Thoughts on self-image and other such nonsense.

Sigh. Why do I need so much time to get this stuff out? This is a bit of the post that I should have written a month ago. It’s about me even though it starts out in that strange, round-about way that I seem to need to use to talk about myself. Oh well. (Also, it’s very long, clocking in over 2000 words… Oops!)

I had a lot of time on my hands yesterday as students worked independently to complete their final project. This meant that I spent a lot of time on the computer just dinking around. I caught up on blogs I had been neglecting, (even if I didn’t take the time to comment) and all the stupid little time-sink stuff that I keep in my RSS reader for just such occasions and I still had time left over. This is always a problem because it takes me to parts of the internet that make me sad or frustrated or just plain old angry. So, surf, surf, surf and end up on cnn.com… Not good. First read an article about the amount of vacation Americans receive vs their European counterparts and apparently (according to the article) Americans perceive working harder than they have to as a sign of success. Yikes!! What’s wrong with us? No THANK you! It makes me sad.

Then, also on cnn, I watched a video about growing trends in Asia (Korea and China) of having plastic surgery to look more “Western”. The story follows a 12-year-old girl who was about to have eye surgery to look “pretty”. At one point they ask the girl to pick which woman in a fashion magazine is beautiful. Both women were gorgeous, of course, but she said that the Asian woman was ugly because of her eyes. It saddens me that the standard of beauty that is making girls in our country feel inferior is affecting people in other countries as well. It’s infuriating that parents would not just allow, but pressure their children to get ridiculous surgeries to make them “attractive”. It’s sick and I’m moving on before I get all angry again.

So, saying all that to get to my point. (Of course.) What do these two articles have in common? Self-image. Who hasn’t know some person at some point in their lives that was completely convinced of some falsehood about themself? Be it “I’m not pretty.” or “I’m not talented.” or any other negative thing that you can think of. And of course, you have the opposite as well: The odious guy/gal who’s convinced they are God’s gift to whichever sex is the object of their affection. The poor soul that couldn’t carry a tune to save their soul but still tries their luck in the local talent show (or on American Idol, ouch).

Well, look at that, I still haven’t gotten to the point… It’s really quite crazy how much of our self-worth is derived from outside sources. From an early age, we start examining the world around us and our perceptions of the world are formed. And, of course, when the topic of self-image is discussed, for me, it’s all about weight. When I was little, I was pretty thin. My brother and I were homeschooled and our day went kind of like this: wake up (at some reasonable hour after dawn), breakfast, assignments for the day, PLAY!!! We didn’t spend more than a few hours on school work and then we had fun. We ran everywhere we went and we lived outside. Needless to say, with that kind of activity level we needed plenty of calories to keep us going.

Then, we moved across the country to Washington state. The people we stayed with when we first moved there (one of my dad’s old army buddies) had four girls ranging from teens to my age (I turned eight shortly after we moved there). I am convinced that this had something to do with my weight gain. After all, their youngest “sparked” early, so to speak, and I’m pretty sure the estrogen laced environment jump started my own puberty, though I didn’t have a period until I was 13 and again surrounded by pubescent females. (One of the symptoms of PCOS is irregular periods and weight gain. I rest my case.) On top of this, their mom convinced my mom that home schooling wasn’t good enough and we were enrolled in public school. So, yeah, take two high energy kids, make them get up predawn to ride the bus, put them in a classroom all day and top all that with homework and what do you get? Chubby McChubbchubbs! Phew! We plumped like well-cooked sausages!

Now, as I was a kid and totally unaware that I had been signed up for all the crap that comes with being overweight, I totally didn’t even notice that I was chubby! I could have cared less! Afterall, what was better for swimming in glacier-fed rivers than an extra layer of fat to keep the cold out? (And we were out in that river as often as we could be! Pools are for chumps!) But as childhood melted into adolescence, and we were again enrolled in public school for our high school years, it began to become an Issue. My dear, misguided but well-intentioned mother started suggesting that maybe “we” should try to lose some weight. (Seriously! I look at pictures of myself back then and I was NOT fat. Thick, sure, I do have a rather broad frame, and yes I might have been a little chubby, but not anything that really needed Addressing.) Suddenly, with my mother’s concerns and finally being exposed to the insecurities of other girls my age, I became very aware of my weight.

