There is something incredibly humbling about viewing yourself in a full-length mirror eight months post-partum for the first time. Deeply humbling. And a little upsetting. Or a lot.
Last weekend we celebrated the wedding of one of the sisters (the spiritual sisters, those who know me the most intimately, although not biblically). And we stayed in a fancy-dan hotel. Where there was, alas, a full-length mirror.
We don't have a full-length mirror in our home (no, wait, on further reflection I forgot that we DO have one in Miss B.'s room, but apparently I have not been in her bedroom whilst naked, silly me). To get to my dress hanging in the closet at the hotel I had to walk, had to walk without clothes, past the full-length mirror. Had I known it would be such a shocking experience, I might have braced myself with a double shot of scotch first, or maybe some Valium.
The scales had been telling me, very gently, that I still had a good ten pounds to go before I would weigh what I weighed before Grayson was born. My work clothes were fitting, but a little too tight for my puritan tastes. But there was something about seeing myself head to toe which was, well, alarming.
And that alarm quickly turned to depression and incredible self-loathing.
In my late teens and early 20s I would not say that I had an eating disorder, but I would say that I was, and have been at other times throughout my life, eating disordered. Throughout college I fell into fits of deep sadness if my weight soared even a half pound above 125 pounds. To hide what I believed to be a flawed body, I draped myself in oversized men's extra-large shirts and sweaters. I liked clothes that hung rather than clung.
In those years I ran often; my drug of choice being country roads late at night and even in the dead of winter. I was not a marathoner, but if I didn't run five days a week, if I didn't run at least 4.5 miles on those days, the jungle drums of self-loathing would begin to beat. For years I didn't run for the joy of it, I ran because I believed that I needed to. I ran even after slipping on the ice and cracking an arm. I ran through a stress-fractured tibia. I ran in sub-zero weather and in 90+ degree heat. I prided myself on my discipline.
I was not classically anorexic. I wasn't bulimic. I never threw up after a meal. I never counted calories excessively. I never appeared gaunt and starved. But I knew what I weighed at all times. And I could tell you the length of every running route in North Manchester to the tenth of a mile. I skittered along the border of the eating disordered, but I was careful to never fall too far in.
It was a slow journey to become more comfortable in my skin. A journey aided by women who I believed were utterly beautiful no matter their size. A journey aided by men who loved me regardless of my weight. A journey discovering the sacred within which reminded me that I was made in God's image, and made good.
I cannot say that in the past ten years I have made complete peace with my body. But I can say that it's better. Gradually. Slowly. It's become better.
I can say that in the past ten years somewhere my running became a release and a delight, rather than an obsession and a chore. I can say that in the past ten years I started buying clothes in the Misses department with labels tagged with an "M" rather than a Men's "XL." I can say in the past ten years that I realized that weighing upwards or around 135 pounds was a healthy weight for me. I can say that in the past ten years I was beginning to see in myself the beauty I've always found in other women, regardless of their size or shape. I began to soothe my roundnesses rather than shun them.
And then I walked by that mirror. That full-length mirror that held nothing back. And I felt like I was nineteen years old again with a mountain of self-loathing and the desire to circle the hotel parking lot in my Nike running shoes until I was winded and exhausted, until my steps pounded the body hatred into the ground for at least a few hours.
And the truth hurt.
I have come to believe that I will be fighting the demons of radical self-acceptance for years to come. There are no easy answers here.
I birthed a baby boy and my body is not the same. It will probably never be the same. And I need to make peace with that, even as I change what I can.
To that end I joined Weight Watchers this week. My own personal A.A. meeting, as my friend Erin calls it. A place where I have learned a new vocabulary of "points" and "flex plans" and "core foods."
This is good for me. But I think what would be even better would be to slay the dragon of self-loathing who, with his fire-breathing threats, has shattered my fragile truce with my body and knocked me into the warped world of sneering in the mirror and poking at my flabby, C-section scarred belly with an accusing pointer finger.
I am not sure how to fight this battle again, how to know if it's time to lose weight or if it's time to make peace. But I'm also unsure of how to accept myself in a body I don't recognize.
I am a feminist. I am a hospice chaplain who often watches her clients struggle for their next breath. Fat, body image, worrying about the size of one's thighs in this larger picture seems trivial in comparison. It embarrasses me that I care. I am ashamed of my petty concerns when I have been blessed with a strong body and healthy child.
But I'm still avoiding full-length mirrors these days.
I don't like the hateful look of the woman with my face and eyes who stares back when she sees my poor, sagging belly. And it's just easier if I don't have to look.