Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fat Bike

Preface: I started writing this post a few days ago and then stopped myself. I wasn't sure that I wanted to post it at all, but I think this is an ongoing issue that humans, and in particular, females are dealing with continuously and while I don't have the answer or the solution for anyone, perhaps it will be a good point of discussion or a means for someone to vent or share stories. Maybe I'm just rambling to try to sort through my own thoughts. I'm not entirely sure, but I'm going to attempt to make sense of the thoughts that have been rolling around for the last several days and hopefully others will be willing to offer personal insights or thoughts on the matter. 

Over the last several weeks, Sam's and my schedules haven't been the most normal. We haven't spent a ton of time together during this stint, and while that may work well for some couples, I prefer to have at least some amount of time together to vent about happenings or just simply to be in the same room. So, when we had a morning free of obligations recently, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to spend a little time together.

My suggestion was that we ride to the gym for a morning workout and then ride to breakfast afterward. A couple of months ago we stopped our kickboxing regimen that had existed for nearly 5 years, so I was feeling as though something was missing, and if I'm totally honest, I've started to feel a little extra blubbery after our departure, even though I've continued to work out in various forms. Additionally, I find it challenging to motivate myself to go to the gym by myself, particularly in the summer months. It's warm and sunny, and all I want to do is wander around in the world taking in the goodness.

Sam agreed to this plan the night prior, but when we awoke the following morning, nothing seemed to go right. I over slept and was displeased that Sam hadn't woke me from my slumber. I understood his reasoning (trying to allow me some extra rest), but I was still irritated because it felt as though the whole morning had been thrown off. I also wasn't physically doing well. I was having a hard time standing upright due to a project I should not have participated in a few days prior, so I was trying to work out some kinks in the body.

By the time I finished my leisurely rising and petting of the dogs, the morning was quickly escaping. I figured I'd better get dressed rather than continuing to lollygag or it would delay things further, but just as I was slipping on my t-shirt, our doorbell rang.

A familiar voice could be heard just outside the front door, so I went to greet our friend and we cackled and chatted about summer, her now-second year high schooler returning to classes, and the vegetables overtaking our garden. Some people are just those I can speak with for long periods and not realize we've been chatting for hours. By the time we were finished and she went on about her day, it was nearly 11a. [sigh]

I looked at Sam and asked, "So, do you still want to do breakfast? Looks like we're not going to work out beforehand though because I am really hungry now."

We agreed that we'd ride to get bagels and then get about the day. As we started down the road, I felt fat. I felt that even my bike was making me appear fatter, which is not something I'm used to experiencing. I was fussing with my shirt that felt as though it was riding half way up my back. I pictured rolls of skin being exposed to anyone traveling by, even though logic, if it had been working that day, would have told me that my shirt was just barely sitting above the waistline of my shorts. I could feel my body expanding beyond the confines of my clothing and no amount of stretching or pulling was resolving the issue. The shorts I had on were riding up and pinching at the saddle. My stomach felt as though it was protruding particularly far and as I pedaled all I could feel was the wiggling and jiggling of extra weight attached to several parts of my body.

Most women understand that one does not necessarily need to be fat in order to feel fat. While I definitely do have more than my share of extra meat on my body, there are simply days that I have that feeling of being fat which comes from a whole different place than physical fat on the body. Lots of things can contribute to this. It could be that I didn't drink enough water the day prior, or that I had too much sodium. It could be that I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. It could be premenstrual bloating. It could be something that someone said that unwittingly seeped into my subconscious. There are a number of potential factors at play with this feeling though, so sometimes it's difficult to pinpoint the exactness of how the fat feeling came about on any particular day.

Sam and I weren't even a half mile from home when I proclaimed I was returning to the house. In my mind, all I could hear was snickering from non-existent people we were passing saying, "Fat girl on a bike coming through... make way!" I just felt gross.

At first, I thought switching to a different bike or a simple change of clothing would help, but that, as anyone who has experienced the frustration of looking at a closet full of clothing and feeling as though there is nothing to wear can testify, did not go well.

There I lay, face down on the bed, dogs sniffing at my face as I cried into a pillow. I felt Sam walk into the room, but he didn't say a word. He likely had no clue what was running through my mind and may have wondered if he'd done something to upset me.
                                                         
A few days later, I was on Facebook for a brief catch-up. I don't spend a lot of time there because most often I find there is little of value to me personally, but it was a rather well timed check-in that afforded me the opportunity to see a quick quote-post from a friend on the subject I'd just days before been battling myself.
*Image found here
The post read:
Stop worrying about whether you're fat. You're not fat. Or, rather, you're sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this. -- Cheryl Strayed

For some of us, we're more than "a little bit fat," but I get the point or the quote, and most days I agree with the sentiment. It's such a meaningless waste of time to expend energy beating ourselves up.

