Wednesday, October 18, 2017

On Body Image.

Let’s talk about bodies, shall we? Actually, I’m just going to talk about my body and also share some thoughts on self-image that I think are pretty applicable to other people, but I have no idea what goes on in all of your heads, so if I’m totally off base just ignore me, kay? Cool. Here we go.

Bodies are weird.

Like, they’re actually weird, with all the zillions of different parts that do different things some of which are automatic and some of which are only automatic sometimes. Breathing? You can choose not to but also your body will keep breathing if you stop paying attention. That is wild. But it’s also not really what I mean when I say bodies are weird.

They change in ways that are so very gradual that we don’t really notice until later when someone else points it out or when we see an old photo of ourselves. We are in some ways the closest observers of our bodies, but also the people who see ourselves the least. Weird. The way we think about ourselves is influenced, in so many ways, by the opinions we have about our physical appearance and how it compares with others. Of course physical appearance isn’t the only component of self-image; our skills and talents and willingness to embarrass ourselves in front of others and intelligence and all sorts of other things also contribute. But the way we look is pretty much the first thing others notice about us so it makes sense that it influences how we think about ourselves, too.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that many parts of our bodies are determined by genetics. In a lot of ways we just have the bodies we were born with (and some people won the genetic lottery and aren’t even able to get fat or whatever, which really blows my mind) and there isn’t much we can do about it besides get cosmetic surgery. But there are other people (with self discipline that is unfathomable to me) who exercise regularly and slowly get a body closer to what they want. Maybe it’s not perfect still, but they lose weight and tone up and whatever else they need to do to have a body closer to what they want it to be. And I don’t think people ever really “arrive” at their ideal. I don’t think that’s how bodies work. But I also think that’s okay. Maybe nobody is ever completely satisfied with what they’ve got and it’s just part of human nature.

Now for the part where I talk about my own body. It changes a lot. My weight has fluctuated between 120 and 150 pounds since high school. Which is a pretty considerable range, honestly. And what’s especially weird/interesting is that when I’m at my heaviest I usually don’t notice. Isn’t that interesting and wonderful in a way? When I’m my puffiest, “grossest” self I don’t usually look at myself in the mirror and think that I’m fat. I see all the different parts of myself that are the same as always and have the same problems with and praise for them as I always have; my inner thighs touch and I hate it (both because of how it looks and because it is uncomfortable AND because it seriously diminishes how long I can own a pair of jeans), I have hollows beneath my cheekbones that are subtle and often get lost in the roundness of my cheeks when I smile but are definitely there, I have a dimple in only one cheek, etc. It’s only after I have lost weight that I look back at pictures and think, “Wow, I was really pretty overweight, huh? How did I not see it?” Which might be bad in terms of overall physical health, but it also seems pretty psychologically healthy to me. It’s like the exact opposite of body dysmorphia.

Imagine looking at yourself every day and thinking that you look disgusting. And yeah, there absolutely are people who do that, but I don’t think most people do. Maybe I just have no clue. But it seems like even though we totally have things we want to change about ourselves, even when we are trying to lose weight or whatever, we are still usually able to make general peace with how we are at any given moment. Imagine if our self image kept us hiding out in our houses? Yikes.

Bodies are weird. But they’re wonderful. We spend our whole lives inside of ours and still don’t know everything about it. That totally blows my mind.

I started running this spring and my body has changed more in the past five months than it maybe ever has. I remember in high school before I lost a bunch of weight my senior year (my doctor later told me it was because I’d started eating breakfast- go figure) there was this time when I couldn’t find my hipbones. Obviously I knew where-ish they were, but externally you couldn’t find a trace of the actual bone. But then when I lost weight hip bones were visible. I was definitely not one of those people whose bony hips jab out of their jeans, but I could find them when I looked for them.

Anyway, similar things are happening to me now. Running hasn’t made me weigh less, but my body is just different. My legs are super muscular. I’ve always had pretty skinny calves but all of a sudden they are something that can only be described as “shapely.” All my pants are really tight on my calves and my legs barely fit into my boots. There are muscle bulges on my SHINS. I didn’t even know that could happen until now! And my thighs still touch, but they also curve way out in the front, too, because of my new muscles. And I just noticed the other day that I have this weird little hollow in the very front of each of my legs between the hip and thigh. I have no idea what it’s called because I never knew that such a thing existed. And, weirdly, I swear my shoulders are skinnier now. I have no idea why running would make my shoulders thin out but I honestly like them more now than I ever did before. I happened to catch a glimpse of the back of one when I was flexing for something or other and it was surprisingly jacked looking (I think it was kind of an illusion, but whatever). And for the first time that I can ever remember, I can tap my sternum and it makes a hollow noise because I’m actually just hitting the bone without any cushion in front of it (probably it was like that before as well, like when I was really skinny in high school, but I never noticed until this time). And I have quite literally run my ass off; it’s only about half the size it was last winter, maybe even smaller. Yet I totally still have a belly the exact same bulge-y size it was before I started this whole running thing. Cool, body, thank you so much.

