Just like the snowflakes that my Sunday School teacher had taught me about during my elementary years; there are no two bodies that are the same. My problem is that for as long as I can remember, I have been trying to recreate my shape, size, color and structure into what SOMEONE ELSE has decided to be “the best.” Of course, I’ve always liked being “the best,” so when I was 11 years old, I very willingly entered the competition and signed up for the (seemingly) life long challenge. I had the (unknowing) consent of a mother who portioned cottage cheese and cantaloupe and used a refrigerator magnet that rotated sides to say, “diet off” or “diet on”. I know, it’s a classic story. I had a good idea from watching how other people interacted with each other that “fat and ugly” were “bad,” and “skinny and beautiful” were “good.” With clear lines and obvious answers, the game seemed very straightforward. I was ready.
Fast forward through the unfortunately very typical 6th grade-12th grade mild to moderate eating disorder bullshit. In college, I would fluctuate between 3 sizes depending on if I were only eating lettuce and chewing up pretzels to just spit them back into a bowl, or whether or not I was eating an entire large pepperoni pizza. And the sad thing is, this was the typical basic-bitch habit of most women I knew during that time period. I worked out a lot. I moved to Manhattan and legit had a “Devil Wears Prada” kind of life for a year. I learned that I was only supposed to eat dinner. Yes. Just dinner. Coffee in the morning from a street vendor on the way to the office, work through lunch and then out for dinner and Grey Goose (it was 2002) martini’s every night. On one particular evening, I remember leaving a fancy restaurant after having too many cocktails. I was still hungry. Or drunk hungry. Or both. I bought 2 pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream at a nearby bodega. I ate BOTH pints with a plastic spoon as I walked all the way home (to help burn calories) to The Village from 57th & Lexington wearing a black miniskirt, strappy red high heels, and a Louis Vuitton bag hitched on my forearm. Dear God. I moved back to Massachusetts, married my college sweetheart and put on 35 lbs from drinking magnums of Woodbridge Chardonnay (it was 2003) every night while cooking dinner and playing house. I read books about moderate eating disorders. I calculated everything I put into my mouth. I was driving myself crazy keeping lists of “what I had eaten each day” since I was 11 years old. If I was “good,” and only ate foods without fat in them, then I was “happy.” If I was “bad,” and ate dessert or too many chips, then I was “depressed.” A lot of the rules changed depending on what the fitness magazines said. Rarely, if ever, did a rule switch based on how my body FELT.
I started doing yoga. I lost weight. I got a divorce. I lost more weight. I did more yoga. I went for long, regimented runs. I had defined muscle, my nails were always painted, I took medication to have smooth skin, I worked on my tan in the Summer months, wore make up and a push up bra everyday, and made sure to keep up with my naturally blonde hair. Believe me, I was no Cindy Crawford, but I did the best I could do with the money that I had and the body that I had been given. I wrote down everything that I ate, even though it was mostly “healthy” food. I continued to let the list define if I had a good day or a bad day. I bought $180 eye cream.
And while I was in the greatest shape of my life, and at the height of what “the best” would deem a thumbs-up physical appearance, I was growing a cancerous tumor on my larynx. And also a cancerous mole on my face. I gained 50 lbs during my pregnancy and did not embrace the thickness in my thighs. I did not feel beautiful. “The best” says no more than 40lbs is the right amount of weight to gain. A customer at the restaurant commented on my appearance and said, “Oh wow. Look at you, you’re pregnant! I’m not used to seeing you this way. You’re usually so physically fit.” Neat. I had Sam, was diagnosed with cancer and with the help of radiation, a feeding tube and chemotherapy, I lost my baby weight instantly! And I swear to you, I actually WORRIED if I would be skinny again while I was going through treatment. I even texted a friend of mine who had a baby at the same time Sam was born and asked her if she had been working out and if she was back into her jeans yet. Those thoughts were still going through my head. All while I thought I may be dying. Ridiculous.
