Note: It’s tough to talk about bodies, weight, eating and health in a way that’s, well… healthy. It seems by entertaining the conversation, one can easily slip into feeding a certain obsessive mania. But at the same time, avoiding such conversations entirely equally allows the shapes of our bodies to leverage too much control. The safest and healthiest way for me to approach the way I look and how I eat is to talk about it a little and then move on, rather than let it consume too much brainspace or try to ignore it completely (which also can become obsessive in its own right).
I’ve been out of shape lately, something I’ve shared with you before. Josh, too, has been feeling like he’s not in the best shape. We’ve decided to start eating lighter meals and working out a bit. I don’t talk about it much because something like food choice and workout regimen seems to be so divisive. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone is passionate about that opinion. For example, as soon as I mention that I haven’t eaten meat for a little while, people begin telling me that cutting meat is unhealthy or isn’t going to do anything for weight loss. It’s fine for us all to have different ideas about how to eat well, whether by controlling portions or counting calories or cutting one food group or eating more of another. But, I don’t want to be stressed out with overwhelming contradictory information about what I *need* to be doing. I just want to feel good about what I put in my body and still enjoy eating.
Josh and I are lucky in that we’re not too far from where we hope to be. As a result, we’re able to take a sort of relaxed approach to getting there. (I obviously reserve the right to change my mind about this if it seems to not work.) But, for now, I plan meals around what sounds healthy and balanced. Not really a solidly defined model, but there it is. If it sounds like it has a lot of butter or sugar or cream or like it might be very heavy or oily, we skip on it for something with lots of fresh veggies. That’s my method for now. Not super scientific, but it’s gotta be better than cheese fries and ice cream and it helps me to try to maintain the focus on being healthy rather than looking good. I haven’t weighed myself since having the baby and I don’t really know what size I wear (I have clothes spanning about four sizes that all fit well). I’m just hoping to start feeling less jiggle as I walk, which is difficult to quantify. So there you have my loose parameters and expectations. A little different than my usual anal retentive, list-making and goal-setting method of getting things done.
The interesting thing about this all has been to observe how differently Josh and I treat it. I’d say we’re both on par, equidistant from our individual goals. We both talk about being healthy and about looking good. But, I internalize the whole thing so much more. It’s as if Josh, aware that his body changes and weight fluxes, is also aware that he can get in shape, just as he got out of shape. He’s hopeful and motivated and ready to get to work. He speaks about his weight as if it’s a short-lived period- a “just for now.” He talks about, “When we get fit again…” as if he can already see that point on the horizon.
I, on the other hand, almost feel defined by how much I weigh and, as much as it pains me to admit it, it’s probably because of how it impacts the way I look. I know I’m not far off, but instead of seeing this point as one stop on a linear progression, I get stuck. I define myself by it. I’m a Fat Girl*. Logically, I’m aware that it’s a matter of inches, just an issue of pounds. But as with many other things, logic doesn’t always have a bearing on how I act and feel.
I’ve been through phases of realizing that sometimes my self-worth is wrongly impacted by my appearance. That was a hard thing for me to admit. This, while similar, seems different. I’m not finding that I value myself less because I don’t look the way I want to. Instead, it’s as if I define myself in a preemptive defense of what other people are going to think. Put differently, I consider myself a Fat Girl* because I assume that’s what other people will consider me. That when sizing me up, deciding who I am, my entire self will be boiled down to that one characteristic- my weight and, of course, how my weight impacts my appearance.
I wonder if this shows something about how women and their bodies are represented in our culture. It’s interesting that despite having some semblance of introspection and self-awareness, without even realizing it, I feel boxed into a category dependent on how I look. Maybe that’s not just a weight thing- maybe it’s a general female appearance thing (as noted that time I was called a “girl next door”). My husband doesn’t feel boxed into Fat Man versus Hot Man. But it’s also very possible that it’s not gender-related at all. Maybe it’s my self-assigned limitations as a result of my perfectionism. Perhaps I’m too quick to determine if I can do something or can’t, too quick to feel defeated when I don’t succeed on the first try.
No matter the cause for my weird issues, one thing’s clear. From here on out, for my own mental health, I plan to think of my weight as a point on a progression, not a defining box.
Another note: All of this is my thinking aloud and parsing my own feelings on food, weight, appearance and the interplay of the three. If you’re interested in a good conversation on unhealthy obsession with fitness and the danger of confusing health with beauty, check out this post by Virginia Sole-Smith that I found through Cheaper Than Wisdom’s Twitter feed.
*And yet another: I think we could spend some time having a worthwhile dialogue about what “fat” means and the ethics of using it as a derogatory term. But, for the purpose of this post and hashing out my internal dialogue, I felt it was the most accurate term to convey my self perceptions, unhealthy though they are. Here’s an interesting discussion we’ve had about body image and the words we use to talk about our appearance. The good stuff, as usual, is all in the comments.