Body image issues

Thank you, everyone, for your very kind comments on the engagement photos! I love getting comments in general but those were particularly sweet, I think.

Before I get into writing a bit more about how I was feeling bad about my body last week, I did just want to first share that I ran my first (but definitely not last) 5K this past Saturday! It was the Hoboken University Medical Center 5K and my friend Amy and I signed up way back at the beginning of August. We had bibs number 11 and 12, we were that early.

What's funny to me now is that back then, it was a pretty substantial goal to set for myself, signing up for this 5K. Amy told me about how she'd run her first 5K not too long ago and how it was a lot of fun to be part of the large group of people all cheering each other on, and I wanted to get in on that too but wasn't entirely confident in my ability to get there. Thank you, Amy, for inspiring me. I was chugging along on the Couch-to-5K program but my strategy was to run slowly enough that I always felt comfortable, and at that pace I wouldn't reach 5K in 30 minutes.

And yet, when I ran a practice 5K on my own the previous weekend, and then on the actual day of, it wasn't too much of a physical hardship. With Amy's encouragement and the cheering of the NJIT student that got roped into volunteering, I went faster than I'd ever had before, finishing in about 40 minutes (around a 13 minute mile...or a 8 minute kilometer, I suppose!). It was a beautiful day, just perfect weather. Sunny, but not hot until we'd be running for awhile. Clear, crisp air. And, my mom drove all the way up to spectate and was pretty great during the event and right afterwards in treating it like the accomplishment it was for me.

I'm going to hang up the French memo board by my sewing machine soon, mainly for the purpose of sticking inspiration images on it, but in addition to those and the color wheel, I'm also going to put up my Number 11 bib from this 5K. Back in middle school, I worked for 2 years to train and get onto our high school's tennis team and when I succeeded in doing so and then later on achieve a starting singles position, that was a big deal for me. I am not an athlete, not at all, but I can set physical goals and achieve them nonetheless.

I needed to be reminded of that, as well as learn that physical exercise doesn't always have to be a total chore, thanks to the strategy of going slow, free podcasts with engaging content (particularly The Moth), and being consistent about getting myself out there by telling myself that I would feel better afterwards, which helped create a positive cycle of feeling good about what I'd accomplished and seeking to feel that positive feeling again.

So yeah, that was pretty cool! The thing that rather marred the rest of the day was that my mom kept commenting on how I should exercise further and really lose the weight I put on since I stopped playing tennis in high school. She means well, and it comes from a place of love (my family and I generally subscribe to the "we wouldn't bother with you if we didn't care" philosophy of relationships), but it's grating nonetheless and it's another one of those things that I can only help make better by trying to adjust my attitude to it.

But it's hard, and I do very much crave my parents' good opinion. They're smart people, and right about a lot of things, and they do have my best interests at heart. I just wish that I were stronger in letting comments about my weight roll of my back, you know?

I was talking to Dan about how I was upset afterwards and coincidentally reading from articles about how activity level is much more closely correlated with health than thinness, etc. (like this one, for a good primer), and he reminded me that such an argument is not very convincing to a person like my mom when coming from me because it would just sound like rationalization. He set forth my options as either telling her about these kinds of articles, which wouldn't be effective, or exercising more myself and losing weight and then telling her, so that I don't sound like I'm just looking for justifications for my own current behavior, but I told him that I didn't want either and instead, what I wanted this:
  1. To feel good about my body and its level of fitness
  2. To not be so easily affected by others' judgments that I can't change.
Seems like both not too much to ask and a pretty big mountain to climb, at the same time.

Once I got that out, I felt a lot better about life in general and mostly ended the funk I went into after I first saw the engagement photos. I looked at them quickly between meetings while I was at work and on the first viewing, all I could think of was, oh god, I look fat! Am I Fat? Well I look fat! Oh god I can't believe that's all I can think of right now! And...I'm actually feeling bad about myself now! What the hell, self?! What good are all those positive body image blogs you've been reading for now, if you're just going to let stupid stuff like this get to you?!

And so on, and so forth. And I was being so good about sticking to my 'if you're exactly the same shape and weight at the end of the C25K program it's totally ok, it's just about your cardiovascular health!' attitude, for the most part.

As a result, Robin's post on Diet Creep was pretty perfectly timed for the mood that I was in:
I hate our culture’s fear/hatred of fat and its mandate to be perpetually dissatisfied with our bodies to begin with. And body negativity is yet another thing I find generally objectionable that is magnified by a factor of UGH in the context of weddings.

And I hate that it is GETTING TO ME. Me! A believer in fat acceptance!


