body image

Is this acceptance?

I’ve put on weight. Like a fair bit. For real tho.

On the left: me, on July 28th, 2018. On the right: me, on March 24th, 2018.

That pic makes me wanna weep. In March I was still grappling with my diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder. I’d just begun to barely pull myself out of the worst depression of my life, one that had threatened to derail my career in Nov-Jan. My relationship with Hickster was a toxic destructive mess. I’d recently quit my dance team, and was experiencing semi-frequent episodes of cognitive distortion. I had lost a lot of weight from unhappiness. But I looked good. And I clung onto that notion like a life raft.

Since June, I am better. I am seeing the colors. I am also almost 15lbs heavier than I was in March. This is the heaviest I have been in years. As I am doing better, my career is back on track, and I’ve even been recently promoted, yay. But as a result, I have trouble working out 1-2x a week, I rarely go dancing, and my primary food group is candy and alcohol. Bad habits like stress eating are resurfacing. I am no longer anything close to being an athlete.

I look at that pic, and I feel shame. Because the weight represents the emotional burden of these past few months. I survived mentally, but there was a huge cost. And it manifests itself, in part, in a damaged body. I look at that pic and I see that I’ve let myself go, that I’ve stopped taking care of myself. I don’t believe anymore that I am beautiful. I feel worn out by all that life has thrown my way in 2018. I am ashamed that it shows.

But… this is not my first rodeo with body self-hatred (see reading list below), I know that this shame is self-imposed. It doesn’t correspond to how the outside world sees me. So even when I feel DISGUSTING, bloated and distended and almost deformed, I don’t let that stop me from slipping on a figure hugging outfit and going dancing. I want to stay home and hide under a tent, but I don’t let myself do so. That would be letting my sick brain win, and fuck off brain, I’ve too much pride for that.

When I saw those pics, I was horrified. I looked pregnant. I remember that night. I’ve been having digestive issues caused in equal parts by the lack of veggies in my diet, the industrial quantities of candy and also the spike in stress. It makes for a… “congested” combo, let’s just say. It’s one thing to feel icky plogged, it’s a whole other thing to look icky plogged. I blush with shame when I see those pics.

Except… I got SO many compliments from the dudes that night. My curves were not perceived as a bad thing, at all.

This guy ain’t complaining about nothing.

So even though I feel completely uncomfortable in my body, I know a lot of it is in my head. If I go out and force myself to dance, to put aside the vicious hateful voices in my head that tell me I am repulsive and gross and lazy and undisciplined, and let myself connect to my dance partners, I can find moments of freedom and joy. One dance at a time.

Maybe that is real acceptance? Acknowledging that the current state is not ideal, but not letting it stop me from doing what I love.

Acceptance is fucking hard, apparently.


Previous thoughts on body-image:

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Play to your strengths 

Remember Ferrari boy? He whose smooth talk convinced me to eat too much pizza at work? When I told the Ferrari story to my #dreamteam, they scoffed at me – Charmer was over 30, for sure. I scoffed at them: I’ve developed a 6th sense at identifying all guys under 26 years old. The gym and the dance world is crammed with good looking almost-children charmers. I ain’t into the whole cradle-robbing thing. Auntie Vanilla, that’s me. Not Cougar Vanilla. Charmer was under 25, I could tell. I bet a week’s supply of chocolate on it.

He is 30. My team was thorough in their interrogation, even sharing with him the reason for their cross-examination – they don’t mess around when there is chocolate on the line.

I skipped the caf for almost 2 weeks. Auntie Vanilla was embarrassed. My team was delighted. They finished the chocolate in 2 days.


When I was 25, after 6 years with my ex, Dynamo and Brown Socks organized a road trip to TO. We were all single, why not behave irresponsibly in a city where nobody knew us? Our first night out, Brown Socks told me not to worry, he’s an excellent wingman, he’d help me find myself a dude. Bruh. Puh-lease. Watch me. Off I went to the best looking group of dudes at the bar, chatting them up, flirting up a storm with the best looking one of them, blond, built like a football linebacker – oh no way, you are a football player? Where? at UofT! Neat, wait how are old are you? 20?! Haha, noooooooooooo way, nice try, look at your muscle tone. You must be 23-24 at least. Footballer chose not to argue with me about his own age, #goodmanners. A few shots later, we were swapping saliva. In the bar, bc #classy. Footballer knew what he was doing (see?! proof he couldn’t actually be 20 years old!). Kissy kiss kiss, I was really enjoying myself when my brain interrupted: Yes, but are you sure he isn’t 20? The half-your-age+7 rule almost applies, you know. He has to be over 19.5 for you not to be crossing the line. Why would he lie about his age? And that is how I found myself putting the torrid make-out session on pause, and asking Footballer for a piece of ID. Bemused, he handed me his driver’s license. Born in 1990. 20 years old.

