Tuesday, July 1, 2014

If a Picture Paints 1000 Words

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.


sillymillercat said...

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

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

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.

Joanna Jenkins said...

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!
xo jj

Where does your POWER come from...? said...

Tammy, you are a bigger inspiration to me than you realize... We got this!!