Tag Archives: self image

That Woman Inside the Mirror

What is it about hotel bathrooms?  They have MUCH better lighting than my bathroom at home, and more mirror angles.  I am quickly met with an image of myself that I don’t normally have to deal with. Last Wednesday, I checked in to my room at the Fairmont San Jose for BlogHer14 and discovered a serious design flaw–the full length mirror on the bathroom door and the shower stall line up perfectly if the door is left open.  I had to WATCH myself shower.  Good GOD.  I hung a towel over the glass shower door so I couldn’t make eye contact with myself while I was so exposed.

The next day, when I was getting dressed for the first day of the conference, I sat at the mirror over the dressing table.  My hands shook with anticipation and adrenaline as I powdered away the shine, lined my eyes with black creme, outlined my lips just so.  I scrunched my hair only to smoothe it out then scrunch it again.  I didn’t want to look like the fat old woman I saw in the mirror.  What would people think when they saw me?  Would they even bother with me if I looked…wrong?

That night, after an exciting day of meeting new people and sharing with them the beauy of my best self, my generous self, my abundant self, I returned to the room and that same bathroom mirror. This is the surprise I found:  a pink heart that told me “You are enough.”  I stood in the bathroom and cried.  That word I use so much–enough–isn’t a word I associate with mirrors.  But there it was-ENOUGH. 10549251_10203441253065033_2633416593343239598_o Friday was The Big Day.  The day I gussied up in my new dress to claim my place on stage as one of the Voice of the Year (VOTY) readers.  I skipped the afternoon sessions so I would have mirror time before rehearsal.  The mirror and I were on better terms, what with that pink heart up there still.  I scrunched the hair and left it that way.  Put on a little makeup.  Gold earrings.  The gold bracelet that Big Gay gave me. The necklace made from Richard’s wedding ring.  I thought about Spanx but decided to wear my authentic waistline.  I slipped into the green dress.  Once I finished dressing, I turned to that mirror and liked what I saw.  Facebook friends responded with lots of love and encouragement so I strutted down the street to the Convention Center.  Look at me, out in the world.  Not hiding in black and drab.

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Wobbly Selfie in New Shoes

Things were going great between me and the woman in the mirror.  Until I got to rehearsal.

That’s when I met August MacLaughlin, novelist and award-winning health and sexuality blogger…and stunningly beautiful woman. One look at her and I felt an instant dislike for her.  Why?  Was she being bitchy?  Nope.  She was sitting there reading through her notes and fighting nerves, like we all were.  She joined in the small talk.  She laughed at the right moments, just like an actual human being.  She rose from the table and poured herself a plastic cup of water. But she was doing all of this while being everything I’ve always wanted to see in the mirror. Naturally, I didn’t want to be anywhere near her. Which pretty much guaranteed that when we were assigned our places backstage, she and I were seated next to each other.  The chairs were jammed together and I was afraid that my ass would lap over my assigned space.  At least, I told myself, I got to go first in the lineup and no one would have to look at my tatty self after seeing August.  I could say my piece then get off the stage and go back to being plain.

(Pause for a deep authentic breath. I know this is all bullshit.  I knew it at the time but I had to process it all in my way, which passes through CrazyTown along the way.)

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Pre-VOTY Smiles, Before the Ugly Crying Started

Once the show began, I got a handle on myself and decided to shut up the nasty voice in my head.  Both of us had earned a place in that lineup.  I asked August if I could read her story, “My Big Brindle Heart: A Love Story.” I’m not going to tell you what it’s about because you need to click that link and read it in her own words.  But I will say that by the time I finished it, I reached over and gave her a side hug.  I finally started treating her like a human being. It’s a beautiful story by a great writer, and a great story by a beautiful writer.

