body image

Body changes

Last year, for reasons not related to an eating disorder (I feel compelled to add that, because if you know me, and you know my history, you’re going to jump to a conclusion), I lost weight.

The reasons were complicated. They involved dealing with a lot of grief, processing a lot of stuffed-down traumatic memories, and some health issues, that may or may not have been caused by the aformentioned factors, but were definitely made worse by those factors.

So, due to a major lack of energy, and some hardcore anxiety and depression, I did a lot of napping, resting, sitting. Quiet, low-key things. Which at the time, my body absolutely needed. But that meant that I didn’t really go to the gym for about 8 months.

And now: now, my body is starting to heal. Now, I’m starting to gain weight. But more than that, my body has adjusted to close to a year of no gym, which means it’s changed.

I’m less toned. I’m bigger in some places. I’m softer in some places. Saggier in places. Some places touch that I’m not used to touching. Some pants that fell off of me a year ago now fit perfectly. And my thighs won’t squeeze into some pants that were baggy last year.

It’s an adjustment.

It’s not bad. It’s not good. Or, it’s bad AND good. Whatever. The point is, it’s not all one thing. And it just IS.

It’s an adjustment.

Maybe to another person I look the same. That’s fine. It’s not about other people’s thoughts or opinions. And it’s actually not about how I look. I’m not saying I’m fat (I’m not) or chunky (I’m not) or ugly (I’m not). It’s about how my body feels.

I’ve had moments of brief panic: How am I going to adjust to this????? But I’ve also had moments of awe: Hell yeah. My body did what it needed to do, my body carried me through last year, and it survived and it’s rebuilding itself. And I’ve also had moments where I’m just so impressed because a decade ago, the slightest softening or growth of my body would’ve sent me restricting and purging and counting nonstop. Now? I feel it, oh yes, I notice it and feel it. But then I move on. I’ll adjust. My body is resilient. It’s all okay.

This is new for me.

I’m back to going to the gym. I’m back to lifting, to moving my body. But my body isn’t going to be the exact one it was last year (nor would I want it to be). It’s not going to be the one it was five years ago. And it’s not going to be the one that it will be a year from now.  And that’s just the truth and the reality of it.

Acceptance. Noticing. Observing. Breathing. Moving through. Moving on.

It’s Hard to be Human

After my last post, urging you to write, hoping you would, an old and dear friend sent me a message, essentially saying, “I’ve never put myself out there, but after your last post, I was inspired to write.” And so she did. I don’t think there’s a single person out there who will have trouble relating to what she wrote. Her writing is proof that we don’t have to consider ourselves “writers” to be a writer. The way in which she conveys her experiences is so uniquely beautiful.

And so, I give you her heartfelt words.

It’s Hard to be Human (posted anonymously)

I was a psychology major in college. I read the textbooks. I listened to the lectures. I know that humans are incredibly complex and that our cognitions often can’t be explained. We’re controlled by an electrical grid of neural connections that fire this way and that, sending us into overdrive. The same systems that allow us to run, laugh, love, causes us to freeze, cry, hate. I know to avoid catastrophizing and all or nothing thinking, and to calm my anxiety by trying to release the things I can’t change and focus on what I can. I have a loving family who talks openly about our genetic history of anxiety and depression and shares tactics for coping. I have a therapist who listens. So I must be doing well…right? Not quite. Having all the tools doesn’t mean I successfully use them. Having all the tools doesn’t equal relief. Having all the tools doesn’t stop the day to day moments of intense panic, sadness, or inadequacy. The hardest part is that I do consider myself a smart, successful person who is so blessed. Sometimes I remind myself that I am doing my best. I am human. But sometimes I decide that I’m therefore not allowed to be depressed, or feel helpless, or struggle, and that’s not fair. Ups and downs, highs and lows. Frustration turns to anger because any glimpse of a silver lining can become dark in an instant. Happiness can become loneliness. Pride can become self-consciousness. Innocent thoughts can become obsessive thinking. I’m trapped, trying to make sense of it, but the harder I try the more out of control I feel. It’s hard to be human.

