If You Are, What Am I?

Has this ever happened to you?

Someone says something like, “I’m too fat to wear khaki pants” or “I can’t let my arms show.” And the someone is significantly smaller than you? And you’re wearing khaki pants and what a few minutes before you  thought was a cute little cap-sleeve t-shirt?

If you’re close enough to the person to make yourself vulnerable, you might say something like, “wow, what must you think of me, then?”

And then they backpedal and say, “I didn’t mean you. I was talking about me.”

And they probably think they’re telling the truth. They probably weren’t looking at your ass in non-black pants and then making a backhanded comment about themselves that they hope you’ll take to heart so that they aren’t subjected to the sight again.

But the fact is no man or woman is an island. What you say doesn’t stop at some invisible bubble around yourself. It goes out into the world and affects those that hear you. So if you’re just talking to one or two people, your words affect them even if you don’t mean them to. If you have a wider audience, say if you have a blog that a few dozen or a few hundred people read or more, your words affect your readers. That’s the whole point.

Am I suggesting that every person in the world go out and buy the clothes that make them uncomfortable and force themselves to wear them in some kind of mass behavioral modification project?

That actually would be pretty damned cool.

But it’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that the number one person affected by the things that you say is you, and that affect oozes out to everyone else who hears or reads your words.

Some people want to lose weight, for instance. And so they start a blog to document the effort, or just talk to anyone who will listen about their plan. And they talk about how hideous their bodies are right now and how they are going to fix that by counting calories or fat grams or carbs and by exercising to the point of punishment. And it doesn’t really matter to them that I might weigh 100 or even 150 pounds more than them. In fact, they might even think they’re motivating me because I’m 100 or 150 pounds more unhealthy than they are.

But I’m not the only one listening. If you have a daughter she might be listening. Not only might she be listening, she has your genes. So she might look like you. You might have a son who inherited your calorie-storage efficiency, who hears you and decides that there is something wrong with him–but in his world it’s not even safe for a man to worry outwardly about his weight unless he is very, very fat, and so maybe it becomes internalized and turns into some other form of self-hate.

Maybe my kid is listening to you.

What I want to put out there is that words matter. You can’t mitigate the negative effect of complaining about your huge thighs or making comments about how you’re too fat to wear a sundress by saying, “I was only talking about me.”  Words are powerful and we all have to take responsibility for the affects ours have.

And if the only way you can find to relate to your body is negatively, then it might be time to take a good look at where your head is. Because the person most affected by your words is you.

I’m guilty of the very thing I’m talking about. I’ve seen pictures of myself and gasped and made some comment like, “Jesus, look how huge I am.” And I’ve thought it was okay because I’m always the biggest person within my own ear shot when I say it. And I’m realizing, the more I learn about deep, radical self-acceptance, that this is a behavior I have to change.

The thoughts still might be in my head. It’s much harder to control what you think than it is to control what you say or write. And I think there is a difference between writing or talking about a struggle with body image and writing or talking about how disgusting my body is as though it were true. I can’t control my thoughts, but I can examine them and make decisions about how I voice them.

In the spirit of illustrating how the “If you are, what am I?” phenomenon works both ways, I’d like to tell you a story.

Until very recently, I would not have tried to run or even jog on a treadmill at a gym. Or, if I’m being honest, even outdoors. The idea of all the people seeing me jiggle and bounce was too much.

But yesterday I found myself on a treadmill between two young men who were both running. It was my 5K day and I was about 45 minutes in. I wanted to see how far I could go in an hour. The only way to do that was to jog, at least a little bit. So I did. Right there, between these two athletic men, I jogged for two minutes, then walked for three. Twice. Then finished my 5K with one minute of running.

I was sweating and gasping for breath by the end of that minute. And grinning like a fool. And the young men? They just kept running. They didn’t even look at me. You know who did? The woman on the other side of the runner to my left. She was probably at least 100 pounds lighter than me. Her eyebrows went up and she smiled, then pushed her speed up a little. That was almost as awesome as taking two minutes off last week’s 5K time. Maybe even more awesome.

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12 Comments

Filed under mind, spirit

12 responses to “If You Are, What Am I?

  1. Maybe I should be more careful with that “I hate people” stuff, even though fat acceptance can make it rather tempting.

  2. Best blog post I’ve read in a long time! I’ve been on both sides of the fat comments – making them about myself and wondering if they were about me. Great, honest writing!

