Thursday, August 09, 2007

Body Image, Health and Active Resistence

When I was in grad school, I'd skip class to swim laps. Swimming was an addiction and an obsession for me back then and if I didn't swim daily I'd feel it -- not just physically, but emotionally as well. I swam because it felt good, pure and simple. I'd get anxious and fidgety just waiting for the next time I could slide into the water, push off, and retreat into the calm, liquid world where my body would glide effortlessly and I could be alone with my thoughts.

I'm not sure what fueled my penchant for swimming back then, but it didn't take much since I grew up in California with a pool in my backyard and both my best friend and my boyfriend in high school were nationally-ranked swimmers. (In fact, my boyfriend went on to win four gold and one silver medal in the '76 Montreal Olympics!) Surely Stanford's gorgeous new swim complex -- as well as the gorgeous men on the Stanford swim team -- had something to do with my fervent addiction. But whatever it was, I was hooked. I felt great and, looking back, I realize that I looked pretty good then, too. Tanned, fit, and lean.

Though, of course, I still felt fat. I have always felt fat.

And therein lies part of the problem. Because I always believed that I had a weight problem (probably due to both my family's and society's messages), even when I didn't, I have a hard time getting a feel for what I look like now, how fat I am now, when I clearly DO have a weight problem. For so long, I had a distorted body image, believing that I was fat when I clearly wasn't. So now, when I am actually at a weight that would put me in the "fat" category, I still don't have a realistic feel for what I look like. The scale says that I'm fat and pictures seem to support that, but when I look in the mirror I get nothing back. Nothing. It's like I have NO body image at all anymore, after so many years of a distorted one.

This makes incentive to diet and exercise very difficult. What is my goal? How can you have a solid goal when you have no solid sense of where you're coming from? How can you say to yourself, 'I want to be there' when you have no real sense of here... or of the difference between here and there, except for external indicators, like numbers on a scale or inches on a tape measure? My internal concept of my body has been wrong for so long that I no longer have a grasp on the reality of it. In fact, I very often feel completely removed from it, as if my body wasn't even my own. So when I diet, it's almost like I'm doing it for someone else. When the numbers on the scale change due to my own efforts, it almost feels like someone else deserves the credit. Maybe this is why I always tend to gain the weight back -- because somewhere in my distorted sense of reality it wasn't really mine to begin with.

I started Weight Watchers (yet again) last month and, after dropping five pounds, I have already stopped going. Why? I really don't know. I'm still watching what I eat, but not with the same fervor. And I'm not journaling -- which we all know is the beginning of the end. Some might say I fell off the wagon because I don't care. But that's not true at all. I DO care. In fact, I'm obsessed with care. But turning care into action is what is now so difficult -- probably because I'm still out of touch with the reality of my body, just like I was 30 years ago, but on the opposite end of the spectrum.

But now I'm old and I absolutely MUST care, for the sake of my health. It's no longer about body image or being "cute." It's about health and staying alive. I know that logically; I just need to translate it into action.

This morning I took Shasta for a walk around our mile-long block. Getting out the door was a huge effort, one that I resisted every step of the way. Another cup of coffee. Different shoes. Looks like rain. Truly, anything could have easily stopped me, and I long to have my obsession for exercise back. But the road back is made up of individual steps -- literally. I took a few today. Maybe tomorrow I can take a few more.


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Anonymous said...

I have the same body image problem. I thought I was fat way back when I was young and slim. And now that I'm old (and not so slim), I have no sense of what my body looks like. I look a lot fatter in pictures than I see in the mirror.

Since swimming made you feel so good, why not go back to it, and say to hell with all that diet stuff? That's what I've done recently. I LOVE swimming. I love love LOVE it, and I swim 5 mornings a week for an hour. I feel like a whole new person. My middle-aged body has lost 30 pounds over the last year, and my eating is the same. I feel sleek and toned all over, and I seem to look it too. Life's too short to do all that worrying about food. I eat and enjoy my life, and swiming is something that I really enjoy. It doesn't even feel like exercise, but it is.

Anonymous said...

I was always slim when I was younger. When I gained a few pounds (still not even close to the fat range), my ex took a picture of me bending over so I could see how "fat my ass was becoming". This from a man who was always at least 40 lbs. overweight. He screwed up my body image so bad and I believed for a long time that, if I was not extremely thin, I was worth nothing. So somehow I shed him and became obese. I can't quite figure out just what the connection is there. Maybe I had to prove that I was worth loving even without that killer body??? So sad what we do to ourselves!

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