Day 29: Framed in Film

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A few years ago, a professional photographer friend of mine, Dave Rodrigue, took my picture. Actually, he took many pictures, but you get what I mean. He does these beautiful black and white portraits of people wearing their own faces and clothing, being themselves for the camera. Nothing fancy, just whatever the person wants to wear (or not wear), and whatever expressions happen to flit across their faces during the shoot. Some of his models have done tasteful nude shots, others are shot in their homes, wearing house-dresses and staring out the window – he’s interested in catching sincerity in his lens. It’s pretty cool.

Mostly what I remember from my shoot is being superbly uncomfortable in the outfits I had chosen to wear. He took a professional portrait for me to use on LinkedIn, and my lipstick felt too bright. My jeans were brand new, and they fit well, but made me feel like a stuffed sausage. I’d brought along a set of very modest retro lingerie that covered more than my bathing suit, and the fabric felt like something you’d use to sew a backpack. The only outfit that really made me happy was an outfit I still wear today – a giant t-shirt and a soft pair of jean leggings. In those old pictures, I can now see the internal struggle that was going on. My softness was part of me, yet I insisted on fighting against it, insisting on constraining myself with these strict barriers of elastic and cheap satin. There was this sense that I was expanding, and it wasn’t going to stop. It was like I was using clothing as sand bags, trying to prevent the flow of my body.

A few days ago, Dave asked me if I’d like to pose for him again soon. Since then, I’ve been thinking about it, pros and cons. I’m about 30 pounds heavier now than I was, and I know from his series that he loves to use the same models and explore as they age and change. I want to say that I’ve been aging with grace, and perhaps I have, I don’t know. I know I have more lumps and bumps and wrinkles than I did then. But more important than my weight is my sense of self.

Back then, posing for Dave’s camera, I was given full permission to be myself. He made it clear to me that I was allowed to dress, pose, and act exactly how I’d like, and he was not to be taken into consideration. My comfort and freedom of expression were paramount. This concept was so far out of the norm for me in male/female relationships that it took me years to even understand how far removed I felt from the idea of being able to just be me, and not worry about how the man in the room perceived me. I’m still just barely able to understand how groundbreaking this moment was.

The problem of my sense of profound discomfort with my exposure during the shoot was not a problem of “showing too much skin.” At the time, I thought my sole problem was weight, and a general unhappiness with my body because I just wasn’t trying hard enough. In one small way, that was true. As a woman, I was used to feeling ugly and at the mercy of others on a daily basis. This meant that the shoot was a strange juxtaposition of feeling like I always felt, but being given permission to strip away all of the things that made me feel that way, should I so choose. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my photographer friend was returning my dignity to me by being more feminist than I was at the time. He had more appreciation for my complexity and comfort than I did!

The media tells us that it’s magazines and movies and other women that make women feel bad about their looks, and if everyone says so, who am I to argue? However, in my own reality, I felt the most pressure from my partners. Up until the shoot (and even afterwards) I spent my adult years only buying clothing that my lovers expressed an interest in, whether we’re talking form-fitting retro dresses, or lacy underthings, or thigh high stockings with a seam up the back. Hair, nails, and makeup must always be taken care of. God forbid you let your pubes grow out, or go too long without waxing your mustache.

I spent SO MUCH MONEY on services meant to turn me into the perfect woman, and it was never enough. I was never going to be a sex symbol. I was going to keep getting hairy, and chipping my nail polish, and getting that particular butt itch feeling that comes from sitting too long in lace underwear and having your fat ooze out through the tiny holes in the floral pattern. And honestly, many women get a kick out of taking all of these measures, pushing themselves to extremes to grasp at the fleeting concept of beauty. But for me, it wasn’t my thing. I do love mani/pedis and facials and massages, and there are comfort reasons to consider when looking into waxing the stray strands off of every conceivable surface…but I never wanted to be a magazine woman. The real me is more “let’s climb a mountain” than “let’s go to barre fitness.” Props to the dancers out there, and much love to gals who wear lace and heels and have the perfect dress for every occasion – but that’s not who I want to be when I grow up.

So I’m realizing that somewhere along the way, I lost my own personal style because I was too concerned with having men like me. I remember that once, back in college, a boyfriend was upset with me for not wearing sexy lingerie. I carefully explained that one little lacy outfit (even a cheap one) could cost around a quarter of my rent payment, and I wasn’t inclined to waste my money. He eventually offered to take me shopping and buy whatever we agreed on, but the things he liked were so ugly and – to me – demeaning that I didn’t take him up on his offer (in fact, we broke up not long after).

