Friday, June 18, 2010
Lumpy Gets Personal
I had a startling realization the other day: I have an amazing body.
It isn't startling in that I suddenly looked down and saw a supermodel figure; obviously, I didn't. My body is still mine, of course, the same one I've always had: chest and hips and butt and lumps, and that's not going to change anytime soon. The part that startled me was that I used to love my body, and I had spent years slowly beginning to hate it. At some point, I began secretly (hidden even from myself) spiraling down this slippery slope of disgust and hatred at the one thing I have that's really mine: my body.
It's a pretty heavy realization to have fall into your lap, that once upon a time you looked in the mirror and appreciated what you saw there; then, what you saw became benign, lacking emotional significance behind it... then, slowly, you started avoiding mirrors, glancing in them to put on your make-up or fix your hair, and even then only focusing on your eyes or lips or whatever you were trying vainly to improve. To suddenly realize that one day you woke up hating yourself completely and utterly and having no idea when this transition happened - it's pretty heavy, and it's pretty terrifying.
I tried to think back to when it started, and this prompted another chilling realization: it began with lolita. Sure, nothing like this really "starts" with any one thing, and the pressures women are under today affect everyone whether they perceive it or not, but there is always something that, one day, exacerbates the problem to a point where return seems impossible. I had never really cared about clothing before lolita, so therefore size wasn't really a huge topic of mental concern either; if I wanted a skirt that was too small, I could just grab the next size up and that was that. There was no concept of my body preventing me from having beautiful things;p I never really thought twice about whether my body was "good" enough until I was looking at myself and wondering where my 28" waist had gone, when my bust had grown so, when I had stopped being something to appreciate and started being something to detest. The worst part? My waist is and was, during this period, around twenty-nine or thirty inches. Those one or two inches which I hadn't even noticed before suddenly became the harshest, cruelest burden I had ever been crushed under.
Some part of my realized how utterly inane it was; there were people larger than me looking absolutely amazing in lolita, brand or not. This didn't escape my notice; if anything, it tormented me worse than my own body did. I saw pictures of girls who looked like living women instead of emaciated dolls completely rocking their coordinates and instead of being relieved, it made me feel even worse. Somehow, all I could think was, "These women are beautifully accepting their bodies and loving themselves so much that they'll take and share pictures of themselves online, even if they don't fit into this horrible mold that has been assigned to them. Why can't I feel like that, too?"
It didn't matter why not. The fact was, I couldn't. And so it started.
I'm a very practical person. I know that food is necessary for living, for energy, even for losing weight. I know that most of the time, the people who look the best aren't trying to lose fifteen or ten or three pounds but are the people who are honestly, genuinely striving to be healthful. And I know that no matter how strongly you feel, energy is manifested in this universe not by hate but by love and nothing is ever gained or given to you if expressed in anger. And so I would tell myself that I was sick, that my stomach hurt whenever I ate, and that I needed to change my diet for my body's sake. I vehemently denied that I was trying to lose weight, saying instead that all I wanted was to get healthy and treat my body right. My pride kept me from bouncing between diets, from telling people what I was doing, from reaching out for help. From sharing anything.
The college lunchroom was a particularly damning experience. I started making excuses to not have to eat with my friends, invented essays and assignments that just HAD to be worked on, so they wouldn't see that all I was eating that day was a side salad and a petri dish of yogurt. I looked at the huge lines of students forming for steaming fried chicken and smirked inwardly, making a mental tally mark in my favor; Aly, one. Freshman Fifteen, zero. I'd sit down with my diet coke and salad and yogurt and pretend nothing was wrong with this picture. About halfway through, the realization that I was poisoning and starving my body would set in. I would be so disgusted with myself for thinking that this was a suitable substitute for nutrition that I would storm out and dispose of my half-eaten "meal."
Every so often, when I was laying in bed relishing in the emptiness in my stomach (that feeling of utter control; if I can control nothing else, at least I have my aching abdomen at my disposal), I would have flashing of insight, of understanding, of knowing exactly what I was doing to my body. The human body can't subsist on less than around 800-900 calories a day; organs start shutting down, you get dizzy and lightheaded, you have anemic attacks and pass out due to lack of iron. These nights, in the dark and silence of my dorm room, I felt high. With my eyes closed, the room twisted and spun and catapulted through the darkness; with my eyes open, the shadows made shapes and forms that undulated before my eyes and through my consciousness - sometimes I wonder if I actually fell asleep those nights, or if I just passed into unconsciousness, exhausted by the effort of malnutrition. Then, suddenly, I would fall into a panic; I would stuff my open mouth with pillows to silence the terrified sobs that would otherwise wake my roommate. What was I doing? How had this happened? I was killing myself, and not only was I doing it on purpose, I was enjoying it. For a self-professed hippie, I certainly wasn't channeling the beauty of the universe anymore.
