Saturday, October 16, 2010

MJtBA Part 3: Shifting Perspectives

My life seems to be divided into noticeable blocks of time where I saw the world in one particular way and then something happens and I have a drastically different viewpoint that makes it hard for me to relate to the person I was before. I'm not talking about external things like political, social, or religious views. Even as a child I was pretty agnostic, pro-choice, and (though of course I didn't learn the term until I was older) socially progressive. I'm talking about perspectives about myself which affect how I interact with the world around me.

For example, there was a time in my life when I accepted facts given to me by authority figures completely at face value without examination of their merit. There was a time that I would nervously pretend that I agreed with my peers just to fit in. Or kept secrets about benign likes and dislikes to avoid being made fun of. This letter could have been addressed to me just two short years ago.

I'm not ashamed of any of this. Personal development is a natural part of growing up and it's not surprising that there are situations I've come across even as an adult that I would probably handle differently now.

One of the major things that changed me was having my son. Before my pregnancy I was pretty willing to allow toxic people into my life to run all over me. I knew that these people were bad for me, but it was like I felt sorry for them or like I was obligated to help them along in life because they were misfits just like I felt I was. Plus I will admit I got some pleasure out of being told how great I was for putting up with all the bullshit. Being a martyr is kind of intoxicating. Getting together with my husband definitely started chipping away at that behavior, but it wasn't until I got pregnant that I drew a line in the sand when it came to my codependent tendencies. I can't do that anymore. I'm a mom and I have to be mentally healthy for my boy.

Interestingly though, developing my body image has gone a long way toward easing my fear of confrontation that created a lot of the shenanigans listed above. I'm not overly confrontational or anything. I'd still prefer to keep the peace on most occasions. But I'm genuinely not suffering from the delusion that if I make myself invisible, no one will notice I'm fat.

I think this is a problem a lot of fat people suffer from. The word "fat" is super loaded in our culture. It implies smelly, lazy, stupid, gluttonous, etc. , and it pretty much shuts down any argument because most of us (even a lot of thin people) are mortified by this accusation. It was like this imagined silver bullet just hovering out there waiting on me. I would rehearse a confrontation in my head and get maybe four lines in before my would-be opponent made a fat joke and all was lost as I slunk home with my tail between my legs. IN MY OWN FIGHT FANTASY! Sheesh.

And here's the weird part. I never ever ever ever once in my life ever believed any of those fat stereotypes to be true of other people. I have always been around a wide range of body diversity and I've pretty well always been on the small side of fat. I've never found fat to equal automatically unattractive in anyone but me. I know people who weigh over 400 pounds and live active lives (one of them plays college football and baseball and no he is not all muscle) with friends and romance and families and all the other things Sanjay Gupta wants you to think you can't have while fat. I have absolutely always believed that a fat person can simultaneously be a beautiful person. I've seen it with my own eyes on many occasions. Yet, it's almost like I saw myself as the one and only really fat person on the face of the planet. No one else deserved all the torment and shame heaped upon fat people in this culture. You know, except me and my lazy fat ass deserved it in spades apparently.

It has been hard to shake this mentality and believe things like my husband loves me for attributes that include my body not in spite of my body. Or that no, in fact I'm not lazy and if I were it would be no one else's business because I have no moral obligation to be otherwise. I spent a lot of time afraid of being fat or fatter even when I was thin and that hampered me quite a bit. The notion that I am fat and that is totally fine has made a huge difference in my life. I still have doubts and hard days but I'm no longer afraid of speaking up.

Watch out world. There is no silver bullet, no kryptonite, no Avada Kedavra. I'm free now to be exactly who I am.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Journey to Body Acceptance Part 2: Feeling at Home

I ran 4 miles last night.

I'm just going to let that stand on its own because I am SO proud of it. I don't really know why even. I feel like I did something really important though and I'm deciding to relish it.

However, I am simultaneously experiencing a rush of resentment towards my school PE teachers. You see, last night I met a goal that I never consciously set simply because I would have never believed I was capable of such a thing. I was just feeling pretty good when I got to the end of my third mile (I have a 5k coming up which is what I've been "training" for.) and so I decided to keep going and all of the sudden there it was. And I find myself thrilled, but very very angry.

I have been building up to this since April. If I remember right I could not even do a half mile then at a slower pace than I am running now. I've gotten here because I was patient with myself. If was hurting, tired, or injured I didn't run. I didn't go faster or longer until I was sure I was ready. And I was finally and honestly working out to do something for my health and for myself rather than pursuing the goal of making myself take up less space in the universe.

Running makes me feel great. It clears my head. I can tell that I've gained strength as well as speed. I have more energy during the day than I used to. Most importantly, I feel very at home in my body in a way I never really have before. (I plan to write more about this feeling.)

I'm just bitter mostly at a particular teacher, Coach J, for making me intentionally avoid running because I have found that I really really really enjoy it. Starting in elementary school Coach J would make us run a mile as a class. He clearly delineated what was a good time and made sure we knew anything less was unacceptable and was pretty effective at pushing the POV that anyone who could not achieve said time or better was somehow defective. There was no discussion of what running could do for your health, no starting benchmarks from which improvement could be made.Nothing. Just a whistle, a stopwatch, and an unnatural affinity for humiliating little kids. Among other bad behavior, Coach J allowed an ENTIRE 6th grade class to make fun of me for running slowly. I don't know what he was going for, but I didn't run again on purpose until my last year of grad school.

I guess our teaching philosophies differ. I think teachers are charged with providing safe spaces and opportunities for growth and learning. He thinks he should blow a whistle and be a jerk.

The sad thing is that I really believe that p
roper Phys Ed is important and can be a positive force in a kid's life. In a proper PE class I would have been TAUGHT to find and honor my physical comfort zone and provided with reasonable and appropriate opportunities to expand that zone rather than just being shamed and barked at.

Running has been so important to me. Meeting and exceeding these goals makes me feel so accomplished and confident. And like I said, my relationship with my body has improved dramatically as a direct result. I think this would be true as I progressed in any physical activity that I liked. Feeling like this would have been very useful growing up and him and others like him cheat kids out of that everyday. It's shameful and it really is putting a cloud of spite over my happy time.