My beloved husband will confirm, I read. Voraciously. Like, nearly everything I can get my hands on, though I do have preferences! This began, I believe, as a child seeking a means of escape. Or maybe it was because I’ve always been an inveterate info junkie. Or both? Who knows. Anyway. Why is this important?
It’s important because something I read recently made me start really thinking. The main character in this story, a middle-aged man, was reflecting on how quickly he healed, when he was younger. How much easier so many things were. His reflections led down the path of how younger men saw him and assumed he’d “let” himself get old.
Wow, I thought. Just … wow. I mean, that stopped me, right there. How many of us do, in reality, look at ourselves and others like that? I certainly look at myself that way. I’ve hated my body forever, but it’s been worse the last several years because I “let” myself get fat. Obviously, I had the means to control that, right? Well, maybe not, actually, but I’ll get to that. Let’s get back to the self-castigation game. I let myself become fat because I just don’t care. I don’t care about my health, right? I don’t care about my appearance. I don’t care what others think of me (ok, maybe that one’s true). I don’t care about so many things, which must have been what led to my getting fat.
Now, here’s the real story. Up until 1999, I was very active. I loved hiking, I loved bicycling, I ran Cross Country in high school (and still have dreams of just running, free, through the trees, as I did when I was much younger). I swam, I walked, I danced, I practiced yoga. I did lots of things. However, in September of ’99, I tripped over a hole and shattered my left ankle. Let me be explicit here: I broke both my tibia and fibula about three inches above my ankle, and I wrapped my outside ankle bone (lateral malleolus) around the back of my foot so that it was right next to my inside ankle bone (medial malleolus). I think that wrapping of the ankle bones came when I tried to stand on that foot, just to “be sure” it wasn’t broken.
Long story short, I had to go through a pretty significant surgery to try to repair the ankle, then went through weeks of highly intensive (and painful!) Physical Therapy so that I could be sure I walked normally. I regained about 85% of that foot’s abilities, which was more than the doc thought I’d regain. He’d estimated about 65%-70%.
Let me briefly explain how our feet are made. The “heel” of a foot is made of a bone called the calcaneus. On top of the calcaneus sits the talus, and on top of that sits the tibia, which is the long bone of our shin. Because bones don’t like rubbing directly on bones, there is a layer of cartilage between joints. What specifically affected my foot was the cartilage that existed between the talus and the tibia. In short, after about seven years, the cartilage just poofed. Gone, destroyed, finito. As the cartilage had been degrading, I’d begun building up calcium spikes around the top of the talus and the base of the tibia. These calcium spikes are produced when bones rub against each other, and they’re what we call arthritis. In short, by about 2007-2008, I was walking with these spikes of calcium constantly rubbing against the tissues in that area — ligaments, tendons, muscles, etc. Walking wasn’t all that caused pain, however; swimming, running, bicycling, turning, pivoting all caused pain. In short, every movement made by my left foot caused pain.
Now, if you haven’t lived with constant, chronic pain? Yay! You’re one of the lucky ones, and I am ecstatic for you! However, if you have? Then you pretty much know that not only is it, well, painful, but it’s also emotionally and mentally debilitating. You just get so tired of hurting all the time. However, during that time, my second marriage was falling apart and so that took precedence over everything. Further, I lost my sister during that time, had a holy hell of a debacle with my family, and well? Just didn’t have time to get the foot looked at.
Fast forward to 2010. By 2010, I still looked great, but I was at the peak of an emotional breakdown, and I also could barely walk without excruciating pain. Lots happened in my life during that time, lots improved, and by 2013 I could begin to look at getting the foot fixed. Went to the doc, got a diagnosis of End-Stage Arthritis. This essentially means that there is no option other than surgery in order to stop the pain. The choice became one of “Do I get it fused or go for a replacement?” In doing research to try to make this decision, I chose the ankle replacement. Why? Because, in short, fusion would allow me to run, but the replacement would allow me to do my yoga. I have knees that’re trying to go bad, so I went the yoga route.
Doc botched the surgery, had to (in his words) “yank out the prosthetic, shave more off the tibia and attempt to replace the prosthetic.” Look up ankle replacement techniques, I think you’ll be amazed. Anyway, fast forward to 2016. I could still barely walk. I’d gone to my doc several times because I thought the prosthetic was slipping out of place. The pain was so intense! He’d look knowingly up at the X-Rays, purse his lips, then say “the prosthetic is in correctly.” End of story. I finally, in 2016, went for a second opinion and found out the problem was tendonitis. Now, let me explain tendonitis to you. You see, our muscles begin as tendon where they attach to the originating bone. Then they become “muscle” or what we call muscle belly, then they become tendon again to attach to the bone they insert on. When you get tendonitis, that means that the muscle belly is spasmed, or shortened, or what we might call “tense.” Get that belly tense enough and it pulls on the tendons which attach it to the bone. Most often, we see issues where it inserts on the bone rather than where it originates. Anyway, in my case, my calf muscles (specifically Tibialis Anterior) was spasmed and it was pulling on the tendon in my foot, where it inserted, thus causing the pain. A regimen of Ibuprofin and PT was recommended and VOILA! I could, for the first time in years, walk without pain!
