Saturday, September 12, 2015

Loving the Me I Used to Hate

For those (probably very very few of you) who have never struggled with body image, please watch this video and learn what it is like to feel fearful, shameful, and even unlovable in your own skin.
And for those of you who DO struggle with body image; especially those who may read my (seemingly constant) posts about running and fitness and perhaps get discouraged -- please watch this video and if you shed some tears know I shed some too when I watched it. And know you are not alone.
I have struggled with self-acceptance and body image for most of my life. It is only in the past 7 years that I have learned to be OK in my own body...and it is NOT because I am thin and run a lot. I don't love my body because I am a runner. I am a runner because I love my body. And it has taken me a lifetime to appreciate the important difference between those two perspectives.
When I was in grade school, I was called 'skinny' and it was a negative term. People (family and friends and classmates alike) laughed because my belts were always so long the end of them wrapped around to my back belt loops. They laughed in the locker room and swim class because you could see my ribs and my knees were bony.
The summer between 6th and 7th grade I went to a football camp and learned how to workout and eat. But I really wasn't very good at it, so I only played (read: sat on the bench a lot and watched the acceptable people play) my 7th grade season. In 8th grade I ran cross country and at every. single. race. I was either last place or 2nd to last. Running was not fun, but I was trying to be acceptable; trying to make my body do what others' bodies could do. But I couldn't. So that was my last active sports season. I stopped working out. But I still remembered how to eat.
By late 8th grade I was no longer the skinny kid. I was the chubby kid; the fat kid that the Jocks and the Socs and the Hoods laughed at (and bullied) in the locker room and at school assemblies, etc. And I stayed that way all through high school. Aged 17, at 5'9" I graduated high school at just under 200#. By that time I had learned deeply the lesson that I was fat, and laughable, and my body was not OK.
In the Navy, in my 8 weeks of basic training, I lost 35# and at 165# I had learned my body could do things I never thought it could. That skinny was OK, and certainly better than fat. Or so I thought. Family and friends I hugged said I was too skinny, that I was bony and it was not OK. I should gain some weight.
I learned there is a narrow window between "too fat" and "too skinny" and the size of that margin is arbitrary, in constant flux, and the bottom line is my body is never "OK" the way it is.
My weight went up again as I went to various naval schools. Then down again just before I got married. Then up again after I got married. Then down again when I went to Jenny Craig. Then up again when I stopped following someone else's predetermined meal plans. Then down a little, and up a little more, yo-yo-ing over the years. By 2002 after my mom died I was 230# and a few months later tipped the scales at 250#. I hated my body and hated that I couldn't change. And I hated that others seemed to be able to control what they ate, and have svelt bodies that were acceptable and sexy and lovable.
In the fall of 2004 I went through something of a crisis of faith and came out the other side with a perspective I had not had since I was a little kid: I realized that I not only loved myself, I actually LIKED myself. Just. The way. I was.
Over the next 2 years I grew to understand that my body was not as physically healthy as it could be, and that is when learning to love it enough to make changes to protect and heal it became a priority. I tried a few things but nothing 'stuck'.
But then in the spring of 2008 at age 42, weighing around 220#, something just clicked inside me and I decided to start taking care of myself. I looked into eating for hunger (instead of all the other emotional reasons there are to eat). And as I lost a little weight I started walking. And as I started walking I added a little running. And as I lost more weight I added more running and learned that if I run slow enough to stay within my breath, I may not win any races but hey -- I can actually *enjoy* running!
So fast forward to today. I am 49, and am still 5' 9". I weigh around 165# and while many people see me as 'skinny' or 'thin' or 'in good shape' etc, what they don't know is I have man boobs, and loose skin folds. These are leftovers from when my body was 85# heavier. And since these are not medically concerning, I have decided there is no need for me to seek surgery just to make my body look different.
My man boobs and loose skin in my abdomen will never really go away. And I see those in the mirror every. single. day.
Some of the time I am able to look past them and look myself in the eye and love myself for who I am today, loose skin and all, with faults on the inside as well as the outside.
And sometimes when I look in the mirror I still see 'the fat kid'. And sometimes I look beyond that and see 'the skinny kid'. Either way I see a kid who is not happy with himself and wishes he could be something else so people would like him; so he could like himself.
I wish I could say that when I see 'the fat kid' or 'the skinny kid' I choose to feel love for that kid; that I choose to embrace him wholeheartedly and in that place of love and acceptance allow him the space to be who he is and feel love right there. And sometimes I do feel those things, and it is healing and wonderful.
But sometimes I just see a fat kid who feels unlovable, and I feel like an unlovable fat man.
And sometimes I see a skinny kid who feels unlovable and I feel like an unlovable skinny man.
And sometimes it still really hurts to not be svelt and muscular and toned. And in those painful moments, the fact that I can run marathons and ultramarathons and am 49 but have the metabolic fitness of a 34 yr old doesn't mean a thing because all I see is that I am not (and will never be) that unreachable ideal that I think I need to be to become acceptable; to be lovable.
So if you struggle with those same things, please know you are not alone.
I may not have the courage or the creativity to stand half-naked in a public place and allow people to mark my body -- but I can write from the heart and tell my own story here on my own blog.
I can tell you that it IS possible to come to the place were you love yourself and even like yourself. And sometimes when that happens, your body does begin to change, but not all at once. And even if and when the number on the scale or the body you see in the mirror becomes a more physically fit and healthful body, you know what? The ideal body you were chasing stays fleeting. So please, please, please: just learn to love yourself right here and right now. And let the rest come (whatever it looks like), if and when it ever does.
And like the video linked above, and like this blog post, please spread the word in your own way to let the world know that when courageous vulnerability is met with compassion and acceptance, something amazing can happen. It is called love.
Love yourself people. And love others. It really is that simple.
~ Keith


Melanie Hopson said...

Courageous and vulnerable blog, Keith.
Thank you for going there. It spoke to me.

Can Opener Boy said...

Thanks Mel. Much love my friend!

Ben said...

I am just discovering these posts. This one resonated with me. Thank you.

Can Opener Boy said...

Thanks Ben -- I'm glad it resonated with you!