I spend an unnatural amount of time concerned with the shape and size of my body...
....I study, inspect, and scrutinize it constantly. How does it look in certain clothes? How does it feel in them? Do my thighs or hips feel tight in my trousers? Is my body taking up more room in my clothes than it did yesterday? No, I'm not conceited or vain about the way I look. If anything, I'm self-deprecating. I'm better than I once was though. Well, maybe just a bit. There was a time when I would cancel on friends because I 'felt' fat. I would also discreetly sneak a peak at my body in just about every reflective surface as a way to visually reassure myself. When that got to be too much I would avoid looking all together because I knew that I would only have unkind words for myself and I just couldn't bear it.
I didn't pay much attention to what I ate or how much I ate, but at the same time I was quick to try any diet on the market. I used to be heavier than I am now. In-fact, growing up I was always bigger than my friends and painfully aware of it too. About four years ago I overhauled my exercise and eating routines. It was all very healthy, no rocket science required: good clean food, average portions, and regular and varied exercise. I started using weights and I started running. I set fitness goals and managed to transform my body. I lost a good bit of weight and developed muscles. I liked how I looked and I was proud of my progress. While I'm a little more at ease with the look of my body now,
I'm also more fearful of losing it. I can be very strict with my eating and unyielding in my exercise routines. Most days I workout; for the most part I like it, sometimes I hate it, but never do I love it. Everyday, how much I've eaten and what I've eaten gets calculated against the amount of exercise I've done. Just like before I lost weight, I think about what I'm going to wear way ahead of going out. I like fashion and I like dressing up, it's true. I have some nice things in my closet that I've never worn because they aren't familiar to my body. In the morning I might feel brave enough, but by night time when my hips and thighs are swollen and my tummy is bloated from the days events I inevitably choose one of three go-to outfits because my body knows them.
Mentally anguishing over appearance is tiring. It takes a lot out of a person. In my body-obsessed moments I wonder what it would be like to be free of this, to literally, NOT-CARE. I look around at other people on the train, on the streets, in shops, and wonder how they feel about their bodies. You hear so many women (and more men now) say, 'if only I was thinner, I would be happy, more confident, and more self-assured'. If only it were that simple. I am thinner, and I still steal away to the ladies room to reassure myself. I size-up the spread of my thighs when I sit down. I stand naked in front of a full length mirror and push on parts of my body to simulate being slimmer. I try to make myself smaller, take up less space. I lead a double life.
Publicly, I'm a strong woman with a smart, creative mind. Privately, I do battle with this ongoing dialogue about my body and appearance. I must sound so self-absorbed. I sound that way to myself. One things for sure, I've never actually said all of this out loud. It's a little scary, but I'll manage.
Tara is a researcher and writer with interests in gender, disability, the body, and media.
She received her Masters degree in Sociology of Health and Illness from UCD, Ireland. Her research explored how media representations of the feminine ideal affect body and self image of visually impaired women. She's currently pursuing her PhD in similar areas. Her other (diverse) interests include the social and cultural significance of food and the history and myth of the American Dream and its relationship to contemporary American life.