Body Image Musings

Me: Will you take some photos of me to use for online dating while we’re working in your yard today?
Friend: YES!
Me: Awesome! I want some full body shots in workout clothes so guys will know what they’re getting and nobody is pretending anything.
Friend: I think you’re being a bit negative about the human population. (*pause*) Oh wait. It’s online dating. Yeah, good idea.

So, even though it’s very hard for me to look at photos of my body these days, I now have a few full-body shots to use in dating profiles. I’m wearing a tank top and skinny jeans and knock-off muck boots while I prune hydrangeas and do soil tests.

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I considered going this route but decided against it.

It’s not glamour shots. There are zero pretenses. I am not thin. I am not fit. And if someone doesn’t like my shape, I want to know right away (ideally by never hearing from them in the first place).

Eight years ago, I lost the use of my hands for a while.

I could use them, but not for anything that required any amount of dexterity. I could carry things if I needed to, but I couldn’t hold or use a pen, I couldn’t cut my own food,  typing and using my smartphone were agonizing.

Prior to this, I had been very active and quite fit. Not throughout my entire life, but for a year or so, I developed a fondness for working out and eating well, and I was in the best shape of my life.

I was strong. I was confident. I felt good about how I looked and how clothes fit me, and more importantly, I felt an emotional fortitude I had never experienced before.

But one day, my hands started tingling. And then my forearms. From the elbow down, everything felt like it was partially asleep. 

I wore braces on my wrists, thinking the issue was carpal tunnel. I managed to continue working, thanks to voice-to-text capabilities on my phone and the willingness of people to engage in more phone calls than emails for a while.

Nobody was ever able to give me a real diagnosis of what had happened. Nerve damage was ruled out. The thought was that it was muscular in nature, that physical therapy would do the trick.

So, I went to physical therapists. Ultimately it got better and I was able to cut my own food again at least, but I was never again able to do any strength training (or write with a pen). Any time I tried, I would reaggravate my injuries.

The aerobic workouts I had previously enjoyed didn’t work for me anymore either. Any upper body activity at all would cause a flare-up. Sometimes it would flare up simply from doing something basic and easy like emptying the dishwasher.

Sometimes I had no idea what caused the flare up at all.

It’s been a long, hard eight years and my size has increased as a result of my inactivity. It is something I am extremely self-conscious about.

I was raised, as many of us were, to believe my obligation to the world is to look a certain way, and if I failed at that I was failing at something much larger than myself. 

Being large in size is not acceptable. I hope, for your sake, that you cannot empathize with this feeling. It is a horrible way to be. Particularly when it feels the reasons for it are out of your control.

These past couple weeks (okay, week and a half) of being able to do some strength work have been possible only because I am not using my arms at all.

I am not following the parts of the routines that suggest upper body movement. I do the squats, but not the accompanying shoulder presses. I do the lunges but ignore the tricep extensions. I do a Pilates “V” shape instead of planks. I modify.

I accept what I can and cannot do and what is possible for my fitness now. It is unlikely I will ever again have a toned, muscular upper body. I might not like my muscular bottom half, the end result of a lot of squats and ab work, in comparison to an upper half that will remain narrow and untoned.

The alternative, though, is to keep doing what I’ve been doing for the past eight years; nothing at all. And as I mentioned yesterday, I’m finding the emotional benefits of working out absolutely astounding. I don’t ever again want to be as inactive as I’ve been for the past year.

One last thing — I did try to do cardio during those eight years quite regularly, as my sole means of exercise. I tried quite regularly; I never got to the point where it felt like habit and I craved it. Not like strengthening work. It’s not the same energy or confidence boost. In fact, I’d say doing cardio alone, without a strengthening component in my routines, was worse for me emotionally than doing nothing at all. It made me miserable.

However… it’s 70 degrees and sunny here today. I went out for a walk. I intended to do two miles; up to the local park, one time around, and back. Instead, I did a bit of neighborhood exploration. At the same time, I found myself doing a bit of a speed challenge, mostly because a week and a half of doing a ton of squats daily had given me the leg strength to do so.

After a short while, I realized I wanted to run. I hadn’t run even once in over a year. The desire quickly became a need.

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What I felt like today. Probably not at all how I looked.

I couldn’t do much after not running for over a year (and let’s face it, I wasn’t exactly a pro in the first place). I challenged myself to run to that mailbox up ahead. Then I walked up to that signpost. Then I ran to that other sign. And so on, and so forth. Before I knew it, my two-mile “walk” was over and I had run most of it. It was amazing.

 

It’s been eight years. I do not like how I look. But goddammit, I’m having an incredible time working on how I feel. 

When it comes to online dating… well, like it or lump it, I say. This is what I’m offering right now. I am doing my best to love myself as I am. Anyone who is unable to like me in my current incarnation isn’t someone I plan to waste my time getting to know.

In closing, I give you what I have always considered (or wished to be) my theme song:

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