Subj: Your race day photos are here!
Pictures are a strange thing, aren’t they? Depending on the angle, the movement, the moment, they can either elevate you or level you. How silly that a simple image – a blink, a blip – can have such impressive power. And the photos in this email were going to be special. Not only would they offer some frameable moments with my bestie and proof I showed up, but they would also capture my epic photobomb of a dear family friend at the finish.
But it was another bomb that detonated that day.
I opened the email. “Oy, that’s a rough picture,” I thought, not overly rocked. I clicked “next”. My face scrunched higher. “That’s not-a … not great either.” As I scrolled, my eyebrows raised and met in a rippled, disgusted collision between my eyes. The cadence of my finger on the mouse quickened. “Next”. “Next”. “Next”. I squinted and tightened my lips, revealing the tops of my bottom teeth. These proofs, all of them, were painful. Sobering.
Now, let’s pause here, shall we? This post is not an easy post to write. It’s also not an invitation for criticism or a passive plea for praise, though I can see how it would be mistaken for such. It is, like all musings on this blog, merely an observation and pitstop on my personal road to self discovery and improvement. I nearly ditched the topic altogether when, on two separate occasions in the past two days with two separate friends, the mere mention of this blog was instantaneously halted by dams of positive praise. “Stop! You look great.” “Oh my gosh, you’re crazy!’ Which, to be fair, is exactly what I would do, because that’s what our friends and parents are supposed to do. They’re trained to do it. It’s what’s socially acceptable. But I wasn’t baiting the hook that day, and I had no desire to go fishing.
Hand over my heart, I’m just trying to start an honest dialogue about the distance between the pins on my map. The ones marking where I thought I was, where I am, and where i want to go. I should be able to talk about that without people instinctively coddling my delicate inner child, or thinking I’m licking rice cakes and crying over Coldstone Creamery, or (the worst) that I brought my ego out for a good stroking only to be put back on the shelf for a few weeks before I prompt them to appease me again. Not that I think these girls thought that, or that I would think that about them if the conversation were reversed. I just think we’re so quick to console and then shut it down, rather than engage and encourage real change in the people we love.
What if, instead of my weight or my shape, I was commenting on my smoking habit. Seriously … just think about it. If I came to someone and said, “Gosh, you know, I’ve been smoking for years and I really think it’s time to reign it in and clean things up around here.” No one would say, “Oh Courtney … it relaxes you and you’re only having 8 a day!” No.
When I was training for that race, I didn’t feel great. I felt amazing after the long runs, yes. But mostly because they were over. I felt empowered by my endurance, yes. But my body didn’t feel like the body of a person who was running 8, 9, 10 miles. It felt weak. Like I was willing it to perform. Still my perception of the changes happening to my body was positive. But to lay it all out there, what I was seeing in myself throughout the 12 weeks was something that far exceeded the woman floundering in front of me on the screen in those post-race pics. And, you guys, that’s OK. l’m OK addressing it. In fact, I feel empowered and kind of on fire because of it.
If Oprah and I were sitting around chatting about our truth and what we keep in our closets and all those hidden jewels she digs up when people perch upon her magic couch, a lot of things would come out. I used my heightened exertion as a free pass to take all foods – sweet, salty, fried, fast – to Pound Town. I was eating to compensate for what I thought I was burning … what I wasn’t burning. And I wasn’t eating to fuel, either. I was eating for fun. And from boredom. And as reward.
But as my new best friend Brené Brown (whose book, “Rising Strong” is currently blowing my mind and should be on your goodreads list right now) says, “Shame cannot survive once spoken.” So I’m sayin’ it, baby: I have not been good to myself.
Again, let’s pause. I want to be clear that this is not a body shaming situation, guys. (When did everything become “shaming” anyway? Fat shaming. Skinny shaming. Bachelor shaming. I actually had a craft beer guy at a liquor store cider shame me once.) That’s not my jam. I love my body. This body carried and delivered three babies. It ran 13.1 miles … twice! It carried me over close to a dozen mountains on zero sleep for four consecutive, very cold days. And it has held up generally well considering my lackluster maintenance regimen. It is flawed, yes, for many reasons, many of which I count as my biggest blessings.
This is not a conversation about vanity. It’s about confronting personal negligence. It’s about acknowledging my sincere love for this body and where I want to see it go, then finding the silence to listen to what it is telling me it needs to get there. I rarely sit in quiet. Do you?
