Back when it was still March, I had planned to write about how I spent roughly 20 minutes standing in the autograph/selfie section of Awesome Con staring at middle-aged Tom Welling who’s a fine looking silver fox now that he’s given up his tights.
Instead, I got the usual spring cold/sinus infection thingie that’s had me stuck on the couch and swilling Mucinex and sacrificing all the toilet paper I can find to my overflowing nostrils since Monday afternoon. (Editors Note: Yes, I do have boxes of tissue but they’re alllll the way at the other side of the apartment. Sigh.)
Before April turns into May or some such foolishness, I did want to share with you a couple of things I figured out about myself, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say things that I finally articulated about myself, while at Awesome Con.
One was that I have to stop lying to myself about not knowing how to talk to people. This was absolutely true at one point. I am definitely an introvert with very little small talk game BUT I’m also someone who’s worked in Public Relations for more than a decade now and spends a great deal of my professional life interviewing people. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I walked into a reception hosted by Smithsonian Magazine and X (Google’s “moonshot” division) and found myself happily chatting away with mechanical engineers and such about creativity and creating an environment where it’s safe to fail blah blah blah.
I know how to ask questions and get people talking, and while I can’t talk about specific principles around mechanical engineering, I certainly have thoughts on whether delivery drones are a good idea and about how to foster innovation in general. And I knew how to advise the newbie Slate writer I walked in with on how to find a story at a party at which you knew no one.
Yet, as I debated whether or not I should even go to the reception, the picture I had in my head was of the tongue-tied wallflower ill at ease in the corner wondering why she was in this place where she clearly didn’t belong. Turns out that picture is beyond outdated. And yes, sometimes I still stand by myself for a while at gatherings before I find someone to talk to, but I’m no longer uncomfortable with that solitude. It no longer saps my self-confidence. Now to work on updating my internal files so I always start from a place of remembering who I am, not who I used to be.
That being said, back at Awesome Con, I stood in line in the autograph are to try and talk to Cress Williams about getting an interview for my agency’s blog. My heart was pounding so hard that I thought it was going to fall out of my chest. And his gatekeeper dismissed me even as I handed him my card and explained that I didn’t want to pay for an autograph but I did want to ask for an interview for my outlet. Later that night I found myself wondering how I could have been so confident at the Google party, and yet so undone trying to talk to Cress Williams (who, by the way, is even more gorgeous than he appears onscreen. Yowza!)
I realized that my lack of confidence was because I didn’t know the rules. If one has a press pass at Awesome Con, you’re cautioned to the nth degree about not trying to use that pass to cut others in line or gain any special favor. There are also rules for every Con-goer about what you can do when you’re in the special autograph/selfie area (no cell phone pics you haven’t paid for, etc.) I was terrified that by trying to ask for an interview in person I was somehow going to violate the rules and get thrown out, with violating the rules—particularly if I don’t know them—still being one of the worst things I can do in terms of my childhood triggers. So that’s an area to work on. I don’t want to become an out and out rulebreaker, but I do want to not feel so triggered when I don’t definitively know the particular rules of a situation that I’m inhibited to my detriment.
…And in that home, as she paces its many rooms, filling them with this and that, rearranging the furniture willy nilly, throwing the occasional dance party, losing the vacuum and forgetting to do laundry on a regular basis, investigating what she’s lost under piles of dust and junk left behind by others, she will somehow stumble into the hiding place of that one need even greater than a home of her own—a voice of her own.
Over the weekend I came up with the perfect plan for getting some exercise into my life. Three days/week I’m up at 5-5:30 so I can pray and journal before I head to my standing breakfast meetings. So I figured it would be easy peasy to get up at the same time on the days I don’t have meetings and use the extra time to exercise. The alarm went off at 5:30 and I promptly turned it off and set the timer on my phone so I could have 30 minutes more sleep. At 6:00 I set the timer for another 30 minutes. There’s a possibility that there was yet another 30-minute reset but I can’t quite remember. What do know is that when I finally got out of bed I had left myself no time to exercise and barely enough time to journal before I had to shower and get ready for my day.