My legs gave way. I sat down, gave him back his driver’s license and apologized. No more kissy kiss kiss. Yes, I know we were having fun, but that was before I understood he was actually 20 and BORN THE DECADE AFTER ME. 1990 is a HARD LIMIT. Poor Footballer tried SO hard to convince me to resume our spit-tastic interactions. I waved him away.

Dynamo and Brown Socks almost fell off the balcony, laughing so hard. They giggled the entire drive home the next day, too.

Click on the gif to go to the YouTube video of that interview. It is soooooo funny.


7 years on, and my capacity to assess people’s age has clearly not improved. 

Friday, I went down to the caf for lunch. Charmer almost dropped a bowl of soup on his coworker as I walked up to the counter. He was so generous in his preparation of my order that he ran out of space in the normal sized takeout container, and gave me a 2nd container for my salad. As he handed me my food, very seriously, he told me, Vanilla you look good. Really good.

Look at all that food! The size of my head!


Lesson learned: Charmer responds rather well to mini-skirts. That was one of the most cost effective lunches ever. The fact that it was also an ego boost? Priceless.

Also? I’ve no idea how I ever thought he was 19-23 years old. #fail #atleastIdidntaskhimforID #agoodbossalwaysdelegatesthattoherteam

That time my life was a TLC song lyric

I have been struggling with body acceptance lately, but 2-3 weeks at the gym with Coach Dr. Booté and I feel a lot better about it. Do I wanna lose 10 lbs? Sure, and I probably will. But I can look at myself in the mirror and say to myself “not bad, you’ll do”. #progress

I went dancing this week for fun, not as part of the team or dance squad. I dressed up, because it is easier to let myself be vulnerable when I am not feeling insecure about my looks – putting my best foot forward. #immyfathersdaughter #badpunsareathinginmyfamily

I had a good night of dancing, with many partners, most of them excellent leads, and my capacity to relax into a state of vulnerability to achieve the necessary connection with my partners wasn’t terrible. #practicemakesperfect #dancingasacopingmechanismagainstmyshadow. While waiting for my Uber outside the club, a car drove past me, and guy leaned out of the passenger window and yelled, “GIIIIIIIRL! YOU HAVE ASS FOR DAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYSSSSSSSSS”.

Not gonna lie, I really enjoyed that. Both because as far as cat-calls go, it was well articulated, properly enunciated and grammatically correct, and because I never expected that my life would be a TLC lyric, incarnate:

A scrub is a guy that can’t get no love from me
Hanging at the passenger side of his best friend’s ride
Trying to holler at me

That’s the second time I’ve been creatively cat-called on that same street corner. My new go-to location for an ego boost.

#itsthesmallthings

#hewouldhaveassfordaystooifhesquatted

#IcanintroducehimtoCoach

#backtobeingpromotionalmaterialforthegym

Mercedes vs Ferrari vs pizza

In our office building there is a cantine run by an Italian caterer who is skilled at making everything sound delicious, which indeed it is. Tests my willpower, he does. A few months ago, he hired a young dude (19-20 years old?), a good-looking charmer. This kid clearly enjoys his job, as evidenced by the enthusiasm with which he describes the menu of the day, and makes tailored suggestions to all the clientèle.

On Friday, Charmer pitched his home-made custom pizza as my top choice for lunch. It sounded decadent, as everything with bacon must. I sighed, recognizing defeat. “Yes, fine, I’ll take it. I’m gonna regret this!” Charmer paused as he put my pizza in the oven, completely stumped as to why I’d regret eating something so yummy? I explained: like every woman ever, I am trying to diet, to shed 10.

Diet?! But why? You look great! You could always look better? Well, yes, that’s true, in theory…. but I mean… if you drive every day a Mercedes, are you really gonna be saying “Dammit, if only I was driving a Ferrari”? No, right? A Mercedes is freaking nice car. Enjoy it. Be proud of it. Pretty much everyone would love to drive a Mercedes.

