Catherine writing

I Feel Good

This is a post that I've wanted to write for weeks now. It's a complicated issue for me, for quite a few reasons.

I think I've written here before about certain people in my life, mainly female relatives on my mother's side, who only seem to know how to talk to me about my appearance. When I visit and they say, "Wow, you've lost weight," and I haven't been trying to do so and I don't know for sure that I really have, then it just makes me think that either they have this vision of me as a giant fattie and have been pleasantly surprised by the reality, or that they just think that's what I want to hear. When I came back from my year living in England, MA in hand, having lived on the cheap, walked everywhere, and eaten a lot of student food, all my aunts and grandmother talked about was my weight. That was my biggest achievement in their eyes, never mind living abroad or getting a Master's degree.

I know that these women do not understand my intellectual pursuits. That's not me being condescending: they simply don't get what I'm studying or why. I'm okay with that. I'm not okay with my body displacing my intellect in our infrequent interactions.

*

There's an assumption that all any woman wants to hear is that she's lost weight. I don't. Losing weight is often not intentional: it's a byproduct of stress or illness or becoming so neurotic about food and the enjoyment of eating that you pay way too much attention to what you put in your mouth. Is weight loss truly an achievement? Something to compliment someone on? Reaching goals is an achievement. Becoming fit and healthy is an achievement. Working hard is worth a compliment. The shape of my body, largely determined by genetics? Not so much.

And there's always that implication: you look good now that you've lost weight. You look good because you've lost weight. Congratulations, you're just a little bit closer to an arbitrary ideal that you'll probably never fully attain nor be able to maintain.

*

I joined the gym because it was absolutely about time. It was time to make a long-term investment in my health and wellbeing. Nearly a year ago my sister was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. When I went to the doctor to have my blood sugar tested, I was told that I didn't have diabetes but would almost certainly develop it if I did not make major changes. I was scared for about two weeks and stopped eating chocolate, but it didn't stick. Then my sister's diagnosis was changed to type 1, a diagnosis far worse for her but holding less genetic risk to me. And yet, both our grandmothers have type 2, and related conditions run in the family. It was time.

I'm not sick right now, but I've not been well for a long time. There are almost infinite reasons why: depression, chronic sinusitis, some mysterious kind of allergies, the stress of the PhD, living away from my family in this polluted city. Taking care of myself and being a motherfucking adult is hard. I claimed to walk to uni and go to dance classes, but more often than not I was catching the bus and skipping dancing to work or go have lunch with my boyfriend. It wasn't enough.

*

I've been going to the gym every weekday for three weeks now. I usually go in the morning, after the before-work rush, and then on to uni afterwards. I have more energy. I'm sleeping better. I can concentrate on my work.

At the same time, I've made a proper effort to eat better, not least because my metabolism has woken up with a start. I bought a low GI cookbook, and every single recipe has been delicious. I'm all over the protein. I most noticed the difference this week when I went out to dinner with my visiting grandparents three times, each time to the buffet with surprise!potato in almost every dish. Too many carbs, and wow, did it tire me out.

My grandmother, of course, said I'd lost weight and asked how much. I don't know, and I don't care. I want to get my waist measurement down, and I'm doing strength as well as cardio to tone up. I just trust that the weight will follow. I feel happy and healthy, and that's all that matters. Not that I wasn't happy with my body before, as I was, if perhaps for the unfeminist reason that I have a boyfriend who loves it and is not shy about telling me so. He's also very supportive of me going to the gym, and doing whatever's necessary to stay happy and healthy.

I'm turning into one of them, I think. You know. The gym junkies. I could spend all day telling you about my strength program and how much I can leg press and how many minutes I did on the bike today. There's a certain kind of health that can turn into self-obsession, or just another form of narcissism. I don't want to go that far. Do you know how many calories are in a banana smoothie? No, me neither. Thank goodness.

*

I don't know how I'll handle the inevitable comments about my weight as I continue to work out. Perhaps I'll just smile politely and turn the conversation around to how good I feel. My friends at uni certainly seem to get it, as I'm often told I look good when I've arrived at uni, freshly showered after a workout. The best compliment I've had, albeit reported to me secondhand, is that I've been "glowing". That best describes this, really. I'm glowing, because I feel good. That is absolutely all that matters to me, now and always.

Comments

*applause*

This is the best LJ entry I've read in far too long.
Well, thank you muchly! *blush*
Thank you! I'll definitely try that approach when/if I need to.
I love this entry too!