As I was thinking about how I could get myself out of bed to go write poetry with a friend two days but couldn’t get up to exercise, I thought, “It’s because you’re lazy.” Which I’m not. And I realized as I started to think more about it that “It’s because you’re lazy” was my short-cut, easy answer. Tagging myself with a this-explains-everything adjective was an elegant way of short-circuiting any deep thinking about my resistance to exercise.
I’m absolutely positively not a morning person. And the fact that I can get out of bed to pray for at least 30 minutes and then journal for at least 30 minutes before getting in the shower is a major miracle. So I think trying to add another 30-60 minutes to that prep time was overburdening the self-talk system I have in place to get me out of bed so I could do the first two.
And while that partially explains my reluctance to answer, if I make myself push deeper, there’s actually something else at play. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve successfully lost weight by watching my food intake and exercising so many times and ended right back in the same overweight place so many times that I’ve run out of ways to make myself believe this time will turn out any differently. There is the possibility I will finally figure out how to maintain a healthier weight and exercise regimen this time, but when it comes probability—to borrow from a popular movie franchise—the odds are so not in my favor. It’s not just a physical effort to get myself out of bed in the morning to exercise, it’s an emotional one of the Sisyphean variety.
But is not actually the moral of this particular story. I’m actually more interested in the names I call myself—lazy, spoiled, selfish—so I can get out of drilling down to the scary subterranean parts of myself where my motivation for doing or not doing X, Y, or Z actually lurks. It’s easier and vastly more comfortable to fall back on even the most unflattering characterizations of myself rather than have to deep dive into the ish that’s really going on. It’s easier to believe and reinforce the stories I’ve always told myself at the point of failure than it is to try and understand the reasons for that failure cause one reason begets another reason which begets another reason until I’m excavating a whole effing cavern of neurosis or grief or fear or whatever that I’ve never explore before. I know you’re expecting a rah rah ending, but come on, that ish gets old. This would probably be a good point to remember that practice what you preach is not a bad goal to work toward. Sigh.
Speaking of being overweight (I knew we’d get back here eventually…)
To be continued…
…Have I compared myself to others or tried to “keep up with Joneses” today? Have I given myself a moment just to daydream? Have I had a moment of gratitude for all that I have? Have I stopped contemplating all that I lack for at least a little while? Have I truly, madly, deeply lived today?
And one more question: have I really seen myself today? If you asked me what I looked like as a girl, I would say I was always fat. But if you look at pictures of me from that time, I’m not waifish, but I’m still fairly slender. Narrow shoulders, small breasts, a tiny waist, flat stomach, and hips that flare more like eggplants than the watermelons I lug around these days. In other words, I was somewhat curvy but I was far from fat. But I’d been made to feel ugly often enough by my parents during those days, and in those days once I hit junior year of college and really did start to gain weight, that the story I tell myself is that I was always fat, always the ugly sister.
I wonder what effect it would have had on my issues with overeating and body image and self-esteem if I’d had a clear picture of myself to begin with. Or if the narrative I was told about myself focused more on my strengths–intelligence, humor, leadership skill, ability to work on a team, empathy–than on the things I wasn’t so good at, or that I had to work a little harder at.
We all carry around a narrative about ourselves. Some of it we make ourselves but a great deal of the story we tell about ourselves has been–consciously and unconsciously, explicitly and implicitly–told to us by other people. In the ideal situation, the distance between what we tell ourselves about ourselves and what other people tell us about ourselves is minimal. (Let’s face it: we can’t be purely objective about ourselves, and possibly we can’t be purely objective about others either.) But in a case like mine that distance is Grand Canyon-sized. I’ve learned to get a truer picture of myself by, despite what Public Enemy says, learning to believe my hype.
But I still need to check in. To look around the actual evidence of my life and see what it reveals about who I am. True, it reveals that I’m a lousy housekeeper, but if I look at what I’ve accomplished in my 9-5 and with my poetry, and if I look at the quality of the people in my life and the quality of sustained relationships I have, it affirms that every time that old narrative starts running in my head–I’m lazy, not worthy of love, not good enough, voiceless, blah blah blah–I’ve got exactly the proof I need to shut it down. I just need to remember to ask the question before I get too far down the rabbit hole of that old story.