The next day, I woke up with a party hangover and dragged myself back to the mirror.  I smiled.  Scrunchy hair, smeared eyeliner, wine puffs under my eyes.  I looked like MYSELF.  And that’s when it hit me. I spent so much energy fearing that someone might discount me and not listen to me because of how I look.  If I’m not pretty enough or thin enough or nice enough, I don’t get SEEN.  And that’s exactly what I was doing to August.  I discounted her because of how she looked.  Because she was too pretty, too thin, too nice–I wasn’t open to listening to her, to seeing her.  My snap judgement of her came from that awful, stingy place that I stumbled into in my anxiety.

On Saturday night, I bumped into August at the Reverend Run party and confessed all this mess that I had projected on to her.  She thanked me for being honest with her.  And she gave me a hug.  Because she is enough and I am enough and I’m so glad I met August this July.  10535671_10203441251905004_9079957571851257617_oBlogging is one way that I am cleaning this poison from my mind and my heart, this idea that people, including myself, have to be judged and measured before they can be heard.  And going to events like BlogHer14 is like immersion therapy, where I surround myself with astonishing women of every walk and shape and style–in order to realize that I have a place, too.

They’ve Seen My Boobs In Greece

Sunbathing in Crete

Soaking up the sun

Now THAT’S how you write a title.

We’ve been swimming a lot this summer because Carlos is tall enough to touch the bottom of the shallow end on his tippy toes.  Vivi is a fish.  Finally, an hour in the pool isn’t a constant vigil to make sure no one dies.  I can even sit in the inflatable recliner while they entertain themselves.  And if a nice glass of wine sits in the cup holder on that recliner, who am I to say no?

Last week, Vivi wanted to play horse and pull me around by my foot while I rode in my “carriage.”  Again, who am I to crush her dreams?  As she towed me around the deep end, the water kept flipping the loose top of my swimsuit up over my belly.  And I kept jerking it down.  The first time it happened, I felt a real moment of panic for a second–my BELLY was out in the OPEN.  Every time the pale wobbly skin peeked out, I rushed to cover it back up.

Imagine the horror.  My very own skin, exposed.  In front of…my children?  In…my own pool? Right out there…behind an eight-foot privacy fence?

What the hell?

Seriously…what the hell was I ashamed of in my own space among people who have actually occupied that belly?  What do I have to hide?

For the 10 years that I was with Fartbuster, I didn’t put on a swimsuit.  Not even in my dad’s pool.  His dad’s pool.  No trips to the beach.  No afternoons at our neighborhood pool.  I felt like I was too hideously fat to be able to wear a suit.  For Pete’s sake…I wore like a FOURTEEN.  Monster.

As soon as we split up, that summer, I put on a raggedy old black one-piece and crept into Daddy and Gay’s pool.  By myself.  And I stayed under the surface.  It felt great.  Cool water on a hot July day.  It also felt great to reclaim that part of my life.

I got used to the feel of the sun on my skin again.  There was more skin there than there had been in my youth, but it was MY skin and I got OK with it again.

A few summers passed in conservative black one pieces.  Sturdy suits.  No frippery, all function.

Then along came Greece.  Richard and I had been talking about it for a while.  He knew it had been #1 on my bucket list since I was a girl.  Flights got cheap, the vacation days built up.  We decided to go for it in the summer of 2003.  Our first destination was Crete for some beach time and archaeology.

Do you know what people do on the beaches in Greece?  They avoid tan lines.  They are right up there with Brasilians in their hatred of tan lines.

I didn’t think I could go the Full Monty, but I was willing to take The Girls out for a spin. Unfortunately, you can’t just put the top down when you’re wearing a sturdy one-piece.  This adventure called for a BIKINI.  Yipes.  Because at this point in my life, I was still wearing a FOURTEEN.  And Richard loved me nonetheless, go figure.  Luckily, by that late date, the tankini had been invented.  I got myself one (and some SPF 80 sunscreen for the girls) and off we went to Greece.

