What We’re Really Talking About When We Talk About Our Bodies

July 24, 2013

Half MarathonSo.

There was this one time about 7 years ago that I gained some weight. It wasn’t a lot, but it was enough that I worried. It was the very first time it had ever happened to me and I decided it was a problem I needed to correct immediately. I signed up for a weight loss program and began a long year of tracking all the food I ate and weighing in weekly.

There were some good moments. For one, it was easy to lose weight. I lost about a pound and a half a week, and I felt like I’d accomplished something big when I reached my first goal. I learned more about nutrition, learned to cook a little, and felt pretty great about how I looked. I also started exercising regularly and started spending a lot of my free time doing active things, like hiking and yoga.

There were also some not so good moments. At a certain point my weight loss stalled, and regardless of what I did to try to regain the magic of my early weight loss days, the scale simply would not move.

wedding day danceAfter several months of redoubling my efforts a few things happened. One, I burned out. Two, I became pretty obsessed with everything weight related. What followed was several years of yo-yoing. I felt like I was doing everything I could to not gain weight, yet it just kept happening. At one point I was on a raw food diet–meaning I basically ate vegetable juice, salads, and sweet potatoes, and was still managing to gain weight. Those years were super painful. I wouldn’t say I ever got really big (at my highest I was about a size 12/14), but I definitely had a big problem in my head. I was obsessive about my weight and drastic in the things I did to try to change it, swinging from “I don’t care, I’ll eat whatever I want” (translation: I’m eating as a way to mask how painful this experience  is for me) to “If I don’t lose weight I will never be happy” (translation: I’m not eating as a way to mask how painful this experience is for me).  Neither position was healthy, and I went through some shaky times.

It took a couple of years and several doctors to clear things up. After a while I settled at a weight I felt fairly comfortable at and have been able to arrive at a healthier mental state. But I definitely have some residue left over from my weight loss experience. For one, I listen hard when people talk about their bodies. I feel like they are saying so much when they look in the mirror and say “Ugh. I hate my arms,” or “What happened to me? I used to be so toned.”

I’ve come to believe that the way we feel about our bodies tends to have nothing to do with reality. I have seen tiny women bemoan their chubby thighs the same way I’ve seen larger women do. I’ve seen people point to nonexistent lovehandles. I’ve seen women stand around talking about their worst features as if it was fun. I’ve also come to believe that having a thin, attractive body is not the fast track to happiness that so many of us believe it is. You can look great and be miserable. It’s all about perspective. If you aren’t happy you aren’t happy, regardless of what kind of body you are living in.

Angels LandingAlso, a lot of us take away everything else that we’re made up of and boil it down to one issue–fat or thin? We can be  intelligent, kind, creative, funny and sexy, and the only thing you think you are is fat. So what is it that we’re really saying when we say we want to be thin? Do we want to be loved? Special? Admired? Accepted? Cherished? Do we want to be happy? Comfortable in our own skin?

So does your weight just not matter? Of course it matters. If I’ve learned anything, its that ignoring your body doesn’t work. It’s what hauls you around on your grand adventures. It’s what gets you up in the morning and drives you to work.  It’s what looks back at you in the mirror.

Whenever I run into an issue that is causing me significant stress I like to give it the “End of Life Test.” And by that I mean that I imagine it is the end of my life and I am on my deathbed. Does the issue I’m so concerned with have any bearing in that moment? When it comes to weight, my personal answer is yes and no. No, I will not wish that I’d had thinner thighs or lived off of diet shakes so I could fit into a size 4. But yes, maybe I will wish that I’d taken better care of my body so I could do all the  things that matter: play with my kids, work hard, experience less stress.

So what if you have a long road to health ahead of you? So what if you’re behind in the game and need to make some big changes? You can do it–start today. And in the meantime, treat yourself like you treat your best friend. I’ll bet you don’t dwell for a second on her arms or hips or thighs. When you look at her, you see all those late night conversations and that time she did a Cher impression that made you laugh so hard you peed your pants, or the afternoon she brought you a grocery bag full of pizzas and ice cream and a tiny stuffed elephant because for a whole week you’d thought you were pregnant and when you found out you weren’t you were devastated. That’s what the people who love you see as well. Be one of those people who loves you.

first moments with SamI think we all know what we need to do. We know we need to exercise and eat well and say no to unhealthy foods more often than we say yes. But we also need to look in the mirror and say thank you. Thank you for making it possible for me to swim in a waterfall in Costa Rica and have my babies and dance like a ridiculous grasshopper at that summer wedding. Thank you. I’ll do better at taking care of you–but for today, just thank you.

You may have noticed the pictures scattered through this post. These are  pictures of important moments in my life over the last few years–the finish line of a half marathon, the pinnacle of a challenging hike, my first day with my baby, dancing on my wedding day. Those were moments that couldn’t have happened without my body and yet I don’t remember thinking much about it in those moments–so I’m taking the opportunity to say it: thank you. 

9 thoughts on “What We’re Really Talking About When We Talk About Our Bodies

  1. Pam F

    What a wonderful post! This is so very true. I was thinking about this the other day. I have been the same – at one time so fit and thin. Then life got difficult, then it really was hard. My body bore the brunt of the stress, eating, not exercising etc. Recently I took a good look at myself and realized I am not doing the most important person – me – justice. In the last week I set an appt for a primary care doctor, skin, eyes and teeth. Passing the espresso except for one in the morning. I can do it, I am worth it. You voice it beautifully!
    Janesville, California

  2. kat hildebrandt

    Thank you for this blog. i had a big eating disorder and till this day 20 years later i fight it every day. I still see myself as FAT , i am only a size 10..but i see myself as a bigger size.. I eat well and exercise every day.But it never seems like enough.
    This blog has made a lot of sense and i am going to try it .thanks :)

  3. Amy

    I thought I had made strides in changing my lifestyle and lost 50 lbs, but over the past year and four months I have gained it all back and I feel very embarrassed and humiliated. I seemed to hit a point where I just couldn’t monitor everything I put in m mouth, and when I let go, it unraveled like a spring that was wound too tight. I feel humiliated and embarrassed. These food issues are so visible to the world. I have arthritis in my back and every reason to be healthy. I still don’t know what the answer is, but you have reminded me that I can still value and appreciate my many other gifts and enjoy my life while I work through this. Thank you — and so glad to read that you are enjoying your baby so much!

    1. jenna Post author

      Hi Amy,
      I’ve been thinking about your comment all day, and if I had the answer I would give it to you in a heartbeat! If you were my best friend and sitting on my couch this is what I’d tell you: Everyone has big struggles in their lives, but some of them seem less fair because they are on display for all the world to see. No one whose opinion is worth having is looking at you like you’re a failure. You have tried and tried hard! The problem is that rarely–if ever–are we able to “fix” a difficult challenge and then just move on. We have to circle it. And re-circle it. We have to be patient with ourselves and do our best and find whatever comfort we can in giving it our all. Is there something you can learn from your first attempt? Were there parts of it that felt good and natural to you? Try those again. But most of all–be patient with yourself! You are doing the best you can and it will get better!

  4. Lisa Michelle

    Beautiful post. I especially love the part about treating ourselves like we would treat our best friend. I would never talk about my best friend the way I talk about myself sometimes–it’s amazing how hard we can be on ourselves.


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