And that kind of thinking has got to stop. I can’t let my self-worth rest on how I look or how much I weigh. I shouldn’t hold myself to standards that I find abhorrent when applied to other women. It’s hypocritical, disingenuous, and lame.

And it’s a miserable way to live life, and I’m not looking for new ways to feel bad. I don’t want to think about fitting into a dress when I exercise; I want to think about being stronger and more flexible and not getting winded when I run to catch a bus. I don’t want to eat more veggies to save on calories; I want to eat more veggies to get more vitamins. Eff that, I want to eat more veggies because veggies are yummy. And then I want some ice cream. And beer. Possibly in the same mug.

And I don’t want to see women buying dresses that don’t fit in hopes of forcing weight loss. I don’t want there to be hours of cable television programming devoted to shaming women for having visible back fat when wearing a strapless gown. I don’t want people to refuse to let me take their photograph. I don’t want people to feel bad about themselves every time they step on a scale or try to buy new jeans or look in a mirror.  I don’t want people to tell me that I need to eat a sandwich, or that I need to drop my fucking sandwich, or that I need to do anything with sandwiches!

This war has to start at home.
YES. And yes.

Throughout the rest of the week, it also definitely helped that positive comments from my friends started coming in, unbidden by me.
"Oh, KWu, I LOVE the slideshow. LOVE it. You look stunning" - Lindsay

"KWu, your engagement/wedding pics with Dan are absolutely gorgeous! I love the ones with you in a blue dress, you look so pretty." - Emily

"Girlie, you look absolutely wonderful in your engagement photos. You are a beautiful girl." - Amy
Because it helped remind me to dig my head out of the warped self-image hole it was in, and it also reminded me of how it breaks my heart when my girl friends get down on themselves or avoid photographs, and when my sister gets frustrated with shopping because she can't find any clothes that fit but she talks about it as though it's her fault for having a 'weird' body shape and not the fact that it's just hard to find clothes that fit right in general. Her, the athlete! Really, it makes me so sad, and also rather angry that so many women everywhere struggle with this for all their lives.

And I'm really pleased to say, now that I look at our engagement photos over and over again, I'm able to see past my so-called 'flaws' and see how we look happy, how the composition and light and lines are so crisp and clear thanks to Kelly's skill, and how we're very lucky to be where we are.

Ok, just a few more quick hits before I go to bed:

Via Sally at Already Pretty, a really great, positive fashion and body image blog, this article about Body Image & The Diet Mentality: Letting Go of Shame:
“The truth is we live in a shame-based culture that says that if your body differs from the coveted thin physique, something is intrinsically wrong with you and in need of fixing.” They also write, “You feel ashamed that you have not changed your body in the way you feel you must in order to be happy and successful.”

But the thing about shame is that it stomps on your body image, on self-care and on your health and well-being. It squashes your spirit. And, most important of all, you deserve better.
Also recommended: Sally on "What is flattering?" and "There is no one way to look great" (basically, you do not have to only go for 'thin, tall, hourglass' which took this post from Sara at Orchids in Buttonholes to jolt me into realizing I bought into that one ideal without questioning)

And lastly, this post from Eat the Damn Cake on the damaging effects of talking about "tweaking":
Everyone could always stand to look a little better. Even Angelina Jolie doesn’t like her cheeks sometimes. Or her thighs. Which, the magazines tell us emphatically, is endearing. It makes her a little more human. Because we’re all like that. We all know we really could stand to look a little better. Even when we don’t actively hate the way we look. Even when we’re having a good day. I’ve seen it so many times. I’ve done it so many more times. And because it’s so ubiquitous, I don’t have to think about what it is, or what it means. Or if I think about it, I can just say, “Human nature! We’re all striving to be better. That’s why we built the pyramids! Or, um, had a bunch of slaves build them…That’s why we enslaved those people in the first place! That’s why there’s civilization! Because we’re always tweaking. Always improving.”

But it doesn’t matter. We want to tweak. We see the details, not the whole. We sometimes admit that we look pretty good from a reasonable distance. And then, upon coming closer, all is revealed! All of the problems are right there, literally, on the surface.

It’s disrespectful, really. What are our poor faces and bodies supposed to do? They don’t change easily, or at all, except to keep aging. Or without a lot of painful surgery. They aren’t doing anything wrong. They’re functioning—allowing us to communicate, move around, have sex, look surprised, smile, mime, dance, whatever. And we can’t stop criticizing them.

We need to recognize tweaking for what it is: a vicious, insidious, constant attack. It doesn’t sound vicious, because it’s directed at little things. You aren’t saying, “I’m hideous!” You’re saying, “I’d be a little bit more attractive if…” It’s deceptive. It’s like a parent telling their child, “You’ll never be quite as smart as your brother, but if you get a little better at math, maybe you have a shot.”


