While I was at the reunion last weekend, I found myself describing my college-aged self as a "head on a string". This came up during my discussion this past week with my nutritionist, S., who was trying to understand my mixed feelings about the reunion and my TWELVE-POUND weight loss. Twelve pounds. I'm very happy about it, but I'm also really appalled at myself too. S. wants me to celebrate my weight loss and to begin thinking of myself in kinder terms. More frighteningly, she wants me to stand in front of my only full-length mirror (currently propped up behind the bathroom door and used only to make sure that my hemline is not obscene) and tell myself that I love and accept my body as it is today. I told her I'm not sure I can do that, so we started to explore this weird mind-body thing that I have going on. And it was very difficult.
It's difficult to acknowledge the longevity of the disconnect that I have with my body -- it's something that I remember from childhood. It's in my earliest memories (falling down the cellar steps, falling out of the bunk bed). Later in my childhood, I learned to distrust my body and recognize what it couldn't do. I learned to see my body as a betrayer and as something that limited me -- the mysterious "virus" in my hip that kept me bedridden for weeks, the regular visits to Dr. Diamond's clinic with the other disabled children, getting into trouble for playing "jump off the shed" with the other kids, tripping over every.single.one.of.the.hurdles on field day in sixth grade. In adolescence, I don't really remember giving much thought to my body or the way I looked. I was off in la-la-land much of the time and didn't want to be noticed the rest of the time. My view of my body at that time was strictly utilitarian -- it contained my brain, which is where all the action was, where anything interesting was going on. The body stuff... well, that was just running up and down the bleachers in high school, something that both bored me and terrified me, given my lack of coordination!
I think that, for many reasons, that disconnect between body and mind persists to this day. That's why looking at myself in the mirror feels so dangerous to me. That's why "affirming" the way I am physically right now feels impossible.
Here are some images. The first two are pleasant photos -- they make me feel good about myself. They are from a very happy time in my life, the Rome Semester, Spring, 1986. How could I have not been happy? I was 19, healthy, and on a huge adventure. These pictures also represent an idealized version of myself -- the standard against which I tend to compare my present. I know that is stupid - 19 is many moons ago. The funny thing is, I don't recall ever giving any amount of thought to my body or the way I looked. As long as I was decently covered and warm (it was COLD in Via del Pescaccio, 103), that was enough for me. Again, more utilitarianism, more instrumentalism -- the body is good only insofar as it serves to enable experiences for the mind and soul. Yes, I know how it sounds.
Now, I contrast that idealized version of myself with the present reality. Note that this is when I was TRYING to look good. I called this image "uggh.jpg".
A funny, and true story about this dress at the reunion (I feel the need for some levity, even if it's at my own expense): In Haggar cafeteria on Saturday, I was talking to one of my friends, A.H., who reads this blog (hey A!). She asked if I were wearing "the red dress" and I replied that I was. I told her that I'd gone to Target in the morning and had gotten some Assets by Spanx pantyhose, that I'd also come prepared with a Spanx bodyshaper, and that the dress itself comes with something called Magi-sculpt, which is essentially a tube within the dress itself designed to smooth out all the places you want to smooth out. But, I said, "There's not enough spandex in the world to take care of THIS situation." We laughed so hard we nearly cried. One of our classmates was at the table and was intrigued by our laughter. He came up to me later and told me he had to know what we were laughing about because it was so great to see us. Poor S., I told him. His response was very funny. See why I love these people?
Here's another that is better. I look contented.
Notice that it's a headshot? Hmmmm.
Most of the time, I don't really think at all about how I look -- I avoid mirrors, I don't wear makeup or do my hair. As long as I'm decently covered and cool in the summer, warm in the winter, that is enough for me.
You see the problem.
I think I need to read this again. But I will do it in front of the mirror, which I've taken out from behind the bathroom door.