Someone get this boy -almost young enough to be my son – a job in sales, STAT. I’ve been averaging 1 gym workout per month, working too much, haven’t been on a date in months, wouldn’t remember how to flirt if I was presented with all of the opportunities on the planet, spend my weekends sleeping in to offset my sleep deprivation, find the motivation to wear mascara 2 days out of 7, and feel like an unattractive blob… is it obvious I am PMSing?

I ate the entire damn pizza, and had a goofy smile all day.

Behold the newest Vanilla-class Mercedes. #noselfieskills

First time on a beach

I spent the day on a beach. Kite beach, one of the world’s longest stretches of white-sand beaches.

No, I did not have to cover up or be veiled. I did not see a single burkini, much to my inner-fashionista’s relief. Veiled women lazed around, as did non veiled women – funny how opting to be veiled, or not, does not decrease one’s appreciation for the sea, waves, sand and relaxation. #debunkingignorance I did see and hear one of the most diverse crowds I’ve ever been immersed in. French, English, American, Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, Indian and of course Arabic.

By putting on SPF 100 sunscreen 5 times in 6 hours, I mostly avoided burns. Not a lobster.

I spent the day alone on the beach, as Dynamo’s brother, Bossman, and Bossman’s wife IronSweetie (more on them in a later post) had to work. IronSweetie was worried I’d be bored or lonely, and reassured me that people were very friendly on the beach, I shouldn’t be shy to go say hi. My social skills remain legendary, apparently… I promised her I’d be ok. And I was. I didn’t talk to many people, other than to ask for help applying sunscreen on my back. I too busy enjoying the forced alone time – no data, wifi wasn’t working… 6 hours disconnected from the world. I swam for an hour, I walked the entire length of the beach, admiring the male joggers (#eyecandy), I read my book, I dozed. It was exactly the kind of solocation I needed.

Bonus realization: my usual body hangups didn’t make an appearance. Yes, I was bloated, PMSing, had spent the last 3 days eating all the food (Arab hospitality dictates that one must try kill one’s guests through constant peer-pressured eating and unnatural portion sizes). I hadn’t exercised in 10 days (#Parisandalltheprofiteroles). My body was not beach-ready… and I didn’t care. Why bother concerning myself with cellulite and a puffy tummy when there was the hypnotizing sound of waves and children laughing surrounding me.

I think, I hope, I am on the path to self-acceptance. And a tan. Please God, I need a tan.


Meanwhile, in Canada… Montreal’s been afflicted with one of the worst snowstorms in years. 35+ cm. Today‘s snow day was announced yesterday, because yesterday’s evening traffic was so bad (50 minute commutes taking 3.5 to 5 hours long!) that regardless of whether or not the snow removal companies worked the night through, it would be impossible to clear the snow, never mind the continued snow accumulation. However, since this is Montreal… I’d say there is 50% chance my street won’t be cleared by the time I get back Monday night.

What better time to change my Facebook profile pic to me standing in the sand?

Kuduro cucumber

I’m PMSing, y’all. Because that is obviously a topic of general interest, I have detailed various symptoms about my PMSing here and here and here.

This past weekend was not a weekend of moderation. On Saturday, I worked out for the third time in 2017 (yay, traveling! So much fun, except so much jet lag, and bloating and delicious but unhealthy foods). Of course, one hour of intense exercise with Coach Dr. Booté warrants me eating ALL of the food ever, right? Recovery diet, and all that. Sunday: brunch with a friend, followed by supper at a resto with my Pops, and wine, and cider, and chocolate because TREAT YO’SELF ITS THE WEEKEND!

Yesterday, I woke up feeling bloated. I decided: New Monday, New Day, New Me. Imma go on a diet. All morning at work, this happened. Then, I had a business lunch with a key consultant, fancy stakehouse, and why not? Entrée, bigass meal, chocoholic dessert.

Y’all.

I was so bloated my nylons and underwear were cutting off circulation in my lower body. It was so uncomfortable, I considered going commando at the office, but I opted not to and suffer in almost-silence (I only updated my team about the status of my bloating every 15 minutes, including but not limited to such descriptions as “I’m as bloated as a cucumber!” “I’m never eating food again, I swear” “Being a woman suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks”), not because I felt it was scandalous, but because I felt that was the ultimate sign of defeat. I had to learn to live with my poor life choices.

I googled “death by water retention”.

Imagine my horror when, at dance class, I realized that of ALL the days… yesterday I had packed a crop top as my dance outfit.