The comments that followed made an impression on me as well. I'll simply use first initials to identify the parties for purposes here.
I was amazed! First, the fact that a whole range of ages of women are obsessed with their weight is mind-boggling. In my experience, most of the women who worry about such things tend to be rather fit and/or normal sized humans, yet they beat themselves up over 5-20 extra pounds - based on a chart that a doctor told them was their "ideal" weight.

I also understand the response by E when she said she is "permanently damaged." As someone who grew up with daily and weekly weigh-ins as a child, I completely empathize with those who are traumatized for one reason or another in regard to weight. In my case, it was very conflicting messages... You will be weighed in by a parent every week to make sure you're not gaining weight (or, as became the case as I got a little older, that I was losing weight) combined with a very unbalanced, unstructured, and frankly unhealthy diet and lack of emotionally-healthy role models.
In some respect, I look at E's comment as a means of justifying how she feels. She is damaged and therefore it is acceptable and almost necessary for her to feel justified in her body self-bashing. I don't think this is a healthy response or thought, and even though she may feel that words cannot heal her state of being, I think her own thoughts are doing more detriment to her mental state than she imagines.

I don't know E. I know J, and E is simply one of her Facebook friends making a comment, but I know those thoughts, those feelings. I know there is nothing healthy, good, or positive that comes from these thoughts. Nearly everyone has them at some point - some more often than others - but when we live in constant self-hatred, self-bashing, how can we ever learn to accept who we are or to love ourselves or anyone else for that matter (to semi-steal a quote from RuPaul)?
It is almost as though it is expected that women (I'm using women here because I'm part of that gender and know what has happened to me personally, but I won't assume that males are not subject to this sort of thing either) constantly obsess and fuss over their weight. If I were to tell people that I really don't care about my weight and mean it, I would immediately be judged and (more than likely) get a few sets of sideways eyebrow-glares. If I am an average weight or slim size, women say, "Well, that's because you're already the perfect size/weight, so of course you don't worry about it;" and when, such as is the case for me, we are overweight, other women think or sometimes even say aloud, "Well, maybe you should be worried about your weight." And yes, this does happen. If you've never witnessed it yourself, count yourself lucky because people are surprisingly okay with telling others how, who and what they should be.
I have read studies that were much higher than this figure estimates, (one suggested women lose up to 17 years of life thinking about weight and diet) but even losing a year of life thinking about weight is disturbing.
*Image found here
There is always someone judging, but I think our own thoughts and words do the most damage. I was raised with the idea that I should weigh myself every single day so that I would always know my weight. But weighing daily quickly turned into an easy way to hate my body when it rebelled against what I was doing to improve it. It was far too easy to focus on that number instead of the actual changes taking place or how I felt. Then, I became that number. Those three digits were literally my identifier. When I spoke to others, when I went about my day, any time I went to put a bite of food in my mouth - that label became all I could see in my minds eye.

The best thing I ever did in regard to this matter was to stop weighing myself.

I'll admit, it wasn't the easiest decision to make and even though I had others encouraging me to drop the scale, I fought it for a long time. There is a part of me to this very day that sometimes wonders how I can function without knowing what I weigh, which is sad in itself.

Then, I remind myself that my clothes still fit and I can move and do the things I need and want to do, so the number on a scale is inconsequential. Every time I have a passing thought about weighing myself I stop and ask, is anything positive going to come from this action? Am I going to feel better or will I enter the day feeling empowered in any way? The answer is always, no. So, I don't drag out the scale.

The fact remains, I am not at my slimmest. I don't need a scale to tell me a number to know that I have been lighter at various points in time. Bashing myself does nothing to change my weight though and knowing the number often only makes matters worse. I know that there are factors affecting weight beyond what I do and what I eat as well, and it is the same for many on the planet.

When a person comes from a family of meaty individuals, it is going to play a role in weight. My entire life doctors have tried to tell me that it's purely a matter of calories in versus calories out that is reflected on the scale, but I know for a fact that isn't always the case. Some may view this as my own attempt to feel better about myself (and that is perfectly acceptable if you are one of these individuals), but I've done enough long term experiments to recognize that there is more to weight than simply exercise and nutrition. I understand that weight is not a math problem to be solved with a simple formula. If it was, the answer would be easy and nearly everyone would be a "perfect" size.