I slid into my nautical striped tankini in the hotel outside Xania then made my way down to the water.  It was a Tuesday morning, not crowded at all, but I was still nervous about the unveiling.

Here’s what I learned on that beach.  We Americans think that only the hot people sunbathe topless.  Nope.  Everybody does it. Y’mom and them.  Errabody.  I looked to my left and there sat a German couple in their 70s, letting it all hang out.  Not even sitting on a towel.  To my right, another pair, maybe Dutch, maybe 50ish.  Flapping in the wind.  I was The Hottie on that beach…and it didn’t matter.

I wiggled out of that top and slapped some SPF80 on The Girls.  I tried to act like it wasn’t the first time they had seen the light of day since the 1970s.  After a while, after I realized that nobody gave a damn what my boobs looked like or which way they were heading, I forgot all about it and just had a lovely day at the beach.

With no tan lines.

I discovered that, the less swimsuit I wore, the more comfortable I felt with my body.  Even a few days later on the weekend, when the real hotties showed up, I was OK. I let the girls out to play in Crete, Santorini, Mykonos.  The Greek Islands Boob Tour of 2003.  We should have sold t-shirts but no one would have worn them.  A few weeks after we returned, I went to the beach in Maryland with my brother and his family and I remember thinking, “GAH!  This suit is so hot!  Let me outta here!”

So how did I end up 10 years later, hastily hiding my white belly from my children in the safety of my own backyard?

Well, that’s a story for the therapist’s couch.  Regardless, we’ve been swimming so much this summer that my old Mom Suits have begun to disintegrate.  That means…it’s time to buy a swimsuit.  The other day, I read a story by Jenny Trout called “I Wore a Bikini and Nothing Happened.” It’s an entertaining tale with a surprise ending–no one was struck blind and the sky did not rain toads when she dared to wear a bikini in public.  Imagine that!

I did imagine that.  My bikini came in the mail today.

GULP.

I’m going to put on a little Greek music, throw some lamb on the grill, and see if I can’t recapture some of that woman who let it all hang out in 2003. I apologize in advance for any toads that rain from the sky!

Bikini Season Is Coming! Bikini Season Is Coming!

A quick message today.  

Bikini season is coming!  Or so I hear–the last one I participated in was around 1989.  I got my license renewed a few months ago and it still lists the weight that I was in 1989.  But I digress.  

Every other sponsored post on Facebook these days contains four cartoons of women shaped like fruit or admonitions against the evil fruit that causes belly fat.  Please keep scrolling past all that shit.  Here’s the real message:

 

bikini season is coming!

You are beautiful.  I hope you enjoy some sun on your face this weekend (after a liberal application of sunscreen, of course).    

 

The Wind In My Hair

I learned a new word today:  psithurism.  That’s the sound of wind in the trees.  Beautiful, right?  I had to smile when I read the definition because I experienced my own kind of psithurism tonight at boot camp.

We met in the park behind the hospital because the weather couldn’t have been more perfect.  Eighty degrees.  A clear blue sky.  Juicy green grass scattered with violets. A soft breeze moving through the tops of the trees.  Twelve women getting stronger and cheering each other on.

I missed last week because we were celebrating G’s birthday.  And today, I thought about skipping.  Even though I felt exhausted after a busy day, I forced myself to get up from my desk at 5:20 p.m. to change clothes.  I even thought about quitting while I was getting dressed–there’s nothing like trying to wrestle on a size G sports bra in a narrow bathroom stall to tear down your spirit.  But I managed.  Then I pulled out the shorts that I had packed this morning, only to realize that my leg shaving schedule is…a bit behind.  Again, I almost gave up on the work out.  We’re not talking about a fine stubble here–this was more of a Sasquatch type scene.

