A meditation on my body

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I've been thinking about my body a lot lately.

This is not exactly news, as far as being a woman in Western society goes. We think about our bodies a lot. In fact, we're more or less obsessed with them, as a rule. I know I am and have been in the past. But lately, I am really trying to think about mine in a different way.

With me, it usually starts with clothes. My body has a tendency to fluctuate quite a bit in size and shape, so the clothes that fit me last fall don't necessarily fit me right now. In fact, I've realized during this past couple of weeks that I have basically no pants that I don't have to hike up every five minutes. Also, my bras are too small around and too big in the cups. So off to Ross I go.

I get sick of doing this. It's wasteful, buying new clothes every season because last year's models don't fit now, and I am large enough that I have a real problem finding thrifted clothes in my sizes. The shopping is also frustrating, as I hover between plus-sized and not, and have a generally hard-to-fit body. For every pair of pants that makes a reasonable approximation of my waist-to-hip ratio, I'll try on at least a dozen that don't. Due to these frustrations, I can get kind of twitchy about the whole subject.

What I am trying to internalize, though, is that clothes not made to fit me is their problem, not mine. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my body. The path it travels between a size 14 and a size 18 is not a negative reflection on my character. My breasts are not less attractive at a 38B than they were at a 36C. And I have an absolute right to buy myself new things when the old ones don't fit--nothing makes me feel worse faster than facing getting dressed in the morning when everything in the closet is the wrong size. While it is a hindrance financially to have to buy new clothes every season in order to have things fit properly, doing so not a reflection on my character or even on my physical attractiveness. It is also not a reflection on something bad I'm doing--I don't yo-yo diet. I don't binge eat, at least not recently. My current slightly-smaller physique is due mostly to the bout of food poisoning that left me down nearly 20 lbs in four days a month or so ago, but I've made no particular effort to keep that weight off, or to put it back on. I try to eat a reasonable diet and eat when I am hungry, what I'm hungry for. I'm not physically active enough, but at this point in my life, given other health and lifestyle issues I am working on, I can accept that. I'm doing just fine.

I've been watching with great interest a Flickr project called Pictures of You. In it, women post photographs of themselves at different times in the history of their bodies and write notes on them explaining what was going on, how they felt about their bodies at the time, and how they feel about looking at the photos now. I submitted some pictures of my own, but as yet they haven't been added (the group may be closed, I'm not sure). Going through the photos and thinking about what to say about them was extremely cathartic, though, as was the prospect of sharing my thoughts, so I thought I'd do my own little exhibition here. Step right up for a brief photo history of Grace's body:

beach picture, 1994

This picture was taken in the early summer of 1994. I was 14. If memory serves, I was about 5'10" and weighed about 145 lbs. I wear a size 8 or 10. My breasts and hips hadn't developed yet and looking back at this picture, I had amazing legs. At the time, I had just started being truly concerned about my body, but weight wasn't an issue--I spent all my mortification on how tall I was and how I didn't have any chest to speak of. Looking at the picture, though, I see comfort, confidence, joy.

beach 1997

This picture is also at the beach, almost exactly three years later. I'm 17 and just about to leave home and high school. I've gone up another 1-2 inches and gained 15-20 lbs. I wear a size 12. By this point, I've begun to be concerned about my weight on and off, particularly the inner thighs I am blissfully showing in this shot. Looking back, I think I look fantastic, of course. I still have almost no chest, and it still bothers me.

with Simon, 1997

This picture is at the end of 1997, only about eight months after the previous picture. You can't tell, but I'm actually 10-15 lbs lighter here than I was before, due to a stressful first semester at college (my freshman 15 went the other way). I'm still generally in a size 12. However, I have started to really obsess about my body at this point, in part due to being larger than my new boyfriend (also pictured). Oddly, the first thing I notice about this picture now is how incredibly fat my arm looks. I think it's just a weird angle or something, because I know it wasn't that big, but I can't help but think it looks terrible. Guess I still have a long way to go.

lifeguarding, 1998

This incredibly silly picture, taken in the summer of 1998, represents probably the best shape I've ever been in as an adult. It is at the end of the summer when I got my lifeguard training and certification. I worked at a public pool and swam a lot (which also explains the hair and the tan). I'm at my full height by this point (about 6'1" but I am still calling it 5'11.5") and probably weigh about 160 lbs here, still in a 12. I honestly don't remember if I knew then how great I looked, but I sure know now.

smoking, summer 1999

This picture was taken the following summer, 1999. I'm 19 here. I've just been very very sick and my weight is way down--probably back down to 145 or close to it. I'm swimming in my size 12 clothes and have no money to buy anything else. My hips and breasts have started to actually come out by now, and my body just seems weird to me. Looking back on the picture, all I can think of is how much I love that haircut.

