Gaining the Lightness of BEING
“I’m a forty-four year-old woman. I am invisible.”
This was an off-the-cuff comment I made to my daughter while we were at Target and I was apologizing for leaving the house in sweatpants, after she reminded me that no one really cares what I’m wearing.
It was a joke, until I thought about it.
The truth is, I make myself invisible, by hiding from the camera, fearful of a bad angle that would make me look fat or ugly. Edited out of joyful moments. One day, I’ll be edited out of my own memories; as an old woman longing for my “youth.” Instead, I’d be left with perfect pictures of imperfect times, when I hated my body and was consumed by an eating disorder, sometimes while in an abusive relationship; exhausted by being alive, depressed and suicidal.
I was reminded of this story in my journaling and our Women’s Purpose Community group discussions around the monthly topic, “Being KIND to My Body.” As some of us were on vacation “comparing myself to everyone from 18 to 88,” as one of us observed, I shared my own, very complicated relationship with my body.
I lived with anorexia for most of my life, and while I have recovered from the illness, I have long been disconnected from my body and never viewed it as being mine. It was another thing in my life I had to fight, manage, and judge. A marketer by trade, my body was one of the Five P’s—packaging. A wrapper, designed to be beautiful and perfect to mask the ugliness inside, for the service and pleasure of others, but not for me.
While I couldn’t control the fact that I was an unlovable person, I could look the part. I could be perfect on the outside. But to do so, I was very, very cruel to myself. Years—decades— of deprivation, over-exercising, and nasty self-talk; of pinching, hitting, harming; of dysfunctional, performative sex, disastrous, humiliating relationships. I look back on those times at my size two self with the smile for the camera, knowing the living hell that was happening, sometimes being created by the person taking the picture.
It took a long time, but I am finally beginning to view my body as my vehicle for pleasure which enables me to fully experience life through adventures, travel, food, and sensuality. Like a race car, I am fine-tuning her for the ultimate performance. Strong and fit enough to hike, climb, paddle, and play; soft enough to fully enjoy lovely meals, wine and cocktails with the people I love. When I find myself getting a bit too soft, I can dial things back without compulsively abusing food and exercise.
With the help of a wonderful therapist, a gifted coach, and an utterly miraculous circle of women I met through the Women’s Purpose Community, I’m beginning to see myself as I actually am. But if I’m honest, I really have no idea of if I’m “fat” or “healthy” as my mental measuring tape has a very limited range, and my perception seems to change constantly. What I do know is I am fulfilled. I’m no longer starving--for nutrition, validation, meaning or anything else—and have stopped letting judgments deprive me of joy, love, and connection with myself, the people, and the world around me.
The mean little voice isn’t gone, but it’s much quieter, gentler. While I can’t say I “love” my body, I like her very much. I’m focused on taking good care of myself so I can keep healthy and get the most out of life, for the longest possible time. And you can bet there will be tons of pictures, by me, of me, and requested by me. There will be no more documenting the joy in my life without me in it.
As the onslaught of weight loss ads warn of the looming “beach body season,” I worry about how many women (I write from the perspective of a cis-gendered woman, but I know shame loves all genders) will be missing from the photographs documenting our first post-pandemic summer, as we take to the beaches, backyards and ballparks with the friends and family we missed. Vaccinated for Covid-19, will we let the “Covid-15” force us from the frame and self-isolate, fretting over how our clothes fit, or whether the camera captures a bite of cake or an unbounded belly?
Many of us have gained appreciation for the people and experiences that we didn’t always have as much time for when we were constantly living in between: the office, working from the road, shuttling kids to sporting events, and over-committed to busy social calendars. We cooked, we learned new things, we were banned from the gym and confined with our kids. For a while, we all gave ourselves permission to just be, as we swapped the rat race for bird watching.
I, for one, don’t plan on ever going back. And as I have turned inward and examined my beliefs, priorities, and relationships, I have sloughed off the weight of body shame and am learning to enjoy me, as I am.
This beach body is ready.