body contentment

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[Macaroni and cheeeeeeeeeese.]

Someday I’m going to do a Most Frequently Used Word count on this blog and find out I wrote cheese more than any other word. And I’m comfortable with that future.

Anyway! Time for some love.

Rewind time a bit to seventh grade. Before that point in my life, my body was just…there. I didn’t think about it when it wasn’t scraped or bruised or smelly or itchy. If it didn’t demand my attention, I had better things to concentrate on, like making eggs out of concrete (a thing I actually tried to do when I was six using plastic egg shells and something that was not concrete that I found in our garage).

Accompanying seventh grade in its arrival, however, was Misery cloaked in Ugh, otherwise known as Body Hatred.

It wasn’t mild, either. From the age of thirteen until about twenty-four I hated my body with only fleeting moments of tentative acceptance. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what I actually looked like because the abject misery I had when I looked at myself made me see someone grotesque.

It may sound like I’m being melodramatic, but you’d be surprised how you can learn to accept that kind of unhappiness as a part of life. Or maybe you wouldn’t be – it’s a frighteningly common thing to give up in the face of what seems insurmountable. At the peak of my obsession with getting a toned, fit body, I was going to the gym seven days a week for several hours a day and cataloguing every calorie I took in. I might have had a category for air (and I also might not have).

The thing to keep in mind with my case, though, is that I really did bring it upon myself. I ate really, really inadvisable stuff as a kid and as a teenager, and it stacked up and I stopped playing the sports I loved because I gained weight. True story: soccer is my favorite sport. In high school, my dad asked the coach to give me a try-out even though I’d transferred to the school after try-outs. The day of try-outs, I put on the clothes my mom packed me and they were too small. I opened the bathroom stall and stared at myself in the mirror and honestly believed I was seeing someone else. Someone really, really abhorrently ugly. After a jolly sobbing, I changed back into my school uniform and hid near the music room (where I felt safe) until I was sure the practice was finished and went out to meet my mom. It’s probably the only real regret I have, that I didn’t just go out there anyway and try out. I was good enough, I could have made the team, but the thought of anyone seeing me put bolts of white-hot fear through me.

Honestly, I can’t remember a time in those eleven years between thirteen and twenty-four when looking in the mirror or at photos of myself didn’t make my heart sink. It didn’t matter the compliments I received from strangers or family or anyone else, because I didn’t match the ideal in my head.

And then, at some point during the age of twenty-four, it stopped.

I didn’t care anymore.

I just flat-out absolutely didn’t give a shit about becoming ideal anymore.

I know that’s sudden and you’re like, “Dude, what the hell? You went from that bawling episode in high school to not caring? You missed something, don’t be lazy.”

But I’m actually not skipping over anything.

…Okay, I kind of am.

In college, I learned to love myself. Not my body, I still hated that, but me. I was a theatre major, and the world I’d joined clicked with me so firmly that I was able to live in my head instead of in my body for the first time since I was a kid.

There are very few photos of me in freshman year because I spent most of it in huge flowing clothes hiding from cameras. In sophomore year, I became a theatre major, changed campuses and moved to Manhattan, and started to love myself as a person. I was writing every day, which does a lot of good shit for my sanity, and I had dozens of new friends who were kind and smart and wonderfully important to me.

I started taking more photos. Of the city, of rehearsals, of my view from my dorm room, of the sky, of my feet (I was in college, feet photos are part of the curriculum)…. Most importantly, I photographed myself. I found my best smile and experimented with lighting and angles and slowly, gradually, I started to like what I saw. I decided I really liked my face. My eyes have multiple colors, and they’ll change shades depending on the lighting. I liked my skin, and I liked putting glitter all over it. I dabbed my eyelids with tinted green and gold and silver glitter and photographed myself smiling in the sunlight. I decided I liked my mouth, when it wasn’t chapped, and I liked my teeth. After months of this, I fell in love with my face.

My body, on the other hand, could go straight to one of the ironic levels of hell.

By my senior year of college, that was my progress: I loved my face, and the rest of me could bite it.

I moved to Japan when I was twenty-three. Having had a trainer over the last four years, I sought a new one out immediately so I could continue literally working my ass off. I ate healthier, I could lift heavy things without a problem, I was climbing a mountain to get home every day – with all those endorphins flying around, I felt awesome.

But I wasn’t lean. My thighs felt massive, my stomach had a constant stubborn swell right above my hipbones, my ass wasn’t worth the nightmare to address, and I hated my arms so much I hid them with ponchos for a solid year.

Then, after eleven years of beating my self-confidence in the kidneys day in and day out, I was 11,000% done.

I was so enormously sick of torturing myself. Of looking in the mirror and only loving my face while looking for every single flaw in the rest of me.

I slowly acknowledged all the things in my life that WERE making me happy: I was living in Japan in a beautiful apartment overlooking the city and port of Kobe working a job I loved and visiting friends all around who were dear to me. My body was the one thing in all of that that I hated, so I just decided….

“Fuck it. The way I look is good enough.”

I didn’t love my body, but I was tired of hating it.

What did it matter that I didn’t have my flat stomach and the thigh gap I craved when I could do a handstand and hike up a mountain every day?

This past summer, I got so fed up with the horrifyingly humid (such a mild word for the moisturized hell Kansai is in the summertime) temperatures that I scorned my blanket AND my clothes and had nude sleepy time. And that helped, too.

Now, at twenty-six, I’ve been startled to realize I actually love my body.

And, ironically, I’m probably the slimmest I’ve been in a very, very long time. Maybe because I stopped clobbering myself in the face with a stress mace every time I saw my body represented in mirrors or photos or video, or maybe I just started seeing what I liked more often that what I hated.

There are still things I’m not happy with: I never wear jeans and I still don’t like my arms, buuut:

I like my skin. It’s soft, and I take care of it. I like my elbows because they’re sharp and they’re fun to poke with. I love my calves and my thighs – they’re muscled from a childhood full of running and sports and a young adulthood full of mountain climbing and squats and walking everywhere first in New York and recently in Japan. I love my hair because it’s soft and it smells nice and I like petting my own head. I like my stomach in spite of the small swell that’s STILL there. I like that it’s there, because it gave me the opportunity to learn to embrace something that I started out fervently hating.

There are probably a lot of reasons I like my body that I’m not conscious of. To be perfectly honest, even though I tried to frame this entry as logically as I could, I have no idea what triggered the change from “Why Do You Flout My Aim of Not Looking Hideous, Body” to “Hot Damn, Yay Me!” but it did happen, and it’s given me a very solid goal as a result:

Help other people see the good in their bodies.

Like I said in a past entry, we’re all encouraged to hate our bodies because it drives a lot of product value up. And some of those products ARE pretty awesome. I do think working out is good and necessary to health. I think working out is fun if you find the right thing (dancing, tennis, swimming, etc.) and I like doing it.

But I don’t believe happiness with yourself physically should be pursued out of hatred for yourself.

Instead, I think (and I stress the “think” part because what do I know, really, except what my own experience meant for me?) that many of us could benefit from approaching weight loss backwards: become happy with yourself first, then lose the weight.

If it’s medical, that’s a separate concern. But if you want to lose weight purely for cosmetic reasons, maybe it couldn’t hurt to find your best attributes and focus on them. I think losing weight for cosmetic reasons is a fine thing to do (after all, it’s your body, you can do whatever the rainbow-flapping hell you want to do with it) and it’s been my driving motivation all these years but…

Some of us deserve love in higher quantities than we allow ourselves. ♥

Oh, I also like making macaroni and cheese and the recipe I’ve been using is ridiculous. Unf, I tell you. UNF.

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