Picking One’s Prison

I recently confirmed something that I had suspected for a while – that I have regained the 20 pounds that I lost last year. I maintain a good exercise program and a baseline of healthy food choices, so the weight looks and feels different than it did a year ago.

But the weight is there nonetheless. So rather than continuing to self medicate with YouTube nutrition advice, I decided to seek the assistance of a registered dietician. In talking with her and going over my diet, I realize that I have strayed pretty far from the eating plan that helped me lose the weight last year. It won’t be hard for me to get back on track. Staying on track is problem. The thought of the impending but necessary food restrictions makes me feel imprisoned and sent me on a food binge that resembled a last meal. But being incarcerated in a body that I can’t bear to look at is worse. Sure, I want to be healthy and strong and all that jazz. But if I’m totally honest, even if I am guaranteed excellent health and a long life at my current size, I would still want to be thinner.

There, I said it.

I truly envy women who accept themselves regardless of their size, but I am not that woman. I am a creature and product of the prison industrial complex that is the socially acceptable physical ideal, trying to find a healthy existence within its confines – and trying to look good with my shirt tucked into my pants.

Aligning the Outsides and Insides

This woman is 21 years old. She has her whole life ahead of her. She makes most of her living as a singer, with her own band. And most important, she’s thin, so all is well, right? I remember the song that she is singing here…”Stay with me Baby” from The Rose, a film about a rock star that drank and drugged herself to death. The connection is ironic, because, this young woman was on the way to becoming the Rose. She drank heavily and often, and was at the beginning stages of a drug and alcohol habit that would later cause her to hit a violent bottom. She struggled with her weight all of her life, and her slim figure was compliments of an eating disorder that landed her in the hospital for a month five years before. In short, self-hatred and low self-esteem almost killed her. But how can she be so unhappy? She’s thin!

This woman is me, and the sarcasm is my frustration with the notion that thin automatically denotes good health. At 21, I was 5’9” and 120 pounds soaking wet, but the Hennessy that I drank for breakfast most mornings gave me stomach ulcers. So even though I was a socially and medically acceptable size, I was far from healthy. I still struggle with my weight, but the struggle is based only in part on the desire to look good. I am 15 pounds overweight – obese by today’s standard – but I am in a better place in my head and in my heart than I was back then. Even so, that young sad girl who tried to starve herself to death for acceptance is still a part of me, So I have to protect her by achieving a healthy weight in an healthy way.

As a society, we need to redraw the limits of fitness. Until we do, I will redefine these limits for myself. Being many years on the other side of my addiction and Anorexia, I can say with complete conviction that good health is not only physical, but mental and spiritual.

Embracing Life at Any Age

l recently turned 53, and I love being the age that I am.

I recently turned 53. I think that there is strength and beauty in aging, and I am working toward being a woman who grows old gracefully. With each passing year, I feel a little more of the angst that used to plague me in my younger days slip away. Life is simpler. I have central relationships that I feel deserve time and care, so I don’t bother with peripheral ones. I no longer have to dance to the rhythm of a biological clock, and this freedom alone is worth enduring a few night sweats and hot flashes. But in our youth oriented culture, I feel as though the wisdom that comes with age is undervalued, and that interesting, fulfilling lives are meant only to be the domain of the young. Can you not change careers, start a band, become a photographer, write a book, run for public office, etcetera, if you are over 40? Don’t get me wrong. I am very concerned about the plight of millennials, having helped to raise one. In many ways this generation has to navigate more obstacles than my generation, and my generation is partly to blame for that. But rather than remain part of the problem, in my late 40s I started working toward something that I had put on hold for 28 years – a college education. I will be 55 by the time I earn a Master’s Degree. But God willing, I’ll be 55 anyway, so why not meet that milestone by having accomplished something that would help me to be part of the solution. And in an effort to keep from becoming a sick old lady, I made some lifestyle changes, and started running, which has become a central component in maintaining my sanity. So I figure that as long as I keep my mind and body healthy, being over 50 should not preclude me from participating in life.