“Once more unto the breech, dear friends, once more.” –Shakespeare (HenryV)
“I think you might have body dysmorphia.” –Darling Daughter
“No one wants to hear the skinny girl complain about being fat.” –Darling Husband
It’s that time of year again. Back on October 29th or so, I heard a news byte that said to make note of your weight that day because it’s likely the least you’ll weigh for the rest of the year. It warned that holiday treats are to blame—and my treatfest definitely starts with Halloween candy. Usually those damned Mellocreme pumpkins.
My husband said the line I quoted above to me many years ago, when I was actually quite thin, before the birth of our second child. Like so many young women, I often talked about my weight disparagingly in order to get reassurance that I looked okay. And I look back now and laugh at that young woman’s naiveté. Honey, you haven’t seen anything, yet, I want to tell her. Wait until you hit perimenopause. And, oh yeah. You’ll also have SAD (seasonal affective disorder) which will make you want to stuff yourself with every carb within reach even before Daylight Savings Time is over. Poor thing. I rather pity her. But I also would like to have her body again.
I’ve earned my current eleven-pounds-over-my-healthy-BMI body. And I mean that in a nice way. I’ve birthed and nursed two children. I’m a good cook. I’ve done a reasonable job exercising over the years. I’ve had no major illnesses. My body has treated me pretty well. So, why am I so angry with it? Why do I feel ashamed of the way it is now?
Shame is rarely a useful emotion. Shame makes us feel as though there is something inherently wrong with us. Shame makes us feel powerless. Shame steals our self-control as well as our joy.
As I was complaining to my journal this morning—I complained loudly about my burgeoning torso, my lack of energy, my presumed lack of self-control when it comes to food—I recognized a pattern. Not in my complaints, but in my history of dieting. Many years past, I was successful with reasonable dieting by exercising regularly and educating myself about portions and the importance of eating good fats and limiting sugar. The pattern I saw was punishment. Every time I measured out my food, I was telling myself that I could only eat so much because I’d screwed up by eating too much in the past. Eating too much was bad, so therefore I was bad.
Food became the enemy, and I’ve been angry with us both for a very long time.
Just reading that sentence makes me sad. I have made food a monster—and it’s a monster before which I often feel powerless. But the deal is that I have handed over my power, my happiness, and my enjoyment of food to a monster that isn’t even really a monster.
There are so many things in our lives that we casually hand over our power to: people close to us (who don’t even want it); resistance; government; strangers (think social media and bullies); mirrors; food; advertising; bosses. As artists we give our power to critics and reviewers. We cast these things/people as monsters in our heads, and let them go on and on until they drown out our own reasonable voices.
There may be people in your life who truly do act like monsters, but it’s your job to keep them out of your head. (Even if it’s your own negative voice.)
My daughter is very smart. Today, she helped me tame my food monster by letting me talk about it, and by helping me to find a new paradigm for how I approach food. I’ve been dealing with food issues for a long, long time. I do a lot of reading about nutrition and health. So it’s not so much education I require, but a repositioning. It’s not necessarily about limiting carbs and sugar and counting calories and steps. It’s about letting go of artificial deadlines and immediate gratification. It’s about kindness and self-compassion.
Shame is tough to let go of. It becomes a kind of shelter. As long as we live in shame, we can blame the monsters. We run and hide in our shame, telling ourselves all the while that it will help us deal with the monsters.
Thinking about it that way, it makes me feel silly for making a monster out of food. Why would I want to run from chocolate, or, worse, eat it to justify my shame? I love the occasional juicy steak. Even broccoli and mushrooms, and spinach and avocados. I love the occasional glass of wine, and goat cheese and whole wheat bread. None of these things has harmed me—except when I used them as weapons against myself, or as shelter from my unhappiness and depression.
There be no monsters here, except the ones in my head.
We can’t turn back time and be the people we were before. That’s illogical and unrealistic—not to mention impossible. I’ll probably never fit into my wedding dress again. But even if I could, what would it mean? I can’t be that girl, and, truth be told, I wouldn’t want to be her again. She hasn’t my scars or my mostly happy memories. Why should I feel ashamed that I can’t have her body? She can’t have what I have, either. It’s time to stop making her one of my monsters, and just let her go. It’s a kindness to us both. And we can all use more kindness, yes?
January 8 Words
Journal: 320 words
Long fiction: 0 words
Short fiction: 0
Non-fiction: 0 words
Blogging: 966 words
Exercise: 50 minutes treadmill, and lots of running around the house, undecorating