Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Body Image


Let's face it. Most American women have poor body image, and, although I like to consider myself above that, as I've gotten older, I've been struggling with it.
Going to dance class this spring has reinforced the fact that I am no longer the slightly chubby, but healthy woman who can ignore her weight. I hate even walking in the door. My reflection in the doorway of Dance Plus Ballroom is bigger than my reflection in any other doorway -- my house, Macy's, work. I look huge as I walk toward the door.
Once inside, the room is lined with mirrors. The first week I wore a casual outfit and was shocked to see how bad it looked on me. I was obese! I've worn each of my favorite outfits only to vow I'd never wear each again after seeing myself in those mirrors. I convinced myself the mirrors must be distorting my image so this week, I managed to stand next to another woman. I compared how she looked in real life to how she looked in the mirror. She wasn't distorted. She looked the same both places. So what's going on?

Maybe my body image is the opposite of what most women have. Maybe I haven't dealt with the way I really look. In high school, I thought I was fat. I remember the counselor/driving teacher Mr. Vandergriff who frequently told me that Paulita was supposed to mean little Paul. I distinctly remember myself in size 5 skirts. When I forgot a pair of jeans to change into after band, someone suggested that Tracey had an extra pair. "I'll never fit into her jeans," I insisted. But I did and we've been friends since.
I did gain weight and bulk up in college. I can still picture myself in the bright green tights and leotard I wore to do Jane Fonda aerobics -- the album. My weight slid up and down after that. One of the first things I understood in French was when a member of the family I was staying with was talking about me. Someone said I must enjoy the French food because I was heavy. The host family assured them I had arrived that way. No wonder I saw myself as fat.
The problem was in my mid-20s, when I stopped thinking about food and weight, and my scale settled on 118, where it returned after each baby, I still considered myself fat. I was wearing size 4 or size 6 jeans but thought I was chubby. What is that all about? Why couldn't I enjoy being thin? Why did I still need to be critical?
Raising a daughter, I always focused on being healthy. We didn't talk about dieting, but I regularly hit the running trail, as much for the emotional reward as the physical one. Over the past few years, injuries like the torn ACL and the stress fracture have prevented me from running as much. That must be when those extra pounds snuck on. And now they act like a vicious cycle, making me tired when I do run. No wonder, I'm dragging around the equivalent of a five-year-old in addition to the weight I was before. I complain of feeling fatigue. My lungs are fine, my leg muscles are fine, but a sense of "I can't possibly run anymore" overtakes me. I'm fighting that feeling now as I slog through my morning runs. Some of them are beautiful and some of them are like wrestling a two-year-old into a car seat.
So, I need to face the mirror and admit I have gained weight. I need to get out of bed every morning and run. I'm trying to follow the marathon training schedule, even though I don't plan to run the marathon. The training should help me get my body under control.

And, I need to admit that dieting only makes me crazy and crave foods. So I have to allow myself to eat what I want in moderation and increase my exercise. I tried to buy larger shorts that will be more comfortable but I still run into the difficulty of shorts that fit in the thighs and hips but are too big around the waist.
I'll keep looking and hope that soon the size 10s will be comfortable again. My goal, and everyone should have one, is to be a comfortable size 8 by the time the Columbus Marathon rolls around. I plan to stand on the sidelines and cheer for my friends while showing off some newly muscled thighs. Now about those varicose veins. Oh, never mind. No one is perfect.

1 comment:

Sheila said...

This is hard as we age. I have that same reaction when I see a reflection of myself. Think about how hard it will be if we do go to NY, being surrounded by super thin beautiful people that wear way more expensive clothes than I can afford. It's really depressing. As all of this is happening for Beth I keep thinking I need to lose weight. And the reason I never call you to see if you want to join me for walks is that i haven't been since we went last. I know I need to exercise but I just can't make myself do it. argh!

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