Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Gym Worlds and Body Image and Droopy Dawg Stomachs

My gym is a ghost town at 5:30 in the morning. There are usually only a handful of us there. There is the one man who sits of the reclining bike and studies sheet music. There is the beefy body-builder type who walks around on a slant with a bounce in his step, like he is listening to jazz on his iPod.

I always run first. There are 28 treadmills in two rows (I counted this morning) and I was the only one on them this morning. Then a woman came in and sets herself up on the treadmill right next to me. I know there are no rules or anything, but does she have to pick the one right next to me? Why so close? So there were both were doing our own thing, right next to each other, when she abruptly stops her treadmill and gets her towel and moves about eight treadmills away. What is that about? These are the things I think about when I am trying to distract myself from the mileage counter ticking away ever so slowly.

I guess I don’t appear very friendly at the gym because one regular patron who I have seen for a couple of years started talking to me once when we were next to each other on the bikes, and she said that I always seemed like I was in my own world when I was there. She then called over one of her gym pals to meet me and said “Look, she speaks!” Apparently I was the Greta Garbo of the gym. Other people were summoned over at for introductions, so I got to meet the regular cast members of my gym. They all made some comments about how they didn’t know I spoke or smiled, etc. Then I was like a guest on Jay Leno’s couch and they were interviewing me. They asked me if I was a doctor because I was wearing scrub bottoms (gifts from my friend Jen’s surgeon husband: If you know anyone who works in a hospital setting, try to get a pair for the gym. They are amazing, thanks to the string waist that adjusts!) They asked me who that woman I was with (Nicole, years ago, in the old gym that many of us migrated from). Anyway, so now when I see this woman in the gym, and on the street (she is everywhere all of the sudden) I have to exchange hellos. Not that that is a bad thing, but she was right in a way: I really am in my own world at the gym and I like it that way. I listen to music and enjoy me time and feel good about energizing myself for the day.

The final results on the body image poll: 62 percent have a negative image of their bodies. I’m included in that pack. It is unbelievable to me, that high number. Again, I think this is higher than the national average. But I guess it isn’t a fair poll, as I have a very specific set of women who read this blog, so the element of diversity is entirely lacking.

What I do know is that, for me, the image thing is all in my head. I have felt the same way about my body both thick and thin. I shimmied into once-upon-a-time size six jeans and thought “Wow! I look like crap!” I have also shimmied into size 12 jeans and felt the same way. Regardless of the number on the scale or the size of my clothing, I still look in the mirror and think train wreck. I rip all the tags out of my clothing because I don’t like to be defined by that number. Besides, clothing sizes vary dramatically from one store/designer to the next. I can be in three different sizes in one day. I turn from mirrors. And I rarely walk around without clothes on.

So I have no idea how this all changes and wonder if it will be this way until I am very, very old. One commenter said something about remembering that right now, where you are at is someone else’s goal weight. That is clever, and I think I have felt that. But, when the negatively is so entrenched in you, it is hard to even scrape a little off and feel the true spirit of a sentiment like that. It’s easy for me to say that, but to really believe it? That’s a different story.

My father’s sister is very obese. She weighs close to 500 pounds. She had lap band surgery, but it failed. She then did weight loss surgery and from what I hear she is doing better with the weight loss. I don’t know because she has never really been a part of my life at all (her choice, not mine). So I have always had a healthy respect for serious weight issues. You think this would help me with perspective.

My stomach has a light coating of what looks like fish gills on it and soft little moguls from the stretching of pregnancy. My C-section scar serves as a little ledge for the extra fat in my tummy area. I never thought I would have a ledge on my body. When I bend over to blow dry my hair, my stomach droops. My belly button is now a belly oval. My entire abdomen section kind of looks like Droopy Dawg’s face. It is a sight.

I think, though, that I am getting slightly better. Knowing that this is all from the wake of pregnancy helps. And the other side of me is just too busy to devote lots of extra energy to caring. So it is interesting to see how this will all evolve. But now it is not negotiable. I need to move past this because I do not want to raise two daughters with body image issues. And if I keep this up, then I will have two daughters who will turn into women in their thirties who will look at themselves in a mirror ands say “My thighs look like tree trunks.” Talk about incentive. I am just not sure how to get there.

