I heard them, the giggles through the keyhole.
To be sure, ancient wood floors did little to muffle massive thumping as my body lumbered along with squeals from my workout tape. The tape my grandmother sent after years of concerned commentary, because I’d be “so pretty” if I could just “lose a little weight.” But while a simple shriek of “Mom!” sent the giggles scattering, peeping siblings were the least of my concerns.
“You’re getting obese,” my father remarked, staring at my thighs.
I was twelve.
After a trip to the library, I slipped into the bathroom with Thin Thighs in Thirty Days and spread myself out on the linoleum, wincing and lifting and clenching my quads until they caught fire. Damn those legs. They made my father notice them, find something else wrong with me. I hated them. And my stomach. And anything on me that moved because it reminded me that I was different, unacceptable, ugly, visible for all the wrong reasons, and the only one in my family who was fat.
“I’m so fat and ugly!” I wailed to my diary. “I hate myself.” Depression, shame, and wanting to die marked my entire adolescence. One time I wrote, “My sister said I’m the prettiest fat person she knows,” and I tried to be thankful while consoling myself with her sincerity.
Not many of us respond well to those who hate us, or who speak with contempt as though we are disgusting, or who, frankly, would rather die than spend time with us.
And yet, we treat ourselves like this every day.
I tried to get thin. For years I walked frequently, forcing myself through excruciating shin splints while my feet felt stiff and heavy, inflexible like frozen hams thudding on the ground. I dieted and joined fitness clubs. At one point I had a personal trainer, but after all my efforts and aside from occasional, temporary success, I remained overweight. As a result, I’m sorry became my penance for living and it reached ridiculous extremes. “If you happen to bump into a wall,” my husband finally observed, “you apologize to it.”
I’m sorry for saying sorry. I’m sorry that you see me here. I’m sorry for taking up space. I’m sorry for being alive.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
Sixteen years after my father’s comment, I learned I had an endocrine disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. But by then I was done. A lifetime of scathing, bitter hatred towards one’s flesh ultimately takes its toll, and when I collapsed at last, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Recovering from a breakdown armed with truth about a hormonal disorder, but still concerned about my weight, put me in a unique position. I call a lifetime’s worth of diets and workouts the “old way”. It’s a dizzy cycle that left me, at the very least, psychologically nauseous. It wasn’t effective, obviously, and I refused to do the same things I’d always done. While I am by no means a professional, I know a little more now about women and shame and emotions and exhaustion, and I’ve grown to consider the western pursuit of weight-loss to be one of the most insidious deterrents to achieving true health for some of us.* And while there were many factors in my own journey, I uncovered a few crucial elements that altered my life forever.
Here is how I discovered the way that was right for me.
When we are emotionally and physically exhausted, when our bones and our hearts have no strength left, and when we want to die so we at last find relief, what is it that we need most?
When we are utterly weary, when our hearts weep tender from all the hurtful things we’ve heard or felt, and our spirits fail, and our bones ache from old, tiresome habits and fruitless ways of doing things, what is it that we want? Another workout? A new diet? A torrent of fresh hatred designed to shock muscles into response, to move again, to move more, to work harder and longer because everything we do is not good enough?
Because we are not good enough? We are sorry for being born?
No. It’s simpler than that.
What we need is the beginning of grace.
“This is the body I wear right now.”
My friend Sara said that. It revolutionized my entire perspective. I wear my flesh, but I am not my body. I am so much more! A lover. A dreamer. A writer. It’s up to me to nourish what I wear so that I can fully be all those things and more. So that I may be present in this world and live bravely-at-peace with all my senses. To live alive.
I can learn to do this with gentleness and grace. In fact, I am the only one who can.
Seeking a better way
When we are overcome by harshness, in this upside down world of the spirit, the healing way is gentle.
When we are locked in a terrifying spin and don’t know which way is up or down, the healing way is stop.
When we are brutally fatigued in our flesh and our heart, the healing way is rest.
Isn’t healing what we are ultimately after? Wholeness, and all that is right and serene in our body, mind, and soul? It’s only then that our eyes begin to focus and we can gain new perspective. This grates against everything we learn, because losing weight naturally relies on work, movement and non-rest to be effective, does it not?
I whisper gently that it’s not really about losing weight.
Come, all you who labor and are heavy laden
Let’s think about rest. What is it?
For the flesh, rest is stopping, a ceasing of labor. It is even, steady breath, a recovery of strength, and relief.
For the heart, it is stillness and quiet trust.
For the spirit, rest is nourishment, a calming of all anxiety, sanctuary.
For the soul, rest is serenity and peace.
And yet, we know that in this life we must fight, too. We are mortals in a mortal world. We must survive; we have loved ones and children; we have stories to tell and purpose. We were created for more. Perhaps, then, the rest we seek is a ceasing of all that exhausts the soul, of the futility which drains us, and all that separates us from a full and colorful life.
For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.
Hebrews 4:10 (nkjv)
Come, rest is an invitation to life. Can our muscles and sinews respond to His voice, just as all creation responds to the breath of God? Can our bones? They have before.
Losing the world’s way, and gaining soul
“For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
How we speak reveals what we believe about ourselves. When we spend our lives in self-hatred and shame, what subtler punishment can we inflict than a sabotage of the very thing that sustains, protects, and carries us through life? Is it any wonder that our bodies bear the fruit of life-long hurt and disgust? That we lack vitality, energy, and the sparkle of life?
Is there a healing way?
If the old ways of pursuing weight-loss feel oppressive, burdensome, unsuccessful and laborious, let’s consider the truth about what we desire. At the core, why do we want to eat well, take care of ourselves, and exercise? Isn’t it ultimately for health? And is there a way to pursue this goal in a manner that brings rest? That nourishes our soul? In a way that gently respects the body’s need to find its home?
That is what I want. I want my body to come home.
This can mean a deep, tender, raw probing of all our secret places. We can ask, where am I when I am home? How do I feel when I am safe and serene? We must know ourselves in order to find our own healing way. Who are we? What makes us rage, weep, grieve, rejoice? What delights our spirits? What nurtures our souls? What moves us?
What moves us?
Perhaps the answer to bringing our bodies home is to ask, what moves us?
When I was a little girl I wanted to be a dancer. I watched, enthralled, as poetry wafted across stage in pink and white and black, ethereal ballerinas swaying to melody so alive I could almost touch it, like fingertips trailing through water. Even today I am moved by music and motion, by love and art and all things sacred and beautiful.
Perhaps the answer to homeostasis—when everything is whole and healed and right within—can be found at the very beginning of the word itself. Home. And the way to bring our bodies home is to ask the little girl what we want most in the whole wide world. Within the secret she whispers to our hearts, perchance we find the way.
Rain is a writer-wife learning that grace always embraces. She loves mercy and all things bohemian and sacred. She blogs at The Sacred Life.
*Fine print: I am not a doctor, nutritionist, weight-loss professional, or anything other than a regular woman sharing what worked for me. Please consult your physician before starting any new fitness or diet routine.