Another boyfriend loved for me to wear thigh highs and pinup girl style, and though it pleased me to dress up and go out on dates, I was never comfortable. When I did try to inject some items that made me feel sexy, it resulted in complaints that I wasn’t really trying. (My most upsetting example: a long, devastatingly sexy, curve-hugging satin nightgown, straight out of a film noir, casually referred to as something an old lady would wear.) Eventually I did stop trying completely. I exclusively wore pajamas in the house for the last few years we dated – Anna and the 24/7 stretchy pants. At the time, I didn’t realize that I was protesting having to stop being myself to be a girl that he could tolerate having around (not a girl he adored, not a girl that was beautiful in any light, just someone he’d be too lazy to kick out of bed in the morning), but that’s what was really going on.

So here I am, 30 lbs. heavier and a half-decade smarter, wondering if I have the courage to sit for Dave’s camera again. What have I learned about myself? Am I strong enough to make choices for my body that are truly based only on my own desires, and not rooted in my need to please everyone else? Time will tell.

Today’s Weight: 191 Lbs. (Mind: blown.)

Today’s Exercise: 16,858 steps (including 30 minutes on the elliptical), 8fit workout, foam rolling, weight machine stuff for arms, short ab routine.

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Day 17: Graydreaming

You might not know this about me, but I’m terribly prone to flights of fancy. I spend a great deal of my time in fantasy, either retelling stories of my past, imagining possible stories of my future, or just plain writing fiction that has nothing to do with anyone I know. It’s an escape mechanism, and though fun, is not especially helpful in allowing me to cope with my day-to-day, when I encounter it. The key to mindfulness is endeavoring to be completely present in the moment at hand, and I have spent a lifetime endeavoring to not be present at all if possible. It’s a sharp contrast, and a bitter one at times.

The anxiety that I was suffering all weekend dissipated on Sunday afternoon, and I was briefly fine, mentally. But by last night, I felt myself sliding back into depression. I have hovered on the verge of tears since then. I cried myself to sleep last night, after telling myself a story about why I was so sad (a story that might or might not be true – how can I even tell anymore what’s reality and fantasy in my world?) Now I’m eating wasabi peas for dinner, and wishing that I could write the story I feel inside me, fluttering to get out. But I am not in the writing space. Not the fiction writing space, anyway. Assuming that this, by contrast, happens to be nonfiction.

If nothing is real, how can anything I write be truth?

Guess we just have to go on blind faith that certain things are more real than others. And in the meantime, while we wait around to become just another story that someone tells their children (or in my case, barely a blip on the memory map, as I intend to create no progeny), we find things to cling to. For me, it’s beating this binge eating thing, and going hiking a few more times. Today my hip hurts, and it terrifies me for no reason. It’s just a strain. It will be better if I stay off of it.

But I am reminded that I don’t have anyone to hike with. I have no one to fight for. I am always the one to fight, to persist, to march on, but no one follows my banner. No one fights with me in mind. I am lonely today. I’m too focused on the present, and the present is gray and fuzzy.

Today’s Weight: 191.8 Lbs.

Day 11: A Love Note

I’m not going to work out today, because I love myself.

This is a very difficult concept to work with. My mind rejects all parts of it. To begin with, the whole “I love me” thing always makes me chuckle uncomfortably. I’m still working at it. Then, part of me says, “Well, if you loved yourself, wouldn’t you be doing everything you could to be skinny?” And part of me says, “This isn’t about being skinny, it’s about being healthy – get your facts straight!” And part of me says, “Great! Since we love ourselves today, can we also eat a gallon of ice cream, and maybe drink a bottle of champagne while we’re at it?”

Sigh.

The simplest way to explain this to all aspects of me is thus:

Anna, you are a beautiful woman. You don’t need to be thinner to prove this beauty to yourself or anyone else – you’re not stupid, and if they are, that’s not your problem. You notice how people gravitate towards you when you’re smiling and happy. You know that you’re kind and accepting, and genuinely likeable. (A little weird, but likeable.) Men like you, women aren’t put off by you, animals dig you, and it’s OK that kids think you’re scary, because you think they’re scary, too.

You’ve been thinking about this carefully, and have come to the conclusion that losing weight would be the healthiest option for you, and would greatly improve your quality of life. And I love you, so I’m going to help you get there. I’ll continue to push you to new heights every day, and we’ll get some really good workouts in, and work on eating delicious, healthful foods for the rest of our life. The weight will drop off, just wait and see!

But today you’re having a particularly heavy flow day (and are out of tampons at work – awesome), and you’re in a terrible mood. You’ve been on the verge of tears for an hour now, and very snippy all day, and just generally a lot more anxious than is healthy for anyone who has to encounter you today. That’s OK. Sometimes life is hard, and I know you’re doing doing your best to not be a jerk to anyone but yourself. But see, that’s the problem. You deserve love, too.