There in that yellow bathroom stall, I had a good laugh at myself.  Really?  All those years of therapy and I’m worried that I can’t go out in public with some hair on my legs?  I’m 45 years old, for goodness sake.  My body is mine and I have rejected many of the “beauty shoulds” that I lived with for decades.  For two weeks, I’ve been sporting gaudy manicures done by my six-year-old daughter because they are important to her.  Her opinion is more valuable to me than anyone who might judge me for having fluorescent pink nails with hibiscus stickers on them!  I haven’t worn makeup in months.  I quit dying my hair after Carlos was born and people assumed I was his grandmother, even after the Miss Clairol.  And now I was going to let a little hair on my legs stop me from enjoying my afternoon in the sun?

No way.

It felt so good to be out in the fresh air, under the wide blue sky.  While we were warming up, I resisted the urge to make a joke about my hairy legs or make some apology for their state.  I got the hell OVER IT.  We did some dancey moves, stretching and swaying.  During the part of the warm up where we balance on one foot and swing the other knee back and forth, I felt something crawling on my leg and swatted my shin to shoo it away. No luck.  Every time I swung my leg forward then backward, I felt the little creepy sensation but couldn’t see any insect.

Finally, it dawned on me.

There wasn’t anything crawling on my leg.  It was the feel of the wind in my hair.

"Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair."  Kahlil Gibran

Body Wisdom

Today’s writing prompt is:  “Something my body (or someone else’s) has taught me.”  Dena Hobbs, yoga instructor and author of “Lighten the Darkness:  An Advent Journey Through Hope” thought this one up and I’m glad she did!

When I first read it, my reaction was that I’ve never thought about my body as a teacher.  It’s a vehicle.  A warm blanket.  At times a burden.  Ballast.  Buoyancy.  A hideout.

body wisdomFor the first 30 years of my life, I thought of my body as the thing that carried my brain and my heart around.  My brain got things DONE.  My brain got me attention, acclaim.  My brain made progress.  My brain achieved my goals and moved me forward in life.  My brain got me the grades that won the awards that led to the scholarship that got me the fellowship that landed me the job.  Then the next job and the next one and the next one.  My brain pays the bills.

While my brain got things done across all those years, my heart decided WHAT I should do.  Even with my practical streak, I spent plenty of time following my heart.  I chased after it all those times it went chasing after a boy.  I carried my heart right out in the open.  I needed to be loved.  I delighted to feel it swell with friendship and love.  I went down in the depths when my heart was broken.  My brain couldn’t keep my heart from doing what it was going to do.  My heart, my heart, my heart.  Even as I exercised my brain and it grew stronger, I relied on my heart to decide–I felt my way through my teens and 20’s.

Then I hit my 30s.

That decade was a doozy.  I ran into the parts of life that my brain couldn’t think my way out of.  I hit the spots where my heart led the way and got shattered.  After Fartbuster and I had been separated for seven months, the phone rang one night–his girlfriend calling MY HOUSE, asking if he was there.  WTH???  I had already hung up the phone by the time I was good and awake.  My heart lurched with the familiar heartache.  My brain tried to kick into overdrive–was that a dream?  Did that really happen?  What does it mean?  Where IS he?  My brain began to calculate whether that was the final straw.  My heart flopped and wrenched and twisted–it didn’t flip off like a switch.  But my body?  My body was so tired from months of his foolishness that it just went back to sleep.  I woke up knowing that I was going to get a divorce and my heart was calm.  The late hour eclipsed the brain and the heart–the body took over–and my life got to a better place.

That’s what I learned from my body–get the brain to hush, get the heart to sit still, let the body do what it does.

When Richard got leukemia and we spent 10 months walking side by side towards The Door, my brain was at its peak–I kept it all together.  My body kept me moving, traveling back and forth, tending to him, tending to me, holding down my job.  My heart…well, I’ll write a book about that one day.  After he died, my brain couldn’t think its way out of the grief.  My heart needed time.  My body kept going.  I remember standing at the kitchen sink at my dad’s house on the Easter Sunday a few weeks after Richard died and asking myself, “How did I get here?”  The kids were playing in the backyard.  There was a ham on the stove.  I was dressed.  My car was in the drive.  The neighbor had come across the street to give me her condolences.  My body was there, living.  My brain and my heart didn’t know what to do.

