A Bit of Body Talk

Over wine at a bar last night, I proudly proclaimed to my friend J my day’s most significant achievement: that I successfully held the Wheel posture in yoga class. (You know, the one you go into from Bridge where you’re holding yourself up on your outstretched arms and legs and feel that life is highly unstable).

“Great!” she cheered. “Has this been a longtime goal of yours?”

I considered the question, and replied, honestly: no. Or rather, yes, but only since Wednesday when we tried it for the first time and I couldn’t do it. I then explained that because of my epic and lifelong inflexibility, I am always shocked on the rare occasions that I succeed with yoga moves beyond a basic lunge.

“I couldn’t even do a summersault when I was a kid!” I exclaimed. Now the whole group of women was paying attention, and highly skeptical. Folks, I know that I have a tendency to exaggerate. And as many of you pointed out to me after that last post, I can also veer toward extreme self-depracatation. But I am not lying here: I really couldn’t do a summersault. Don’t even get me started on a cartwheel. Also, I was a moderately chubby child. I told my friends this by way of explanation.

“Really?” one asked. “You were a chubby kid?”

Immediately, I backpedaled. I think I was a chubby kid. I certainly wasn’t skinny. But really, I realized as I tried to answer this question, I have no idea how to answer this question.

My whole life my weight has fluctuated. I know this because once, in the schoolyard of my Greenwich Village elementary school, a gym teacher named MJ announced to me that some days I looked thin and others I looked fat. I’m sure she has no recollection of telling me this, but for me, most days it comes to mind.

Somehow, though, I made it through my teen years without ever really noticing these fluctuations. Mostly I just thought I was a few pounds overweight and therefore undesirable to men my age: this was all I needed to know.

But then, in college, I had a stressful semester editing the student newspaper and some pounds came off noticeably. Or at least, noticeably to others: I didn’t observe the change until I went home for summer break and my grandmother told me I’d lost thirty pounds. (It wasn’t thirty–it was probably more like ten. Now you know where my tendency to exaggerate comes from.)

So dramatic was the reaction to that weight loss that, since then, I’ve been much more attuned to my body’s changes. I try not to focus on it, to accept wherever my body is and feel good about myself regardless. But I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel more confident and more attractive when I’m on the smaller side of things. Which is crucial in the context of my first Golden Rule: when you think you are desirable, you are. Honestly, I know most men don’t notice the variations in my body that I do. But I can’t help that I do notice them, and that they do shape to some extent how desirable I feel.

I find this a source of endless frustration. My warped self-perception is far from unique, though, and I don’t think it’s my fault: I blame magazines and Hollywood and Angelina Jolie. But still, it astonishes me how women who are confident, smart, intelligent and sensible in just about every other aspect of their lives somehow lose all sense when it comes to their bodies.

Clearly, I am as vulnerable to these things as anyone else: these completely irrational ideas about what’s normal and the unhealthy focus on weight that preoccupies otherwise rational women (though I don’t claim to be rational about other things, either).

And the problem is so big and so deep it makes my head hurt to even think about how to address it. The only advice I can offer is to move to New Mexico: just generally, it’s easier to feel relaxed about things here. Even, sometimes, your body.

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3 Comments

Filed under Womanhood

3 responses to “A Bit of Body Talk

  1. richard vargas

    try growing up in so. california. everyone is trying to maintain the perfect tan and muscle tone. this gets ingrained into you at a very early age (males and females.) the rest of the country is flabby and pasty, and lord knows we don’t want to look like that. leaving that state was probably the healthiest thing i ever did. now, whenever i feel fatter than usual, i just look around me. there’s always someone nearby who is bigger than me. that’s how i know god loves me. 🙂

  2. ha! that’s a great attitude, Richard. i like it. i think i know god loves me because i did NOT grow up in southern california! not sure i would have made it…

  3. funny. I just told a friend that here in Albuquerque I don’t feel so ugly… in my old neighborhood in So Cal everyone was tanned, thin (of anorexic proportions) and botoxed to smoothness. And I’m away from my sister who regularly proclaims things like “I’m so fat!” note: when she is “fat” she is a size 4. It’s warped… I think all the coasts can warp you.

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