By this point in the post you’ve either bailed (therefore not reading this) or you’re straddling the fence between empathy and exasperation. I get it. I anticipated that. I’ve wanted to write about my come-to-Jesus moment for weeks, but haven’t. I haven’t because body image is icy. Everywhere you look people are either embracing their full figures and shutting down shamers, or collecting criticism for projecting unrealistic expectations onto young girls. You can’t win for waking up in the morning. It’s slippery and juicy with judgement. And because I don’t count myself as obese or emaciated, but somewhere in the soft center, I often feel I don’t have the right to voice my dissatisfaction with what I see. But considering 91 percent of women report being unhappy with their bodies, I don’t think I’m necessarily alone out on this limb, either. I don’t think I’m the only person to ever declare: I have work to do here!
Not only do I often fear it’s unjustified, it also seems baited. Because I have 6 little eyes constantly watching my reactions and listening to my self-deprecating commentary. One day, when I went to pick up the girls, JoJo walked up and handed me a piece of paper.
“Thanks! What is this?”
“It’s the number for Nutrisystem.”
“Ohhhhh … OK. JoJo, can I ask, do you think I need Nutrisystem?”
“Well, you’re always talking about how you ate too much, and they help people who eat too much.”
Boom! Trap snapped.
Standing there, holding that piece of paper, my mind Googled every phrase I’d uttered over the past 7 years that had anything to do with being pregnant with a food baby, stuffed, gross and, yeah, fat. The results were deep.
But that’s more of a word choice issue I’d say. I do want them to see me striving, reaching, working hard to be something more tomorrow than I am today. Again, the war I’m waging is not against my body. It is for my body. I choose to fight it out of my desire to be strong. It is a battle rooted in love and love is nothing without respect. Respect for where I’ve been. Respect for where I want to go, and know I can. I have not been respecting this body. What I saw in those pictures was the mirror I’ve been refusing to buy. (You know the one in the dressing rooms at Target that makes you look green and cellulitey.) It was a face-down moment, and what comes next is up to me.
Brené defines integrity as, “choosing courage over comfort. Choosing what is right over what is fun, fast and easy. And choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” She goes on to explain that people tend to treat you the way they see you treating yourself. You have to stand strong in your integrity.
I carve out at least 30 minutes every morning to move. I have lost 36 pounds since having Sloppy Joan two years ago. I have made great strides and I’m not embarrassed about the way I look, but I have regrets tied to my stalled progress. I have regrets about where I could be compared to where I am. And I’m not mad about that.
Regret is another label with a bad reputation. Why should we pocket regret? Why shouldn’t we listen to it and use it to fire us up inside? In Rising Strong, Brene writes, “To say you have no regret is to deny the possibility of a braver life.” Heck yeah I want a braver life! It’s indifference that really frightens me. Feeling regret is a cue that I want something more. It instigates motivation to change. Casey spoke about her fear of an uninteresting life and I think a lot of us shoulder that same worry. What would happen if we took all the energy we spent mourning and rolling around in regret and instead harnessed it as a fierce catalyst to move in the direction of our dreams?
I was listening to a podcast recently with the blogger from Strong Coffey. She was talking about the power of redirecting our thoughts of comparison. “When you’re about to unleash all the negative things in life, try to hold onto it, regroup and instead share a little more of who you wish you were these days.” It’s an exercise in visualization. Instead of letting yourself be swallowed by feelings of inadequacy, by the regrets, focus on where you, personally, are going. It’s your journey. Keep your eye on the prize and your feet and heart will follow.
Brené also shares, “There is so much knowledge in our bodies and we just have to learn how to listen.” My arms are telling me to lift what’s heavy. My head is telling me to stop sleeping with the sexy excuses. My gut is pleading with me to shed the secret sugar binges and grab what’s clean. My feet are reassuring me they can go further. It’s talking and I’m really trying to quiet down and listen.
I’ve covered miles and have miles to go. I’m just giving my shame a name in an effort to shut it down and make it something that waters my soul instead. Something that feeds and fosters growth. I want this for the little ones watching my example, of course, but mostly for the me I haven’t met yet. I want to find her, years from now, on a sun-lit peak just inches from the clouds, with a big smile on her face and nothing but light and love in her heart. I’m not asking for your sympathy or for you to talk me down off the ledge. But if you ever want to meet me at the top of the mountain, I’ll save ya a spot.