A few years passed.  My heart had wanted a child for over 10 years.  My brain knew that the clock was ticking.  My body?  My body said, “I got this.”  After my first date with G, I called Andrea to talk it over.  She asked, “Was there chemistry?” and I giggled, “Girl.  He’s got a PhD in Chemistry!”  No need for the reproductive endocrinologist.  Saved that copay.  

The first baby was born.  My brain had read the books.  My heart loved her before I ever saw her tiny heart beating.  My body stitched her together with no regard for all the alarmist messages my brain found in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”  My brain knew I was supposed to have a typed up birthing plan.  My body said, “Hush.  I am doing something here.  Watch and learn.”  My body knew how to feed her.  My body was her refuge and still is.  The love we have for each other has nothing to do with my brain.

The month I was turning 40, my brain decided that my heart and my body needed to get into shape.  I joined boot camp with the goal of being able to do a military push up on my 40th birthday.  I did three!  I didn’t think my way or wish my way to those push ups…my body did the work.  I learned to run long distances by keeping my heart steady and my brain quiet.  It’s the brain that wants to stop long before the body has to.  It’s the heart that is afraid to even begin.  When I let my body begin to move, it took over and took me places I had never believed I could go.

Now I’m 45.  I have learned that there will be times when my brain has to think my way out of a snarl–like planning dinners so that the produce all gets used up before it turns mushy.  There will be times when my heart leads the way–like when I want to ignore that “Mama!” cry at 3 a.m. but that’s ME he’s calling for.  Other times?  My body will know just what to do.  Like now, when I need to sleep so I can get up a little early tomorrow and do some push ups.

What has your body taught you?  

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Fourth Trimester Bodies

Allison Prejna and her child photographed by Ashlee Wells Jackson

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you look at this photograph?  

Softness?  Nourish?  Mother?  Comfort?  Completion?  Beautiful?  Joy?  

Flab?  Fat?  Cellulite?  Dimples?  Ripples?  Sag?  

This picture makes me ache for the days when I nursed my babies, when they fit so exactly into the curves of my body and the curves of my body were made for sheltering and nourishing them.  For forty weeks, my body gave itself over to the making of another person.  Every cell, every breath, every bite was dedicated to their creation. My body transformed itself–twice–into a ship that carried my two favorite people to this world.  For the first six months after they arrived, my body and not a drop of anything else kept them alive and caused them to flourish.  Even after they began to eat other foods, my daughter and my son returned to me and my body for over a year for nourishment and comfort.  My soft body was and still is their safe harbor.  

This ship, this harbor is a holy place to my children.  Now it is my ship alone, the only vessel I have to navigate the rest of my life.  How can I find its holiness again?  How can I honor it for the work it has done and the adventure that is yet to be had?  

I can look at this picture of a mother and hear the words “softness,” “beautiful,” “completion.”  But were I to pose the same way and fit my toddler in my lap, I am afraid that I would look at the image of my miraculous body and hear the biting words “fat,” “sag,” and “flabby.”  When I walk by a mirror naked, I don’t stop and say, “Wow, this body has done some incredible things!  Thank you!”  Instead, I turn to the side and suck in, poke and prod and sigh.  Or I don’t even stop at the mirror to say hello.  

Today a friend who has recently had a baby confided that she is feeling these “fat” words and fighting with her image of herself.  I knew just what to say to her and meant every word, but if I try to say the same things to myself….well.  So I knew it was a serendipitous gift when another friend posted a link to this wonderful article on Huffington Post about Ashlee Wells Jackson and her Fourth Trimester Bodies Project, “a photo series that embraces the changes brought to women’s bodies by motherhood.  By showcasing moms, Jackson hopes to shine a light on cultural interpretations of female beauty and change women’s expectations for themselves and those around them.” Please click through that link to see a gallery of 27 images of mother bodies.  Jackson is raising funds for her project and hopes to publish a book of images next summer.  She also calls for models!  

