Thursday, October 24, 2013

Embracing My Inner Rectangle: Thoughts on Self-Love and Body Image

It all started with a few yards beautiful raspberry wool cloth. For years, I've been fantasizing about turning it into some sort of jacket, the kind I could wear to the obligatory Holiday Party my husband's boss throws for the employees every year. Something I would feel special in, something which would glide over my upper body with finesse, dress me up just enough to feel comfortable and confident in that crowd of professionals, doctors, nurses and other people who work outside the home and have some money to spend on clothes-- and look like it.

Most who know me will have heard me joke that I am somewhat fashion-impaired. And since I wanted this jacket to look great, I've been talking to another mom who studied design and would be able to tailor this to my short, rounder body. On Sunday, this designing mom and I chatted briefly and she suggested I find a pattern of "something that you feel great in". 

I wasn't sure what that could be. It's been a long time since I went shopping for a cute jacket, and unless you count my black fleece, I'm not feeling fabulous in anything I currently own. In the last few years, I know my body has changed-- but one Internet search would bring it home to me in a way which was all too real. 

Typing in "clothes for your body type" brought up pages of hits. I scrolled down and clicked on one site, which compared body shapes to food: apple, pear, etc.... I was pretty sure I was an apple, but didn't find that site particularly informative. The next one, though, just went straight for the facts, ma'am. "Enter your measurements"... which I did, but just because my waist measurement was smaller than the bust and hips did not an hourglass figure make.

"Your shape is rectangle" I was told, the shape of 46% of women. "No discernible waist". This was one of those moments of submission, being told what I already know. By some people's opinions, my being somewhat overweight is part and parcel of 'what's wrong with America these days'. Add to that my incredible shortness, and I somehow wondered for a moment why they didn't just immediately link me to a site with a banner at the top "How to Dress A Beach Ball" or "Muu Muus are Us, er, You". 

This, after two months of diligent walking, no (well, very little) snacking after dinner, not allowing barbeque chips to enter the house in anything other than the occasional single-serving bag.... after two months, I have lost 3.5lbs. I saw a friend yesterday who told me he'd 'lost 27 pounds in the last month or so'. I know it's harder for women, but damn, give a girl a fighting chance, okay? So, all that Rectangle day I felt a bit roundly sad. I wanted to cry. How would I feel fabulous in some fantasy coat I couldn't even identify if couldn't even succeed at losing five pounds in two months? When I tried to joke about it with my husband later, he just said "well, honey, you've got all the curves I need!" and smiled and then went back to staring at the commercial I'd muted. 

Men. Hmmmmph.

Yesterday, the question came up as to"how do your learn to love yourself". When this question came up, I thought "I've loved myself this morning". I'd walked in the morning to meet a friend for coffee (8 oz soy latte if you must know). The morning was sunny, crisp, one of those autumn mornings meant to be savored. People were out, raking leaves, meeting friends-- I took in the many Halloween decorations people had out, making mental notes as to which ones Kiddo just had to see. The brisk walk home was exhilarating and made me feel good. Seeing a friend I adored made me feel good. So what if I was a Rectangle? I felt like a happy rectangle, not a defeated one. Accepting that there are parts of my life which make  it hard to lose weight-- most especially my diet, which is restricted thanks to some hereditary factors,thanks dad-- and that I would either have to devote more time to walking and give up some things I loved (beer!) or be willing to start embracing the rectangle... well, it made me feel better. What my friends love about me is not my waistline or how good I look in a dress, what they love is that I am a good listener, can empathize, I'm fairly smart, look for the humor in things whenever possible, love to learn--- those have nothing to do with the numbers on a measuring tape.

Do my friends want me to be comfortable, healthy and well? Of course. Do my friends want to see me beating up on myself for not being where I was at 37, when I had just had a baby, was making milk like crazy for my son, getting marginal (okay, crap) sleep and being able to walk for miles each day with no other job but trying to get the baby to sleep? Um, no. Do they want to see me skinny, the way I was when I split up with my ex-husband, the stress of the situation making me drop 6 dress sizes? Not at the expense of my overall health and well-being...