Now, let me just pause here to say that growing up, chubbs and all, I’ve never had any health problems. Even well into adulthood, no problems. I’ve always been fairly active (because I enjoy it) and most of my fresh out of highschool jobs were pretty physically taxing. I’ve always been large, but I’ve also always been STRONG. Think fat layered over muscle. I could have snapped most of my male friends in half if I had ever had call to. ‘Nough said.

So, tender, naive me suddenly had inferiority thrust upon me. I had never been self-conscious in my LIFE! I mean, my entire freshman year I wore horrible (brightly colored) knit fabric shorts and character tees! I couldn’t care less what people thought of me! Because of this absolute lack of guile, no one bullied me for being weird. I was completely content in my own odd little world. (I only ever had one person pick on me and it was my best friend’s asshat boyfriend and I pretty much just blew him off.) I befriended everyone (because I’d never been hurt) and it was great. But then the wrecking ball of “You need to lose weight.” came crashing down on my happy little world. Suddenly, there was something wrong with me. My mommy told me so. My friends, who were much thinner than I, told me so through their own self-deprecation. The evidence of high school life told me so.

Looking back now, toward the end of my slightly chubby freshman year, I sprouted and by the end of highschool I was 5’10” and a muscular 200ish. Right about now, I wish I could go back and tell that tall, awkward girl not to worry about her weight! I am convinced that if I hadn’t been so conscious of “being fat”, my weight wouldn’t have progressed to the point that it reached when I hit rock bottom. Because there was such a focus on weight and not health, I felt horrible about myself and would binge on junk (because I was fat anyway, right?) as an emotional escape. My down points are littered with tears and empty cookie trays. All because someone convinced me that there was something wrong with me.

The funny thing is that through all of my “fat” youth, I never felt fat. I was healthy. I was strong. And I never struggled with any of the problems that you hear so much about. Walking, going up stairs and all that jazz, were no issue for me. I was just carrying that same padding over swathes of muscle. (Seriously, 18 year old me could kick your ass!) I biked. I walked. I swam. All for the joy of those things for themselves. UNTIL someone told me I NEEDED to do them. Someone stole the intrinsic joy of feeling my muscles flex beneath skin (and yes, fat as well). Now, as I’m taking back my body from the vacuum of self-loathing, I’m starting to feel that joy again. I love the rush of power I feel as I cut through the water effortlessly or kick it into high gear on the elliptical and I can’t wait until my doctor clears me to run, because that will be mine!

It’s strange, but I feel oddly self-conscious about my decision to lose weight. I think it’s that same low self-worth rearing its ugly head, but I think it’s also because I don’t want people to take it the wrong way. I’m not losing weight because there was anything wrong with being heavy. (And if you view it that way, I’m very sorry, but I’m going to have to punch you in the face.) The truth of it is that I was no longer a tiger in a fat suit. Actually, a hippo is a really awesome analogy. They look like big cows that you could push over in a drunken, hickish haze, when, in fact, they’re a mound of rippling muscle that are the most dangerous thing in water. I was perfectly fine with myself that way. I was healthy. I felt good. But after my recent struggle with depression and the resulting weight gain, (on top of a mostly sedentary teaching job) for the first time in my life, I felt fat. Instead of that kick-ass hippopotamus (I WILL BREAK YOUR BOAT IN HALF!), I felt like one of those sad declawed, enormous house cats that can’t even lick themselves properly (“I wash mahself with a rag on a stick.”).

This heavy feeling, in conjunction with knowledge of the health problems that led to my grandfather’s death and unhappiness with my life at the moment, in general and with some very specific things, eventually led to a kind of breaking-point moment when I said enough was enough. I decided to take a lesson from some of the wonderful, free-spirited people I stalk follow on Twitter and do something about it. (Which in turn has made me slightly less sympathetic to people griping about their crappy lives. Sorry! Something in your life you don’t like? Do something about it!!) I decided I was done letting my life happen to me. My life was going to have purpose, damn it, and I was going to be the one making the decisions! I decided I wanted to leave the area. Making that happen. I decided I wanted to get healthy and stop feeling like an over-sized loaf of a cat. Making that happen. I decided what I want to do with my life. Soooo gonna make that happen!

