I have been whinging of late that the "muse" has not been taking me, and this blog has been awfully quiet. Sure, on a daily basis there are plenty of things that make me want to rant. The ever-mounting pile of "draft" posts that I have on this thing are testament to this fact. But as usual, as I draw nearer to yet another birthday, I feel gripped by an endless tide of introspection. So what better to write upon, hey?
Today as I was walking back from a short lunch break, I found myself pondering my own personal journey with "body issues" and how I have felt quite liberated from that for a number of years. I was wondering why I felt liberated from it. Was this strength that I had drawn from feminism over the years? Was it the freedom I have felt in so many ways from being in my 30s rather than my teens or 20s? Was it as simple as me being within the recommended BMI and having been for years (PFFT to that idea!)? It struck me that there was a journey that got me to now and having that type of liberation was in fact an achievement, all things considered.
Many people know this, but for those that don't, I'm going to "come out" now: I'm a Jenny Craig Success Story! By the way, I mean that '!' in a rather ironic way. It's cool that I did well on that programme and four years later have maintained it with very little actual effort. I am being open about this though because as I read through that old success story it kind of makes me shudder. I am not ashamed that I lost weight, nor am I ashamed that I turned to a weight loss programme to do so. I am only too aware that weight loss programmes gain a bit of well-deserved flack because they do peddle a whole "you'll be healthier and feel more confident if you lose weight!" message which is consistent with a bunch of other body shame stuff which women do not friggin' need. By participating in the Success Stories (adhering, unfortunately, to the usual structure these companies use in the main) I probably contributed to some body shame in other women which is an awful thing and not something I intended. When I wrote that story I was elated at my "success". Was I healthier as mentioned in that piece? Well partially. My back (note: this was prior to a car accident that put me back to square one on this front) was not so easily aggravated, but as mentioned in the first piece on 35dom, I also landed myself a date in the hospital due to an ectopic, so in truth, "healthier" may have been a stretch. If I am honest, the most positive part of it all for me was as I outlined in the third-from-last paragraph: at a time when I was re-imagining my life as a single person and learning how to focus on myself for the first time in years, this was an outlet for me and gaining some affirmation at that time propelled me forward in other ways. Four years on though I can say without any shadow of a doubt that there are so many other things that can do that. The following things have since made me feel similarly elated:
1. Being published online!
2. Kicking arse at Uni
3. Working towards broader social change
4. Being at a stage in life where people are more accepting of me as I am rather than as I should be, and I am more accepting of that too
5. Having the most amazing group of friends ever
So if all these things have made me feel similar, why did I choose weight loss back then to feel better about myself? Well, unfortunately I was not immune to the numerous comments I had received about my size/shape etc over the years, and these had truly been constant. In a society where so much of a woman's/girl's worth is placed upon her appearance, it takes a damn strong individual to be immune to that sort of stuff. I definitely wasn't in a position of strength at that time; that was something that I was working towards. It gave me a starting point, but losing weight wasn't the end point and nor should it ever be considered to be.
Yes, consciousness about my size was something I had experienced from a young age. When I was a very little kid (we're talking 5 or 6 here) I remember being referred to as "solid", "tubby", "fat" and "stocky" on a regular basis. None of this was actually true. I was awkward kid-shaped. Definitely not a lean build, nor long and slender. Just tall and waiting to gain shape. Kids are pretty blobby-shaped in general, and their builds are usually quite genderless until puberty starts to kick in. Really, apart from a round face, blobby was what I was too. But commentary on appearance starts early with little girls, and I was clearly not ideal in other people's reckoning, even at such a young age. I think the first time I was told I needed to lose weight was when I was about 10, and honestly, when I read this piece about a 7 year old girl who was undertaking an exercise and weight loss regime, I could remember myself thinking that I needed to do similar when I was that age. Add this to how I was also experiencing enforced femininity at the same time and you have one girl who felt like she was rather NQR.
This scrutiny intensified when I was a teenager. I was still tall, and still more "solid" than "lean" but I had also been told I was "broad". I have broad shoulders naturally and through hearing that I was "broad", I assumed that the rest of me must be too. I remember from about the age of 16-30 referring to my "battleship hips". Additionally, I described my build as being a "large hourglass". I apparently also had "quadzillas". I knew I wasn't particularly busty despite early beginnings but I was reasonably comfortable with that. That was actually the only body-image thing I managed to be correct on. I would watch the TV and be convinced that there were no girls on any shows who had builds remotely like mine. The fact that I ever thought any of this (with the exception of the non-bustiness) about myself is completely laughable nowadays. It dawned on me only a couple of years ago when a jeans company FINALLY decided to bring out a range to fit a variety of women's shapes that I was somewhat wrong. My measurements put me in the "slight curve" category. Ergo: small hip-to-waist ratio, comparatively slender thighs and a derrière on the smaller side. Where on earth had I got those other ideas from? Could it have been that years of endless and unwarranted scrutiny had completely warped my mind to the point where I was almost seeing myself as the exact opposite of what I really was? Even more frightening: I had been an active feminist for roughly 17 years before that point so why on earth was I still so completely out-of-sync with my own body image? That was a huge "wake up call" for me. It completely changed the way that I relate to my body in a way that weight loss never did. It made me see that I had for YEARS been relating to myself wrong and I promised that I never would again, but nor would I ever listen to the bullshit that was fed to me about my image by others and use that to define how I relate to myself.
I still scrutinise. I still have my moments. A lifetime of scrutiny not only by others but also by yourself is difficult to shake, and I wonder if any of us truly ever completely shake it considering how reinforced it is in society, in the media, in family etc. Generally speaking though, for the most part I am emancipated from those rubbish body image messages of yesteryear. I will never be regretful that I lost weight through a programme, but nowadays I know that that little thing I was doing back then was part of a much broader programme of strengthening and coming into my own, and it is good to be able to look back on it within context, rather than as an achievement by itself. Because it wasn't. It was, to me, a mere grain of red dust in the Simpson.