Of course, then I wonder what society would be if we all looked exactly the same? It strikes me as rather boring to think about walking out into the world and seeing carbon copies all around me. Part of body composition is evolutionary, I'm convinced. There were those in our history who needed to be slim, fast and long-legged to be able to out run beasts they were hunting for food. Others needed to hold on to more weight to be able to survive lengthy periods without food or famine. How could this not survive in our cells as they get passed down through generations?

Throughout history, different body types have been the sought-after ideal. Even today different cultures view weight and size quite differently. For the western world, our Eurocentric viewpoint is often all that is considered though, and today the idolized body type for a female is one that is lean - though I do see this changing very slowly to a viewpoint that encourages and accepts strong bodies. But, this just feels like yet another goal for women to achieve that, let's face it, won't be attainable for every body type. Additionally, many resources that encourage the strong body don't even show images of individuals who are strong but look different from each other (meaning the represented ideal is still a slim and mildly muscle-y individual).

Until we as a society learn to accept ourselves and each other as we are without need to comment on someone else's appearance, there will always be an ideal that is expected; and when one is incapable of living up to that expectation, there will be self-blaming and continued feelings of inadequacy.

Or, maybe that's just how I feel.

If I take a moment and rewind to the day I cried into the pillow because I felt fat while riding and therefore unworthy of existing in the world, I wish I could take this more rational self and beam her into that moment. I wish I could have the strong me that exists 90% of the time standing by the weak and fragile 10% to tell her that she is okay. That she is strong and capable, even if there are moments of vulnerability to the outside world. I wish I could tell her that we all feel unworthy or less-than at times and that it will pass. I wish I could tell her not to lose out on a moment with someone she loves, just because her brain is temporarily telling her she is unacceptable or undeserving.

But, that isn't the way life works. I can't go back in time or even hold on to the majority of strong moments to help the weak side of me get through the more difficult times. Instead, I have to keep working to be able to bring out the strong side when the weak side is insistent upon taking over. I'm not sure it's possible in today's world to make that happen, but I continue to try.

Truthfully, I am saddened that this topic is so prevalent and pertinent in our society. I can't help but think if we as individuals used all the energy we expend worrying or thinking about how we look or how others perceive us we could make actual, tangible change in the world. We could combine our efforts and do something that actually matters.

I realize the likelihood of individuals giving up this time-killer obsession with looks and weight is slim to none, but a girl can dream.

Post Script: Kendra's comment below got me thinking about past posts on this same subject, so I thought I'd link them here if anyone is curious. The first one is here and talked about the plateau I was experiencing and the other one I'll link can be found here where I talked a bit about my history with weight and food and how I hoped (and continue to hope today) that we'd start to see more diverse athletic role models. 

8 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this! Even though it seems to be talked about more and more these days, it seems impossible to ever capture the range of experience that people have had with weight and size. Even as plus size or curvy or athletic women are becoming more celebrated, it seems like slim or thin women are almost blamed for being "unfeminine" (as if they can control their bodies any more than any other woman can).

    As someone who has been congratulated for looking good when she is at her thinnest and unhealthiest (dealing with mental issues, not exercising, etc.), and on the edge of overweight and told she looks awful at her healthiest (exercising and eating well), its hard not to get conflicting messages. Even though we can all see that its wiser and better for us to ignore all of the bull s**t surrounding our appearances, its hard to remember this when you're trying on your 20th pair of jeans for the day and you haven't yet found a pair that will go over your thighs.

    Anyways, bravo. I really enjoyed reading this.

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    1. Niki,

      Thank you for your comments. I do think the topic is discussed more openly today than in the past, and I think that is the start of (hopefully) change.

      I remember a time in my late teens to early 20's when I decided I was going to lose weight no matter what it took and I basically starved myself in an attempt to drop the weight. I was eating about 600-800 calories a day and lost 60 pounds in the span of about 2 months. Terrifying to think of this today! Of course, I regained the weight because eating 600 calories a day was not sustainable. I was a full time student with two jobs (one of which required me to move around my entire shift), so it was ludicrous to think it was something I could maintain. Still, people would tell me how great I looked, even though I was probably my unhealthiest at that point - malnutrition, lack of exercise, etc. It's amazing how the positive comments can keep us going down a bad track, especially (at least for me) in my younger years.

      Ignoring the b.s. is always the way to go I think, but as you said, in the moment it can be very, very difficult to do. Sometimes just taking the time to think about a situation after the fact helps so that it isn't repeated in the future... other times, it feels like a never ending battle to escape it.