It's not an easy thing to pull yourself out of, especially when the entire world is telling you that you're doing the right thing. Especially when your boyfriend just decided that all of the issues - YOUR issues - that were ruining your relationship just weren't really worth working out and let's just be friends. Especially when your boss is harassing you every weekend, telling you that if you ever try to quit he'll track you down at school and make you come back, and knowing that he means it. When the only thing you think you have control over is slowly starving yourself to death, there's not really much convincing you to change, and when you look at yourself in the mirror and see no change, no inches shed or pounds dropped, see only the things that keep you from being as beautiful as you know, you know, that you could be...
There has to be a catalyst. For me, it was realizing that over winter break, I was falling asleep at work every day; it was my boss, rude and callous as he can be at times, telling me that I was getting a side of pasta with my salad for lunch and that was that; but most of all, it was an amazing person who was introduced into my life at just the right time. I've been told I was hot plenty of times, but the man I started seeing over winter break was the first person in a long, long time that looked me in the eye and called me beautiful. Not sexy, not cute, not even just pretty: "beautiful." It shouldn't surprise you that "beautiful" is my favorite adjective; it says so much more than any other compliment in the world can. He's been telling me I'm beautiful almost every day since then, and now, six months later, I find myself finally coming to believe it.
The other day I looked in the mirror: just looked, didn't let myself make judgments or sigh, or groan, or cry. I observed my body, my face, all of these things that I had been trying so hard to will into something else. I looked in the mirror with ambivalence, then with nothing, devoid of emotion. Then contentment welled up within me from some previously blocked spring, and I smiled.
I'm healthy now, or as healthy as anyone living in our world is. After imposing so many dietary restrictions on myself for years, I can't eat anything unhealthy, or I really do get sick; no red meat, no dairy, nothing deep-fried, everything as fresh as possible or I have to curl up in bed for a few hours, drinking warm water and nursing my revolting stomach. Even though these new restrictions came from a place of negativity, they've transformed into a wellspring of positivity; I could start eating badly again, but not doing so has become a way of thanking my body for putting up with these things I've done to it. I'm eating right, and while I haven't lost "weight," I can see my body thanking me in the sheen of my hair, the smoothness of my skin, the brightness of my eyes. I've accepted that this weight I find myself at is healthy for me, and that no dresses, no matter how beautiful or "right" they may seem, are worth the long-term damage it would take me to naturally fit into them. I have a custom-made corset on its way now, to help me be able to slip into that beauty ideal and then slip it off and be me again. I've made it my goal this past semester to eliminate anyone who helps me spread hate instead of love throughout my life; this meant abandoning some old friends, and while I still feel guilty for this, I only hope that someday they get to the same state themselves and in turn eliminate negativity from their own lives. For the first time in my life, I've swallowed my pride and have started seeing a therapist, though I've only actually told two or three people this. I'm making an active effort to turn my life into a more accurate representation of the beauty around me and a purer channel of the love and positivity in the universe. Sometimes I slip, and sometimes I still have to force myself into a piece of chicken or a veggie burger, but I'm trying, and that's all I can strive to do for now.
I typed this article up a few weeks ago, and put off actually finishing and posting it until now. What will people think? What will people say? However, the personal testaments I'm seeing in response to this amazing article about body image in lolita by Victoria Suzanne gave me the same realization that it gave everyone else: I'm not alone in this. Not only have other people felt this way before, they've beaten it, too; but more importantly, there are so many other girls who are facing it now, who have that same mortified, sobbing voice in the back of their heads screaming at them to be healthy while Mother Culture pours some more arsenic and laxatives in their coffee and whispers that they'll never be anything unless they're skinny. My experience was nowhere near as fatal as it could have been, nor was it as grueling or taxing or painful as some experience, but it was an experience; my story is a short one, but it's still a story, and only through telling our stories will anything change. If no one thinks this is a problem, nothing will change. We gotta get up when we're pushed to the ground; they ain't gonna hear us if we're screaming face down. We all have a story; our culture make sure that no one goes unpunished. Tell yours. What's the point in having a story, in going through hell and coming out smoldering, if you're the only one who knows it - if you're screaming face down?
Here's another post on the same subject with a different viewpoint, from my friend Kayla of the rockabilly blog Say, Dolly!