Friday, April 19, 2013

Here's to You, Ms. Middle Age: A Guide to Body Acceptance and Bravery

My six-year-old daughter Katie is obsessed with the game The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time.  She plays it on my husband's old school Nintendo 64.

image source Wikipedia

The game both thrills her and terrifies her.  She prefers to play it only when Will is home so he can take over the controller for her during the super scary battle scenes while she sits beside him on the futon with her hands over her eyes, peaking out of the cracks between her fingers.  Sometimes when Will isn't home she's jonesin' for Zelda so badly she succumbs and tries to play by herself, but inevitably she gets to a scary fight scene and cries out for help.

"Mama!  I can't do this!  It's tooooooo scary.  When will Daddy be home?!"

She asks for her daddy because her mama is no gamer and she knows it.  All I can do for her is be a good role model and offer advice.

"If you want to play the game now, you're going to have to practice being brave.  If you don't want to practice being brave right now, turn off the game and go play something else.  The wisest people know when to stay and be brave and when to run away and clear their minds of what's troubling them."

I'm no gamer, but I still get to practice being brave.  I don't fight external enemy pixels.  My battle is internal: shame.

But I'm getting braver.

Three days ago I shared a blog post about my experiences with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder--Winsteads--with a group of Health at Every Size® activists on a listserv Dr. Linda Bacon invited me to join months ago when I shared with her another blog post, Camp Empathy, which discusses how her book Health at Every Size changed my life.

I've been blogging since July 2011, and since then I've connected with some of my writing idols--Linda Bacon, Laura Moriarty, and Harriet Lerner--by sharing some of my posts with them on social media.  It's thrilling to have my writing idols read my blog.  Laura Moriarty even sent me a gift, a copy of the book Tiny Beautiful Things, after reading a sad post I'd written about my dad because she, rightfully, believed it would resonate with me.

It's both thrilling and terrifying to receive such love from my idols.  Jeez.  If they love me I guess it's time I start loving myself.

Then another thrilling and terrifying thing happend.  Another writing idol, Marilyn Wann, friend requested me on Facebook.  She friended me.  Wann initiated the friend request after she read the post I shared on the Health at Every Size® listserv.

Marilyn Wann.  The Marilyn Wann?  I've been recommending her awesome book Fat!So? for years at the library where I work.  Are you fucking kidding me?

Totally not kidding.  Wann loved my post and shared it with her like-minded friends.  And she's offered to share some of my other HAES-related posts, too.

I'm stoked about this new friendship with Wann not only for the exposure my blog gets each time she shares one of my posts, but also because her own posts are fascinating and inspirational.  Take this one Wann shared this morning, Judging the "Best Figure in Hollywood," 1931 by Anne Helen Petersen.  It discusses how a Hollywood fan magazine in 1931 featured a contest for which starlet had the "best figure" according to a panel of "expert judges".  It's both a laugh riot and sadly triggering of my own body dysmorphic history.

The part that really gets me is the chart that features each movie star's age, weight, and measurements.  It then shows an "Accepted Hospital Chart for Women's Weights."  I'm nearly 100 pounds heavier than this chart deems acceptable.

It doesn't bother me in the least that this chart states I'm too fat.  Today's BMI charts tell me I'm "morbidly obese" despite my internal measurements of health--low cholesterol, low blood pressure, average blood glucose--and my own doctor assuring me I'm quite healthy.  What bothers me are the sad memories triggered from seeing this old chart.

A couple of years before I was diagnosed with anorexia, my mom brought home a book from the public library's book sale.  My dad was too cheap to allow us to buy brand-new books.  Why buy books when you can check them out for free at the library? is his motto.  But he relented and allowed Mom to pay a dime for an old, discarded book at the library book sale.

The book mom brought home is Here's to You, Miss Teen: A Guide to Good Grooming and Poise by Mary Sue Miller.  It was published in 1960 and withdrawn from the library on October 20, 1977.  Mom gave it to my teenage sister Jenny.  But by late 1977, Jenny was fourteen going on twenty-four.  She had boyfriends galore.  She knew how to put her hair up in hot rollers and style it like Farrah Fawcett.  She wore stylish clothes, even on our paltry family clothing budget.  She has one of those personalities that everyone adores.  She's funny and smart and kind.  She didn't need no stinkin' guide to beauty and poise.

I did.  Or at least I thought I did.  I was six going on sixteen, and even though I couldn't read well enough yet to understand much of its content, I coveted my sister's book and stole it from her, hiding it in my drawer until I was old enough to read it myself.

I became obsessed with the book the year I turned eleven, the year I was diagnosed with anorexia.  I read it cover to cover, over and over, as if it would save my life.  I realize now it just warped my sad little anorexic brain even more than it already was.  Look at the "notes" I made inside the book all those years ago:

The book contains a chart with a measurement guide for girls "ages 16 and 17."  Here's a picture of that chart from my copy of the book:

See how I marked it up?  I even cut myself some slack by adding 1" to the measurements for my large "bony structure".  I still never measured up.  Before I began starving myself, at age 11, I was already "too big" according to this chart.  

I was an early developer like my dad and his side of the family.  Even though Jenny is nearly eight years older than I am we could wear the same size clothes from the time I was in third grade.  We have the same mom but different dads, and Jenny takes after her petite paternal grandmother.

So when I took this book out of my drawer and began studying it when I was eleven, realizing I was already "too big" according to the charts, I began starving myself.  At my lowest point, when my shrink and my parents were threatening to hospitalize me and stick a feeding tube down my throat, I was 5'3" and weighed 79 pounds.

I am still 5'3".  I stopped growing the same year I was diagnosed with anorexia.  I used to think it had something to do with malnutrition, and it very well could, but my Physical Anthropology instructor at the community college once informed me that most girls stop growing about one year after they begin menstruating.  I started my period in January 1981, about a year before I stopped growing.  (Side note: the same month my husband was born - isn't that freakishly funny?)

I am still 5'3" but I no longer weigh anything close to 79 pounds.  Thank God.  Thank myself.

So now I'm going to practice being brave.  I'm going to do something that terrifies me, but I also know it will set me free.  My own husband doesn't even know how much I weigh.  I've kept it secret from everyone, hiding in shame.

It's time for my body to come out of the closet.  

This morning, after reading the article shared by Wann and looking over my old copy of Miss Teen, I decided to measure myself, for old times' sake.  

I am no longer ashamed of my measurements.  I used the same guidelines the judges used to assess the figures of Hollywood stars back in 1931.  So here goes. 

Age: 42
Height: 5'3"
Weight: 229 lbs.
Bust: 50"
Waist: 40"
Hips: 51"
Glove: 7" (I have no idea how to measure my glove size, so I took a guess and measured from my wrist to the tip of my longest finger.) 
Shoe: 9 1/2WW (or men's size 8W if I can't find wide enough shoes in the women's section)

Wow.  What a relief.  That was fucking scary.  But I was brave and I got through it.  And guess what?  Nobody died.  In fact, I now feel more alive.

This is me, this morning, reading my old book like a long lost friend.  A very sick friend I've grown apart from.

Fuck you, charts.
Fuck you, comparing ourselves to movie stars.
Fuck you, expert judges.

This is me, this morning, reading a new friend's book:

I love my body just the way it is.  My body carried my amazing child.  My body intertwines with my husband in blissful delight whenever we have a hot date night.  Or better yet, nooners when the kiddo's in school.  My body carries me throughout the world where I meet fascinating people and participate in wonderful activities.  My body carries my brain.  My body carries my heart.  My body carries my soul.  

My body.

Not yours.