Saturday, May 9, 2015

"How my relationship with my body is like my relationship with socks"; OR "Who feels self-conscious in sneakers?!?"

So the other morning, I sliced my finger while attempting to chop pineapple.  I knew immediately that I was probably going to need stitches, because there was immediately blood everywhere (except for the pineapple!  Can I mention that I saved the pineapple?  There was blood on the floor, the counter, the sink...and no blood on the pineapple.  That was a win).

At any rate, I knew immediately that I was going to need stitches because my kitchen went from "clean environment in which to prepare food" to "biohazard" in exactly 0.2 seconds.  However, I also knew that I was supposed to be leading a therapy group (on mindfulness, no less) in an hour and a half, and there was no way I was going to get there on time.  I spent a good 30 minutes unsuccessfully attempting to stop the bleeding until begrudgingly concluding that stitches were just going to have to be a thing.  I called my trainee, told her she had a great learning opportunity to fly solo until I could get there, called my colleague to ask her to cover the on-call position for me, grabbed my bag and a couple extra paper towels for my still bleeding thumb, and headed to the car. 

I got in, started the car, put my seatbelt on, and put the car in reverse.  "Dammit!" I exclaimed.  "I didn't put on makeup."

So I did what any reasonable, smart, down-to-Earth, sensible, feminist woman would do: I parked the car, took me and my bloody thumb back inside, and I grabbed my make-up. 


Several Marcaine injections and 4 stitches later, I got back in my car, put on the blasted make-up, and drove to work.  I walked into that mindfulness-based therapy group an hour late, humbled, with a thumb bandaged to a size that may have developed its own gravitational pull...but I was wearing make-up.  So there, Universe. there.

I tell you this because, frankly, I find it embarrassing.  I mean, it's not like it was a huge medical emergency and I risked my life for a little mascara, but if we're being honest here, it's a little ridiculous.  Turning my kitchen into a biohazard zone was no big deal, heading for stitches was no big deal...but going into work without make-up?  Hold the phone!  Let's get THAT cleared up first and foremost. 

I think it's hard because I am a reasonable, smart, down-to-Earth, sensible, feminist woman, and I also have fallen hard for this idea that I need to be wearing make-up to be attractive, and that I need it to look professional, and that I need it every damn time I leave the house.  I don't have a problem with make-up.  I don't have a problem with wanting to feel beautiful, and using make-up if it makes you feel the  type of beautiful you want to feel.  I don't even have a problem with being really into make-up.  If it is your choice, and you know without a fraction of a doubt that every time you put on make-up, you are doing it because you want to do it for you and you like the way it makes you feel beautiful, or confident, or professional, or grown-up, or young, or whatever...then for god's sake, do it and be you without apology! 

The other piece of this equation for me is that it's not just make-up.  It's looking "nice" in, I need to look "nice" all the time.  

As in, I actually feel self-conscious in sneakers.  I feel self-conscious in t-shirts.  And if they aren't "nice" jeans, I probably don't own them.

I mean, seriously.  Who feels self-conscious in sneakers?  

Truth be told, if you see me in jeans/t-shirt/sweatshirt/ can guarantee that I tried on several incarnations of that outfit before settling on the one in which I appear.  I had to go to the bank and the grocery store today.  It's Saturday.  I was going alone.  I wasn't planning on meeting Mr. or Ms. Right at Safeway.  I wasn't even planning on staying long...but before I left the house, I not only changed my outfit (ahem....twice....) but I also put on mascara. 

And get this...I did all that and then I used the ATM and the self-checkout line.

This is getting embarrassing.

At any rate, my personal problem with this issue is two-fold: (1) I feel like I can't leave the house without wearing make-up/"looking nice" and (2) I don't remember choosing this. 

My rational psychologist mind says, "Well, we know the correct treatment for this would be exposure with response prevention" (meaning, put on the fucking sneakers and leave the house without letting yourself change, working under the assumption that any anxiety or discomfort will settle with repeated exposure).  But it's also just not that easy: there are lots of assumptions, and feelings, and thoughts, and lots and lots of learning that will need to be unlearned.  Honestly, the concept of not wearing make-up/not "looking nice" feels radical, and I find it disappointing that such a fundamental thing as leaving the house in a t-shirt on a Saturday would feel so foreign to me.


Playwright Eve Ensler starts one of the monologues in "The Vagina Monologues" with the sentence: "I am worried about vaginas."  And she ain't kidding.  There's a lot to worry about when we're talking about vaginas...but that's not what I'm talking about (today at least). 

