Rachel Heath

Intentional Living: learning to be fully present

On 174 Pounds

I recently read “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” by Peggy Orenstein. It’s a chilling and inspiring read for those of us with daughters, and I ate it up. In it, Orenstein mentions several stats that brought me to tears:

  • Nearly half of 1st-3rd grade girls already think they aren’t skinny enough.
  • 81% of 9-year-old girls are already dieting.
  • Roughly half of 10-year-old girls are scared of getting fat.

When I read that, I realized a few things:

  • In gradeschool and junior high, I never thought – not even a little bit – about the size and shape of my body. I was a high school sophomore when I began to understand that I even had a “size.”
  • I was a high school junior the first time I took note of my own weight.
  • I was a college freshman the first time I tried on clothes and fretted about whether they “flattered” my figure (ie, noticed I had any features that needed “flattering”).

At first I congratulated myself for being so counter-cultural, but it didn’t last long. You see, around age 18, I experienced an abrupt shift from total lack of a body image to sudden self-loathing and shame over my body, and as I read those stats, I was overwhelmed with fear that my daughter would end up like I am: obsessed with her inadequate body, despite the best efforts of her parents to protect her.

I’m still not sure why it took hold so quickly, but I bloomed very late, and grew up shielded from the powers of advertising and consumerism. When I emerged into the real world as an adult, the marketing machine hit me and it hit me hard. Like Adam and Eve becoming aware of their nakedness, I suddenly realized that there existed for women A Standard of physical perfection, and that I didn’t fit it. Not even a little bit.

I am a size 12. I’m 5’8″ and weigh 174 pounds. My torso is  too long. My shoulders are too broad. My thighs are too muscular. My calves are too big. My arms are too squishy. My hips are too wide. My tummy is too wobbly. And let’s not even talk about my boobs.

I feel the pressure of perfection everywhere I look. Slender, pretty, fit-but-not-too-fit women surround me. On television and in movies. In department stores. In virtually every advertisement ever conceived of in the history of advertising. On pinterest, smiling ironically from between a recipe for brownies and  another for cheese dip.  In my favorite body-positive magazines (et tu, yoga journal?). Even in dear friends whom I perceive to be thinner and daintier and more stylish and therefore much, much better than me.

measuring-tapeI know academically that “Identity is Appearance” is a giant lie, but my walk ain’t as liberated as my talk. The fact that I still say “I am a size 12″ rather than “I wear a size 12″  reveals the fact that I believe The Lie. The Lie says I should feel guilty over every dessert eaten, every carb consumed, every excess calorie not burned. The Lie makes me feel jealous of women who are smaller than me, and superior to those who are larger. The Lie has led me to defiantly wear clothing too small for me, for years, believing that the number on the tag reflects on who I am. The Lie says that once I get into that smaller size, I’ll be happier. That if my stomach were a little flatter, people would like me more.

Over the last few months I’ve  slowly become aware of just how prevalent The Lie is, and I’ve been carefully and painfully dismantling it. Or trying to, anyway. Like I said, there’s a lot of self-congratulations happening and not a lot of actual change. I still count my calories. I still furtively eat chocolate and then feel guilty all day. Last time I shopped for pants I cried at least 3 times in the changing room. I’m a liberated woman. I make my own choices, societal standards be damned. What is wrong with me?

Last week I was in yoga, in my dark corner by the mirror. I slid my right foot forward into a deep lunge, and pulled myself up into crescent, extending my arms above my head, spreading my fingers, and digging my toes into the mat. I glanced up to check my form in the mirror and was met with my reflection, like I always am. My jiggly arms, my chubby belly, my wide hips, my thunder thighs. The same reflection I see every time. The same “problem areas.”

I was swiftly flooded with an emotion I’ve honestly never felt in over 2 years of practicing yoga:

Gratitude.

I was so overcome with gratitude for my body I could hardly look at it. Twice in my adult life have I found my reflection, without judgement, to be truly beautiful: the day I shaved my head, and last Wednesday, standing in crescent lunge, sweating and trembling.

I had a Suddenly moment. Where before I saw jiggling, I began to remember meals and drinks, lovingly prepared, and shared with people I love. Instead of chub, I saw 81 total weeks of pregnancy, 2 beautiful babies, hundreds of hours of breastfeeding. Instead of big and wide I felt strong and stable.

Look at this fabulous body, I thought. Look at what it can do. The mountains it’s climbed. The miles it’s walked, carrying backpacks in the wilderness, carrying babies back and forth across the carpet in the middle of the night. Look at the children it’s grown, and birthed, and nursed. Look at the way it lets me experience, tangibly, each relationship in my life. This body has made love, given and received countless kisses, shared thousands of hugs. Look at the way I live and move and breathe with this incredible body.

In that moment, in yoga class surrounded by people with whom I had previously been comparing myself, I was changed. I can feel it still,  gratitude pulsing in my spirit, and a sense of proud ownership. I smile at myself in the mirror. I give my body what it needs instead of punishing it. I go to yoga and lift weights and run because it makes me feel grounded and happy and I’m nicer to my kids afterwards… not because I feel bad about what I had for lunch. I show my daughter what confidence and fulfillment really looks like, and it doesn’t look like striving.

We’ve had enough of the fighting, my body and I. I’m tired of reaching for approval I don’t need. I’m tired of doing things for other people, tired of apologizing and hiding. I’m tired of hating my body and ready to love it, every curve and every fold, all 174 pounds.

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7 thoughts on “On 174 Pounds

  1. I am so happy for you, Rachel Rollert Heath. I am glad you have reached a place of accepting your body. I have long admired your physical strengths as I look at pictures of you hiking in the mountains with your children. You are amazing whether you eat a dessert or not;-)

  2. Nothing has made me more self aware in my life than this divorce. I hate looking in the mirror anymore. Even though I have lost nearly 30 pounds since June, all I see are the other 70 I still need to lose.

    Thank you for this. I hope you are well.

  3. Brava. Now the trick is creating the mental pathways you need you access that feeling whenever you want/need to. Don’t let it go! And or replicating it as much as you can with new experiences. Another thing I hate is pretending women aren’t aging. “Oh, she’s turning 29, again!” That is crap. She’s turning 46 and that’s awesome. That said I haven’t even turned 29 myself yet, but I hope that when I do surpass it greatly I’ll be proud.

    • Ahh- exactly! It’s very easy to fall back into old ways of thinking. I’m finding that I have to fight for this every day! And very much agreed on the aging thing! I hope to be proud of my wrinkles and my gray hair, but of course that’s very easy to say when you don’t really have any. But I always think they look beautiful on other women.

  4. Pingback: Strong to Live | CaveGirl Quest

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