There are people who survive to adulthood with intact healthy body images–hooray for them–but many of us have been brainwashed by the Photoshopped, hypersexualised glossy magazine ideal that we hardly know what to think about a lumpy body that bears the marks of life.  I am practicing accepting this body, honoring it for the favors it has done me, and strengthening it for the journey ahead.  

Today’s challenge:  stop by a mirror and say hello.  Look yourself right in the eye for 10 seconds.  Then smile.  Say “Hello, Gorgeous!”   

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Progress, Not Perfection

Yesterday’s post was about practice, and we all know:  

Practice Makes _________

Go ahead, say it:  “Practice Makes Perfect.”

And we alllllll know the very idea of “perfect” is utter bullshit.  But we make ourselves crazy with the pursuit of perfection anyway.  (I’m looking at you, Pinterest.)

So I’ve been trying to think of a new slogan.  Which do you prefer?

  1. Practice Makes Incremental Changes That Will Lead You Toward Your Better Self  (that’s never going to fit on a tshirt–maybe a beach towel)
  2. Practice Makes You a Little Less Awful at That (nope, too negative)
  3. Practice Makes Progress
Progress

My perfect life is still buffering…

That’s IT!  Practice makes progress.  My therapist is always saying “Progress, not perfection.”  Chasing progress is a healthy thing; chasing perfection will make you crazy as a betsy bug.  I was going to say “crazy as a shithouse rat” but I am working on my potty mouth and how’s THAT for progress?  Practicing what I’m preaching.

Here’s a funny example of how years of practice can pay off in emotional progress.  Just the other morning, I woke from a dream of Fartbuster.  Now, back in the days of our divorce, I would dream of Fartbuster and inevitably, he would cheat on me in my dream and I would experience feelings of panic and betrayal and confusion.  I would wake with a dark cloud of emotional pain hanging over me and it would stick with me for the day.  Not only had I been dumb enough to fall for his shit…stuff…in real life, but now I was falling for it again in my dreams!  Bad me, bad me, bad me.  I deserved to feel bad.  What was it George W. Bush said?  “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice…uh…won’t get fooled again.”

Cut forward through 12 years of therapy, a lot of internal work, some rebuilding and the love of a couple of good men.

So the other night I dreamed about Fartbuster.  We were married and I discovered signs that he was cheating.  Oh, OK, to tell the truth because it was just a dream and it was really funny–the sign was that he was lying in bed next to me and he had athletic tape wrapped around his butt cheeks.  That white kind you use to tape up a twisted ankle?  So I said, “What is THAT?” and he goes, “Oh, that’s for a scene I’m filming.”   Ah.  Aha.  Ahem.

Now, in the dream, what did I do?  Did I rend my sackcloth and coat my hair with ashes?  Did I cry and scream and give him five across the eyes?  Did I roll down the staircase or wail, “Where shall I go?  What shall I do?”

Nope.  I got out of the bed, gathered my things and said, “Yep, that’s just the way he is.  Buh-bye.”  Woke up laughing.

I’ve practiced the Fartbuster scenario a LOT.  Finally, my real life skills are leaking into my dreams, I guess.  Even in my sleep, I’m getting better at saying, “That wasn’t about me.  Better let it go.”  PRACTICE.

Practice doesn’t make perfect.  Nothing makes perfect.  What could perfect be in that scenario…not ever having the dream?  Maybe.  But then I wouldn’t have woken with that laugh.  Athletic tape on his hairy ass–that’s going to smart coming off.  

David Beckham in kinesio tape

Hold up. I may have to rethink my disdain for athletic tape…

What’s your definition of progress?