So the next time you find yourself in front of a mirror, and you automatically begin the familiar list in your head, “If only your chin was a little less pronounced…” Maybe you should stop. Maybe you should un-roast instead. Maybe you should pick a tiny detail that is really cool, special, weird in a good way, or just interesting. Maybe you should pick the same detail, and figure out what makes it interesting. Maybe you should remember a person who remarked on that exact feature, except to say, “I love your chin! It’s so distinctive. That is a chin so proud and noble and brave that it could’ve inspired civilization. It could’ve, you know, motivated the building of the pyramids.”
I'll go first.

Un-Roast: I have great hair. It's shiny, thick, and with a good haircut, I can always just air-dry and go. Even when I smush it under a bike helmet while it's still wet, it retaliates with a cute flippy effect that I couldn't achieve on purpose if I tried.

Oh and you should also check out Becca's "I F*cking Rule" series of posts.

[edit] And APW for the win, as always: "On Owning Inspiration"
So, my challenge to us today is to think about the ways we take what should inspire us, and turn it into something we can’t hope to aspire to… because it’s so much less scary that way. What do we tune out as ‘not an option for me’? Is it a stylish wedding dress (notice I didn’t say an expensive wedding dress)? Is it a stylish wardrobe? Is it attacking items on our life list? Is it trying for a great job? Living in a great city? Doing something a little more ambitious with your personal blog? Writing more? Having a braver marriage? What is it? Because my hunch is, the things we tell ourselves can’t be done are the things we most need to give ourselves permission to do. Because why not us? Why not now? Really. Why not?


Mrs T said...

I hate that you felt fat after looking at your engagement photos. I thought you looked beautiful. And I am not just saying that. You two make a really cute couple.

I think everyone always feels funny about photos of themselves - it's weird looking at yourself frozen in time for a split second.

Congrats on running the 5k. You must be so proud!

Mrs T said...

P.s. You really do have great hair too!

Anonymous said...

I was already loving this post when I got to the part where you linked to me! And I love the other links you shared! Thank you.

Also, un-roast for me: I have "she's born with it" eyelashes.

Angie said...

I'm going to unroast you some more: You are a fabulous writer who is real and focused and straight forward. You're no nonsense and you pep yourself up when you need it. LOVE IT!

I come from a similar household. Weight is always an issue with my grandmother, but she still shoves rice, Filipino food and treats in our face. She's heartbroken if you don't finish your food or take her up on an extra piece of Lumpia. It's wild and crazy and unfortunately, we are left making sense of it all. Sorry my metabolism can't keep up with everyone else when I grew up eating rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. :)

Looking good starts from within. When we feel good about what we put into our body that happiness translates outside. I'm a firm believer of that. And while I have my own set of body image issues that bother me almost daily, I still remind myself of this. And I'm so proud of you for doing the Couch to 5K! I want to do it too!

Unroast to me: Despite my lack of activity I've managed to have great calves. And I enjoy having clear skin. :)

Lisa said...

ah yes. a topic I know all too well.

first- you. are. adorable!!!!!!!!!! I loved your engagement shots and your awesome clothes! I love reading your blog.

second- I can totally understand the photo panic. both my sister in laws just got married and they might each weigh 100 lbs if that. i felt like in their wedding photos it was like them and some hippo in a teal dress. alas, I will never be a size 2 and I love food. I'm still working on striking that balance

props for the 5k! i'm so impressed!

Anonymous said...

WOW 5K good work! When we had our engagement was only after months of putting it off telling myself I would lose another 10 pounds before..

I had a similar pep talk with myself...and I completely agree with Angie that looking good starts within.

DOUBLE, TRIPLE props on the 5k! And your engagement shoot is ADORABLE!

Susan Greenhalgh said...

Kwu - I know this is late but CONGRATULATIONS on running the 5K! I can imagine how proud you must have been to know that you could do it and with relative ease at that! Don't let what your Mom said bother you. We(moms) have a tendancy to give unsolicited 'advice'. There is not a woman around who is happy with every part of her body. Some things we can change. Some things we can't. But the one thing that we can always change is our perception. You are a beautiful, intelligent, caring, fun-loving, creative (I can go on and on!) woman and the more you focus on the positve the negatives won't seem all that important. Don't worry about what others think. You have no control over that. You just feel good about yourself and it will radiate throughout.

Kate said...

Way to un-roast!! Thanks for linking to me here. And I guess I can handle losing to APW... :)

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