Thursday, December 10, 2009

Picture perfect

189 pounds
I turned a corner yesterday—I started, albeit briefly, feeling like a normal person for the first time since my surgery almost two weeks ago. Like any completely insane person, my immediate response was to try and conquer absolutely everything on my to do list. I spent the day at work, and when I came home, I cleaned, cooked dinner, did laundry, started a new book, answered email messages, surfed the internet, and put up holiday decorations. I had felt so bad and been inactive for so long that I had an insatiable desire to do as much as possible in the few hours I had to myself.

And while I was looking for our ceramic Christmas tree in the garage, I came across some old photos, and like most people, as soon as I found one, I couldn't stop looking for more. Before I knew what had happened, I'd spent a good part of the night flipping through old pictures and memorabilia. Not such a bad way to pass an evening, but unfortunately it sent me down a slippery slope.

Because when I came across a picture of myself in my late twenties—a time when I weighed around 150 pounds—all I could think was, why can't I look like that now? And then my next thought was, maybe I should try harder to lose weight, maybe I've got it all wrong. . . maybe I should try to diet or starve myself. Or maybe I should give up soda for a whole year. I heard once that if you stop drinking soda for a year, you can lose thirty pounds. Could that be true?

And as soon as I allowed those thoughts to creep in, another even more disturbing one arrived: My God, I sound just like my parents. I sound like my mom planning her next diet or my dad the year he gave up french fries. Is it possible that I'm turning into my parents?

And that's when it hit me that my response to the picture in my hand was completely dysfunctional and unhealthy.

I don't really believe I can give up soda for a year and lose thirty pounds. So why on earth did those thoughts sneak into my head? Probably because I'm human, and it's only human to create unrealistic fantasies about our lives. But it still bugged me. Here I am writing this blog about not dieting, but I still find myself susceptible to flights of fancy about cutting calories to the bare minimum and being as thin as I was over ten years ago.

When I lived in Cincinnati in my early thirties, I had a friend around the same age who was practically haunted by a picture of herself from when she was eighteen. It was a nude picture, but it was done tastefully, and you couldn't see any of her private parts. It was all stomach, arms, and legs. But she was completely and totally obsessed with the concave stomach, toned arms, and lean legs of her youth. And this was the case even though she had gained only about ten pounds since then. Whenever she would bring up the photo and how much she was dying to get her old body back, I would get really irritated. I would think, my God, doesn't she understand that she'll never be eighteen again? and wonder why she simply could not accept herself the way she was.

And, as most of you know, that's really what this blog is about—accepting ourselves the way we are. The truth is that even though I had a very average desire last night to look as thin as I did when I was younger, I have also accepted myself the way I am today. I don't dislike the way I look now. In fact, I like the way I look, and I really do feel happy with the image I see in the mirror. And that's another way I've changed since that picture was taken—I feel good about myself now (something I was frighteningly incapable of doing when that old picture was taken). But at the same time, I do long for aspects of the younger me. I guess I want the best of both worlds—I want to accept myself the way I am now, and I want to have the body I had back then too. I have to reiterate—it's not that I dislike the body I have now. It's that I wish I had appreciated what I had back then. And maybe I do wish I had another chance in that body. Oh, how I would appreciate it! Oh, how I would take care of it! I would be like Michelangelo and his ceiling: I would tend to every last detail.

I'm not really sure what all this means—that I'm human? That I'm capable of having the same fantasies I dislike so much in others? I guess all I know for sure is that I can't let these fantasies consume me or dictate my choices. Sure, it's okay to have these thoughts from time to time, but if I let them take over my life, I am no better off than that friend who was in love with the image of her eighteen-year-old self. And, to be honest, I don't think I could get up in the morning if I didn't love my thirty-nine-year-old self a whole lot more than the unsure and insecure person I was at eighteen.

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