My entire family, on both sides - not my parents and brother, who could not give less of a shit what I weigh or how I look as long as I'm happy with myself - is absolutely obsessed with weight. They're always commenting on my female cousins' and aunts' looks: "Oh, Amy looks so good, she lost ten pounds," or "Your Aunt Linda lost thirty pounds for her daughter's wedding in October, isn't that amazing?" Nothing any of us does holds any merit unless we're rail-thin. I have never been rail thin and never will be, even if I lose half of my current body weight. I'm not built that way. It used to upset me in high school, when I looked around and saw all these tall, lithe, tanned athletic girls; I look at photos of myself from then and realize I had a bangin' Marilyn Monroe body.

My mother was always ostracized by my dad's family for not being skinny like Dad's sister - of course, she was a bulimic headcase, but who cares, she's thin, and it wasn't until she lost a lot of weight before my parents' wedding that his parents started treating her with the least bit of respect. And she grew up being picked on by her brother and sisters for being the "fat" one, although pictures of her in high school yield that "not fat at ALL" response - she just wasn't a stick.

I'm well aware that my relatives see me as that fat lesbian, and that they think it is enormously funny. All I've heard my entire life about my female cousins is how thin they are and that they're cheerleaders and they just can never seem to eat a thing. And now that we're older, it's about how they're all getting married and starting families and isn't that just incredibly wonderful? Sure, if that's what you want, but like you, I am quite attuned to the fact that intellectual pursuits in my family mean less than nothing if you're a female, it's how you look that counts.

It really angers me that this is all anyone can focus on. Who gives a shit how much a person weighs? Shouldn't the focus be on being healthy, instead? I think the most important thing in the world is how you feel about yourself. And I admire and applaud your efforts to both be healthy and feel good about yourself, while shifting the focus from the weight loss itself and turning it into something incidental.
Oh yeah. I think that people's obsession with other people's weight comes straight from their neurosis/insecurity about their own. They take their own batshit out on everyone else. I see this a lot with my mom. She's quite slender not only for a woman in her 60s, but for any age - yet she's maniacally convinced that she's fat. (Probably body dysmorphic disorder...) And guess what, she makes horribly cutting remarks about people who are overweight --- which is bizarre coming from her, because other than that one issue, she's one of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate people I know.
It's so awful and even strange how much family can affect us. I'm so glad your parents and brother have never been on your case. Mine haven't either, really, but over the last ten years or so my father went from an avowed chocoholic to a health and fitness freak, and will sometimes give us (my sister, my mother, and I) grief over food choices when we're informed adults and really, if I want to eat some chocolate or whatever, that's my choice and I'm accepting the consequences. He also talks to me a lot about how he wishes my mother would get more exercise, but I have no idea if he actually nags her about it or how she feels.

That sucks about your mother. I felt like the fat kid in high school too, when really I just wasn't a skinny teen, and I wasn't finished growing. I only acquired a waist after high school. High school phys ed has a lot to answer for, I think.

My female cousins are quite similar to yours. They seem to spend much more time and money on hair, makeup, and clothes than I do, and care more about fashion. And yeah, marriage is starting to become a Thing. Of course, that was always the other big question from my relatives: do you have a boyfriend? I figured everyone just thought I was a lesbian because the answer was always no. I wish I was capable of lying so I could still answer no, because again, who cares? No one's worth should be measured by whether they have a partner.

Big love and hugs to you! <333
You have such a good head on your shoulders, in so many ways! Your attitude toward all this is so healthy. You're right, there is such debilitating neurosis about weight and body image. Once I heard someone say that her life was an endless battle between herself and five pounds. Not a good place to be.

I know you've been feeling less than great for a long time now, and I'm SO happy for you that you've gotten into exercise. Totally identify with what you wrote - that's exactly how I felt when I started running in college (before that, I'd never really gotten more exercise than walking). It really helps with everything, mentally and physically. Even when I'm insanely busy, I tell myself, I don't have time NOT to exercise. And WTG with figuring out the food issues too.

Not that I wasn't happy with my body before, as I was, if perhaps for the unfeminist reason that I have a boyfriend who loves it and is not shy about telling me so.

Pffft. Who doesn't like to feel beautiful? People shouldn't have to censor themselves for enjoying it. There's a huge difference between the pleasure of someone appreciating your looks and the neurosis of living for that approval, to the exclusion of everything else.
Thank you! It's one of those things where I already knew how great I feel when I get regular exercise -- done lots of yoga and dancing over the years, and there was a period during undergrad when I walked every day and was relatively slim -- and how much it can help with depression, but actually making the jump to being active took me some time.

