Thursday, September 08, 2005

“I am not ill, I am not well…

… My quondam dreams are shot to hell.” No, actually, things aren’t anything like that bad, I just had the Dorothy Parker quote on my mind.

It is possible that I’m not terribly well, though. I’ve been unusually knackered all week, and my dad and sister have or have just had terrible colds, and both maintain that it started out by feeling sort of wiped out. So when I woke up several days running with sore and swollen tonsils and a flu-like ache in the bones, I thought I was in for something too, but it hasn’t come to anything and the tonsils have returned to normal. Must be my superior immune system.

Anyway, as a result of this persistent weariness, I haven’t been to the gym yet this week. What is it that keeps preventing me from getting into a routine? I know it was easier with my old job, but still. Last week I was congratulating myself because I’d gone to the gym three times: I hadn’t done that for ages. Food was going fine and I lost another pound. I’ll be amazed – no, stunned – if that happens this week.

It’s not that my habits have been awful, but I keep catching myself eating stuff I don’t really need because I’m tired and I think it will give me more energy. This is bad. Back when my eating habits were at their poorest, and my physical fitness was lowest, that was my usual excuse for eating junk – “I need the energy”. Now I know that if you exercise, you feel more energetic and don’t feel the need to self-medicate with angel cake (or whatever) but this week, I just haven’t been able to summon up the… what? Energy? Gumption? Life-force?

However. I have my gym kit with me today. That means I’m going to the gym this evening, no excuses.

Gah. I shouldn’t moan on, considering what is going on in the world. But I’ve noticed a posting lull among quite a few normally prolific bloggers. Probably the relentless gloom on the news is having a knock-on effect on everyone’s levels of vim and vigour…

Oh well, we just have to plough on…

(Warning: long navel-gazery bit, but with bonus book review.)

I’ve been thinking quite a bit this week about this weight-loss business and about body image. On the whole, I don’t think mine is too bad, at least as an adult. I may never have a perfect body or love my upper arms, but (clothed anyway) I don’t think I look too bad.

However, last night I saw some holiday photos and had it borne into me once more that what I see, when I look in the mirror, may not be what others see. It is rare that I like a photo of myself. Not that I see a girl with perfect regular features in the mirror – I know I have a funny little rounded nose, a high forehead, a largish chin – but I’m always surprised by how much chubbier my face, in particular, looks in photos. I often think I look rather stupid.

“Do you really like this one? My face looks so fat. And I’m doing a really goofy expression.”

“Oh, don’t be silly. I don’t think you have a fat face – it’s just what you look like” said my mum. Oh, please no. Don’t tell me I really do look like that.

I’m aware that other people see a difference in me now. I don’t see any difference naked, not really, but the tapemeasure tells me I’ve lost 3 inches off my waist, and one pair of my jeans has now reached the stage where I can pull them off without undoing them (and consequently have to wear a belt with them, which is a new experience, I can tell you). According to Dietgirl, this is the stage at which you can officially buy smaller ones. And it’s true that I have recently bought the odd item of clothing in a size 14, including a dress which makes me feel quite alluring, and possibly even makes me look that way.

The other day my sister and I went clothes shopping and I was startled to realize that my slim size-12 sister and I had acquired a few things that were (officially anyway) the same size. I know, really, that we are not the same size. She might borrow my tops, because she likes things to be a bit loose, but the day I can borrow her jeans will be the day I see a pig soaring gracefully into the sunset on porcine wings. However, it’s an odd feeling that although we will never have the same body type, I might actually be able to be… relatively slim.

Somehow, even now that I’ve proved I can lose some weight, I haven’t stopped thinking that I am just naturally a big robust girl. And in a way I don’t want to stop identifying myself as such. Maybe it was a defence mechanism – I am not thin, but thin girls are waifs, slender reeds, fragile wisps. My feminist self doesn’t want to be a fragile wisp, therefore it is OK not to be thin, and besides I have a Mind Above Such Things.

When I read D-girl talking about how one doesn’t wish to go on about one’s bodily dissatisfactions in public, it made me think – yes. Partly I was hoping if I didn’t bring the subject up, nobody would go “Yes, actually, now that you mention it you are a bit on the lardy side.” But the bit of me that is more realistic simply wanted people to think that I didn’t care particularly about my weight. I was an intellectual, not a vain, superficial person who cared about fitting into society’s dictates for female beauty. (So why do I have so many clothes, all purchased in the vain hope that this will be the item that magically makes me elegant, cool and reveals my inner wonderfulness? Because somehow I’ve never quite managed to shake the idea that new clothes will have this effect.)

