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JJ Keith

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How I Learned to Stop Fearing My Reflection

Posted: 05/20/2012 10:00 am

"So, you know that thing I do when I talk a lot about body acceptance and how my butt is an intentional affront to the tyranny of thinness, but then I secretly hate my body?" My friend nodded knowingly. We'd hashed out my hypocrisy many times before during our moms' nights out. "Yeah, I'd like to stop doing that."

She smiled, took a sip of beer, and said, "If you figure out how, pass the secret on to me." Accepting our bodies -- and meaning it -- is harder than it seems. I don't want to live my life always five or 10 or 30 pounds away from being okay with myself. I'm 5'5", 155 pounds, and as I've been informed numerous times by men on the street, I have a motor in the back of my Honda (though this is conveyed to me less frequently now that I'm 32 and nearly always walking with a kid hanging from each of my arms). Intellectually, I know there's nothing wrong with me or my body, but I can't shake the idea that I would be a better person if I were thinner.

I am roughly the same weight that I've been since I was a teenager, though I've been significantly lighter twice before. The first time was during a phase in college when I mistook crystal meth for a study drug. The second was during a period of crippling depression. Both times I was delighted by my thinness, but the way I got there was so inauspicious that I cringed when people complimented me. Likewise, after every bout with stomach flu someone will tell me, "You look great! Have you been dieting?" So deeply do we cling to the idea that people who are thin look better than people who are not that we can overlook the dead eyes and yellow skin of a woman who hasn't digested food in three days.

Though I carry a fair amount of fat, I'm quite fit. I work out most days of the week, dropping my two toddlers off at the YMCA's childcare and exercising like a beast. I'm happy for the exertion and the break from being a stay-at-home mom to two tiny people who cannot yet wipe their own heinies. Even better, it helps me work out the underlying anxiety that has resulted in me being the kind of person who used to use crystal meth to study. I do studio cycling, Pilates, gravity strength training, any and everything. But I never lose weight. I just get stronger and hungrier.

I'm not an idiot. I understand that if I ate less I would slim down. I've dropped five or 10 pounds here and there before, but eventually my weight inevitably creeps back to 155 and I have to decide if I'm going to diet again, go the rest of my life without eating food I enjoy, or just learn to deal with having a big butt. I choose my butt. I eat well, and prepare healthy meals for my kids (or just as likely, reheat a healthy prepared meal from Trader Joe's). Soda is strictly forbidden in my house. I go to the farmer's market to load up on fruits and veggies. I refrain from shoving entire wedges of cheese into my mouth despite the occasional desire to do just that.

Then again, I like to dig into a plate of fries when I go to the zoo with my kids. Beer tastes decisively better than skinny feels. I will never drink a Skinnygirl margarita. So I remain a decisively pear-shaped woman in a beanpole's world. I am strong, healthy and could probably hold my own in a bar fight should the necessity arise, but in no way do I resemble typical depictions of a healthy woman. I am fine with that. Really, I am. Except for when I see my reflection in a shop window, a full-body photograph of me, or have to go to a wedding. The rest of the time is cool. Oh wait. Also dressing rooms. Dressing rooms are the worst! Also, whenever "Fat Bottomed Girls" is playing in my vicinity, I worry that someone is sending me a message. But still, I love that song. I even have a soft spot for Sir Mix-a-Lot. However, I will probably always feel a twinge of failure when I look at my body.

The next time I got together with my friend over beers, I told her my new method for accepting my size. Every time I grumble to myself about a perceived flaw, I say to myself, This is my body. I have gestated and birthed two wild children and now I manage to keep up with them. I eat yummy food, laugh hard every day, have a sexy husband and am rocking the hell out of this haircut. I am intensely, frantically, fantastically alive. Keep up the good work, me, and stay awesome. It's a sort of mantra for someone who doesn't usually go in for mantras. Maybe if I say it enough I won't need it anymore, but in the meantime, it does the trick.

For more by JJ Keith, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.

 

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