Ok. You’re asking yourself what all this has to do with body shaming, with self-hatred, yada yada, right? I’m getting there, don’t rush me! Let’s examine the facts. Catastrophic injury to the foot in 1999. Developing and then end-stage arthritis from around 2007ish until 2013, when the replacement happened. Then, 2013 to 2016 of living with tendonitis. So, those are the physical components. However, I also had emotional and other issues I was struggling with; the dissolution of my second marriage. The loss of my sister. The family issues. Entering a new relationship, picking up, moving several states away. Learning who I was. So on and so forth.
So, if I’m fair to myself, then I have to admit, I didn’t “let” anything happen. Life happened, and I consistently did the best I could with what I had. I could no longer do my yoga. Due to massive depression, it was often all I could do to get outta bed and keep the house up. To be succinct (because I’m well-known for this, amiright?), my lifestyle changed drastically, and between about 2010 and 2016, I packed on 70 pounds. Now, keep something in mind; my skinny weight is 185. Not kidding; at 185 I wear a size 12 pant, a medium top, and look very skinny, though still full-figured. I wear a size 10-11 ring, size 11 to 11.5 shoes, and am 5’8.5″. I’m buxom, I got back, and so on and so forth. No, tall and willowy has never been me, but yeah, I can be skinny. At 2010, I weighed my normal 185ish. Now? Well, I won’t put the number down, but you can do the math, right?
On to the body shaming. I’ve given this a great deal of thought over the years. First, let’s begin with when I was a kid. For the longest time, I was called Stringbean because I was so tall and thin. Then around 14 I began to develop. Immediately, I went from Stringbean to “fat.” “You’re putting on some weight,” my father would tell me. “Lose weight to X pounds and I’ll buy you some designer jeans.” My mother would poke me when I ate, telling me “You need to slow down, you’re getting fat.” Ok, gang. I’ve seen the pictures of me at this age, and on, and guess what? Nowhere was there an ounce of fat on me, other than the girls and the booty. My legs were thick, but they were muscular, as were my arms. For a woman, I have very broad shoulders. I used to take so much pride in the strength of my body; I was as strong as many men I knew, even being able to successfully arm-wrestle against many of them, and I was stronger than most women. I didn’t work at it, it just was. So I had a very athletic build, partly due to genetics and partly due to my constant activity. Additionally? Have I mentioned “buxom” and “booty” yet? Yep, that was me. But there is a difference between that figure, and fat. However, I think a lot of parents react that way when their daughters begin to develop. I know my first husband did when our youngest daughter started to develop; he and his new wife dressed her in baggy jeans and oversized, shapeless hoodies and sweatshirts and t-shirts.
So. What is really happening here? Are our daughters really getting fat, or are you terrified because they’re beginning to look like women? And then let’s not even talk about the media! I was watching a commercial for a refrigerator recently. It begins with a woman (skinny, noticeable thigh gap) opening her refrigerator as a woman narrates. It then goes to talk about her creations, and the pictures are all of dessert and pastry making. So, the message we’re seeing here is that a woman who loves to bake and prepare all these sweet tasty treats should be skinny as heck, and with a huge gap between her thighs. Why? Why are we doing this? I’m a gamer, and there was recently a thread in a new game I’m interested about character creation. One of the people asked whether the sliders would allow them to create a muscular woman. You should have seen the responses! “Women like that make me puke.” Or “Why can’t she just be a normal woman? I mean, looks like you want a woman who’s just gonna dominate the men she’s with.” Or this, my favorite — and it’s a direct quote — “Sounds like you want a man with a vagina.”
Why is this acceptable? Why is it appropriate for anyone to dictate a “normal” and then decry anyone or anything that has the audacity to step outside that normal? In what sane world does this make sense? Oh, wait, guess I answered my own question. Not sure we can consider this a sane world.
Now let’s wander back around to my original topic. Didja read the quote I posted? How many women do you know of who’ve been accused of “letting herself go”? Or, let’s look at aging. I’m a Massage Therapist; trust me, I see all kindsa bodies. I can tell you without equivocation that, almost always, aging causes changes that express themselves in women as a thickening of the waist, sagging of the breasts, and sagging of the booty. Additionally we have all the wrinkles, the development of a double-chin sometimes, greying of the hair. How much money is made by hair color industries by women who color their grey? I know I did, until about two years ago!