I considered going home. #piorities

I didn’t bail on dance class. But I did sweat scary amounts, and turned the dance floor into a swimming pool. #sexy

Today, did I learn from my mistakes and eat healthily? HAHAHAHAHAHA no. I woke up craving a grilled cheese sandwich, and waited impatiently till noon to go and buy one for myself, which I scarfed down in approximately 34 seconds, and here I am sitting at my desk, debating if eating an entire chocolate bar counts as a serving of protein. I’m not sure, the science is out, but I’m thinking the answer to that legit question is “obviously”.

#olderandwiser

#diabetesandhighbloodpressureruninmyfamilycanyoutell?

Learning to enjoy being a girl

Reared in a strict Christian household, I was taught that pride is THE biggest of all vices, and vanity was more trivial, obnoxious and easily spotted – a transparent window into person’s character, and indicative of poor judgment and priorities (I notice a certain irony, now, that it is by appealing to my vanity that I was dissuaded from ever exhibiting any). As an only child, with an invalid mother, I grew up without any role models of how to be a girly girl. Sure, my mother would talk of how in her youth she loved the theatre of clothes, and passed a lot of her knowledge on to me, but it remained something that was not deserving of time and effort. I internalized the message that caring about my appearance (other than to avoid appearing slovenly/underdressed/vulgar/sexy) was indicative of poor priorities and a lack of meaning and purpose in my life. Worse, given that I was a woman in a man’s world, it was imperative that I earn people’s respect for my intelligence and character, not for something as transient and superficial as my appearance.

Well.

Early on in my career, I learned the lesson that people respond better to someone who is well put together. Dressing for the part (of smart, competent, reliable, engaging career woman) was necessary to ease the social interactions that are so key in the business world. But that wasn’t  vanity, that was a practical recognition of behavioural norms. So I revamped my wardrobe transforming myself into a power accountant. Still, I avoided spending unnecessary time on my appearance, other than investing the time necessary to shop for well-cut flattering clothes and good haircuts. #couldntbebothered

In the past 24 months, I’ve undergone a bumpy journey to body acceptance. My (former) therapist prescribed me with the obligation of never going more than 48 hours without getting a minimum of 30mins of exercise. He stressed that it wasn’t a matter of breaking a sweat, but of moving enough to trigger the endorphins my brain so needed to counteract its corrosive tricks, like going for a walk outdoors. And so was born the notion that I should commit to doing things that make me feel better – that I must be an agent (to some extent) of my happiness and well-being. From that point on, I made sure to never do less than 3 intense workouts per week. The link between my emotional and mental equilibrium and the consistency of my workouts was apparent almost immediately. My dietary habits also improved: I applied the same notion that I should eat what I genuinely wanted to eat to make me feel good. Sometimes that could mean chocolate and wine for the soul, French fries and pizza for the fun of it, or salad and chicken because I hate the bloaty, gassy feeling that comes from eating unhealthily for more than 2-3 consecutive meals. Unsurprisingly, I lost a fair bit of weight and got in shape. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing:

Then, I had a second watershed moment: accepting the sexy. Through dance, I’ve started to enjoy my body as a source of appreciation to myself and others.

I can finally admit that I LIKE having a bangin’ bod – something I never believed was within my reach. I LIKE that people admire it: I enjoy it, I’ve worked hard for it, I’ve gone through so much with it, I’m proud of it. I LIKE feeling good about my appearance, and will continue to take the time and effort to help my body and my brain be the best versions possible. I LIKE putting together an outfit that is flattering and makes me feel like whatever version of myself I feel like portraying. Always? No. There are plenty of days every week where I roll out of bed, pull on wtv is easily accessible/clean and forget to put on mascara. But there are plenty of days where I enjoy taking an hour getting ready for work and spend the day feeling like a million bucks. Maybe because I am so confident in my intelligence and my character, I no longer feel that has to be the first thing people notice about me. Any person who deals with me for longer than 30 minutes and does not realize I am smart, pretty awesome and beyond competent at what I do is merely demonstrating their sub-par observation skills.

I tell myself this isn’t vanity, as my happiness is not dependent on others’ perception in myself: I delight in my body and mind. Is it pride, the mother of all sins? I sure hope not. It feels like joy and peace, which is such a blessing after years of anxiety, paranoid brain and depression. I have no intention of fighting these new-found gleeful feels.