Last week I went to see one of my friends play music in Yarmouth and, as I often do when I’ve made plans to go out in public, I wore something that made me feel cool (because dressing for my office job is actually one of my least favorite things ever) and sprinkled glitter on my cheeks and chest (because it’s one of my goals for this year to be more sparkly). Since my purple hair was still pretty fresh and I didn’t trust it not to stain my shirts purple, I wore black shirts all week. The one I wore that night was this floaty-ish shift type shirt I got in Portland, Oregon on my road trip last year. By the time I got home from the gig in Yarmouth everyone at my house had gone to bed and the shower light, which we use sort of like a bathroom night light, was on when I went in to get ready for bed myself. In the semi-dark of the bathroom, I saw my reflection and thought, “wow, I actually look thin right now! I can see my collarbones!” And as silly as something like that seems, I love when my collarbones are prominent. I’ve got a short torso and big boobs, and it’s just a lot going on in a pretty small area, so my collarbones usually don’t stick out and it’s usually not a part of my body that makes me feel delicate. But on that night I did. So even though taking bathroom mirror pictures is kinda trashy, and even though it was terrible photo lighting, I took a picture of myself.

And now I’m going to share it with you all even though the photo quality is dismal and I am making a sort of silly face in it and you can barely even see the collarbones in question.

Because even though the picture didn’t really capture what I was feeling, that was a moment when I looked at myself in the mirror and saw not just what I’m used to seeing or what I’m okay with seeing, but also what I want to see. For that moment, none of the things that usually bother me about my body (and there are plenty of things that do) were visible, and I was left with just loving everything that I saw.

In my experience, those moments don’t come super often, and I think that’s fine. As long as when they do come, we take a minute to just rest in the goodness and appreciate it.

**EDIT: Not hours after this posted, I saw a post on instagram from the poet Nayyirah Waheed that was so intensely relevant. I'll share a screenshot of the poem here for you all, but you can also click on these links to find her on twitter and instagram or buy her books on amazon. She's pretty dope.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hello, October.

As could have been predicted, I never posted more in September. Sigh.

September sort of flew past and October is even more insane, honestly. In the middle of September, I suddenly found myself with plans for every single weekend of October. How does that happen?!?! And who knows if I’ll actually make it to all of them, but I do try. Some of them are just events that I want to go to, and when I have to go alone, all bets are off for if I’ll actually follow through when the time comes. But a lot of the plans are things other people invited me to, and I usually do go to those because I don’t get all that many invitations so I accept all of them. Anyway. As of right now I have only one weekend day free of plans during the whole month of October and I’m kiiiind of hoping to go to climb a mountain somewhere. We’ll see what happens.

For those of you who were waiting to hear (soooo...none of you?), my goals from September were a bit of a flop. I did take 7 pictures, but I still haven’t developed any film. I did get a haircut, which I really liked. I practiced Passenger Seat only a few times. I made a pie and went to church all on the same day, but it was technically October first, so I’m not sure it counts. I never drew anything. Meh.

Lots of other wonderful things happened though, like my friend Kendra came to visit me for a few days and we went to the Common Ground Fair, and walked on the breakwater and visited lots of cute shops in Rockland and all that great Maine sort of stuff. I love her. It was really really fun to show someone around my state for the first time again- it’d been quite a few years since I had the chance (I did get to show lots of people around Minneapolis while I lived there, though, so that’s something).

But now it’s October, which means a whole new set of goals. I already got purple hair (which is separate from the haircut I got last month) and love it. A few things on my list are events that haven’t yet happened. I also want to read three books and write five letters. We’ll see what happens.