How can one person experience different extremes so close together? I don’t understand it, I don’t like it and I resist it. It’s an out of body experience, as if I’m watching helplessly from the sidelines. I’m standing on the set watching a scene. I am the actress and she is me, but I can only watch, not do or say. But I feel her emotions. All of them. The director sets the scene and yells, “action!” and I watch her recite her lines. One with ease, then one with anguish. A back and forth between the positive and the negative, the confidence and the uncertainty. Both equally as strong and equally as real. And I can’t look away. It’s hard to be human.

[Scene] Morning mirror
First: “I love my eyes, I love my hair, I look happy. I look healthy.”
Then: “I hate my body. I am fat. I feel sluggish. I’m not good enough. And I never will be.”

[Scene] Breakfast
First: “I’m so lucky to be able to afford food. This tastes good. Nourishing my body is important.”
Then: “I have to be more restrictive. Less carbs. More nutrients. I’ve been eating too much. I’m going to start binging again. I won’t be able to stop. I have no self control.”

[Scene] Office
First: “That event was amazing because of me. I’m good at my job. I’m reliable. I’m valued. I learned something new today. My company is better because I’m a part of it.”
Then: “I messed up. I failed. I should be doing more. I should be making more money. I’m wasting my time and theirs. I’ll never find my passion.”

[Scene] Gym
First: “I’m so strong. I’m impressed with what my body can do. I feel empowered. I can do anything I set my mind too.”
Then: “I can’t do this. I’m too weak. Everyone else can go farther. I’ll never get my body to where I want it to be.”

[Scene] Cuddling with him
First: “This makes the hard times worth it. I love him. I’m safe in his arms.”
Then: “This only feels good because it’s rare. It won’t last. A fight is coming. I’m unsure. Why can’t this be simple? Maybe it’s my fault.”

[Scene] Phone
First: “I’m glad my best friend is happy. She’s finally found someone who treats her right. Maybe I deserve that too.”
Then: “She has it so much better than me. Why can’t he be that way with me? It’s not fair. She judges me because I’m not as happy. Will I ever have what she has?”

[Scene] Bedtime
First: “I had a good day. My family and friends are happy and healthy. I am grateful.”
Then: “I am not okay. This is too hard. Why am I the one struggling? When will it get better?”

Getting this out may do nothing. Admitting how trapped I feel might not make a difference. But all those psychology textbooks say acknowledgement is a necessary step. So maybe, just maybe, sharing these scenes will allow me to eventually accept the actress as she is, even if I can’t intervene yet. Sometimes she is troubled and sometimes she is content. Sometimes she is soaring and sometimes she is sinking. But she is human, and it’s hard to be human.

This morning I got stuck in my closet

Not physically.

This happens from time to time.

Here’s what happens. I go to bed with an idea of what outfit I’m going to wear to work the next morning. Most mornings, as long as I’ve picked out the outfit in advance, I wake up, shower, put on the outfit, and that’s that. Back when I didn’t plan out my outfit, I would stand there for minutes, just paralyzed, knowing I had to decide what to wear yet not being able to decide. So now, I plan.

But some mornings, I put on the outfit that I picked out, and even though I’ve worn said outfit multiple times, and love the shirt and love the pants and love the shoes, I put it on and HATE it. For a variety of reasons. It might be too big too loose too small too tight too itchy. The mirror might be on my bad side that morning and I see my body change in front of my eyes, knowing that’s not truly happening but fighting it nonetheless. And sometimes it just doesn’t FEEL right. And I don’t know how to describe it other than that. An outfit I love and have worn just doesn’t work. Sometimes it’s because the color isn’t right. Sometimes I crave colors, and am repulsed by others. Sometimes I desperately need to wear green, other times if I put on a green shirt I get nauseous. Purple is one of my go-to colors but some days it’s the exact opposite of what I need. Having done a bit of studying over the years of chakras and color theories, I do believe that we gravitate toward certain colors for certain reasons at certain times.

