Thursday, March 13, 2014

Invisible Battles and Unseen transformations:Observations and Confessions

I take pleasure in my transformations. I look quiet and consistent, but few know how many women there are in me.” ~   Anaïs Nin
After Lauren Fleshman published Keeping It Real, the female running interweb groups were abuzz with discussions and debates and similar 'let's keep it real' posts with photos that some might deem less than perfect. This then led to some self effacing comments from women runners sheepishly posting their 'Bad' photos while other women criticized them for their self-critical judgements. Oy!!! The strange and vicious circles we run around and around and around in...We are so very confused.

So what is our deal??? What are our obsessions and complexes. What do we find motivating and inspiring, and what do we secretly (or not so secretly) hate and resent and hold against people - even as we make nice with them??? I think it's time we recognize that we are ALL flawed beings, and though you may not see the flaws obviously in front of your eyes, it's best not to assume that you know more about someone than you think you know...

So here's MY observations AND my confessions...

First, My Observations:

Everyday we are inundated with remarkable weight loss transformation stories - They are EVERYWHERE, and if you haven't gained a lot of weight and then lost a lot of weight, well, we don't want to hear about it.  And then there are the self professed 'balanced' and 'healthy' plump souls who profess that no one would ever want to be 'skinny' if that means giving up pastries, because healthy food is just so gross. It's better to be fat and happy than thin and in need of a creme filled donut. And then there are those who argue, adamantly, that being anywhere within any 'target weight' calculation would result in their being ugly and emaciated.

On the other side are the skinny-mini, uber fit women telling all other women that they're just lazy if they aren't equally honed and ripped. Or the crazed endurance fiend who is forever going on about her amazing achievements because she has taken the risks and made the commitments that you just can't seem to muster.

There's just so much bloviating everywhere!! Is this doing anything for anyone?? Does this inspire, empower, motivate ANYONE??? We all have taken a different path to get to where we are today. We all have our own paths to find, to make - to dig out of the thick mess of weeds and seemingly impenetrable stones and rock hard dirt.

So here's my issue and perhaps I am alone on this - there are transformations and silent battles that people wage everyday that go unnoticed and unseen. We judge people's lives based on how they look from the outside and jump to conclusions, often erroneous conclusions, in doing so.

Recently I've had a number of experiences, and some personal attacks, that have hit hard in sensitive places.

Case in point: A discussion in a women's running group...
Question posed: I am trying to lose weight but my goal is higher then the recommendation for my height/frame. I think I would look awful being so skinny. Does anyone else feel this way? Will I be unhealthy at a weight 20lbs higher? I just think there's no way I can be healthy at the recommended weight.

What followed are about 150 or so comments all supporting the questioner's position - All defending the view that anyone who falls within those guidelines looks god-awful. Well, how lovely. Technically I'm probably below most of those recommendations, so I feel the urge to change my FB profile picture to something less revealing. Ewwwww. Am I that god-awful hideous. This discussion goes on and on, and yes, I could just go elsewhere, but I'm a curious sort. SO I listen - and even chime in, about how we should try to tune into where we feel the best - not on some number on the scale.

Yet, the support and camaraderie was clear - being soooooo 'thin' is just ugly and unhealthy and unrealistic.

Perhaps I'm be hyper-sensitive, but a lot of people don't think that others have these sensitive places if they don't SEE them. I would NEVER discuss another person's weight, but they have NO qualms commenting on mine. Why??? Because I'm 'thin' and so, that seems to give everyone the right to go on and on about how thin I am, and how I should eat more. At parties if I don't eat a ton, people comment - "No wonder you're so thin. You need to eat. We need to fatten you up!"  Would I ever say to someone, "Woooo there. Maybe you've had enough." No. Because I don't care!!!

SO here's the thing that everyone seems to be missing - We are MORE than our bodies!!! I am more than my bleeping-body! But what people don't get is that there are often stories no one knows about.

Yes. I know everyone is saying - 'Ohhh boo-hoo for you', but I have to say, I've had enough. NO ONE KNOWS WHERE I'VE been. I don't wear it for all to see. I don't advertise my battles and trials. But you better believe - I've had them. And I always assume that others have similar personal trials and tribulations.

Now: My Confessions: Don't assume you understand something you simply do not understand.

As a child: The only thing anyone ever notices about me is that I am 'skinny' - not smart, not cute, not beautiful, not talented, etc - just skinny. I am painfully shy and quiet - so what else can they say, right? But, you take a small girl, who's a perfectionist (My father once told me that I would only try things I believed I'd be able to do well!), who only gets attention for being skinny, and well, sh*t happens in her head.

So, move on into adolescence, and that dreaded female maturity crap - you know, hips and boobs and all that good curvy stuff - and being a late bloomer (smaller, thinner, flatter than the other girls) and I'm still the 'skinny' one - and I run - and I barely eat - because I need to be skinny, or who am I??? I learn to hide food away from my mother so she thinks I'm eating. You have to be fairly cleaver to get away with it all and I do get away with it. I need to be a skinny runner because that's what everyone expects. At some point, I'm around 15 or 16 years old, and at 5'5'' I'm at about 90 pounds. I'm lying on the beach with my boyfriend and marvel at how far my hip bones stick out! My parents are oblivious, as far as I can tell, to the whole thing, until they sit me down and say, "You need to gain weight or we're putting you in the hospital". I guess that's all I need at that time - and I gain some weight - but, always under my control!

During college, I keep running but I also smoke and drink too much at times. I eat horribly - living on Tab and cigarettes and running - and I guess you can get away with that kind of abuse when you're young.

But once I get out of college, running becomes my saving grace. But first things go bad.