When did we decide that these trophies of a life well-lived were things that indicated someone “let herself go”? When did it become acceptable to view someone who didn’t pay out the wazoo for plastic surgery to “correct” these “deficiencies” in appearance as shameful? How many female celebrities do you know of who’re looked upon with frowny faces because they didn’t follow the plastic surgery craze? Why is this a thing?
I think it’s a thing because we are social creatures, and we seek to belong. It’s far easier to look outside ourselves at what society deems acceptable and strive to model ourselves to meet that criteria, rather than seek inward and determine what we consider acceptable. It’s easier to point to our bodies and say “I need to lose this spare tire around my middle” than it is to look inside our minds, our hearts, and say “I need to change my outlook so that I’m more positive about things.” Trust me, I know this. Further, our society has done two things in our recent history. First, it’s expanded nearly exponentially. Second, it’s become highly technical and, by association, highly “social.” I mean, the local small-town bar I go to and love even has our resident “Selfie Queen.” I call her this because more of her time in the bar is spent taking and posting selfies than it is interacting with the people sitting next to her.
This has led, I feel, to a crisis. This crisis is the ideology of “Normal.” Normal, now, is plastered on our televisions, on our social networks, in our games, and even in forums. And what’s more? It’s accepted as “The Norm.” Step outside The Norm and you become outcast. You don’t fit in. And then, don’t even get me started on our ability to think for ourselves in our society! Our children are taught what to think, not how to think. So all these messages are being sent about The Norm, our kids see them and immediately measure themselves against The Norm, and find themselves lacking. Surely, if they have pouty lips, huge unreal eyelashes, perfect hair, and of course a vast thigh gap, they’ll be accepted!
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. But even when we know this, it is so very difficult to correct these beliefs, these behaviors. Trust me. I’m possibly the most self-analytical person I’ve ever met, and I still struggle with this! It’s easier for me to fall back on my parents’ messages about being “too fat” than it is for me to dive down inside and figure out what’s really going on. Further? It’s a habit now. Yep, I said it. Self-castigation and self-hatred is a habit. It’s a constant little voice in the back of my head, making snide comments and assuring me that if I’d just stop letting myself go, I’d be happy.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop this in my lifetime, but I’ve determined that I’m going to work actively toward it for the rest of said lifetime. How do I intend to do this?
Well. Let’s take it by the numbers:
- I am going to alter my diet. Wait, what? Does that mean I wanna lose weight? Actually, yes. But let’s look at my reasons. First of all, I’m aging, and I need to do as much as I can to age gracefully. I already live with a lot of pain, constantly, from inflammation and other issues. Changing my diet (and losing weight if that happens) will help with these issues. Also, remember — artificial left ankle. Being 50 pounds overweight just ain’t good for it (yes, you did the math right — I did lose 20 pounds recently).
- I’m going to start giving myself small successes. Today, I got out and worked briefly in the yard. Probably not enough to burn major calories, but certainly enough to give me a sense of accomplishment and achievement! Additionally, I redid my walking music mix, and I’m going to start walking again now that the weather’s good.
- I’m going to (try to) stop arguing with my beloved when he says “You’re beautiful.” Ok, yeah, that’s the hard one. But seriously, why argue? He believes it! Why don’t I just accept that, to at least one person, I’m beautiful? Doesn’t that mean that I can be beautiful? Maybe not by society’s standards, but pft. Who cares? He believes I am beautiful, and I can choose to allow myself to see myself through his eyes.
- I’m going to try to wear sleeveless tops, rather than hate the wingspans I have. Seriously. I could fly to Atlanta with these wings! I’m still outrageously strong, I just have extra flesh there. So what? If I wear a sleeveless dress to go out with my beloved, he’ll make sure I know he thinks I look beautiful. Really, who else matters?
- I’m going to start laughing at the commercial for the refrigerator, and remind myself “You can’t trust a skinny cook.” That’s an old-old saying, by the way, if you didn’t know it. Basically means that if a cook won’t eat their own cooking, you probably don’t wanna either. A pastry/dessert chef who stays skinny? Crazy genes, or a lie.
- I will, one body part at a time, start really seeing myself in the mirror and strive to accept that body part, then move on to the next
Yeah, tall order. Like I said, I may not actually achieve this in my lifetime. But guess what? I am determined to try.
I leave you with this last little visual. I’m sure many have seen it before … but maybe we all need to see it again?