Friday thoughts: body image, LTYM, Dear Sugars

As I continue to crawl out from back to back, opposite coast vacations, the most recent of which included Julia breaking a toe,  I've been unpacking and listening to podcasts. The most recent episode of my favorite podcast, Dear Sugars, was amazing company, and made me realize that I have not really written about the experience of performing in Listen To Your Mother, or about others' responses to my piece.

The podcast episode was about body image, and it felt deeply liberating to hear one of my favorite writers say that she didn't know if she would ever be fully "done" with this issue. I could relate so deeply to Cheryl Strayed's story about being aibrushed in her Vogue photo shoot about powerful women (OK, so I can't relate at all to being in Vogue, but I sure can relate to the feeling that my body isn't enough). I cried at the end when Cheryl Strayed talked about asking her daughter, who is twelve, if she likes her body, and her daughter saying, "yeah," as if there were no other possibility. And then Strayed asked if her daughter thought she, Cheryl, liked her own body, and her daughter said "of course." Strayed talks about how her heart felt full, because her daughter, at the beginning of adolescence, still feels positive about her body, and also a little bit broken, because her daughter wasn't quite right about Strayed's feelings about her own body. But, as she says, we try to do better with the next generation, and to pass on what we want to pass on, even if that feels like pretending.

I've thought so much about body image since I performed in LTYM. While I cried during my audition, shook during the first rehearsal, and sobbed to my mom as I practiced my piece the day of the show, I felt powerful and courageous as I walked onto the stage that night. While I'm the first to acknowledge that crying and power are not mutually exclusive, somehow, my jitters subsided, and I felt poised and remarkably tear-free.

I had conversations with strangers, after the show, who wanted to share their own experiences with being asked if they were pregnant. An eleven year old girl approached me and told me that my piece was her favorite of the evening. I went for a walk and out for coffee with an acquaintance who happened to be at the show, and who wanted to talk more with me. Interestingly, some women have felt enraged on my behalf, or critical of Boulder, or more specifically, critical of the school community at Julia's school. And while I admit that, last weekend at Story Land in NH, I was pleasantly surprised to see a range of bodies, all parenting their children, regardless of size, I think that the issues I explored, such as societal pressures to have a certain body, are universal. On the podcast, the guests shared that most women start to diet long before they're conscious of what that even means, and that negative body ideas often start before the age of ten. What I have experienced had roots far before I moved to Boulder, though it's hard to say how I might experience my body in a different demographic.

One of my favorite lines from Brene Brown's Braving the Wilderness is "The story I'm telling myself." I've been practicing with this line when I find myself in a negative place about my body. For instance: "The story I'm telling myself is that everyone at my gym is skinny and looks perfect in a bikini." "The story I'm telling myself is that if I lost 15 lbs, I would be happier." "The story I'm telling myself is that I shouldn't buy new clothes that really fit me, because I don't want to be this size and I might lose the weight." And then, I examine those stories. I take a closer look, hold them up to the light and find the cracks. I think, "What else could I focus my energy on, if I weren't thinking about my body?" This one gets me. How many hours have I spent thinking about how my life might be better with six pack abs? I have also been practicing separating exercise from eating, in terms of how I think about them. I'm exercising to be strong, to feel good, and not as penance for eating a muffin.

Like Cheryl Strayed, I have to say that there's a part of me that has trouble imagining a way forward that doesn't include preoccupation with my weight, or with my size. I know, though, that writing and talking about it are good places to begin.