Speaking of being overweight…
To be continued…
It’s hard to feel unbeautiful when Josh Groban has his mellifluous tongue (virtually) stuck in my ear. And also when I’m drinking a bottle of sauvignon blanc I bought at the corner store on my way home from work. Which may point to a certain type of single-woman-of-a-certain-age solitude but has nothing to do with if I am beautiful. But what does have to do with beauty? Why do I feel beautiful on one day and not another? Or in one hour of the day and none of the others? Or vice versa? Is it the clothes? Is it the makeup? Is it the way the sun feels on my shoulders? Is it remembering–as my sunglasses slide down my sweat-slicked nose one. more. time.–how giddy I was when I first tried on said sunglasses? Is it the precise torque of curls in my hair? Someone might answer–it’s confidence, but I’d counter that confidence is as fickle a beast as any, perhaps moreso, and there have been plenty of days I’ve felt gorgeous while still feeling insecure about something or the other. Is the question what makes me feel beautiful, or what makes me feel unbeautiful? Which set of answers is most useful? Do I then avoid at all costs the unbeautiful makers and surround myself as much as possible with the beautiful makers? Or can certain things fall in either camp depending on the phase of the moon, if the bus is late or not, how many times I hit the snooze button, if I’m listening to Jack White or Josh Groban on the way to work, if I’m reading a romance novel or staring into space, if the person sitting next to me is thin or fat and I feel comfortable or squished in the seat, if I’m late or on time, if I took a shower that morning or the night before, if I have five meetings that day or not even one, if my sister has made me laugh for the 1,000th time this year or the 1,000,000th, if I get light cheese on my pizza or none at all, if I watch Jeopardy or get so caught up on Facebook that I forget, if I want to write a blog that night or I don’t want to write a blog? If I can’t aspire to feeling beautiful every minute of every day because the conditions are mutable, unknowable, irreproducible, imprecise, what then do I aspire to that gets to the same place? Or is the question not whether or not I feel beautiful but rather how sensitive I am to that place in me where I feel beautiful most of the time and know enough to fake it the rest of the time? When I don’t feel beautiful, am I just making to much noise of all the wrong sorts? Is it not the appreciation of our peculiar and singular and wonderful beauties that changes, but our willingness to walk in those peculiar and singular and wonderful beauties? Is it a choice?
Nine Thoughts About my Body
1. Maybe I’m going about it all wrong. Maybe I should be trying to live fully in the curves and lumps, folds and flab of this body. What if I should stop trying to be less than? What if it is this fullness of flesh that makes the rest–intelligence, humor, compassion, kindness–possible?
2. Which part of me is the part you can’t possibly love? Or like? Or whisper your desire to? What part of me should I cut off to be the right shape and size for you to love?
3. No one loves a person’s thinness, do they?
4. They say the average size of the American woman is a size 14. I have always read that statistic as if I should be that woman. It’s impossible to believe that I’m not just any woman. This body right now is my average. The body I inevitably shape-shift back to. It is the thin me that is not average, that is abnormal.
5. No one doesn’t love a person because of their fatness, do they?
6. Yesterday I probably weighed 230 pounds. Yesterday I walked down the street and felt beautiful. You might say you don’t believe either is true. Which statement is it worse for you to not believe?
7. Fat and failure are assonant. Fat and failure are not synonymous. Fat and failure are relative. I need to claim my meaning not yours.
8. It is possible that I fear not what you think of my ownership of this body but what might happen if I truly owned this body? If I poked and prodded and probed it for what it could do. If I could no longer pretend this body means the same thing as impossible.
9. Is my body smarter than I am? Is it impossible for me to be thin outside because I’m not thin inside? I mean because I’m fecund. Because I’m always in bloom. Is this fat the only way my body knows to show me who I truly am?
These days it’s hard to beat back the shame. After working really hard to lose weight–again–I’ve gained back not all, but pretty darn close to all the weight. Again.
This time I was pretty sure I’d figured it out: I’m a person of worth. I matter. I’m beautiful. I’m beloved by many. I’m not that defenseless kid who didn’t have any way to comfort herself except for with food. I can self talk my way out of overeating. I can self talk my way into exercising. What I feel on the inside is powerful and positive enough to inform and affect how I look on the outside. Cake really doesn’t solve anything.
