Our Reflection

For most of my life I’ve played hostess to a loop of ugly, self-depreciating thoughts which set up shop in my head sometime in middle school.

I wasn’t particularly pretty and my grades where certainly nothing to get excited about. I was teased relentless about my big nose and my large boobs. So, as kids often do, I found identity in the one thing that people complimented me on: how thin I was.

Not long ago I was at a get together with a few friends and some people I had met just that afternoon. We were all chit chatting when the subject turned to dieting and weight, as unfortunately it so often does for us women. I admit, I hate these conversations. I hate the way otherwise rational woman eagerly start throwing themselves under the bus by “confessing” personal details about their body in some sort of martyr like fashion. I hate how disparagingly we describe ourselves as numbers, sizes and weights. I hate how we verbally accost ourselves for that extra cupcake that extra bite of ice cream we ate.

I hate it because even though I’ve spent most of my adult life doing it, I still don’t know the best way to respond anymore than I know what I am hoping to get out of these self-loathing kvetch fests myself.

Taking part in these conversations always leaves me feeling icky, bare and exposed–wishing I’d just kept my mouth shut. Wishing I hadn’t just confessed my most inner fears and frustrations about my body to a group of people. Regretting my impulse to publicly apologize for how imperfect a person I am.

However, this conversation was tame and I knew the other party well, so I felt safe to indulge a little in this body-conscious discussion.  We sat talking about her goals. My goals. What types of exercise we prefer. Foods that make us feel our best and our worst. It was all on the up and up.

But, like with any conversation had in public, at any moment a bystander can jump in and take the conversation in a new direction.

Soon body types were being compared and body parts scrutinized. Numbers were mentioned. Secrets were spilled. Imperfections flaunted. I even had the pleasure of being referred to as “big-boned” by someone I just met. The conversation just took on a life of it’s own.

The fact that I feel the need to somehow prove to you all that I am not “big-boned”really bothers me. I have typed, erased and retyped my actual height and weight several times, trying to decide what my motive is. And that’s exactly my point. It’s not necessary because the labels we assign ourselves or which are at times assigned to us aren’t always reflective of who we actually are.

 

After four babies and struggling with my health because of the damage celiac disease has caused my body, it has been a really hard thing to reckon with the fact that I am no longer the skinny girl.

For years I had it in my head that my non-skinniness was temporary and that inside me was the body of a 17 year old. One without stretch marks, that pestering loose skin around her upper arms, and that huge ugly scar from her cesarean. The body that made me feel worthwhile and pretty. And to be even more honest, a little hot.

After my first baby I went on a strict diet and exercise regime and lost of lot of my baby weight, only to find that I was left with nothing better than a thinner version of my newly postpartum body. So I did what any other sane woman would do–I cried angrily.

When I gained even more weight during my battle with celiac disease, I finally stopped looking in the mirror.

I hated everything I saw, so what was the point?

In 2005, after years of slinging insults and muttering curses to the reflection that so disgusted me, I decided the only way out was to go under the knife.

So one early spring evening when my husband got home from work, I went to see a plastic surgeon. I’m fairly certain my husband thought I was losing my mind, but he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. I sat in the waiting room, pretending to read magazines but instead trying to figure out what procedures the others in the room had done or were recovering from. My heart raced when my name was called. A drop-dead gorgeous nurse walked me back to the examination room and handed me a paper gown. Clearly, they new how to market. “The doctor will be in momentarily”, she said before closing the door on her way out, leaving me standing there, all alone with my thoughts.

There was a table and a chair on one side facing a floor-length mirror on the opposite wall in the chilly, dark brown room. I hopped between the chair and the table trying to find something comfortable, but I was shivering from cold and from the realization of how far down this road of self-hatred I had gone.

Later, I followed the doctor into his office. As we sat facing one another from opposite sides of his desk, he wrote down a plan of action on a pad of paper for me, explaining in detail what it all meant; a cut here, a snip there and just like that I’d be perfect. Or nearly perfect anyhow–because it would be a lot better if I could throw in for that lipo around the hips; an extra $2000.00 per side, of course.