Holy crap! I need to wind this up now, don’t I. So… the TL:DR version: If you’re not happy with something in your life, do something about it! Especially those of you that don’t have kids that you need to provide for. (You know who you are!) I’m done working just to pay for the things that distract me from work. I’m done making excuses. I’m just plain done!

So, yeah. I’m not the person to come to if you want a sympathetic ear right now, but if you need someone to tell you to get off your ass and chase those dreams or someone to cheer you on along the way, I’m your gal!

Now, go out and do something you WANT to do for no other reason than the fact that you can!!

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About Melme

Can I have some coffee now, please?

Posted on May 24, 2011, in Life, Me, Musings, Random. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Funny .. A LOT of what you said is what I’ve been realizing. The only way things will change is if I change them. I mentioned it to Aaron a number of times that I really admire his and yours seemingly “I don’t give a flip what you think” attitude. Maybe not that you don’t care but that you don’t SHOW that you care. I think that’s cool. Ultimately yeah, do what makes you happy.
    PS … loved the fact you had a TLDR section at the bottom. Very Web 2.0 ;)

    • I’ve always tried to live my life without concern for what others think, but sometimes it’s hard not to let things get to me. By nature, we generally want acceptance, but I think it becomes more of a matter of not worrying about what unimportant people think. I still value the opinions of the people that love me (within reason) but it comes down to what is best for me. And only I can decide that.

      Now go out and make something happen!! ;)

      (I tried to figure out a way to make a TL;DR link at the top to jump to the bottom, but I guess WordPress doesn’t work that way.)

  2. It sounds like you’re doing well–I’m so happy for you! I feel like I finally got my life pretty much where I want it. I like where I live, I have the marriage I have always dreamed about, and I like my job. Should I lose weight? Well, yeah, but honestly, being overweight doesn’t bother me that much.

    Although the being active stuff you’ve mentioned sounds fun. Maybe I’ll join you on this getting healthier bit. :)

    • I’m trying really hard not to make the whole “getting healthy” thing about weight, because when it comes down to it, that’s not what’s most important to me. Weight loss is nice, but I’m trying to focus on feeling good and getting strong again. I do need to lose [more] weight before I can start a running program because my doctor is concerned about the impact on my knees and I really, really want to be able to run!

      I’m not gonna lie. At first, getting physical sucks! (And even now there are plenty of days that I don’t want to do anything.) It takes time to get into the habit of it and it’s best to start small with walking a couple times a week or something like that so you don’t burn out. But the improvement in how I feel (even emotionally) is well worth it. I think I’m starting to reach that point everyone always harps about: “When I don’t work out, I miss it!” And, for me, it’s not exactly that I miss the exercise itself, but that after a couple of days of not working out, I start to feel kind of bummed. Then I go walking or something and feel awesome again! So, yay for exercise! :)

  3. This is exactly what I’ve been contemplating lately.

    My intent to start exercising did, unfortunately, stem from my body weight issues. I’ve never been overly heavy, but I have never been athletic. I was active as a kid, but have developed into a generally sedentary college student. I’ve always been too ready to let others define me, and that has caused some deep-seated issues within my own life. Generally, that means an all-over discomfort with my body.

    So I started running. And I need to get this off my chest: I hate it. I hate the sheer exhaustion that sets in when I can’t run any farther than a few hundred feet. I hate that I feel heavy and lethargic and have to continuously stop for air. But I do it anyway. I do it to prove to myself that I can, even though I dread going outside to do it. I want to get healthy and fit, and yeah, losing weight would be wonderful. Now, I’m realizing what you cemented early on: feeling strong and powerful is much more satisfying than feeling “skinny”.

    I guess my point is that I am doing something about it. I’m doing something to improve my own body image, for myself, so that I can be confident with who I am, both physically and emotionally. You’re dead-on when you say that people need to get active; not just physically. If we have a problem with ourselves, moping and feeling insecure is no way to fix it.

    Brilliant post. I will definitely come back. :)

    Jess

    • Thank you for stopping by! I’m so glad to hear that you’re taking charge!

      I would like to say, though, something that I’ve been reading over and over and over on all the fitness sites and that I’ve found is true for myself as well, is that if you want to make physical activity into a lifelong endeavor, find something that you enjoy doing. It’ll help you stick with it much longer than if every outing is torture. For me, swimming is the best! I swim for hours! And the bane of my exercising existence is aerobics. I just can’t do it!

      But, if you want to do it, do it! :)

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