I have never judged the worth of my friends by their clothes or their bodies. It's who they are that is important to me, it's their outlook on things which keeps me wanting their company. Even in the hardest times of our lives, we aren't sitting there keeping track of that stuff-- we are caring for each others hearts and feelings. 

Somewhere in this, there is a resiliency to be had. Self-love means knowing that we have value just in our being ourselves. This means being cool with who we are, here and now. Knowing that there's room for improvement, not making excuses and not beating ourselves up, either. Last week, many people spent a lot of time online, directing their anger at Maria Kang, the fitness mom who posed with her hard body and three children and asked "What's Your Excuse?" I find that I am not offended by Maria when I am loving myself. I can accept that she is doing what she needs to do to build her business, and that just like an  unusually contemplative fish with a worm in front of them, I don't have to take the bait. I can let the worm be. (And this is a bad analogy, so please do not think I'm calling Maria Kang a worm... )  I don't have to let Maria upset me or motivate me, either. I can accept that she is lucky to have the resources to work out for hours, lucky to be so beautifully young, and great that she obviously has awesome childcare. I don't need to defiantly post back my reasons for not being as svelte as I once was. Frankly, I do have a bit of a vain streak running through me and this is enough, most days, to motivate me to take a shower, do something halfway-decent with my hair and look nice. And....

I still think a smile is the best thing I can see on a person. A person who likes themselves finds it easy to smile.

So, all this to say-- I'm okay with my rectangle. It doesn't mean I'll stop walking or stop being thoughtful about what I eat or stop striving to feel better overall. It does mean I will continue to do the best I can for me, and that's what my family needs most of all-- a mom who is okay with who she is, here and now. 

And if you know of any awesome jackets for short rectangles, I'm still looking. ;)


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Easing into Autumn, and Getting Older

Should I tell you that the word ease is a bit of misnomer, at least a few days ago? Last Friday, vicious rains began... the season only just ordained autumn and four days of ferocious rainstorms pelted our heads, winds throwing down tree branches like children playing pick-up sticks. This Tuesday a pocket of overcast sky-- but no rain-- drew me out of the house in the hopes of a quick walk. Quick indeed~ ten minutes later, two blocks from home (I was planning on doing circles around the neighborhood and doubling back, just in case...) the sky gave way and brought an initial torrent of rain, followed by sideways hail. Despite the rain it's been warm, so I was caught out with just a warm sweater and jeans. Running to an enormous Douglas Fir, I took shelter only to be swatted by dropping needled twigs. Finally, realizing that the pouring rain was not going to let up, I ran most of the way home, water flying down the driveways into the street creating puddles 4 inches deep or more.  Where the rain gutters rounded the corners on the rooftops, water gushed out over the sides, they  simply could not accommodate the sheer volume of water. Toward the end of my dash home, I stopped for a second to clear the storm drain at the bottom of our street, removing some debris and watching a torrent of water rush down from the top of our block. 

Once home, I had to pull down the shades and undress by the door... a dripping, soaked mess from head to toe. Only my underclothes were dry. Thank heavens for water heaters and hot showers! 

I've been walking as a way to get myself back into shape without, well, straining anything. My body has been talking to me a lot lately, telling me that I am not as young as I was ten years ago. Growing up for me means some soreness, a prescription of naproxen, and getting to bed earlier. It means being more thoughtful about what I'm eating and when. These are things my adult mind can manage and while the craving for junk food still rears its head from time to time, I'm easily satisfied with one chocolate chip walnut cookie or one small serving of Veggie Booty. Chips are not really welcome in the house, especially the barbeque ones-- they are kind of like that friend in high school that always seems to get you into trouble. Fun, but not worth it later.

Kiddo is also growing up a bit. We have nearly completed his second week of homework, which has gone well. We are in a season of learning how to manage his time; I've let go of telling him what to do and have made checklists for the morning and after school, which he uses-- in his way. He is learning that sometimes, when we don't get all of the morning checklist done because we forgot to make the bed after we saw our Legos-- well, you get the idea. Those tasks still must be done, even if it means they get done in the afternoon and we miss some play time or tv time. It's a life-long discipline, time management. If you play in the morning, and then take a lot of time unloading the backpack or dawdling over homework, then we don't have as much time to play later on. 

