Last week, my trainer started working on some back muscles I didn't know I had. They were a little weak, as you can imagine, but I'm at a good place with my training. It felt much more like a challenge than a defeat.
As I was driving to my weekend getaway, those back muscles flexed a couple times, involuntarily. It felt amazing. Powerful. Flexion laden with potential. Righteous. I mused on a conversation I'd had with my trainer earlier in the week. I told her that I could feel my muscles growing -- especially my biceps, which we don't work that hard in isolation, but they get a lot of peripheral action. My quads, too -- man are they feeling strong. I expressed my frustration with the fact that she and I are the only ones who really know how strong I'm becoming -- the extra layer(s) of ME hide the evidence pretty well from the general populous. "That's alright, babies," I assured my incognito guns, "I know you're there." I sealed my loving sentiment with a little kiss for each one. I was alone in my car. Nobody noticed. And if they did, well, then they have a story, I suppose. Crazy old fat lady in the next lane sucking on her big old arms in an attempt to satiate herself until she could pull over and buy a tub of chicken and a quart of ice cream.
I knew the truth.
I had bigger things to worry about anyway. I was on my way to camp - alone - in another state - to sleep and craft in the woods with 20-some people I'd never met. I was excited, but more than a little bit nervous. There would be a strict ban on social media for the whole weekend. That was scary enough, but I understood the desire to have everyone be fully present. If I wanted to have this adventure, I'd have to have it without a lifeline. All in. The scarier part was that the only camera I have is in my iPhone. While cameras were allowed, I knew I couldn't be trusted to not check my messages (real quick!) if my phone was in my hand. In my pics-or-it-didn't-happen world, would I even continue to exist if there were no photographic evidence?
I aimed to find out.
So I went and I lived and I socialized and I did it all without taking a single picture or writing or answering a single text. I did it without posting a status update or a tweet or an instagram. I pinned nothing. I did it. I lived an un-shared weekend. I wouldn't want to make a habit of it, but I'd definitely like to do it again. It seems very healthy (in small doses).
Now one of the things I do with my (perhaps way more than is healthy) online time is participate in a group that takes daily selfies. This is not out of any sense of vanity or ego -- it is just a practice we all use for our own purposes. My purpose is to become more comfortable with how I look -- to recognize myself -- to learn to treat myself with gentleness instead of picking myself apart. The latter is a lot easier than the former, and that just shouldn't be so. So I'm working and learning and making slow progress.
I thought I'd learned to recognize myself and not recoil in horror every time I saw a picture of myself. I thought that -- until the pictures that other people took at camp started showing up. I am not speaking hyperbolically -- I saw those pictures and burst into tears. I recognize myself in the mirror -- I recognize myself in the selfies -- I did not recognize myself as captured by someone else's eyes.
Two days earlier I'd been kissing those hiding-but-existent biceps -- loving them and loving me -- and less than 50 hours later I was looking at arms as big as hams on a body they looked reconciled with. Fucking fuckity fuck.
I recalled with perfect clarity a conference I'd attended when I was in my 20s. I'd zoned out a little bit because I was distracted by the woman in front of me. She was a big woman. That wasn't shocking. I'd seen big women before. But her arms -- her arms were shocking. They were -- SO big. I remember thinking initially -- and quite uncharitably -- that she had no business wearing a sleeveless dress. As the conference ran on and I became more bored and squirmy and hot, I remember becoming more sympathetic rather than less. If I was that uncomfortable how uncomfortable must she be? This was so many years ago, and I never even spoke to her -- yet this memory came flooding back so clearly I could hear the speaker -- I could smell the room -- and I could visualize every flower on her faded shift dress.
I'd become what I'd judged.
All that work I'd done -- in the gym and in the mirror and with the rear-facing camera -- obliterated in an instant. Strong, emerging, offbeat -- yes, even beautiful -- replaced in less time than it took to blink by old, fat and ugly.
I'd been kidding myself, and quite successfully.
Let's rewind a moment.
Months and months of working my way up to a place of self-acceptance. Months and months of getting stronger -- physically and emotionally. Months and months. Was I really going to let one moment -- no matter how undeniable the evidence was -- take all of that away from me?
This morning I made myself do my hair and put on make-up before I left the house. I didn't want to. I couldn't imagine why it would matter. Lipstick on a pig, and all that. But I did it. And it felt sort of good. Then I took my daily selfie. I hadn't been able to manage that yesterday. And it took a couple tries, but I recognized myself.
Tonight I will run.
Tomorrow I will train.
Because old fat and ugly cannot win. It cannot own me. How I look through someone else's lens isn't as important as how I look through my own. I've had a setback. But through my own lens, I am still strong. And oh, I am still emerging.
Have I written 1000 words? I think probably not. Have I painted a picture? I hope so. And I hope it is somehow -- in some offbeat way -- beautiful.
I have had similar experiences to what you describe here & been equally devastated. We need to be kinder to ourselves. Much kinder. We need to look at ourselves with the love & compassion with which we'd look at a dear friend.
Wonderful writing, Tammy.
I have to tell you, I've never heard the expression "lipstick on a pig"! The one I'd say (to myself) was "If you stick a rose in a pile of sh*t, it's still a pile of sh*t." What would we say if we heard someone else talking to themselves this way? We deserve better. xoetc. <3
Good for you, fighting back and not giving in to that one tiny moment that tries to wipe out everything good. Your muscles are strong, you are beautiful, and as a writer, you ROCK.
First-- High Five for going off to camp! That's fabulous.
Second-- High Five AGAIN on the lack of social media. That's awesome.
Third-- High Five Again and again for taking selfies. Be proud of yourself. I never thought of that was a way to get comfortable with myself.
And last-- Keep up the GREAT job with the trainer. You ARE strong and righteous!
Tammy, you are a bigger inspiration to me than you realize... We got this!!
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