I flashed the smile of a person who didn’t think $4,000.00 was a lot of money. Then I walked out the door and drove back home determined to make this work.

It had been a long time since someone called me skinny. A long time since I felt beautiful. A long time since I didn’t cry at the thought of having to be seen in a swimming suit. And at the moment, I would have given him every thing I owned in this world just to feel worthwhile again. Just to stop hating that monster I saw in the mirror.

I was desperate.

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that an $8,000 elective procedure was so far out of the realm of possibilities that I’d as soon fly to the moon. And ultimately, I came to be thankful for that.

This isn’t a debate about plastic surgery. Who am I to decide if it’s the right thing for another person or not? What I do know is that I was looking for was permission to feel beautiful. And that, I realized, just wasn’t going to come by way of trying to carve out my inner skinny girl with a scalpel.

I admit, I was very upset with myself for participating in the conversation. It goes against one of the rules I have had set for myself to help me stay in a healthy head-space. But I slipped up and when things went out of my comfort zone, it was too late for me to jump ship. I just had to ride it out and hope for the best.

And for just a moment I became that self-conscious, self-loathing girl of 25 again. I wanted to shrink back into my shell and hide from my rising insecurities. But, then I remembered that just three hours ago I had left the house feeling good about myself. I was wearing a skirt that I felt played up my curvy features and a sweater I felt complimented my skin tone. I had truly felt good about what I’d seen in the mirror, and I grounded myself once more with that thought.

I realize this was actually necessary to show me how far I’ve come. There was a time when this really would have destroyed me. I would have heard that remark and it would have chipped away at what little self-esteem I had. I would have incorporated it into my personal ritual of self-bashing.

But, I no longer think of myself as the fat skinny girl. Yes, I have days where I feel like a bloated, big-nosed, stringy-haired hot mess, but I make a point to now see myself as a sum of all my parts instead of only individual short-comings.

I’ve worked hard to tear down my unhealthy habit of self-hatred and replaced it with a healthy self-image, and I don’t ever intend to go back to thinking of myself as the ugly duckling. Because when it’s all said and done, we are the only ones who hold the keys to deciding just who is staring us back in the mirror every morning.

 

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Some Call it Love

She squinted as her eyes adjusted to the late-night flickering from the television at her feet. She’d been asleep for nearly two hours already, having grown accustom to drowning out the noises in the room, but it was the smell which had woken her. Lying inches away from her arm, on the crisp white sheet, surrounded by an outer circle of tea-colored brown and with an inner ring singed darkly, lay a smoldering butt; half smoked. A ring, she noted, which was more in the shape of a heart than a circle. Her stubble-faced other half, head against the bed frame in the most uncomfortable looking fashion, open-mouth snoring. Rising and falling rhythmically lay their old cat, Charlie, in a heap on his chest.

She had convinced him to lean out the window or walk out onto the back porch for every other one, but he never could fall to sleep without that one last smoke in bed. Weekly she washed her sheets to rid them of the smell of both cat and stale smoke, but there wasn’t enough Tide in the world to get rid of the burned shapes that dotted her favourite sheets.

Once, she boldly replaced his thickly cut and yellowing ashtray next to the porch chair with a battery-operated, smokeless variety she had mail ordered 6 weeks prior. The “smoke sucker”, he called it, before placing it in the garbage on top of the eggshells from breakfast and underneath the coffee grinds from that afternoon. He might as well have lit up $5 bills, he told her, the way that thing wasted a good cigarette.

She handed him a $20 from her back pocket along with a look that dared him to say another word about it.

While he slept, she replaced every last Marlborough in the pack with a Winston, to prove he would never notice. The next day she found her afternoon pot contained a Folger’s instead of Starbucks.

She had drank the whole pot and then brewed another.

On Sundays he rushed through his paper before work hurriedly, leaving, between bowls of mushy, luke-warm cereal and half-eaten bagels, a mess of disorganized pages sitting on the breakfast table haphazardly.

She cooked solidly his over-easy eggs and accidently set the toaster to scorch.