Which is all true. Sometimes. Just not enough days in a row to make a lasting difference.
Many people in my life have seen me go up and down numerous times since I first walked into a Weight Watchers meeting somewhere in Downtown Crossing, Boston circa 1990. I’m fairly certain that for most of them, the number on the scale is the least of the things they consider important about me. Still, I can’t help but wonder–how many times can a person fail at weight loss without having that sheen of failure glint from everything she touches?
I know I’m possibly being melodramatic. But I’m not sure what other words to put around the enormity of this latest failure. How to accurately reflect that part of the reason I’m struggling in my long-awaited voice lessons is because I have to stare at myself in the mirror while I sing.
It’s not exactly that I don’t like what I see in the mirror. It feels more complicated than that. I like my long (currently blonde) hair. I like that my fingers and toes are always manicured. I love that I pluck my brows myself now and I’ve learned (finally) how to wear blush. I love that I spend way too much money in Ulta because I truly enjoy playing with makeup each day, how it is sort of a costume, not for hiding my face, but for saying something about who I want to be that day. Who I want to be in this life.
Still, the mirror reflects my shame. I think it’s not even shame about being a certain number on the scale. It’s shame about being that certain number AGAIN. It’s shame about not being able to stick the landing though this last time I lost weight was almost entirely about figuring out ways to maintain as I know that’s where I always stumble.
What I have learned about myself over the past 18 months is that I can do the hard things. Perhaps that’s something I should have already known or that you’ve known all along but… So maintaining isn’t a hard thing. It’s a ____________________ thing.
I’m the woman with the answers. The idea generator. The woman with a plan. The problem solver. The fixer.
I’m the woman who doesn’t know how to fill in the blank.
And I don’t know how to just let go of that desire to lose weight either even though I imagine part of the issue is exactly that holding on.
What I do know is that I walked away from this project for so many days because I didn’t want to write about shame. I didn’t want to write about being fat again. I didn’t want your sympathy or advice. I don’t want your sympathy or your advice. I don’t want you to tell me I’m beautiful. I don’t want you to tell me about your friend or sister or cousin who had a really hard time keeping weight off and then tried X. I don’t want you to ask me if I’ve considered surgery or not eating after a certain hour or Jenny Craig? I think maybe I just want you to tell me it’s okay to be average. To be the same as the thousands of people who’ve walked this road as many times or even more than I have only to end up at the same place again. Maybe I want you to tell me it’s okay to feel ashamed. We all feel it about something or the other. Maybe I want you to tell me I don’t always have to try and find the silver lining or the happy ending. Maybe I just want you to give me a nice piece of cake.
Editor’s Note: This post is transcribed almost directly from a “morning pages” journal entry so please forgive its lack of polish. I gave myself a writing prompt for the morning’s entry: “Why do you think you won’t sustain your weight loss without Weight Watchers even though you haven’t really been doing it? Why do you think you will succeed?”
Scale says 199 but I think I’m better than that inches-wise because my pj bottoms are dragging the floor. At the same time I feel sexy and confident in my body, it’s hard not to worry that I’m not losing anything. It’s smart that I stopped Weight Watchers. I was spending the money but not counting points or tracking. I’m nervous that I’ll be 50 pounds heavier again. I mean that’s what always happened when I went off the program before.
But I believe there is much that is different about this time. For one thing, when I went off program before—or should I say when I quit before—I was already way off program in terms of eating and boozing. This time I’m more balanced. I had strawberry shortcake yesterday but I also had fish and salad for dinner. I’m not exercising every single day but I am being more consistent. My mindset is one of focusing on healthier eating, which doesn’t mean no desserts or no alcohol but it does mean I’ve let go of having bread every morning for breakfast, I continue to not have sugar in my coffee, and I’m working on being mindful about my desserts. I’m more mindful of the difference between snacks and treats, and I love kale!