So I tell you what – let’s take a day off from working out. Yeah, you know you can’t work out tomorrow either, but it’s really OK. You’re already 7 lbs. down; that’s a great number! We can still go to the gym, to keep the habit going, but today we’ll sit in the sauna to sweat out some of this aggression. Afterwards, we can go home, take a nice long bath, and tell this day to GTFO. We’ll do our nails, and curl up with the cats to watch something silly on Netflix. Easy peasy. Just a beautiful, relaxing evening.

(Note that nothing about this plan includes junk food or alcohol, but it does involve not having to cry while running on the treadmill, so I figure that’s an even trade off, right?)

Today’s Weight: 190.8 Lbs.

Day 10: TMI

My butt hurts.

OK, I know that’s kind of funny, because, you know, what 4-year old doesn’t like a good butt joke? But it’s also annoying, because it’s my butt, and pain isn’t fun. Also, it’s exasperating, because my butt wouldn’t hurt if I wasn’t overweight. You see, I’ve worn out the seat in my office chair with my heavier-than-necessary behind. I asked the manager about getting a new desk chair (or at least a cushion for the existing chair), and I’ll be getting something soon, but it doesn’t help me today. Today my butt hurts.

On my walk to work this morning, I was idly considering the changes my body has undergone with age. Some changes are inevitable – fine lines, a few gray hairs – but others are purely a result of my relationship with food and physical activity. I think/hope/wish/plan to turn some of these things around in the coming months. This blog isn’t a place for me to be opaque, to obfuscate, to generalize. This is a place for me to be truthful with myself in a way that matters. So I’m going to talk about some of the things that have changed, even though it’s going to be TMI for some of you. The rest of you might find this refreshing. I’m hoping that I do, too.

Along with having a big ol’ butt, my thighs have always touched. Like, always. Since I was a child. I’ve got pictures to prove it, but I’m not posting any here. This all goes to say that the thought of the “thigh gap” has always been alien to me, even when I was young and skinny. It’s awesome that some bodies have that feature, but this particular body just isn’t made that way. That being said, 40 lbs. ago, I could wear skirts without stockings and suffer no major issues. Now if I do that, my thighs rub so much that I get the equivalent of rug burn within minutes. Once, at a fancy party, I actually got such a terrible friction burn on my thighs from wearing Spanx, that by an hour in, my thighs were bleeding. I was also wearing high heels that gave me blisters, and it was a work affair where I had to mingle and make small talk (Have I mentioned how much I hate small talk? Let’s just say way more than bleeding thighs.) so the entire night was pure torture. Of course, I never even thought of mentioning any of this until now. That’s just how things go when you dress up. Women are taught from a young age to grin and bear it, and unfortunately this ends up coloring our lives in ways that some of us end up finding untenable. (I believe I hit my “this is complete bullshit!” limit about two years back). But you know the motto: beauty is pain. Sigh.

Sometimes, if I want to dress up and know that I don’t have to walk much, I’ll chance applying a friction stick like runners use. But in summer here, that stuff sweats off in no time. And I don’t know about you, but my fat thighs sweat a lot more than my thinner thighs used to. Everything sweats more, and there are more places for sweat to accumulate. So now I don’t wear skirts without leggings or stockings, or sometimes biker shorts, which I dislike even more. It’s a drag on hot days, but that’s what you’ve got to do when you’ve got big thighs.

There’s also that my stomach is bigger, which I generally try to hide by wearing fit-and-flare dresses, and blouses that don’t make me look too pregnant. I put zero additional effort into that venture, though. First off, I don’t have any clothing budget, so the things that are in my closet are what I have to wear until they wear completely out (maybe longer, at this rate). Also, I’m not wearing Spanx. Aside from my last bloody experience with the Spanx shorts, I also generally dislike any piece of clothing that I have to roll out of like a scuba diver. There’s also the fact that the crotch opens up slightly so you can kinda push the pieces out of the way when you need to pee, but the opening is definitely not big enough to prevent contact with some sort of drippage, so then you’re just walking around in pee pants for the day. So gross. (Don’t believe me? That link above is by another Anna with a hilarious/terrible story about accidentally peeing in her Spanx.)

Speaking of big thighs, my calves are bigger now, too. I was a runner in high school, and now with walking everywhere and hiking/backpacking when I can, I’m lucky to still have a lot of muscle beneath the fat layer. My calves are well-defined still (though I used to have stunning legs, and now my legs look awkward – tiny ankles tapering out, out, out into big ol’ thighs) but they’re just a teeny, tiny bit too big. Now I suddenly have to wear wide-calf boots. WTF.

I used to wear heels and wedges all the time, but when I gained weight, my center of balance shifted. Now I can barely walk in heels, and when I do wear them, they’re very painful (which is probably just an “I’m getting old” thing, but still). I now only buy comfortable shoes, even if that means they sometimes look schoolmarm-ish. Nothing higher than a 2.5-inch heel, nothing without substantial padding.