For years it would remain this way: he, impervious to her complaints and she, unquelled by his indifference. One always threatening to run and the other standing by the door promising to hold it open. Their life, a series of loudly slamming doors and boisterous complaints, peppered with passive aggressive stunts. All, with equal passion.

He snorted then coughed as she reached for the smoldering cigarette. Patting out the scorched sheet, she checked that he was sleeping soundly before clicking the TV off. Calmly, she lifted it to her mouth and took a long drag; the embers becoming red, then orange, then red again. Smoke curling down her throat, tickling her lungs, threatening a cough before settling warmly in her chest. She took another, gave the cat a pat on the head and laid her head back against the wall, ankles and arms both crossed, before finishing the rest.

Awkward Tweener Moments.

Today, in honor of #throwbackthursday, I posted a picture on my Facebook wall of my husband and I back when we were teenagers. We were both sporting short, bleach-blonde cuts–as was the fad in the late ’90s in our circles–and we both have that whole “I am totally crushing on the person sitting next to me right now, but I’m trying to play it cool” smile.  I also posted a picture of me with blue hair standing next to my husband who was dressed in all black–from his t-shirt down to his Docs–which, FYI, happened to be taken on the same day we got married.

Most of my friends liked it and a few even got a good laugh from it.

Later this evening, while getting together with a few friends, the subject came up again, and we joked about all of our old teenaged phases. Long black hair, white powdery make-up, wild music, whatever. My friends both agreeing that there is no way they would put those images on Facebook because they feared what other people would think. Which, although not the intent of their comment, had me biting my nails all of the way home, wondering if somehow I had managed to over-share and embarrass myself.

The thing is this–I did have some hilarious phases in my younger years: I went through this whole Mimi Eisenhower phase where I kept my bangs mega-short, thinking it made me look more punk rock (rawk). I once started a band named “Cold as Ice” which was supposed to be the female answer to Vanilla Ice–only we knew how to rap even less than he did. I even went through this intensely awkward period when I first started becoming religious where I basically wore on shapeless billowy dresses and peasant skirts that gave me the figure of a homely marshmallow. Oh man, I  still wince when I see pictures. (Why did nobody stop me?)

So, yeah,  I have had my share of embarrassing phases and unflattering photos. And I’m certainly not about to fill my wall with them either!

I realize not everyone I know will understand where we came from nor where we ended up, but it’s certainly not something I am ashamed of. I’m proud of who I am–and that includes where I’ve been, where I’m headed, and everything in between. The life I’ve lived over the last 33.5 years has all worked together to make me the person I am right now.

With growth comes change. And with change comes those awkward tweener moments when you haven’t quite found where you belong yet. That’s just part of the process. I’ve chosen to be as authentic a person as I know how to be, and I just have to hope that people will be okay with me–awkward moments and all.

Sleepy Pillow

She crept quietly through the hallway, maneuvering past the squeakiest boards, and into her parent’s bedroom. Silently she stood, holding her breath, summoning her courage. She reached out her hand pausing for a moment before tapping her mother’s shoulder and then quickly stepping back. If the face of a zombie or skeleton or half-breed monster of some sort turned around to face her, she wanted to be ready to bolt.

As usual, it was just the groggy, partially slit eyes of her half-asleep mother looking up at her.

“What’s wrong?”

“Can’t sleep.”

“Okay.”

“Can I sleep here?”, she asked, pointed towards the place where her father had once slept. The place where his pillow still lay, as if waiting for his return.

“Yep. It’ll be just like when you were little.”

Except I’m not, she thought. And I haven’t been for a very long time.

In the morning she was reminded that the sunlight always came through first on the side of the house her parent’s bedroom is on. Why they refused to get curtains she couldn’t understand. Her mother’s idea of sleeping in was pulling the blanket over her head–something she found suffocating and hot.

She squinted, waiting for her eyes to adjust. Her mother was gone. The clock in the far corner read 8:30. She stretched. Slid over to the middle. And then to her mother’s side. Inhaled in the drowsy smell of her pillow. Why did it always smell better than her own?  So comforting. It begged her to sleep.

She pulled the sheet over her head and tried it out from there.

Maybe it would be different from her mom’s side.