The Printed Fox: On body image

Thursday, August 1, 2013

On body image

I usually refrain from mentioning anything remotely personal on this blog. Not because I'm secretive or some other vain reason, but because I had sincerely wanted to focus on writing: everything about it, all aspects of creating a written piece of fiction --from the fundamentals to the flourishes.

I love everything about writing. I could write a book about every letter in the alphabet, kind of like there are books about the history of the number zero. Personally, I think that's pretty fascinating, and I find the tools and technicalities of writing utterly absorbing. However, even when trying to push my blog and get readers, it turns out that no one gives a rat's ass about writing, really. That's what the analytics say when I check my blog traffic report, anyway.

'Kay, fine. I'm a grammar geek. I get it.

So I'll talk about something else a little closer to my heart. Something that still has to do with my writing, and my books: body image.

You see, as I sit here at my desk typing this, I am 230 pounds of self-hate. I don't know if I've always been heavy, but I do know I've always been made to feel fat. I remember being three years-old and having my mother pinch me and tell me not to wear something and to go change because I looked fat and ridiculous. Growing up, she would point out every little imperfection and make me cover it up somehow, so I got really good really fast at spotting them and hiding them before mommy dearest could come after me.

I think it was around the time I heard her whispering with my older sister (my svelt, beautiful, perfect older sister) behind my back about how atrocious and fat I was that it cemented in my soul that I wasn't quite human, that at a molecular level I fell short of what it was to be worth something, and that I would always be a fat affront to Existence. I was twelve.

Now you see why I love the written word so much. Books are, and have always been, my ultimate escape from my hostile and judgmental world.

Though my mother and I aren't on speaking terms any longer, I still have a psychological incarnation of her in my head. And in a twisted version of Stockholm Syndrome, my own inner voice has come to identify with her until it merged into this hybrid Me-Her, and you wouldn't believe how vicious I am to myself.

Or maybe you can.

I write in the romance genre. If you ask me, I write action/adventure or fantasy with strong romantic elements, which would disqualify my membership in the RWA (and certainly would exclude me as a candidate for the RITA Award), but hey. Most of my reader demographic is going to be married women, ages 35-54. And I honestly don't know a single woman who doesn't have body issues, or some insecurity about their looks.

If you do, you don't know how wonderful and rare you are. But I personally know none.

All of my heroines have some body issues somewhere. In Devil's Bitch, which was just released, by the way, Norelia is very insecure and self-conscious, though it only rears its ugly head in court, and around her classically beautiful and willowy cousin. Norelia will slouch, tuck her chin slightly, stand apart from her cousin so the comparison isn't so stark. Yet she has a beautiful body and is built like an Amazon. She's a warrior, with a warrior's body.

In Of Hallowed Fiends and Darkest Fortune, and its soon-to-be sequel Duchess of War, Anya feels she is plain and as un-special as a girl can get. In her own twisted dynamic with a harsh and judgmental mother, Anya internalizes the hostility as a sense of mediocrity. She believes she will never be beautiful or desirable, nor intelligent enough to tackle the duties that a noblewoman of her Province would be expected to perform. So she gallivants the countryside with the commoners because, in her mind, she will always be common.

In My First Fantasy, it's a little more subtle mainly because it's a short story. The main character has such a fragile and uncertain sense of self that events take place which make her wonder, "Is this what I like? Is this the kind of person I am? Is this all I truly am?" And she comes to believe it in the end. It's a wonderful story about the power and freedom in utter surrender, but also the tragedy inherent in it if there is no strong fundamental self to bear its weight.

For the last month, I've been working on changing my diet, exercising, and facing my health issues head-on. I haven't lost a single pound since my last weigh-in back in January, but I'm two sizes smaller, in marginally less pain, and as long as I am very strict about avoiding problem foods (processed carbohydrates, gluten, nitrates, sulfates, etc.) and making my green drink every morning, life is a little bit easier.

And...being a little forgiving of myself. Because, y'know, sushi. Fuck yeah.

Because of the way my mother's voice, coupled with my own emotional issues (growing up in domestic violence can make a kid kinda fragile), my own self-hate goes so deep it pops out the other side. It's bone-deep. Nothing can shake it, really. After thirty-one years of it --it started when I was three-- it's just part of my psychological makeup.

And I'm okay with that. I'm comfortable with it. I embrace it.

I hate hating myself, but I know that no amount of a changed outlook, or any other behavior modification therapy techniques or approaches will change it. And I will go on throwing the self-hate at myself as long as I am fat. Not that I hate fat people. No way. I love them. Back in Portland, I helped start up a group celebrating people of size, and the people who love them. And I'm a bit of a chubby chaser. But I have a double-standard with myself, and again, I am okay with that. I know it for what it is.

Can anyone else relate?

Of course, that doesn't mean that I am happy to simply remain fat and filled with self-loathing. It simply means that I know where I stand with myself and what I have to work with. Who was it that said something like, "You have to accept what is before you can change what is,"? Or something.

So I'm starting the change. And I don't want to hear anything about how my inability to love myself while fat is just me being brainwashed by socio-normative ideals of female beauty. Been there, done that, and it does not apply. I was taught I was fat and worthless from my own mother way before I ever encountered society's message. If anything, Vogue and Jessica Rabbit only proved what I already knew about myself.

If I can't love myself unless I fit my own definition of physical beauty, then damn it all, I will do what I can to fit it. And this time, I won't listen to the voice that says, "You will always be fat. You will never be thin," while flashbacking to that time in the kitchen when my dad was pinching my fat and telling me, "You will always be big. Your whole family is big. Be careful what you eat because everything will just make you fat."

That moment was the birth of my twenty year-long eating disorder, by the way. I was fourteen.

My relationship with food is, to say the least, dysfunctional. Eating every day is psychological warfare, trust me. Eating healthily leaves me prone to my food addiction, and I have nobody around me to help, or to turn to when my heart just hurts so badly I don't think I can go another minute trying to get better. And that's something I've never admitted to anyone, even myself. Trying to eat healthy, I've never felt so abandoned.

Honestly, without my comfort foods triggering their little dopamine trick in my brain, all of the fears, insecurities, doubts, and pain begin to awaken from the food-induced anesthetic, and I am outnumbered. I've kept them at bay with spaghetti, Taco Bell, and Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies for so long, y'know?

It's like being naked and alone with the monsters under the bed. At least before, I could feed my inner demons all them comfort foods and they'd be happy and go away for a while.

Why am I telling you all this? Because some of the best advice for a writer is to write what you know. And this is one thing I know. I know the fight against negative body image. I know how destructive it is, and how far back into early development it can go, and how many tentacles it can grow and embed themselves into other aspects of your life until it seems you can't even walk out your front door without a hundred of them slapping you upside the head. I know that no matter how you might hold your head high and say, "This is who I am, deal with it!" there are still days when you stand in front of the mirror, staring at your own personal imperfection and not quite loving yourself.

Because that's me, too.


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