Frankly, I don't know how families of kids who have afterschool classes and lessons do it. Where is the play time? The down time? I am sure they have it, but I know that in our home, even with most of the housework and dinner prep done beforehand, it's a busy afternoon. 

Kiddo is feeling this, as well as the new bit of responsibility I've handed to him: getting himself, his folder and water bottle into class on time. After the first few weeks of hanging around and nearly walking him through it, I came to that realization that many parents do-- the one that makes us kind of feel bad, but understanding that it's time for the little bird to stretch his wings a bit: I removed myself from the situation. Now it's a kiss goodbye at the locker and a friendly post-it on his desk and I am gone. His teacher is wonderful and will tell me if he's coming in late, so we can help him adjust his morning routine if need be, but so far, so good. 

All of this is a lot for a kid, any kid. Like myself, Kiddo is often in his own head, easily distracted by friendly faces, and really wants to please. I remember walking to school in first grade, crossing a busy intersection twice, alone, and making my way to my classroom, to the cloak room.... Not that I think that was a great idea, nor am I ready to send Kiddo across any intersection solo, but I know that it's time for him to grow up a wee bit, to manage that part of his day and to get used to that. Now, is this a welcome change for my sweet boy? Not really, but c'mon-- I wasn't expecting him to shout "YES!" and pump his fist when I explained this to him. We all have to do hard things in life. For me, it's making myself walk even when it's crappy outside. For him, it's another step of growing a little more self-reliant. Stuff happens and we have to figure out how to deal with it. When I arrived to pick him up yesterday, he calmly explained that he'd forgotten to bring his lunchbox in from recess. We checked the lost and found first and then went out to the playground. "Do you put your lunchbox in the same place every day?" I asked. His eyes brightened. "I know where it is!" he shouted, leading the way to a small cluster of other forgotten lunchboxes. He is not the only one, and I praised him for 'having a same place to put it every day, that's a great idea'. 

At bedtime, though, that's when those heart truths are revealed. Last night, it was so clear that he was wiped out and sad. Changes can be hard. I told him how much he was growing up and that it was a lot of responsibility, and sometimes that's not easy.... and that the work of getting bigger isn't easy at all. Extra hugs and a kiss. Teary, tired little boys do not need to be told they are tired. "I want to play more" he complained. "Why don't you play in your dreams tonight? Have playful dreams." His reply was that he hadn't been having dreams, which meant that he was obviously exhausted and sleeping hard. "Well, maybe your brain needs a rest, so just think about playing and fun things before you go to sleep..." 

I could not solve the problem for him, but could offer empathy and the choice to enjoy his thoughts. Sometimes, that's all a person can do. 

This morning, though, was so good, it gives me hope. Looking out into the misty morning, Kiddo asked me "Mom, look at that blue jay." In our plum tree a scrub jay was diligently working to crack a nut. "Where's my friend, Mom? That bird?" I asked if he was referring to Sweetie Tweetie, the songs sparrow we named a couple  years ago. "Right there" I pointed out the window. Then, on the way to school, he stopped by the neighbor's yard to point out a spiderweb to me, a golden and brown orb weaver patiently waiting in the center. "Let's observe the spider for a minute, okay?" he asked. We had time and he commented on how beautiful the spider was. 

After dropping him off, I made my way through the neighborhoods at a brisk pace, over to Laurelhurst Park for a turn or two along the paths that border the expanses of muddy lawn and which travel around the pond. Pale lavender cyclamen had popped their heads up just above the grass line. The late white summer magnolias had crumpled in on themselves, the trees are beginning to turn. As I walked near the pond, the ruddy brown, scaly needles of the Cedars of Lebanon crunched under my feet. Only a handful of walkers and joggers were out this morning, so many of us wished each other a good morning and continued our huffing and puffing along, grateful for a morning without rain and avoiding the muddy spots or slippery leaves. 

Growing older means that my feet hurt more than they used to, but that the ache and the sweat feel good when one gets home. Another shower and then the discipline of getting housework done while the getting is good. As I type this, the sun is shining white through a large bank of clouds. They say we're in for a sunny afternoon. More goodness to come.