students who were, in my opinion, beautiful songbirds, I froze. I sang with the intensity and pitch of a dying mouse, and I was stuck in the ensemble playing Random Nurse 15 in South Pacific and Random Cockney Street Woman in My Fair Lady. 

In my early twenties, I made a sort of uneasy truce with my body. I was still not satisfied with my shape, but I started realizing that I could still be a worthwhile, excellent person without being the perfect size (this is not rocket science, folks, but believe me, it can be a hard thing to accept). I took better care of my body and was, overall, more happy with myself. I went on an LDS mission and learned that not only was I capable of doing really hard things, I actually enjoyed it. I started having health problems on my mission, but thankfully was able to serve a full 18 months, and I came home with a determination to take better care of my body. Also, when I came home I realized the enormous amount of self confidence that goes along with academic achievement, so I started pushing myself in school. Things were going better. 

Aaaand then this little thing called grad school came along. It was, thus far, the pinnacle of my academic achievement, and I am so proud of what I achieved in my master's program. It was one of the best and hardest things I have ever accomplished. But grad school was not great on my body. That is, I was not kind to my body while I was in grad school. I basically threw healthy eating and exercising to the wind and put 100% of myself into my program. Winter 2013 (January to April) was the last semester of my program. I was teaching classes, taking classes, working on my thesis, and really loving it. 

I know that my body had been screaming TAKE A BREAK AND TAKE CARE OF ME for a while, but I was too busy and going too fast to notice or care. All of the sudden, I went from going 100 miles an hour to standing still, and my lack of caring for my body caught up to me. I gained weight, which I hated, but what was worse was the depression that came along with it. I knew I had to start taking better care of myself, and I really tried, but my body seemed determine to punish me for my negligence by being sluggish and refusing to lose weight. As a result, I wallowed and cried and locked myself in my room with books and Netflix streaming. 

When I did make attempts at interacting socially with others, it was really really hard. A few friends from grad school and I decided to spend the weekend in Capitol Reef, and I was so excited to see everyone, but dreading it at the same time. I actually cried when I left my house, partially because I was stressed, and partially because I felt pathetic for still not having a job, and partially being I so wanted to be 30 pounds lighter than I was. When I actually got there, I felt a whole lot better, and I had such a lovely time being around my kind, supportive friends, but I still struggled, feeling distant and cut off. I realized that part of my problem was that I was internalizing my troubles instead of seeking help from others, but I just couldn't get myself to say anything. I couldn't vocalize what I was feeling. 

So here I am, more than six months after graduating, still in the same body slump. Body image issues on top of general depression on top of looking for a job and deciding what in the world I want to do with my life = one herculean rut. I have a feeling that I'll come back to this rut in later posts, because I want to think a little more about depression and about what I want to do with my life, but for now, I want to wrap up by going back to where I started (somewhat).

I know "they say" you should love your body no matter what size or shape you are, but to be perfectly honest, I'm afraid that the happier I am with my body, the less I will be motivated to be healthier and lose weight. I know that's a harmful mindset, but sometimes you know things and still don't believe them. Isn't that the worst? When someone wise tells you something wise and all you can say is "I know, I know," but that really doesn't change anything? All I can say is knowing something is different than believing it, and just because I know I am a worthwhile, excellent person, doesn't mean I always believe it. 

As I read through this post, I find it unimaginable that I'm still fighting the same battle I fought back when my friend told me she was envious of my curves. Why is this still a problem? 

My mind keeps coming back to part of the Sylvia Plath quote I have posted on my blog: "The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt." I believe that the impulse to create things is something innately human––and creativity extends much farther than just the arts. We all have the ability to create moments (perfect moments, even), and if what Plath says is true, self-doubt is what hinders our creativity the most. There are enough hard things in life, why make it harder for ourselves? If I could make peace with my body instead of constantly tearing myself down, how much more could I accomplish? 

How much more could I create?