When any of those things happen, I get stuck. I freeze. I often put on shirt after shirt, pants after pants, outfit after outfit. Often times the more something feels wrong, the more everything else feels wrong. Everything keeps feeling too big, too tight, too itchy, too light, too heavy, too nauseating. And then I realize that the time is ticking away and oh crap I needed to leave five minutes ago and the more I realize how I’m running late the more my heart pounds and the more anxious I get and the harder it is for me to put on clothes. And then sometimes I say Just do it and I pick something and I get to the door of my apartment but then I think But what if I should’ve worn x, y, or z? And then I’m back in my bedroom starting all over again. But what if I feel “wrong” all day and then I will have a bad day and really I should’ve just changed my outfit and tried again? And that’s when I have to remember my tendencies toward obsessing and compulsing and need to (gently) just get myself out of the bedroom and out the door.

It doesn’t happen often. But when it does, it is not a good feeling.

Anyone else ever get stuck in their closet? (Literally, figuratively, take your pick.)

Half an inch

And as the seamstress asked, “Do you want me to take it out half an inch, and not pin it so tightly?” I smiled, and said, “Yes.”

Let me back up.

I was at the seamstress for my second wedding dress fitting. She had tentatively pinned several parts of the dress that needed to be taken in, and I was trying it on to confirm before she cut into the fabric. (Let me just say that no matter what size you are, no matter what shape, no matter what your history with your body, it’s never a super comfortable feeling for someone to pull fabric tight around every crevice of your body). She zipped the dress and I immediately felt like I needed to suck in.

“Remember, you want to be able to sit down, you want to be comfortable,” my mom said, as she caught my eye, watching me note that it was a little tight in one part of my back. And I needed that reminder of her saying that, because all along, that was my criteria with my wedding dress. I wanted to feel beautiful in it. And I wanted to be able to breathe. I did not want to spend my wedding day focusing on sucking in my stomach or breathing with shallow breaths because a full, deep, wonderful breath was restricted by my dress. I didn’t want my dress to restrict anything. Of all days, I do not want any restrictions on my wedding day.

I thought about it. I focused on my body. I noticed that I could only take shallow breaths, with the dress pinned that tightly. I noticed that I wanted to suck in my stomach. My initial reaction, which I think will always be my initial reaction, was to think, Okay. I can do this. Challenge accepted. I’ll cut out a few calories. Go to the gym more. Lose a half inch in the circumference of my back. Then it will fit perfectly. Perfect. This is perfect. 

And I did at first, say to the seamstress and my mom, “No, I think it will be okay.” But my voice trailed off. And my mom knows me better than that. So as she said, “Are you sure?” I thought.

The difference between Then and Now, is my reactions to those thoughts. I used to panic when I noticed the thought. I thought that meant I had failed, that I would always been trapped by the thoughts. It took a lot of time, and work, to realize that the thoughts are going to come. They just are. Maybe they don’t come for everyone, but everyone’s story is different, everyone’s reasons and causes are different, everyone’s wiring is different. And for me, the thoughts will come from time to time. But that actually doesn’t matter. Because what matters is my reaction to the thoughts, not the thoughts themselves. If I act on them or not. If I let them become actions and reality.

So I took a shallow breath, because that’s all I could do with my diaphragm compressed that tightly. And as the seamstress asked, “Do you want me to take it out half an inch, and not pin it so tightly?” I smiled, and said, “Yes.”

It’s a half an inch. Barely noticeable. Makes no difference. And back Then, a half inch would have been everything. But Now, that half inch is nothing. Comfort is everything. Feeling beautiful is everything. Breathing is everything. And if it takes a half inch for that, it’s okay by me.

Body Shaming

These thoughts are spinning around in my head and I wish I could create an organized computer program that would efficiently extract the thoughts and put them into a coherent essay. (Maybe some day one of my students will invent such a thing…?!)

