Thursday, February 01, 2007

Body image issues

Today we're going to talk body image. Because mine ain't so hot and it's on my mind. First I will say some beautiful things: 1. my walk over here was invigorating. 2. I ate mexican last night-yum and 3. my hair feels so nice after a few days back on Pantene (I've been trying to use all natural shampoos but they make my hair dull and flat. Fortunately Pantene doesn't have parabens so I'm using it).

So my school is doing a clothing exchange, which is a really great idea. The women bring clothes they are tired of and get credits for them, and then they come back the next day and pick stuff from what others have brought. It's a nice way to get "new" clothes for free. I really think it's a lovely thing to offer.

But as I was thinking about participating, I realized I'd probably finally get rid of my skinny clothes (having given up on fitting in them ever again) so they'd probably be picked up happily by someone else. However, I began to wonder if I would be able to find anything for my credits. You see, most girls around here look to be about a size 4-8, maybe a few 10s. Those who are in my size range are few and far between (there are also several plus size ladies, but I'm in this weird in-between range) (where, incidentally, most of the Midwest lives - when I go back there, I'm downright svelte).

I'm now really thinking about this clothing exchange thing. It's sponsored by our women's concerns group, and I realized it's actually bringing up some pretty serious issues for me as a woman. You see, a clothing exchange is really a fun idea for a girl who's a size 4 - she's not ashamed to bring in her tiny little outfits, and she'll find plenty that works for her. But for a size 14 woman, it's a different story. She may bring in stuff in the 10-12 range that no longer fits, and that will work for a lot of other people. But will she find anything for herself? Or will she leave, humiliated, like happens so often when trying to find clothes at the mall?

It's funny, this was actually the topic of King of the Hill on Sunday. Peggy and friends were exchanging but nobody wanted Peggy's stuff because it was too big (shoes - there's a running joke about her giant feet) or just ugly. She wound up exchanging with drag queens, the only people interested in her castoffs.

The show made a nice point about strong women. But now that it's happening in real life, it doesn't seem to have such a happy ending. I was mostly just feeling annoyed by the whole thing and then I sat down on my couch and suddenly started crying. I was trying to pray and I couldn't help these sobs from rising. It's like I could feel my self-esteem going down, down, down.

Those of you who know me in person know that I hide my weight fairly well. Usually people think I weigh a lot less than I do. And I don't look obese, but the doctors tell me I am - dangerously so. They aren't comparing me to anybody, they are just telling me that my body is not created to handle what I've put on it. I mostly look frumpy these days - fat rolly and my face is round. I used to be really pretty - I love to look at my old pictures with my skinny arms and fat that doesn't start until my abdomen (instead of right under my boobs) and my face that has actual definition. It's hard. And stupid seminary did this to me! Grrr.

It's true. We all handle this stress differently. Some of my friends break out. I get - got - fat. And to fix it I need money I don't have (money to join a gym, and to buy expensive fish and veggies to eat instead of what I can afford). It's really true that the poor have to buy less healthy food! I need to exercise harder than I am able to right now - I walk most everywhere and I do some situps and pushups at home, but it makes no impact whatsoever on my body. I also eat as healthily as I can, at least not putting chemicals or corn syrup in me, but no matter how much I diet (and I've tried a lot) it makes no difference either. I could probably lose weight with a personal trainer and/or a diet program. But I don't feel I can spare the money for them. So I am fat because I'm poor.

At any rate, I dream that I won't always be this size and someday I'll fit back in the clothes I love. So maybe I shouldn't give them away anyway. I'm tired of these size 16 jeans. I have to wear them every day because although 14 is what fits, only 16s don't make my fat bulge out. The 16s fall off me (I have to wear long shirts because they are usually hanging around halfway down my butt, ghetto-style) but the others make me cringe when I look at myself. It would help if somebody would make a shirt that wasn't so darn skin-tight!

I don't know if I'll participate in this thing or not. I think it could really send my body image into a tailspin. I actually think it might have been good for them to post size recommendations, so those who are super skinny (stress does that, too) or "above average" don't waste our time or give up stuff for nothing.