Sort of unrelated, but I think everything sounds worse in pounds. Five pounds is just a couple of kilos, and you can lose or gain that in a week! I don't sweat my kilograms so much, mostly because I don't own a scale, I guess.

Oh, it's true. I guess my further issues about beauty myths could take up a whole other post, at least, but you're right, it's nice to be admired without being neurotic.

<333
*applauds as well*

It's really good to be dedicated to your health. Screw weight loss. Eating well and hitting the gym often is better for you entire well-being. I joined the gym for similar reasons but I've been slacking. This week I definitely plan to hit it a few times, as soon as I get over this plague of death I've contracted. Again.

Yeah, there's a fine line to walk with the obsession part. As someone who, in my younger teen years, had massive food issues, I can no longer count calories. Because I DO KNOW how many are in a banana smoothie depending on what else you put it in and if I don't consciously turn it off, I will mentally tally everything I eat, and that leads to a bad place. Though I'm happy to say after ignoring that part of my brain for the better part of a decade, it's not so automatic and I've actually forgotten a lot of the calorie counts that used to auto-tally in my head. It's just better not to worry about those things. Eat more veggies and fresh foods.

Also YES. It's totally about feeling good. I need to do it for my blood pressure and to sleep better and to relax. Weight loss comes second or third and is just a happy benefit. The feeling good is the real reason to do it.




Oh dear. I'm sorry that you went through that phase of being obsessed with calories. I think I could stand to be a little stricter with my diet, but not that strict. Hope you get back to the gym soon and released from the plague. <33333
I'm glad that you're feeling good as that's the most important thing.

To the relatives or any other person who says "You lost weight!" - say thank you and "I feel great too!" then drop it. Why worry about that one? People tell me I've lost weight and man - are they wrong. LULZ. I just thank them and silently call them lying (maybe blind) dumbasses in my head. :P
But why do they lie?! Drives me crazy. I guess I just have no tolerance for bullshit. You're right that it's a good test for whether someone is honest! <333
...On the other hand maybe they really think you look thinner and it's a genuine compliment. Gotta look at both sides. Everyone knows how hard it is to lose weight and feminism aside, at least in this country, they've made OBESITY the number 1 problem EVAH so losing weight is looked at as being good AND healthy! :D

Yeah. I have an answer for everything. Especially I didn't want you to think I was saying your relatives were liars. :O
Haha, that's okay, I didn't think my rellies were lying to me. LOL.
I started getting those comments aged nine or ten, from school dinner ladies and the serving girl in the chip shop... I'd had a very round face and tummy since age six (early forecasts of my condition, though we didn't know it), and when I started to actually get ill the weight loss was perceived as a good thing by almost everyone except for my mother.

I feel like comments about appearance should be about building someone up, but this business of "have you lost weight?"... it's like it's some kind of awful present we, women, were given, and nobody wants it but we have to keep regifting it because that's how we've been conditioned to interact and bestow signs of liking/approval.

And even when it's not meant as "hurrah! you now conform to female visual standards!", there's still the other aspect you highlight: that a woman's appearance (not mind) is the foremost thing about her. I can only imagine how frustrating that situation with your relatives must be on many levels, especially when the thing really worth celebrating here is that you're increasing your wellbeing and happiness. I'm so glad for you. <3
It just smacks of a woman's importance being in her marriageability and therefore her appearance, doesn't it? Such a frustrating attitude when so many of us don't need marriage for financial independence anymore. I do agree with the premise of The Beauty Myth, that the focus on women's appearances is a way of controlling and demeaning us to offset the independence we have gained.

I suppose you might even get the opposite of "have you lost weight?", i.e. "you're too skinny, you need to put on weight", which must be frustrating on a whole other level.

(Anonymous)

Hi Saffronlie! I don't know whether you remember me but I used to blog as zoegc (from Melbourne). I have totally abandoned livejournal but i just logged in for the first time in years and found you here! How is the PhD? How is England? I read about your gym experience and it is weird, but I only just joined a gym for the first time in my life about four weeks ago too! Anyway, I hope you are well, and if you feel like it, find me at zoebeavis.blogspot.com
Hi Zoe! Lovely to hear from you. I'm doing my PhD in Sydney, and it's going about as well as can be expected. So you're in Canada?! Wow. Will definitely catch up via your blog. <3
great post as usual!