Thursday, December 16, 2010

Weightlifters and waifs

My lover looked down at his arms frowning. He expressed his regret for the weight that he had lost over the months, and how he wanted to gain weight. I remained silent, only thinking that his long, lean body appeared perfect in my eyes. Not long after I was in a friend’s home and as I tried to sneak between a counter top and an open washing machine door I only narrowly escaped the passage, because my rear lightly bumped against the counter top and I tapped a glass. The glass's clink as it was ever so slightly displaced attested to my perceived crime. I laughed from mild embarrassment, as did my friend, who joked that the apartment was built for her. She is middle aged, Caucasian, and has a small frame. She is what they call ‘skin and bones.’ She tried to make me feel better, sharing that she had been the subject of teasing for her skeleton like frame, for not having anything in the rear to bump anything.

Once more the light of my highly critical eye turned itself inward toward my body and began to burn into it. I’ve been disapproving and unloving of my body since I was girl, but I am certain that I am not alone in this way. The majority of us have meager respect and acceptance for the bodies that we have.

I’ve always been told that I look healthy and strong. Through the nebulous cloud of thought that message translates as, "I’m overly muscular, stalky, unfeminine, equestrian." "I would give anything to have nice round muscles like yours," another slight and slim friend of mine once said. When thin people try to compliment me in this way it usually makes me more horrified at how they must see this body which, when I actually look at myself in the mirror or in photographs, strangely doesn’t seem so bad. But when I step away from talking to thin people I look in the mirror and see, the Hulk.

I wonder, is anyone happy with who they are? We handcuff our minds to a shared image of the physical ideal, usually what we have seen in the media. But when it comes to who we are on the inside, there is no image against which we measure ourselves. We simply strive to be the best people that we can be. We don’t beat ourselves up when we are not the carbon copy of Mother Theresa. We try to do well in school, to obtain successful jobs, to learn languages and arts, to donate to good causes and help the less fortunate. But when it comes to outer ideals, somehow for most of us there is a perfect body type, and we put ourselves in a prison each day of our existence that we fail to meet that type. We drink protein drinks to gain muscle or deny ourselves food. Before the mirror we inspect, flex, and pinch at our bodies.

Why do we always talk about how we look with our friends and relatives? Or why is the mark of success or failure after not having seen someone for some time often how much weight they have lost or gained? Why don’t we talk about the people that we are and want to be? And when will we measure our patience, gratitude, knowledge, motivation, dedication, honesty, and kindness, instead of our thighs, waistlines, and biceps?

Whoever I talk to it seems that half of them want to lose weight and half want to gain weight. I know so few who are content with who they are and don’t seek to be weightlifters or waif models.

Occasionally the veil of vanity does fall away from my thoughts and I realize that there is so much more to all of us than our flesh. While it is true that one should be healthy, that healthy and unhealthy life choices are reflected in the body’s appearance, it is but a lump of flesh that no one will remember after we expire. No one will remember our measurements but what we did and said and contributed to the lives of those around us. I remind myself of this and find myself a few more shakes of the handcuffs closer to freedom.