So, rather than wait for a perfect beginning that won’t come, I’m going to start in the messy middle.

It’s not okay to skinny-shame someone. Or fat-shame someone. Or shame ourselves. Shame is rampant in our environment. We shame ourselves, for our pasts, for our experiences, for our choices. We shame others when we’re feeling bad about ourselves. There is so much shame around that we don’t even realize it. We don’t realize that we’re shaming whoever it is that we’re shaming.

The world is focused on losing weight. The world praises individuals who lose weight. Tabloids and magazines have headlines titled, “20 pounds lighter: how she did it!” and “5 tips for shedding those extra 5 pounds.” The focus is always on losing weight. And yes, of course, there are individuals out there who physically need to lose weight, from a health standpoint. For their organs to better operate. For their physiological system to function better so they can breathe and pump blood through their bodies and think and live. And those who are overweight are overweight for a reason. Maybe it’s lifestyle choices, maybe it’s binge-eating disorder, maybe it’s a thyroid problem, but guess what: it doesn’t matter. No matter the reason, the person doesn’t deserve shame.

There are also individuals who physically need to gain weight, from a health standpoint. For their organs to better operate. For their physiological system to function better so they can breathe and pump blood through their bodies and think and live. And those who are underweight are underweight for a reason. Maybe it’s anorexia, maybe it’s a metabolic disorder, maybe it’s due to a medication. And it also doesn’t matter.

And then there are the rest of the people. Who are physically stable. Whose organs are operating, whose physiological systems are functioning, who are breathing and living and thinking. Who don’t need to lose, or gain, any weight.

An individual who gains weight, who physically needs to gain weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body. Similarly, an individual who loses weight, who physically needs to lose weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body. And an individual who maintains her weight, who physically needs to maintain her weight, is accomplishing something healthy for her body.

We all have different needs. I know people in my life in all of those three categories. But the messages we receive, from the media, from each other, from ourselves, make us forget that. We sort ourselves into the wrong category, the category we hear so often: fat is wrong, skinny is shameful, everyone should lose weight, skinny people have no reason to ever be anything other than happy. And we lose touch with reality, with who we are, what our body is like, what our body needs.

Body image is about how we perceive ourselves. Not how others perceive us. Which is why we might not see ourselves as how others see us. Which is why, if someone talks about disliking their body, saying to them, “Omg no, you’re so skinny” or “Please, you have nothing to complain about, I weigh so much more than you” isn’t helpful. It’s not about how you see them. And it’s not about YOU! All you’re doing is invalidating their feelings, their struggles. Reinforcing the shame that they feel for themselves. Essentially, telling them, “You have no right to feel that way, you shouldn’t be allowed to have those feelings and emotions, I have no compassion for you.”

When a person is being critical of their body, the last thing they want to hear is more criticism. Of anyone. They want to hear compassion. They want to hear, “I understand. I get it. I’ve felt that way. I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m here. What do you need from me? How can I support you?” Because ultimately it’s about the underlying feelings. The fear, the shame, the disgust, the anxiety, the sadness. Whatever it is, for whatever reason it’s there. The more you continue focusing on their body, and shaming them (even if you don’t realize you’re doing it, even if you’re well-meaning), the more it reinforces the negative beliefs they have.

Also? Skinny does not equal happy. Fat does not equal depressed. Feelings, in general, happen independent of one’s body. And if they are happening because of one’s body, that’s a distortion.

And also: if you have been shaming yourself, or others, and are only now realizing it, you get to NOT use this as an excuse for further shame. Don’t let this spiral into, I’ve been shaming others, oh gosh I’m an awful friend, I am an awful person…...

[Edited to add: Moving away from shame does not mean that you can never dislike your body. It means that you feel the dislike, you acknowledge it, but you move on without shaming yourself for those feelings and for having those feelings. It doesn’t mean always loving yourself or always feeling confident and beautiful. It means being compassionate towards yourself, with whatever it is that you’re feeling.]