I spent this past year trying to find a balance between being the new physical me and trying to get back into the competition. There are no more food lists. I’ve stopped wearing as much make up because I don’t want so many chemicals on my skin. And also, that face no longer suits me. I am ridiculously in tune with what foods make my physical body feel good and what foods make my physical body feel bad. I don’t eat gluten anymore because it agitates my joints and reminds me of my Lyme disease days. I eat a plant based diet with limited seafood because my body doesn’t need animal protein and I am ethically opposed to it. Dairy makes my skin break out like a teenager. Eggplant makes my tongue itch in a scary way. Quinoa makes me bloated. I did all of this food and physical self awareness work but I FORCED myself on goal-driven distance runs despite feeling as though I were wearing a lead suit. I complained to friends that my muscle was gone and that my wrinkles on my face were worsened from the stress of the year before. I resisted buying new clothes because I was determined to fit into my shorts from 2 summers ago. I would be the girl who had a baby, got cancer, wrote inspirational blogs and fit into a size 2.
Mike, Sam and I recently spent a day in Maine with our friends Dana, Aaron and their same-age-as-Sam daughter, Cam. It was one of those perfect Summer Sunday’s where it didn’t matter if we showed up late and there was no agenda for our time spent together. We ate popcorn in the grass outside and drank rose in stemless glasses so our kids wouldn’t accidentally knock over our drinks. We walked down to the fish market and got steamers. We made a big salad and grilled steaks and sausages and sat outside eating and taking turns watching our children play with toys in the yard. As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed a picture of Dana and her little family on the bookshelf near the kitchen. It was a black and white photo taken at the beach last year when Cam was almost a year old. And they look so happy. And Dana’s wearing a bikini and her thighs have cellulite on them. Yes. Cellulite. And they are happy. And she put that picture of her family and her cellulite into a frame because all three of them are swear-to-God beautiful and HAPPY. Imagine. That.
I left Maine inspired and (once again) ready.
Let the record show that the Summer of 2017 is my coming out season. It’s just another uncovered piece to becoming authentically me. I am officially pulling myself out of the competition. I don’t want to look like everyone else. I am no longer adhering to someone else rules or standards on beauty. I’m out. Game Over. I am screaming, “Uncle!” at the top of my lungs. I have pastey white legs because I don’t spend 3 hours a day making them bronze. 1/3 of my hair is a different length than the rest of it because it is growing back from radiation. I don’t care if you can see it coming out of my ponytail. I have a bullet-hole scar on my torso where my feeding tube went into my body. My arms aren’t as defined as they once were and my thighs have cellulite on them. I eat an obscene amount of French fries with spicy mayonnaise when I am at work. I love the way they taste and enjoy sharing them with my friend, Erin. I bought new clothes that are a size larger than my pre-baby physique and I will never “work towards getting my body back” because I choose to spend my “free time” writing, cooking, and throwing impromptu dinner parties in my backyard, instead of hurrying off to a fitness class. I want to FEEL good and BE happy. If I want to wear a push up bra and extra make up because I like the way I look and feel, then I will wear it. I am no longer looking for my score from any outside sources. I am working towards the most complete and whole version of myself.
I go to yoga when the stars align and Mike is home from work and my body is ready for instructed strengthening and stretching. I like exercise (movement is good!) in the form of walks, bike rides with Sam and Mike, knees down push-ups and sit-ups outside while Sam plays in his sandbox, and Downward Facing Dogs while Mike watches TV at the end of the day. I’ve been going on runs with Sam in the stroller whenever my energy gives me the go-ahead. And let me tell you, these runs have been so freeing. My mind drifts in and out between the actual run itself and finding all of the “run landmarks” with Sam, and a completely open and meditative state. When I get tired, cramp up, or can’t catch my breath, I walk. I walk! And I don’t get mad at myself for walking! I don’t let “the best” deduct points from my score because there is no longer a score! I let the flabby parts of my thighs show in my shorts because I like the way my legs feel without anything touching them. I embrace the softness of my post-baby belly. And I am happy. I never thought I could feel THIS kind of freedom! I am confident. I read the most perfect quote this morning (of course): “Mother Teresa didn’t walk around complaining about her thighs, she had shit to do.” I am no Saint, but my life is just as worthy. And I. Also. Have. Shit. To. Do.
*Photo is of me and Dana while we were pregnant with Sam and Cam, Summer of 2015