Pictured above, Droopy Dawg, whose face looks surprisingly like my abdomen. And yes, my boobs look like his eyelids.


Anonymous said...

Hey there,

I just wanted to say thank you for writing about this. I struggled (and sometimes still do) with the same things you write about - the numbers in clothes and how it's more about how you feel about how you look, not about what size you actually are, and the anti-mirror phenomenon (I avoid 'em too). It's helpful for me to read what you're writing and feel a little less alone in these struggles. Thanks for writing what you write.

I think the fact that you care so much about raising your daughters to not have body image issues is awesome.


K J and the kids said...

What surprises me even more is that 37 % have a positive body image. I really am surprised by this. I thought everyone felt they looked like crap.
I joke with friends about the Extreme make overs where the girls cirlce a couple of spots on themselves that need touching up and then the doctor puts in his own 2 cents and they suddenly look like some kind of art project using a spirographer.
That would TOTALLY be me :)

Have those body images...but just don't say them out loud around your girls. Or in fact, say quite the opposite.
ie. "I look GOOOOOD in these size 12 pants" :)
I do this all of the time ! ha ha ha

judy said...

surprisingly, I was a member of the positive body image poll and I don't know why. I mean I totally see my imperfections. I had all of my babies vaginally, then my appendix ruptured and the surgeon had to cut me in a way that makes my stomach look like a but. My boobs tho large are saggy and disproportionate. I love my legs tho, so maybe I just chose to focus on my strength and feel grateful that I even have one.Hmmm I feel a post brewing in my head and a poll too.

Kerry Lynn said...

I was just thinking this morning that if I just had a flat stomach I wouldn't have a negative body image. Yes, my stomach is worse now after pregnancy but even when I was 23 and weighed 122 I still wasn't happy with my non flat stomach. So I have absolutely no motivation to lose weight because I know I will still not be happy!

I will NEVER say anything negative about myself infront of my kids. A friend of mine does that and I cringe every time.

Anonymous said...

It is surprising isn't it how most people with 'body image issues' have no real idea of the kind of body that they want to have? The answer is usually along the lines of ' not the body I currently have.'
It's a dilemma.

francesca said...

Ok the body image thing to me is interesting, but not as mysterious as the fact that you were THAT GIRL at the gym!!! The one people wondered about, concocted entire fantasy narratives around, and the best part about it is your total obliviousness to it all. I really don't talk to people at the gym either (except the hottie who works there) or even pay attention -- I only thought that kind of 'gym culture' happened in the movies! But now you were their Greta Garbo -- with the mystery woman from years ago! Little do they know, your secret life tends to revolve (these days) around Salad Babies.

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Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I completely and utterly identify and empathise with your feelings and the unfortunate and sometimes paralysing effect bad body image can have on your lives but your perspective took me right back to how I felt as a teenager with the same issues. I'm 31 now, and have experienced traumas in life and come through them with painful but invaluable life lessons under my belt. I am not writing here to criticise you, I still have bad body image a lot of the time, but I can see there are way more important things in life than listening to the media and feeding negative energy into yourself - there are enough suckers in the world to do that for you! You need to liberate yourself! Take the best most free feeling you have ever had.. breathe in and smile love yourself and the children you have created and sigh! what a joy to be alive. You have kids. You have little people in the world that will always love you no matter what. Nothing beats that. You are alive. You havn't died at a young age.. you have the priviledge of life. You do not live in a war torn country nor do you have to find food just to stave off hunger. You have warmth and bedding. Get over the self hatred and start enjoying your life. Your body issues come from a media that control you by making you feel inadequate.. physically, sexually, financially, socially, culturally. You can have whatever life you chose.. you just have to be quiet and listen to your voice and love yourself. Yeah we all have bad days, bad weeks and bad months on end sometimes... that's fine.. part of the process but please... free yourself up. You're old enough to know better.