Facing facts and faces.

camera-2598507_960_720I don’t post to Instagram all that much (though heaven knows I love to scroll through it), but when I do, I always feel a little cognitive dissonance.

The profile picture on my Instagram account is one from, like, 8 years ago. It’s a picture I took right after a haircut and everyone said I looked good (for me?), and so it became my profile picture.  And because I am so deeply self-conscious about my face, I just kept it.  For years.  Even though I don’t really look like that anymore (and shouldn’t, in that years pass and people change).

Sometimes I’d like to change it.  And I take a bunch of pictures of myself and I find them all deficient in some way, and so I stick with the old bathroom selfie.  It’s like a tiny lie I tell about myself on social media, and while there are no shortages of lies on social media, this one really bothers me.

How does one make peace with their appearance? How do you arrive at a place where you can see a picture of yourself and just think, “Yep, that’s my face”? Intellectually, I don’t believe I have a responsibility to be pretty; none of us do.  And yet here I am: pretending how I looked for 2 hours in 2012 is how I really look all the time.

I know the work of making peace with my face is the exact same work I have to do around my body; it’s all patriarchal bullshit that we’ve been buried in our whole lives.  I want to unlearn all those messages.  I want to feel at ease with my appearance; I daresay I’d even like to love myself, though to begin with I’d settle for neutrality.  I want to not feel a quiet sense of shame, like I owe my husband and son an apology for how I look (that right there hurt to type).  I want to feel at home inside myself.

I guess it’s like anything: you begin by beginning.  Speak your truth, and see what happens.

Thoughts on clothes, and the bodies that wear them.

shirts

Over the summer, I lost some weight.  It wasn’t accidental; I started intermittent fasting in May and while I may have said I wanted “health,” I really wanted weight loss.  It’s so hard not to want weight loss, you know?  Every message we get says smaller bodies are more valuable, and when anything in your life feels uncomfortable or painful, it’s easy to think changing our bodies will change our lives.

Of course, that doesn’t work.  All that happens when we lose weight is we get a fresh set of problems: our shape still isn’t right, or the work we have to do to maintain smaller bodies is soul-crushing, or literally not a damn thing changes and it feels like all the deprivation was pointless.

I stopped fasting a couple of months ago and I’ve been working hard on healing my thinking about my body and bodies in general.  This isn’t my first go-around with disordered eating and exercise; I’d worked through damaging behaviors several years ago.  But the former English major in me appreciates a good theme, and I know that numbing behaviors are a theme for me (spoiler: probably for all of us).  So revisiting this one again feels somewhat expected.

It’s not easy work, confronting all the cultural messaging while also trying to recognize all that you’ve internalized; it feels like there’s no respite.  One thing that I’m struggling with right now is clothing my body.  I haven’t really gained back any of the weight I lost but I expect I will; I know where my body naturally seems to settle and my current weight is about 10-15 pounds below that.  And given my body shape, that’s enough to change my pants size by 2 sizes.  So while I have clothes that sort of fit now, it won’t take much before they stop fitting and I have to make choices about what to replace them with.

I routinely have a hard time with clothing; the idea of personal style escapes me.  I have an idea of how I’d like to dress and I know how to sew, so that should be within reach for me, but I so often feel self-conscious.

I got described as “quirky” recently and I’m still unpacking that one.  I was kind of an odd kid and I guess I’ve grown up to be an odd adult, and the truth is: being different, especially in terms of my appearance, feels really unsafe.  Losing weight was just another way of seeking the safety of fitting in; getting dressed is an extension of that.  Add to that my very short hair and my general makeup-free face and I don’t exactly fit in with all the other moms at school, you know? And here’s another thing: my sweet son is also on the quirky side.  He dresses in his own style and I’ve always supported that because self-expression is healthy and natural, but I also carry of lot of fear about the vulnerability he’s risking by being true to himself.  Also, ugh – being authentic shouldn’t be dangerous, damn it.

I’m not going to be able to wrap this all up in a final, enlightening paragraph.  I am stumbling through it all right now and needed a place to put my thoughts, however disjointed they might be.  I will end with this: my birthday is Friday and I’ll be 43, and 43 years seems like plenty long enough to worry about presenting myself as an object.

A bowl of cereal.

cerealWhen I was seven, we moved to the same street as my grandparents.  My grandfather Poppy was dying of lung cancer and most of my memories of him come from that time.  I remember spending the night with them once, and getting up early while the house was still quiet.  I went into the kitchen and found Poppy sitting at the old oak table.  He smiled at me and invited me to join him in a bowl of raisin bran.  It was his favorite cereal, or at least that’s what I thought as a little kid, and so we sat there letting the flakes soften in the milk before scooping it up.  It feels like my last memory of him.

Poppy was the only person in my childhood whom I felt like completely loved and accepted me – his death when I was young meant that we never had the inevitable disagreements or disappointments that come with family.  He remained a smiling, gentle man in overalls who showed me the special seeds in persimmons and let me comb his pomaded hair into swirls and waves.  He was safety and he was love.  After he died, I prayed to him instead of Jesus for a lot of years.

Raisin bran is my favorite cereal.  But I almost never eat it, because years of dieting and disordered eating and restriction often removed it from the menu.  For the last few months, I’ve been doing intermittent fasting (ostensibly for “health,” but I know my secret motivations) and so breakfast hasn’t even been a thing.  Most days I wouldn’t eat until well after noon.

But I’m so tired of being at odds with my body.  I’ve lost weight and while that is easy to feel good about, it also feels uncomfortable, because I don’t need to lose any more weight and yet I don’t know how to not want to.  The truth is, I always want to lose more.

It’s time to make peace with my body and start treating myself with kindness and compassion, and that means intuitive eating instead of intermittent fasting.  I’m hungry this morning, and specifically hungry for raisin bran – normally I’d say no because it’s too early and also shouldn’t I eat something with protein like eggs or yogurt?

Today, I’m not going to listen to that voice. I’m going to sit at my own old oak table, pour a bowl of raisin bran, let it soften in the milk, and then enjoy it.  And try to remember that I deserve to love myself as much as Poppy loved me.

(photo source Pixabay)