I guess you could say that I'm worried about bodies.  I'm worried about our bodies, and our relationships with our bodies...and more specifically, I'm worried about my body and my relationship with it.  We all have some sort of challenge in our relationship with our body at some point, for any variety of reasons, and I am no different.  If my body had a Facebook page, our relationship status would be set to "It's Complicated" on the good days, and "Autodidactpoet and her body are no longer in a relationship" on the fair ones.  On the bad days, Facebook doesn't even have a category that would encompass what that relationship looks like. 

Lately, me and my body have had more and more "no longer in a relationship" days...which is tricky, because it looks like we're still an item, right?  It feels like we're still a thing, but we're not. 

Realizing you have a shitty relationship with your body is one thing: I rationalized it to myself for a long time.  "Every woman has a crappy relationship with her body," I thought.  I blamed the media, and the patriarchy, and the fact that my grandmother criticized my fingernails.  I blamed the fact that my childhood consisted of being critiqued for wearing the wrong clothes and praised for having pretty ears.  I blamed the fact that I never really felt like my body was mine, or like it was anything more than a series of parts.  I mean, hell, I grew up admiring Belle and Jasmine, and I was a Barbie for Halloween one year (which MAY be the most embarrassing thing to admit).  Let's blame Disney and children's toys, too!

However, even with all of that, it's another realization entirely when you recognize that a more accurate statement is that you don't really have a relationship with your body at all.  It feels like my body is a thing that is attached to my head, but that is the extent of it, you know?  It's like I do not have a relationship with my body any more than I have a relationship with my socks: I don't particularly like socks, and I sometimes feel life would be better without them, but once I put them on for the day, I don't notice I'm wearing them unless something is wrong.  The same is true for my body: I don't particularly like it, but once I get going for the day, I don't notice I'm living in it unless something goes awry.

Here's a story:

It is 8:45PM.  I am driving home from a very long, very full, very stressful day.  It's dark, and my thoughts are racing, and I'm frustrated that I am getting home so late.  I feel anxious, my mind is going in rapid spirals towards deeper and darker places, and everything feels on edge.  I feel like my body is an exposed and raw nerve ending, and what I honestly want is to lie for 20 minutes in a dark room with a blanket over my head. 

Here's one ending:

I drive home.  I take the dog out, take a shower, and change into comfortable clothes.  I sit down and read for a while, and then realize at 11:30pm that I haven't eaten since lunch time.  I eat a handful of grapes and go to bed.

This happens.

Here's another ending:

As I'm driving, I take a breath and allow myself to "drop in" to my body.  It's brief...20 seconds, maybe.  As I do this, I realize that I haven't eaten in 10 hours, and I'm actually really hungry.  I eat a granola bar, and some of the edge is taken off.  The thoughts stop swirling, and I feel like I can breathe.  I get home, take the dog out, take a shower, and change into comfortable clothes.  I make myself some tea and eat a banana.  I sit down and read, and then go to bed.

This, I'm learning, can also happen.  It's not perfect...far from it.  But it's a hell of a lot better than the first ending, no?  And, perhaps more importantly, I felt powerful.  I felt as though I enacted a change where one was needed.  I felt in control, and grounded, and capable.

All because I took a breath.  All because I allowed myself to be in my body.  All because of 20 seconds.


I am worried about our bodies.  I am thinking about my body, and I am worried about the ways I live in it, and the many, many ways I do not.  I'm thinking about how to choose the ways of inhabiting my body, and if I could start over, what choices I would make.  I'm thinking about where I go from here.

As you may remember, my word of the year is Powerful.  Powerful is turning out to be harder than brave, I think.  Brave was a series of actions.  Brave meant moving, doing, acting, propelling myself forward in spite of fear.  Brave meant pushing myself to do and be and, while it wasn't easy, there were discrete tasks I could find and do that made me feel Brave.

Powerful is different.  Powerful is a feeling that is deep and internal, and currently elusive.  Powerful starts with being in my body, and making the choices that are right for me then: perhaps the choice to wear make-up or not.  To "look nice" or not.  To wear the t-shirt and sneakers or not.  To truly be present, here, in this body and this space, grounded, and alive.

1 comment:

  1. The whole thing about not leaving the house without looking my best was ingrained in me also, though there seemed some logic to it. If anyone ever sees me without makeup (and all the other stuff I do to create the image I want), that's all they'll ever see. You can't erase an impression you've made, right? So I feel like I *did* choose to live that way rationally, though as I get older I allow myself to relax occasionally.

    I'm not sure I have a relationship with my body either. Most of what I do to take care of it (eat when I'm hungry, brush teeth, shower, etc.) are habits and reflexes so I'm not distracted from the job of living. Occasionally I'll really enjoy something I'm eating, but other than that, my mind is usually elsewhere.

    Anyway, thanks for making me think.