The most important difference is, I think, my attitude toward myself. I loved being skinny in the past when I was down 60 or 70 pounds. I loved the way I looked, the clothing size I could fit into, the compliments. But that was all superficial stuff. I don’t believe there was any change on my insides. I had changed my behaviors but not my attitudes [toward myself] so I was already halfway back to being 250 or thereabouts again. I was getting tons of validation for my physical achievements, but I still didn’t believe I was worth much. I still couldn’t get a boyfriend, my parents still didn’t love me, blah blah blah.
What’s different about this time—I feel my chest tightening and my arms tingling even as I write this—is that I’m engaged in an ongoing conversation about what I’m worth. The physical changes are nice, but what’s important is my attitude toward myself. I’m seeing past all the ways I wasn’t valued in the past to the woman I actually am—not perfect, but smart, kind, imaginative, creative, generous, and supportive, with a killer smile.
This time it’s not about working and trusting the program, it’s about trusting myself. I was always so unnerved by the fact of being an overeater for life, which is why I’d need Weight Watchers for life. But that’s bullshit. I do think that Geneen Roth* is right: if we stop to realize that our ways of dealing with pain, fatigue, boredom, etc. are outmoded, that they’re left over from childhood when we had no other defenses, then we can stop turning to them.
If I stopped sleeping** all the time to avoid my life, I can certainly stop eating my way out of it, too. It’s interesting that as I write this, my inner critic keeps resurrecting all the ways it thinks I’ve already failed: “But you had two bowls of cereal at Fran’s house—Lucky Charms! But you’re going to that event with Jillian on Saturday that is all about eating! But you had dessert yesterday when you said you weren’t going to and you had dessert with Joyce on Saturday! But you’ve been using your credit cards a lot even though you’re trying to get out of debt; if you’re doing that, how can you possibly keep yourself from regaining all the weight.”
I weigh myself every morning, just to give myself an (objective) reality check. My critic tries to weigh in too. “See, you’re up a pound; you’re going to gain it all back!” And even though I stay around the same weight within a five-pound range, my critic’s not happy It’s interesting how much I resist myself. I had said I wanted to get to a certain weight and then maintain for a while. And even though I’m doing exactly that—something I haven’t previously been able to accomplish—my critic isn’t satisfied.
There’s also another thing that’s different now. I’m willing to do it in stages. Even if I’m in the 190s for the next six months, there’s nothing that says I can’t push through anouther ten pounds next spring if that’s what I want to do. Our new office building will have a gym and I’m fairly certain I will exercise more consistently at a higher rate because of the convenience. I’ll stay an extra hour at work gladly if I can go downstairs and work out in the middle of the day rather than in the wee hours [of the morning] or when I’m super tired. I’ll also have a cohort of friends who belong to the same gym.
Notice I emphasized “want” in the last paragraph, and I think that’s the most important piece—along with self worth—that I’ve been working on. We all carry around a lot of “shoulds” and when shoulds stay undone, they produce guilt. And carrying all that guilt saps all our energy away from things like eating kale and taking a walk. We spend all of our time inventing ways to punish ourselves for our failures to attend to the “I should” list. A want is a different thing entirely. Wants have more flexibility and they seem to not have the built-in guilt factor if we don’t do them. But because it’s a want, a desire, we try a little harder to get it done. Going after a desire is so much more fulfilling—and fun—than a mere task.
If we truly value ourselves, we want those things that truly support and nourish us. We want that exercise to help us feel strong. We want that serving of vegetables because we feel full but light….
My inner critic just said, “Just because you wrote all that down it doesn’t mean you won’t fail. It’s not like you haven’t had epiphanies before, you know?”
But this isn’t an epiphany. It’s not an “aha!” moment or bolt-out-of-the-sky idea. It’s something I’ve known all along; I just didn’t realize I knew it. It’s a remembering, or, perhaps, a recognition. Whatever you call it, it’s real change, and Miss Critic can fuss and fume all she wants but I’m not going backwards or living in fear that this won’t work. As Geneen Roth wrote—I’m not broken. I’ve just finally chosen to recognize my wholeness, and, believe me, that radically changes things!
*I just finished Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God. Her idea of God is a bit wonky, but reading her book helped me articulate some of the wisdom that I think was already making itself known inside me.
**I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I never knew that the fact that I slept away half of my childhood was a sign of depression. Sigh…