Steph works diligently to manage her weight and self-image, but during this pandemic, she found her life falling apart in many ways. She’s learned to appreciate that even though her body is gaining weight and doesn’t look like it once did, her body is still strong — and is carrying her through this part of her story.
I sat on my yoga mat, six feet away from the other yogis in the park next to my house. “I’ve gained like 25 pounds since Christmas. This pandemic has been rough.”
They nodded in solidarity, but one woman said, “You know that’s okay, right? You know that doesn’t matter right now, right?”
I grew up overweight. I did a diet with my mom in the eighth grade, and then as a junior in high school. Neither stuck. I’m tall and curvy, and I managed to survive middle and high school with my confidence intact due in large part to the fact that my weight positioned itself in the “hourglass” areas (thanks, social body expectations!).
But I always tapped out on sizes at places like American Eagle and Express, willing the XL shorts to zip up. In my late 20s, I started grad school to get a degree in classical voice, developed a crush on a personal trainer, learned how to weightlift, food prepped like it was my job (I decided it was), and I finally lost the weight I’d been meaning to lose since age 9.
I looked phenomenal, and I have the dating app conversations to prove it. I also learned how to deflect ridiculous and unsolicited comments from men, a phenomenon I hadn’t personally experienced until I was a size 10. As my faith in myself grew, my faith in modern romance plummeted — but that’s a different story.
In March, I moved home to Denver when my employment in Vienna ended due to the pandemic. In April, my family decided to begin hospice for my mother, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2017. In June, we buried her. In August, I couldn’t fit into my jeans.
Guess what I spend most of my time thinking about.
Books have been written, and entire classes taught, on the ridiculous and damaging expectations that society places on womens’ bodies. Any of my friends or former students can tell you with succinct passion how irrelevant and harmful are the demands that women be thin, with clear skin, with good hair. Being able to articulate those false standards is wonderful — being able to de-program my own constant shame is a totally different ballgame.
Every morning when I sit up in bed, I hate my body. My stomach pudge returned, and it feels like an innertube around my womb. My skin bulges against the bra straps on my back. The only time I don’t have cellulite on my thighs is when I’m standing. Skin sags off of my arms, even when I flex.
My mother passed away, my industry imploded, my unemployment ended this week, and yet the central concern of my idle brain is how I have failed my body. Multiple times a day, I have to actively remind myself of the words from my fellow yogi: “You know that doesn’t matter right now, right?”
It’s one thing to defend in conversation the necessity of tearing down size and shape expectations for women. I’m very good at this. I’ve got facts and anecdotes about how scientifically unfounded fat shaming is, about how unfairly society treats overweight women during pregnancy, about how our bodies are holy vessels holding our souls and deserve to be treated with reverence. I have trained myself, with conscious work throughout the last decade, to see a woman outside of the TV-normative body and think, Wow, she is really beautiful. The way she moves is lovely. The clothing she wears honors her physical comfort and style. This mental code switch took years of effort. And it still demands intentional labor to apply it to myself.
It’s harder for me to run, and I can’t go as far as I could last year. I can’t plank as long as I could the last time I hit the mat. This is disappointing. And yet, I don’t have an obligation to make it the focus of my life right now. I’m in the middle of grief upon grief. Of course my body is going to insulate, create a barrier against intimacy, store calories as the result of constant fight-or-flight chemicals, or whichever explanation you’d like.
I am a woman with a body that is tending to its current needs. I run and sweat and stretch and eat and pray. I cry a lot. I walk my dog and hug my dad and run errands with my brother. I talk over video to the man I’m dating, who is on-base in the Middle East — he has heard all about this journey, and shared his own with his physical restrictions during this pandemic. Women are not alone in this.
Nothing about my situation is unique — more importantly, nothing about my situation is wrong. I am not a failure for gaining weight during a time of great upheaval. I am not weak for allowing my body to redefine what makes it strong. And the beautiful part of this, the aspect of my body that I hold dear and carry with me wherever I am, is that it is mine. Right now, this is who I am. I don’t intend to, necessarily, be this size in a year. I can give myself the benefit of the doubt to anticipate the space and the grace to lose weight and grow strength in the future. One day I will, God willing, bear children, and enter into an entirely new conversation with my body. I will go through menopause. My body will break down, as my mother’s did, and unravel in ways I can’t anticipate or control.
But today it is mine, and it is strong, and my work is to love it for being the body that carries me through this part of my story. My body is a gift.