I dunno. What do you think? Are these exchanges a good idea? I guess on a huge scale there's a better chance of finding stuff. But on a smaller scale, you can control sizes better (e.g. I get together with 3 girlfriends whom I know are my size or similar and we swap). It could be fun - it will be for most - but it could also be frustrating. And I guess it's brought up stuff that's inside me, because I just cried my little eyes out and told God how ugly I feel. Blech. I guess being smart can't make you feel great every day. Then again, being loved by God should. So I will try to focus on that. Of course this isn't important in the grand scheme of things. But it just comes up when you're faced with such a situation, you know?


Kate said...

This issue is one that I struggle with constantly as well. I've always been on the larger side and being at seminary has certainly exacerbated that problem.

I've taken to wearing men's t-shirts because they have longer sleeves that cover my fat upper arms. And if I go shopping with people, I try as best I can to avoid showing them the sizes I'm picking up. (Sort of tricky when someone asks if they can help you find stuff.)

Like you, I've always been able to hide my weight well, but I know it's there and I'm constantly aware of making myself appear smaller than I am.

This semester, I'm trying to make better choices in the cafeteria, but it's not easy. And I'm also committed to exercising regularly, but it's difficult to stay motivated.

All this rambling to say, "I'm right there with ya, sister!" I probably wouldn't go to the clothing exchange and it would make me feel just a little depressed.

Katy Cooper said...

I wish I had some wisdom that would make this easier or better. I admire your courage and your candor--these aren't easy things to talk about. Or to experience.

Juniper said...

I put on almost forty pounds while I was in grad school, and didn't lose it until I had a job where I rode my bike to work everyday. (now that I don't have that, not so good). I like to remind myself -- since I really eat quite well and walk a lot -- that my body type is designed for survival rather than catwalks, and when civilization crashes down (it will!) I'll be sitting pretty with my super-efficient, non-wasteful natural metabolism.

Meanwhile, more seriously, I remember how I used to get so frustrated and self-hating when I went shopping, how nothing fit well, and how I almost cried with joy when I found something that I could button across my chest. One thing that helped was to refuse to buy stuff under any circumstances that didn't fit me or feel comfortable in my current shape. And remember that you ARE beautiful, and there are plenty of women who wear 14s and 16s who will LOVE your highly fashionable stuff (whether they attend Fuller or not)!

Anonymous said...

Oh boy.... I can really relate to your experience. I'm around a size 16-18. I do hide my weight sometimes, and try to wear loose fitting clothing. But my daughter has been trying to change that - trying to bring me into the 21st Century. (smile) She's battled weight problems most of her life. She's much bigger than I am and have had some horrible shopping experiences. So, a few years ago, she became a fashion designer. She has a company called Jahqoi (in Los Angeles). She sells online and in a few stores in the Midwest. She tells me that it doesn't help to wear loose clothing...that it only makes you look bigger.

I've only participated in one clothing exchange (years ago). It didn't work for me because of my size. So, I don't think I'd go, if I were you. But I love your idea of swapping with a few women who are in your size range. I think that's a fantastic way to handle the clothing dilemma... especially when funds are limited.
Thanks so much for sharing your feelings/experience with us. Now that I've discovered your blog, I'll be back regularly. And don't feel bad about crying. I'm like that too. I'm okay with my weight most of the time, though. But when I have to go to an event and I'm surrounded by mostly thin women, it does get to me sometimes. As you pointed out, however, God loves us and we have to learn to love ourselves too.

Anonymous said...

I can truly empathize with your experience. Please remember that God makes some bodies fat and some bodies thin and some bodies short and some bodies tall. While it is easy to think we'd all be the same size if we all "behaved" and engaged in "healthy" behaviors, it is simply not true. Body diversity is to be celebrated. I know that many doctors don't stay up on the latest research regarding these matters, but I would encourage you to seek out a doctor that is familiar with size-acceptance health paradigms. Labeling bodies "obese" and encouraging weight loss is outdated and has been shown to be a root cause of problems such as hypertension. It may seem that seminary caused the weight gain, but women who live the longest are those who continue to gradually put on weight as they age, so it may be your body behaving as God created it. Many larger women stay large even when they begin treating their bodies better (and many were treating their bodies just fine to begin with).

I wish you lived in one of the many cities around the country that have well-attended clothing exchanges for larger women. As it is, I simply send my prayers for a happier, healthier (not necessarily smaller) you.