I start to run road races, mostly 10ks. My first experiences are encouraging. I win or place high in some small local races around Ithaca NY where I live. My times start to drop quickly, and with that my goals grow more ambitious, and my weight drops. I move to Maine and get faster, and race more and more. And then I get completely, totally burned-out. I can't take the pressure anymore. I start to hate racing, and I'm down to 90 pounds again and running 70 miles a week.

But no one really sees what's going on beneath the surface because I still run. I still have energy. And I've always been thin. But THIS thin? No ever notices that something is wrong. Well, my mother does and every time I go home to visit her, she pushes food on me. The second I walk in the door from running..."Would you like me to make you some eggs?"  Blech. No. I'm FINE!

But that can only last for so long and I hit the skids. I quit road racing, cold turkey. It may or may not have help that I am also going through a difficult relationship break up at this point - but everything seems to just fall apart at the same time. I listen to a lot of Sinead O'Connor these days ;) Turns out it may be the best thing that could have happened to me. I quit racing, though I keep running, and for the next 19 years I run and I put things to rights for me and my life.

I've never really been into food. I don't get excited about most food - never have - though I have an ice cream weakness - and so it was really pretty easy NOT to eat. But now I see that food is the fuel I must have to do the things I want to do. At 50 I can't get away with what I used to. AND I don't want to be that skinny little girl anymore - I want to be as strong and as fast as I can be and, most importantly, I want to be able to continue doing this. The only way to do that is to make peace with my body and love it for it allows me to do amazing things. But most of all, I just want to be happy - in the Aristotelian 'flourishing' sense of happy, where things are the way they should be and I am deeply content with myself. And now I eat heartily (ask anyone who spent the week at the Olympic Training Center with me!) and happily and healthy because I need it and I want it because I need it. And believe it or not, I LOVE a huge plate of steamed veggies and brown rice. I know. Weird.

And the fact is, that someone can live a happy life and not be so into food! I realize that some don't get that, but it's true. I don't like donuts. I mean, I actually don't like them. it's not some issue of denying myself something that's pleasurable. The fat/happy, thin/miserable dichotomy is FALSE. Period.

So, while I know that the transformation stories, from overweight to healthy are motivating, I believe that there are many out there like me - and this story is important as well. But, because it is easier to hide, there seems to be more shame attached to it. And that is why I need to say all of this. AND I have never said most of this to anyone EVER.

I am, at last, happy with myself...Most of myself, most of the time.

And yet the chinks in the armor are still there if you want to find them, and I can be easily poked in those painful spots. And they are actually pretty dang exposed and being a woman in a culture obsessed with the superficial is a hard place for me to live. I want more. I want people to look more deeply. I wish people wouldn't judge based on looks, but rather on actions. But that's not how it is.

And I need to let other people's issues go if they use them to hurt me. I am so tempted to press the delete button on this one - but then perhaps one other person out there will understand my purpose.

Be charitable, be compassionate - I have yet to meet a person who isn't fighting SOME battle. Understanding that that can mean a world of difference, and perhaps - dream of dream - a different world.


  1. oh boy do i hear you -- on so many levels....and i applaud you for being honest & brave. it actually breaks my heart to read your story b/c i see myself in it -- it's a hard road. but i think what you say is so important -- we ALL have our battles we are fighting...compassion for oneself can do wonders to counter that tendency to look outward and compare. i am in my 40s and still learning this! :) thanks for sharing. -erin

  2. What a wonderful, candid, moving post. Thank you for writing it and for sharing. (I too see myself in some of what you say)

    You are absolutely right - compassion, respect, support, non-judgment are all things we need to offer ourselves and each other. You never know what someone else is dealing with unless they tell you and sometimes it's not even completely clear then.

    I love the quote you start with. It reminds me of (Whitman?) paraphrasing "Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am vast, I contain multitudes" Another quote your post reminds me of is "comparison is the thief of joy".

    Thanks from this 47 year old who is happier with myself than I used to be...but I still sometimes struggle with many of these issues/thoughts about myself, fighting self-destructive or non-productive behaviors! And that despite appreciating my health and my abilities post-cancer and with other health concerns. (the inside of my head is a funky place sometimes ) I'm grateful to be here, to be able to do what I do (run) and love it, and want to do it more, longer, faster, stronger, for many many years to come!

    I wish you the very best!

    1. I think body issues are like heroin - you are NEVER really free of them though you can redirect and turn them into something healthier and motivating - the demons are still in there. I think it's helpful, for me anyway, to stop pretending they aren't there and for others to understand that things may not be as they LOOK!

  3. What an inspirational post!!!! Thanks for writing it! I love it that you are so real, so accomplished, and so down to earth. I lived in Ithaca for a while also... were you ever a member of the Fingerlakes Running Club?

    1. Kris, I didn't belong the Fingerlakes Running Club then - and was just getting into road racing at that time - but later joined the Maine Track Club a couple years after.

  4. When I read your post I thought of homeostasis: that scientific term for the processes within living organisms that keep them in balance, which are required to continue living. It's hard to maintain homeostasis and each organism has a unique struggle. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Thank you so much for posting. I need to be strong for running; in running I find my strength. I have battled long and hard with anorexia, and I am so so proud of how far I have come but I don't feel as though I can share it publicly due to the shame and stigma attached- but in reality, it is a huge achievement that effects so so much and I should feel comfortable to say it out loud when others are talking about their 'loss' achievements. The body shaming directed at thin people is so misguided, wrong and unjust. People are so quick to judge when they have no idea what I've been through or how far I've come. So plus one to your post!

  6. You are so right. We are all an experiment of 1. What is right for 1 is not right for another. We all need to listen and try to see the world from others point of view before commenting. I don't think most of us understand what others go through and don't want to think about it. We need to start thinking before we write or speak. Thank you for telling your story. It is part of who you are. No better no less than anyone else.


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