summer 2000 with sunburn

This is the following summer, 2000. I am 20. I am back up to my regular (at that time) weight, probably 165-170. I've moved to a size 14 in most clothes. I've developed a love/hate relationship with what I now think of as my enormous ass, and I wear baggy pants all the time. I still feel pretty good about my body, though, as shown in my typically short shirts and lack of sleeves. Looking back, it is hard for me not to think of this as my best natural body.

with Mark, 2002

This picture was taken in September of 2002. I'd just turned 22. My post-college weight gain has started, so I'm probably about 180 here. My breasts have blessedly grown and with the help of a push up bra I can actually fill out the front of that dress. I remember being concerned about how I was sitting when we took these pictures, as I wanted to be shorter than Mark in them (he's about 5'8"-5'9") and not have my legs squished up so they looked fatter. I guess it's safe to say I now officially have weight concerns. It bothers me that I weigh more than Mark, even though I know I'm much taller and built heavier. I'm wearing a size 14 and periodically try to get back into a 12 through crash dieting.

with Ata, 2005

This photo is, I believe, from the spring of 2005. I'm 25. I'm at around 200 lbs, struggling to stay in 14s and branching out to 16s much of the time, and really, furiously unhappy with my weight. When I saw this picture the first time, I mostly saw fat arms and belly rolls. With more retrospect, though, I don't think I look bad at all, and I remember the day (The Mighty Texas Dog Walk) as being a great time.

halloween as rosie the riveter, 2006

This is last Halloween, almost a year ago. I am probably at about 215 here. I'm wearing men's jeans with a 38 waist, and I've moved into a lot of size 18 clothes. I didn't show many people this picture when it was taken, because I thought it made me look fat (and honestly, it does). However, I have to end with it for the sake of symbolism now. I am a strong, beautiful, competent woman, no matter what I weigh or what size my pants are, and that is what this costume was supposed to be about. Comically, it's also an illustration of how wearing clothes that are actually too big for you does nothing to make you look smaller.

Today, October 3, 2007, I am 28. I am still about 6'1" and I weigh somewhere between 205-215, I think. I have on brand new jeans, which fit me perfectly and make me feel good, and they are a size 16. Whether I remain in this size, or go up, or go down, it's fine. That's not what that is about. This is about realizing that I look good in ALL of these pictures, and that the changes in my body are fine.

8 Comments

You carry your weight so well! You look great in all of those pictures, and even in the last picture, you definitely do not look 215 lbs.

I don't comment in your blog often, but I read it all the time ... and I just had to let you know that I think you look fabulous!!

Aw, thanks. This honestly wasn't me trying to troll for compliments, but I'll definitely take them. :)

Wow...tenacious snail had a post in her LJ the other day about how we think of a 200 or 300 pound woman as being big...but that most people have no idea what a 200 pound woman actually looks like. This confirms that for me. 200 pounds is less than I imagined. (I have a skewed perspective I think, being on the chicken-leg end of the scale).

It also confirms for me what I had begun to suspect...that women who think they are fat are not women who *I* think are fat.

Every size I've seen you at, you look good. Honestly.

Jess, you have to remember that I am extremely tall for a woman and also pretty bone-heavy, so I have always weighed more than it looks like I weigh. Even when I was very thin, I was never near as light as I was expected to be.

That being said, I think it's absolutely true that we generally have very skewed ideas of how numbers (weight, sizes) and bodies correlate, particularly those that are at the other end of the spectrum from our own. To me, everyone under size 8 looks like they must be size 0, you know?

Two thoughts I had during this post:

1. Jesus christ I look like a douche in that photo. I hope, but doubt, that that was halloween.


2. I also look really skeletal in it, which is funny, because I'd gained literally 45 pounds in the two years prior to the photo.

Other than just talking about myself, I'm going to go on a limb and say that I'm not sure only "western society" makes ladies think hard about how their bodies look. Not that I'm a great defender of "the west", just that I feel like it's a more global phenomenon.

Sorry, not a costume--it was a formal, I think. You have a lot of make-up on. I think it's funny.

You are probably right re: non-Western women, I just don't think I can speak to that. And for God's sake, knock off the "ladies." It makes me cringe.

I guess I do forget that you're so tall. But still, its not just you. There's an illustrated height weight chart floating around on the internet, and even looking at the women in my height range, I realize that I mentally clump a lot of people as "near my size" when I see them, but don't necessarily mentally clump those NUMBERS as "near my size" if that makes any sense. Its kind of an interesting phenomenon.

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