Body stuff has been really hard for me lately. Food and fat and body image and all of that: worrying about what I’m eating, worrying about exercise, worrying about how my clothes fit, worrying about being so HUNGRY all the time, worrying about gaining back some of the weight I lost earlier this year, worrying about having to lose it again, forever and ever. Worrying that I am worrying too much about this, the way I do.
I thought about this a lot over the weekend when I was at the spa. If you haven’t been to the spa before maybe you don’t know that there’s a part of the spa, the pool room, where you wear only a pink cotton shower cap. The rules of the spa specifically state that there is NO CLOTHING ALLOWED in the pool room, no underwear, no bathing suits, no nothing. I think this is pretty great just because I think being naked is pretty great in a highly context-specific sort of way. And I don’t see too many naked women in my day-to-day life, do you? I mean, yeah, at the gym locker room, I guess, but I don’t pay too much attention there for some reason. And of course I see lots of near-naked women on magazine covers and billboards and things like that, but that doesn’t seem to really count either.
At the spa you see a lot of naked ladies. All ages and sizes and colors and shapes. I tried not to be too obvious about looking, but you know I was totally looking. Who had hair where and who had what kind of tattoos, and who had really big butts and who had no butts at all. It was…educational, you know? I kept thinking about the wide variety of body types in the pool room, and how cool it was that most people looked very comfortable and relaxed and happy in their specific types of bodies. We were talking about it over lunch later and I mentioned that it was sort of funny to reminded that one’s own boobs are not, in fact, the standard template. “Not everyone has to watch out not to hit themselves in the eye!” marveled Tracy over her fried rice. Everyone here thinks she’s the standard model, I thought, looking around at everyone. No one knows that it’s really me from which they differentiate.
But underneath my anthropological curiosity were the usual darker and more difficult observations. Oh, sure, I was reveling in diversity, man, but also I was secretly and devastatingly comparing. She’s saggier than me. She’s more toned than me. Her thighs don’t touch like mine. My butt isn’t that big. My skin is clearer. Her nose isn’t as bulbous. On and on and on. One part of me was sighing in pure stupid simple happiness to be in a hot tub with two good friends, because whoo hoo, friends and hot tubs! Another part of me was spinning its wheels tighter and tighter, sucking in my stomach under the bubbles, smirking to myself that well, at least I have a defined waist, noticing unhappily that my arm flab was swaying in the breeze. I couldn’t shut that part up.
That was a hard food day, too…I sort of hate that I even have anything like “hard food days.” Pastries for breakfast and noodles for lunch and truly awesome pizza for dinner, followed by cake and fudge. I didn’t hyperventilate about it in front of everyone but the whole day I was making horrid small-minded calculations, scolding myself all throughout the day. Don’t eat the entire bowl of soup. (I did). Don’t put too much blue cheese on that pizza. (I did). Don’t have another piece of vegan fudge. (Oh, I did and I did). I love to eat and it was all so good and I kept telling myself that everything I was eating that day was basically healthy, a lot of it was made right in my kitchen with lovely natural ingredients and that it’s important to eat deliciously and wonderfully, especially when one of your friends in town for the weekend is, like, a professional organic cook. It’s fine, you’re fine, I kept telling myself, but no, it wasn’t fine. I kept sucking my stomach in and giving myself worried looks when I passed a mirror. It’s fine, you’re fine, it’s going to be fine. I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
Even bellydance on Monday, something I love partially because it helps me feel really good and really in my body, was rough. I thought I noticed an extra layer of fat on my hips when I was doing my beloved bicycle shimmy. I definitely noticed an extra layer of fat when I was doing my less-beloved up shimmy. I sucked in my stomach and thought about what I’d eaten that day. Maybe I oughtn’t have had that granola bar, I thought. Maybe I need to start counting calories again. I am going out to dinner three nights this week, and maybe I should cancel even though I really like two of the people with whom I am going out this week and I can’t get out of the other night because it’s for work. I shimmied extra hard but, oh, I don’t know. It’s so hard. It’s such a privileged problem to have. It’s so scary, and it’s so weird to feel so scared by a blessedly healthy and strong body. I work with people whose bodies don’t work the way they are supposed to, whose bodies have in some senses turned on them and betrayed them, and you’d think that I’d have the good sense to at least not take my own health for granted. I guess I don’t, but health isn’t enough for me somehow. I eat really well and exercise three to four times a week and don’t smoke or drink or shoot the smack, and it’s just not enough.
Peter asked me, when he was here, if it was possible for me to be fat and happy if I can’t be thin, and I’m so ashamed to admit that I don’t think it is. Is the alternative to be slim(mer) and miserable, though? Am I going to freak out about my body and its imperfections for the rest of my life? I wasn’t thin and nubile even when I was seventeen, shouldn’t I just forget about it now that I’m thirty and just focus on eating gorgeous vegetables from the farmers’ marker (I got purple cauliflower this week, how awesome is that?) and my special kind of oatmeal and all that? Yes, I should, and no, I can’t.
Yesterday I bought some ridiculously expensive scented body butter. Two big tubs of it, in two yummy spicy warm flavors. The salesgirl sort of talked me into them even though I was just there for hair product and I was pretty mad at myself when I got back to the car for letting myself get upsold. I was about to turn around and return them, telling myself that my nice citrus lotion from Trader Joe’s is plenty good for the likes of me and that I don’t need to spend money on meaningless luxuries like that. I kept driving and didn’t take them back but it wasn’t until just this minute as I was writing the above paragraph that I decided what I’m going to do with those overpriced body butters. I’m going to put them on every morning when I get out of the shower and every night before I go to bed, and I am going to put a little extra on my belly and butt and thighs and upper arms. “Thank you for being healthy and strong and for doing what I need you to do and getting me where I need to go and for being able to bicycle shimmy and for looking good in v-neck shirts. Here is some nice thick yummy goop as a token of my appreciation. I’m sorry we haven’t always gotten along,” I’m going to say.
I’m going to look at myself naked in the mirror and take a deep breath and screw my courage to the sticking point and I am going to whisper, indulgently, ridiculously, I am going to whisper to each part of this body that I have such a hard time with, that I have hated and continue to hate so much, I’m going to whisper “I love you.”