I’ve already finished one book, The Sun and Her Flowers, Rupi Kaur’s second book of poetry. It was phenomenal. I’m also in the middle of two others. Okay, full disclosure, one of the two is one I’ve been in the middle of since September. But that’s okay! I’ll hopefully still finish it this month! The other is Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor, which I have as an ebook on my phone with a new app called Libby. I am kind of loving having access to a book wherever I am as long as I have my phone with me (so, wherever I am). I’m totally someone who believes you should bring a book everywhere, but sometimes it’s really inconvenient to have a book in your purse. And sometimes you don’t have the book with you in very specific situations like when you’ve arrived at a restaurant expecting the rest of your party to be there already but it turns out they were running even later than you and you’re already inside without a book. In situations like that I’ve been reallllly glad to be able to just pull out my phone and start reading. It’s seriously great.

Anyways, things are happening around here. I got to meet a cute, fresh, little baby (Alice) ten days ago and I get to see my cute niece on an almost daily basis and she has so much personality already, despite exclusively calling me and everyone else she knows “Dada”.

I’ve been to the movies FOUR times in the past month and only two of them were with my mother! Okay, to be fair, one time was with my friend’s mother, and I’m not entirely sure that’s less embarrassing, but whatever. One movie out of four with people my own age isn’t bad though, right?! Oh, it is? Okay, whatever. I made it down to a weightlifting competition last weekend and I’m going to try to attend a Rett Syndrome strollathon in Capital Park this weekend. It’s gonna be crazy, but life is just like that sometimes.

And as the days get ever shorter and I find myself with fewer hours of daylight with which to do things outside, I’m glad for every single plan that obligates me to leave my house. Winter is hard and I feel like it’s heading for me at breakneck speed. I’m clinging to the last vestiges of warmth I can possibly get.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The First of Fall.

Today is the first day of fall. The Autumnal Equinox. It doesn’t really feel like it, though. Despite sunset now being in the 6:00 hour, the next four days here in Maine have forecasted highs in the 80s, which is utterly bizarre. Global warming, man! I get that it’s bad but I’m sort of relishing its benefits all the same.

Anywho, Summer always seems to slip by with little to no time to sit down and write about it. But that’s just the way I approach blogging in general, it seems. I had (and still have?) intentions to write about my travels in Europe, but it just seems not to have happened yet. Also, I gave my personal laptop to my baby brother for college (you’re welcome, Jonny!) which lends an additional excuse/layer of inconvenience to getting the time to write. It was my goal to write twenty blog posts in 2017 and including this one I’ve posted ten. I’ve got three months left of the year...we’ll see what happens. 

At the beginning of September I made a list of goals for the month, which is something that I often do at the beginning of months. I stick it up on the mirror on the back of my bedroom door so that as I look at myself every morning I’m reminded of what I wanted to achieve for the month. It’s had mixed results so far but I’m totally “a person who makes lists” so I keep doing it anyway.

Here’s the list I made for the month of September:

  1. Read three books
    1. All Our Wrong Todays
    2. The Moth Presents: All These Wonders
    3. (Currently reading Braving the Wilderness)
  2. Write three blog posts
    1. (See what I did here?)
    2. Also already wrote one about the first few days of my European adventure
  3. Practice Passenger Seat (I’m trying to learn it on piano)
  4. Make a pie or two or three
  5. Climb a mountain
  6. Get a haircut
  7. Run at least 3 times a week
  8. Go to church
  9. Draw something
  10. Take 7 pictures and get film developed

I typically only put about five goals on my list for the month. This one may have been a bit overambitious. I've gotten some done though. For instance, I climbed Double Top Mountain in Baxter State Park. (Although I technically made these goals after I did that, so the intent was to climb another mountain...maybe that'll happen.) Here's a panoramic photo I took at the top!

And this is a picture of my legs on one of my three runs this week. (This goal was not successful though because there was totally a weeklong span where I didn't run at all. Whoops.)

And this is the book that I spent alllll of August and a fair bit of September reading. Which makes it seem like it wasn't good, but it was actually really good and fairly quick reading when I actually got the chance to sit down and read. I just didn't make time to do that very often.

Clearly I have some serious work to do in the next week if I’m going to get it together and get these done. And I probably won’t. But that’s okay- the point in this exercise, I feel, is not really to get more done, although that is definitely still a desired outcome. Rather, the point is to be more mindful. Be aware of passing time, of things that I could get done over the course of thirty-ish days and understand that if I want them to happen I need to make moves toward them. The point is to savor my life a little more. Again, mixed results with this. I also read once that people who have make clear goals for themselves feel more of a sense of fulfillment (or something like that…) so this is partly an exercise in goal setting for the sake of goal setting. (Don’t worry guys, I know I’m ridiculous and also don’t have a damn clue what I’m talking about or why I do the things I do half the time; you are not alone!)