      Ack! :)

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  2. I think that you may be at your most powerful as a writer when you reflect on body image. I know you don't like to dwell on it, but what you have to say is so important. In fact, I think the first time I ever responded to one of your posts was the one where you explained why you had stopped updating the blog feature that tracked your weight loss. You had hit a plateau and felt discouraged by the constant reminder that came with that part of the blog. You posted pictures of yourself at your highest weight, and you looked so happy. That post moved me to tears.

    When I think of how much power that number on the scale has over us....well, I'm at a loss. It's toxic. Thank you for taking this up!

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    1. Ah, yes. I remember the frustration of hitting that plateau, Kendra. It was not long after that post that I decided to just ditch the scale entirely because it wasn't helping me in any way. I find it strange - though in many ways understandable - that sometimes I am happier in a heavier body. That isn't always the case, but often the fight to get to a weight (that is still way over what it should be anyway) becomes so frustrating that I wonder why I fight it so much. I think the last couple of years have allowed me to just accept what my body is. I may not always be happy with the situation, and it often feels as though my body does whatever it wants to do regardless of my effort level, but I've kind of reached a point that I've said that I'll do what I can, but I just can't obsess about it any more.

      I recall your comment on the post about my plateau, and I definitely appreciated it. At that point, I really did have hope that everything would resolve itself and things would head downward (weight-wise) again. I think one thing it has taught me - the fighting so hard to lose and then ultimately gaining - is that we really do need to just appreciate what we have. We all have different bodies and the sooner we accept and celebrate it, I think we'll be much better off. That scale always wants to creep into life though and take away any positive thoughts or feelings. Unfortunately, I think this will be a life-long struggle, battling what I know I should think and feel and those darn moments that sneak in without warning.

      Thank YOU for sticking around and always having thoughtful words. I do so appreciate it! :)

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  3. Believe me, you are not alone. Just this morning I was beating myself up about my protruding tummy, which refuses to give up any of the fat it has accumulated over time. I am very petite and generally quite slim except for my tummy, and there have been times when people have offered me a seat on the train thinking I am pregnant!!! I took up cycling, then running, now also swimming... I try not to eat more than 1.200 calories a day ... Have cut out sugar and white flour. I have lost some weight ... But only 3 kilos, which seems not much given the effort I am putting in. I often feel exactly the way you felt that morning, and I am not sure I am entirely to blame. It is all very well for the self- confident to say one should ignore society's messages on the ideal female body, but it is difficult. Every shopping trip for clothes seems like an exercise in humiliation, even more so in hot weather when the pressure is on to show lots of trim, toned skin. Sigh.

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    1. I may have shared this at a prior time, but when I was about 10 years old, I had a friend whose mother was pretty thin throughout her body but had a slightly protruding stomach. I remember asking my friend one day when the baby was coming, only to be informed that her mother was not pregnant. BIG oops! That moment has always stuck with me because I didn't in any way mean it as an insult, but I knew her mom had overheard us and I was mortified! I had just never known anyone at that point in my life with such a body type that wasn't having a baby. It taught me quickly though that we are all different and I should never make assumptions about others.

      I think we all have our struggles with trying on clothes. I find pants and jeans entirely difficult because of my legs. It is SO frustrating to try them on and have to go up 2-3 sizes to get my legs to fit and then have the waist gaping, drooping and/or falling down. I have said on more than one occasion to Sam that if I were ever going to have liposuction (which I likely wouldn't because I've seen too many horror stories with botched liposuction surgeries), it would be to remove the excess from my middle leg area. I can deal with the stomach, thigh, hip, rear, etc, but having so much extra in an area that most (nearly all) do not, it's very, very frustrating. I suppose my point is that I understand having a particular area of the body that hangs on to more than we would like.

      I have given up worrying about what I look like in shorts or skirts in the summer. I just wear them and figure if someone doesn't like it, they don't have to look at me. :)

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  4. One time I had to get minor surgery. The anesthesiologist asked for my weight, and I genuinely did not know. The (female) nurse standing next to him rolled her eyes at me and said "Oh come on now! What woman doesn't know her exact weight?" But in fact I hadn't weighed myself in over 7 years.

    In any case, so they weighed me. And then the same nurse made it a point to not only say the figure over and over, but remark that I was soooo much heavier then she would have thought by looking at me. I am pretty sure she did this deliberately, irked by the fact she thought I had been "pretending" not to know my weight.

    Sigh.

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    1. I can't help but giggle a bit about this because I've had a similar experience (It isn't funny ha-ha, but rather unbelievable when I hear or experience these situations). I think we as women can be far tougher on each other than males generally are to females.

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