    • Wow…thank you Jennifer. I love your blog, too. Your most current post is amazing. I had a moment like that yesterday when I ran (not just barely jogging, but real running) for a full minute. It was just one minute, but it felt like the most amazing minute ever. Ever.

  3. First, Congrats on your 5k! Second, I agree. I never understood why we talk about our bodies the way we do. If our bodies were people, you would think they were murderers and war criminals from the amount of hate speak we hurl at them. When what they really are is a miracle evolution.

  4. When I decided I was going to get healthy, I started with the exercise piece, and thought that weight loss would be a natural byproduct of the process. It wasn’t, and that was surprising. What was more surprising? That I began to view myself as an athlete, and THAT was what changed the way I viewed my body and my relationship with food.

    I always accepted my body. Always. I never had the self-loathing or body dysmorphia most modern American women seem to have. That said, when I started to exercise, I began to view my body for what it could DO, not how it LOOKED. More important, maybe, was that I wanted to feed myself food which would help my body do more stuff, and faster. Then, instead of making food choices based solely on taste, I started making choices based primarily on how it made my body feel (with a secondary emphasis on yummy).

    Once those two pieces fell into place, the next logical step for ME was to balance the caloric intake/output so that I could get leaner. For me, leaner has equalled faster and more flexible. That said, I absolutely believe health and athleticism can happen at any size, and don’t believe weight loss is a necessary component of it.

    Which leads me to my second observation. In my experience, the athletic community is very welcoming of all persons and all sizes. I’ve had vastly more neutral or positive experiences than negative (come to think of it, I only had one experience I’d consider negative). There are, of course, assholes everywhere, but if I worried about assholes, I’d never leave my house.

    My third observation is this: it seems to me that body loathing is one of those assumed ways that modern American women make small talk amongst themselves. You know, like modern American males assume other males know about sports, American women just assume other women hate their bodies too. Not to excuse it, but to explain it, perhaps. Strange, no?

    • The food/athlete connection is something I’m going to talk about soon. Because I’m finding myself eating more or richer food than I would normally because the second I think about it, I eat it and I eat it until it’s gone or I’m really full. I think this has actually been good for me. A way to disconnect from dieting mentality. But I need to figure out a way to not feel like I have to eat something just because it entered my mind.

      I have never had body dysmorphia either. I think for me it comes from having spent my formative years as an athlete. While I always wanted to be a little smaller (135 pounds when I weighed 160, for instance) I never entered into body hatred. I love your blog BTW. Awesome. I’m adding it to my defiant athlete list right now. XOXOX

  5. dot

    I love your writing and your blog. I found it via a mutual friend (Yvonne/Rooze). I’ve been reading it for a couple weeks – and am moving out of lurking mode!

    Yes – being between two appearingly fit athletes and pushing yourself – that’s great. And discovering that they didn’t mock or sneer – looks like didn’t even notice. It wouldn’t really matter in the overall sense – but what a bonus that you did what you wanted to do and it was all fine.

    Thank you for what you’re writing. For everyone and, it’s giving me hope and encouragement that I can get back to where I was before a major set-back. Like someone else commented, I went through an intense training period (for walking a half marathon) and my goal was fitness, but I did assume there would be weight loss. There wasn’t. And that was okay for a while… Not the end of the story – but I was triggered late fall and am just trying to climb out of that hole.

    You give me hope! Thank you.

    • Thank you, Dot. I’m so pleased that you’ve found some inspiration. Every single time someone comments here, I get the same inspiration. It makes me so happy. I’ve been working for two months tomorrow and have had no weight loss. I can feel some change in my body though. It’s really tough to shift to a way of measuring success that has nothing to do with body size, isn’t it? I hope you’ll delurk again and again 🙂

  6. Dee

    If you have a daughter she might be listening. Not only might she be listening, she has your genes. So she might look like you.

    Or, you might have married a guy who was a foot taller and 150 pounds heavier than you and ended up with a daughter who is the same shape as you and considerably larger. This is not your cue to constantly talk about how fat you are (at a size 8, when your daughter wears an 18) and how huge and disgusting your ass and hips are, get bad haircuts and wear frumpy clothes whenever you’re over 120 pounds, and make a big show out of always being on a diet.

    Mom? Are you listening? I love you very much and you are one of my favorite people in the world, but that shit was ANNOYING.

  7. Lonie Mc

    Great post. As I was reading this, I just had a big insight: I do this about age A LOT. I complain about getting older when I’m around a lot of people who are a decade or two older than me. Thanks for making me think.

  8. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂 I’m my harshest critic, and I have to be mindful of others listening….especially my daughter.

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