Feel compassion for yourself, and push the shame away.

Please. You deserve it. We deserve it.

The One With The Poochy Stomach at Yoga

Last Monday evening, I wanted to go to a yoga class that my favorite instructor was teaching.
My stomach was “poochy” (i.e., distended, sticking out, bloated).
I noticed that observation, then got dressed and went to class.

An anticlimactic, even boring story, right? But I couldn’t help but feel how powerful that moment was. There were years where that would never have been an option in my mind. My digestive system was completely messed up, my perception of myself and my body was messed up, and the quality of my days revolved around how I perceived myself to look, and how my stomach looked. Years ago, a poochy stomach would have been enough cause for me to put on a baggy shirt and sweatpants and hibernate on the couch all night. Last week? I put on my tank top and yoga pants, went to class, and sweat buckets, feeling strong and grounded and powerful the entire time.

Despite spending the past few years giving my digestive system all the TLC and healing it needs after years of misuse, disuse, and abuse, and making wonderful strides, I continue to have food intolerances, continue to have days where it all gets out of whack, continue to have times where my small intestine responds to food by ballooning out so far that I have to pick a bigger pair of pants to wear. And, I’m human, so I think I get to admit that I don’t particularly enjoy those times, that I still feel frustrated when that happens, that I don’t love my body every second of every day. (I don’t think anyone does, and I think that’s okay. And as a side note, here‘s an article that my wonderful friend Erika wrote, on that very subject, that I find truly validating.) BUT, the key difference between Then and Now is that it doesn’t ruin my day. I can concurrently feel uncomfortable, feel some dislike, feel discouraged, AND still go to work, enjoy my day, go out with friends…and feel a whole other range of positive emotions that are real and true and not tainted by dislike or discomfort. 

So I went to yoga, because Now my internal monologue was observatory rather than critical (Hmm. I want to go to yoga tonight. Oh, my stomach is poochy today. Ok, I’d better get dressed and head out). And it was one of those countless moments that I’ve had over the years of Now, where I have to stop and get a burst of joy because Holy crap, I am a different person. I am not the same person I was years ago, Then. I am free and I thought one day I’d get to this point but I am here, I’ve been here, and I will stay here. Any bumps in the road are not a return to Then, they are simply a normal part of Now.

And yoga was fantastic. And Katie, my teacher who I am honored to also call a friend, was reminded us to, “Do whatever you can do. Be wherever you are. Nobody needs a yoga hero.” And I was so in my body and so grounded and I want to go back in time and tell my teen and young adult self, as I have countless times during the years of Now, “Don’t worry. You’ll get there.” 


“I love gymnastics,” she says, out of nowhere. “I want to try it again, I quit last year. It was too late at night.”

“I get that,” I say. “I get tired on school nights too. What is your favorite part of gymnastics?”

“The exercise,” she replies. I nod my head. “You like to be moving?”

“I want a flat stomach,” she responds. My heart skips a beat. No no no no. Please, no.

Tread carefully, I remind myself. “Hmmm” is all I can manage. She continues, lifting up her shirt an inch and pinching her stomach. “I do not want this icky fat on me,” she declares.

I think. She’s a wonderful, insightful, unique, verbal, chatty girl. She’s also 15. And a teenage girl. And on the spectrum.

I choose empathy. Even if my words are not processed, I know the feeling will be.

“I get that,” I say. She looks at me. “But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if there is fat on your stomach, or anywhere else.”

She is listening.

I continue. “I sometimes have thoughts like that. Many people do. But I remind myself… ”

She interjects, “It does not matter! You are beautiful! It is what is on the inside that matters!”

I know it’s a script. I don’t care. The fact that those are the words she is pulling, in this moment, means that hope and belief and self love are all what she is trying to convey, and convince herself of.

“YES” I answer. And she moves on to a different topic, done with this conversation.

It’s a start.

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