Talking about padding, that leads me what is easily the most disappointing part of getting fat: my boobs. I was 155 lbs and a 34B bra size for years and years, until suddenly I wasn’t. Once I started gaining weight, I went up to a 36B and hung there for a while, and then a few years ago I went in for a bra sizing and found out that I was actually a 38D. It was like suddenly getting tits overnight. At first I was overjoyed, because if I had to be fat, at least I could have tatas for the first time ever. Except that it doesn’t really work like that. First off, they get sweaty. Then you’ve got to be so careful about exfoliating at the bra band line to avoid breaking out (tit zits????? Ugh!) And in my case, I might be wearing a larger bra size, but they’re still just as wide-set, so I still don’t have cleavage. In the end, they still look just as awkward and unimpressive as before, just bigger and more obvious at it.

Once you get to be this size, your bra choices start going down, and everyone tries to sell you these ridiculous full-coverage bras that cover WAY more area than I actually have. On top of that, they’re finally making beautiful, sexy little lace bralettes with no underwire, and it’s really tough to find them when you’ve got D knockers. In other words, I am going to be glad to trade these fuckers in for a smaller cup size. I might even have a party to celebrate.

It’s interesting to see all of these things in one place, where I can mull them over. In the moment, I just tend to carry around this irritation, pain, and disgust internally. I never talk about any of these bits and bobs with anyone, even my closest girlfriends. It’s time to air these things out, see how it feels to be open and honest with myself and others about the things that I’ve been clutching so tightly to my chest for way too long. I think that is going to be the only way I can truly free myself of the real things that have been weighing me down. But now it’s time to put this blog away and go eat shrimp for dinner – yay!

Today’s Weight: 191.4 Lbs.

Today’s Exercise: 5 minute TRX workout, 10 minute tabata routine via 8Fit, foam rolling & stretching, and a little over 13k steps.

Today’s Interactions: Lovely time with Theo at the gym, plus a short conversation with two tourists who were looking for cajun food. One of them had the most beautiful smile. I hope they enjoyed their dinner.

Day 9: Period

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I didn’t sleep well last night, and was tired all day today. A few irritating things happened prior to work and at the office that made my day a little more of a hassle than it needed to be, but overall I managed not to let it upset me too much. To be honest, I think I’ve just been too low in energy for anything to make that much of an impression, one way or the other. All day long, I kind of shuffled along, doing the things I needed to do, not thinking too deeply about much else. I just didn’t have it in me, and I didn’t even have the energy to think about why that might be, until I had a jolt of inspiration: oh yeah, my period started this morning.

I’m incredibly lucky to typically not suffer any terrible side effects from the monthly shedding of my uterine lining. When I was a teenager, I had two heavy periods a month, something that was eventually regulated in college with hormonal birth control (thank goodness it never came back). Other than that, I don’t have intense cramps or headaches or nausea. I bloat a little, but it’s not that noticeable (especially now that I’m naturally more plump). My period is so easy to deal with that I have the luxury of basically getting to ignore it, save for having to buy tampons from time to time. For years, I mistakenly thought that I lacked period symptoms, but what I was actually lacking was a connection to my body.

A couple of years back, I was a member at a weight lifting gym called Iron Tribe. Though I can no longer afford the membership fees, the lessons I learned there were vital to my growth as an athlete and a woman. I loved weight lifting. I still do, though I get to do much less of it. One of the things that I learned – even though apparently I keep forgetting it – is that I was physically weaker a few days before and during my period. It was noticeable. One day I’d be doing multiple reps of a 160 lbs. deadlift, and the next I could barely manage one rep at 150 lbs. A box jump that had been slightly difficult was now completely impossible. Simple kettlebell swings would now have me sobbing in frustration. I’d suddenly get lightheaded, and was easily winded. Then I started to realize that it wasn’t just me. The other women who came in to work out on their periods complained of similar symptoms.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did. It’s harder to see when I’m not exerting a lot of physical energy, but I’m weaker and more tired when I’m on my period. Our bodies are complex machines. There’s a lot going on in here, and during my period, I need to learn to give myself a break. I don’t have an excuse to not work out, but I do have permission to be kind to myself. Not being able to do as much doesn’t make me a lesser person. It’s just a measure of where I’m at that day. Some days I need to realize that I’m not being lazy – I’m genuinely tired, and need to take care of myself.

That being said, I ended up forcing myself to walk to the gym (I was so tired, it probably looked like the zombie shuffle). There I met my friend Theo for an invigorating gab session on the ellipticals, followed by stretching and foam rolling. And I think I’m going to go ahead and hit the hay, and aim for a nourishing 9-hour sleep…yum.

Today’s Weight: 192.6 Lbs.

Today’s Exercise: 30 minutes on the elliptical, 13k steps, and some stretching