In the home that I grew up in, gaining weight was pretty much the worst thing that you could do to yourself. It was implied that if you gained weight, you would lose out on life, love, and happiness. How you looked was everything, and “whipping yourself into shape” was the order of the day. This was thinly veiled behind the pretense of, “It isn’t healthy to gain weight.” But really, how healthy was drinking diet soda, smoking cigarettes, eating the stash of my mother’s appetite suppressants (named, believe it or not, AIDS), and fearing weight gain, with every bite that I ate?!
For years I had a such an intense fear of gaining weight that I weighted myself twice a day. I felt elated if I had lost, and discouraged if I had gained. My emotions went up and down according to the little plastic box that I stepped onto. In 1986, I gave my bathroom scale away, even though I was almost certain that I would gain weight uncontrollably if I wasn’t monitoring it every second. I knew that I could not keep focusing on such a narrow version of life, and develop into the person that I wanted to be, and giving away my scale was the first step “in”.
This has been brought home to me lately by witnessing the distress of someone close to me, now well into his late 80’s. His body is breaking down and changing. He always took such immense pride in the way that he looked, how active he was, how he was able to do all of the things (and even wear some of the same size clothes) that he did in his 20’s. He focused so much on staying the same, not changing, on maintaining, that he didn’t go inside, and really get to know himself, and now he feels betrayed by his body and is angry. I have suggested that he might want to take it easy on himself, start to realize that he is much more than his body, rest more, relax into his life. He dismisses this instantly.
Why would we want to look like we did in our 20’s or 30’s? Why would we want to be doing exactly the same things? This would mean that we live in a world where life “peaks” at 30 and goes downhill from there. Life is meant to be an ever expanding experience. To be a whole person, to live this life fully, we need to change and grow, find out who we really are inside, regardless of what is happening to our ” shells”.
Lately I’ve been thinking, “You are letting yourself go Mary” and it is true. I am letting go of the idea that I need to look younger, and embracing the idea of being kinder. Having a kinder mind. Seeing myself with wonderful new eyes. I think that I’ve gained weight, I am softer everywhere, and there is definitely more of me around the middle. For a few days last fall, I thought about joining a gym to do exercises that would flatten and firm my body. I decided against it.
In this second half of my life here on earth, I am going to focus on loving myself, and my body, not mercilessly whipping it “into shape.” I am going to listen to my inner voice more, with a kinder ear; sleep when I hear that sweet call, take longer baths, get massages, eat good food, read uplifting words, think happier thoughts, walk, breath, smile at myself…and others.
WILD GEESE, by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.