Thursday, February 28, 2013

our bodies and our struggles

Relevant because we're eating donuts. Okay.
Something happened on the weekend that's been on my mind a little and I've decided to share it, because I think it's relevant to a very human struggle that many of us share.

On Sunday night, I was at a work dinner in Canberra. It was convivial, with wine and laughter. I ordered dessert, because 1) work was paying and 2) HELLO! Chocolate cake! Um, yes.
When my dessert arrived at the table, I tucked in, then,
"How dare you be able to eat that and stay so thin," a lady at my table said, "How unfair!"
I was a little taken aback and jokingly tried to deflect,
"Actually, I'm quite active," I said. She hmm'ed and nodded, my explanation seemed to justify a little, but not enough to stop her making the same comment again.

On one hand, let's just admit this, I was pleased with myself - and not just because I was eating a delicious chocolate cake - but because joy of joys! someone thought I was thin! What a reaction, huh? I surprised myself a little in thinking that. Most days I think I'm just a normal lass or I'm not 100% happy with my weight (see below), but events like this remind me that body satisfaction is all about perception. In her eyes, I am normal sized, therefore thin. Yes, and by all measures I am a very healthy weight.

On the other hand, something about her saying this didn't sit well with me.
"She was a little out of line to say that," I blurted out to a colleague later. "How could she think that I can eat anything and stay in shape? I can't! I mean, I am 26 and my metabolism is still in my favour, but I have to exercise and watch what I eat, and I certainly can't eat anything I want and stay the same weight..." And so on.

Can I side bar for a second to just put this out there, world, right now? I'm no stranger to struggling with my weight (/health). As a teenager, I was 20kgs heavier than I am now and, oh, how this impacted on my self esteem. I lost this weight through strict eating and exercise and a generally healthier lifestyle. I do watch what I eat, I try to build healthy habits in my life, and when I eat crap, I gain weight like a normal human. Some days I look at my butt and just go, "Damn, where did you come from?" I eat and I enjoy food, but I try to balance it. Sometimes it's difficult. So there's that.

Back to the story and after mulling over that little incident for a few days, this is essence of my thoughts: How dare she presume to know my struggle.

And this has given me much pause. What a horrible thought this is because, oh dear, I am guilty of presumption myself, of judging based on outside appearance. Also because, what must she be feeling to say something like that (which I totally am not angry at her about, I feel I must add). Where must her thoughts be, as she denied herself dessert and watched me devour a hunk of cake? Hmm, that's a thinker.

I don't think many women go through life not worried about their bodies. What an insular struggle this one is, a solitary worry, and a secret one often. I think there's shame encouraged in feeling this way, in caring about how you look, particularly when you are at a healthy weight. I think we are prone to believe that we have it hardest, don't we? I think this because of the shock I encountered when I told some colleagues I was wearing Spanx (i.e. "suck in pants") under a dress, no one could believe that I worried about my appearance, which is not an unusual thing. And I'm back to this perception thing, do we always imagine ourselves fatter and more imperfect than we are?

As I get older, worry about my body has lessened, or rather, I am more accepting of realistic bodies, in all shapes and sizes. I'm not scared of flesh and the form it takes, I know it better. I show mine (we're talking about my thighs here, my worst enemies) and don't mind so much what people think. It's my body, I'm happy with it.
On the other hand, I check my size every morning in the mirror. I analyse, I look, I weigh and sometimes I wish I was smaller. I compare. It's quite the contradiction, yes?

Here's the lessons I am taking from this: firstly, we simply cannot presume to know the struggles of others' lives. Secondly, let's just support and love people for who they are - let them eat cake, if you will - because I am sure many of them chastise themselves enough for their so called failings. Let's enjoy our life and health. This brings to my mind Meg's thoughts on "fat talk", which I think are particularly valid here.

I'd love to know your thoughts and feelings on this, please. Have you had a similar experience? Do you feel isolated by your experiences?

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