I’ve never stopped thinking, all the time, about the way people will perceive me. A couple of weeks ago I read William Leith’s The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict. It’s very interesting to get a male perspective on the issue, because men talk about their feelings about being fat even less than women do, I’d say. Leith had various other things wrong in his life, and ate emotionally because he was miserable; the book documents his cycle of loss and regain, discovery of the Atkins plan, his starting to lose weight by using the plan and realising that he had shifted his comfort mechanisms on to other things (drink, cocaine and painkillers) and finally having therapy and sorting himself out a bit.

The book’s been criticised for his, as it were, swallowing Atkins whole; actually, he’s only mildly evangelical about it, for someone who’s evidently found it very useful. I know the temptation, when one has seen results from a particular activity, to sell it as The Answer to everyone you know. (I started this site in part so as not to bore everyone by going on about how wonderful Nautilus machines are…) Some might find it hard to sympathise with someone who has behaved in what should have been an obviously self-destructive way: the subtitle is apt, because food was evidently an addiction in the same way that booze and pills were. But he doesn't really sell Atkins and therapy as a universal solution – he just documents how they helped him.

Leith is spot-on about some things: the way in which, when you’re fat, you divide the world into people who are thinner than you (and so enviable) or fatter (and so a source of comforting “at least I’m not THAT fat” thoughts); his description of remembering when he used to go to the gym and feel pleasure at seeing another regular who was fatter than him, and his gloomy realisation that he was now about that size himself; the feeling that you don’t look smart even in your good clothes, that they somehow always look dishevelled and don’t hang right. There is the odd piece of writing that doesn’t quite come off (he describes an obese woman’s hands as “veinless”. Well, I’m looking at my hands now, which are not even chubby – and I don’t see any visible veins. I think most youngish female hands aren’t very veiny). But on the whole I thought it was an interesting read.

Why, then, did I read it standing up in the bookshop, almost hiding at the corner between two bookcases? There might be defences for this behaviour – it’s probably not a book I would want to buy and treasure forever – but upmost in my mind at the time was that people on the bus would see me reading a book about weight issues and consequently would look at me and think “Yes, that looks like a person who needs to concern herself with weight issues.”

I do not make judgements about whether other people around me should lose weight. I don’t think any the worse of people who are trying to lose weight – on the contrary I admire them – so why am I still so convinced that others will make judgements about me?

I don’t think I’ve got it all entirely sorted yet. I’m going to the gym now.


Jeni said...

Wow this was a great post. I know exactly how you feel when it comes to thinking people are judging you. But to be honest, I have no idea how to work out those feelings either. I don't want to be vain, but yes, I am concerned with how I look.

I just try to focus on my accomplishments, weight related and other. You should be proud of what you've done, of the progress you've made. Especially the going to the gym part!

K said...

Thanks, Jeni. Reading it over, I am slightly cringing at how "me, me, me" it is, but I'm leaving it up anyway.

I don't really think that it's vain to care about how you look (unless a person spends hours and hours on their appearance, in which case it's rather sad). It's normal. Of course I care about how I look - I just want to give the impression that my gorgeousness is effortless :)

It's my birthday today, so I am feeling quite pretty. Old, but pretty.

Rosemary Grace said...

It's a blog, it's supposed to be you you you.

This is really good, I can relate a lot to photographs being a shock compared to the mirror, some engagement photos we had taken in February of 2004 made me feel miserable!

It's hard to find the balance between self awareness and self obsession, women are trained by society that we must be EFFORTLESSLY beautiful, slender and well presented, so by being a girl who has to work on it a bit...we're failures. This is why DietGirl is such a breath of fresh air: she's worked to be where she is, and still freaks out about finding dressy outfits.

I think Scottish culture also has a particular horror of vanity, all that Calvinist Guilt [TM]. Here in California there's a fair bit of cultural encouragement to be self obsessed, but also, of course, to be effortlessly slim and beautiful.

I'm very sure that the vanity factor is why I find it much easier to make progress by focusing on health, not weight. Silly little mental distinction, but it's why WW drove me mad in the end.