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Dr. Deah’s Calmanac – July
Most of us have heard it. Many of us have said it. And sadly, the majority of Americans are still doing it.
“It” is waiting. Waiting to live our lives until our scale hits the magic number. Waiting to live our lives until we finally wriggle into the coveted dress size or effortlessly slip into (or out of) the “perfect” pair of jeans.
As a member of the baby boomer generation, I have become acutely aware of my aging process. This has been a slow revelation because there seems to be a glitch in the time-space continuum. I can’t explain it, but I know it’s there. For some inexplicable reason (where is Carl Sagan when you need him?), the generation ahead of me and the one behind me are all getting older. In my son’s case, like some real-life version of Joni Mitchell’s song Circle Game, the years have indeed own by and now MY boy is 20+. My dad is firmly planted in his 80s, and I haven’t aged a day since college. Unfortunately, my body doesn’t always agree
with my perception of reality, and it has ways of telling me that I am not getting or staying any younger, and that time, indeed, waits for no one. Well, if time isn’t waiting for me, then I am no longer willing to squander this opportunity to live my life fully and without apology.
Clearly, I need to lose some wait.
I know I am not writing about anything groundbreaking or especially profound, but I feel compelled to remind people that it is time to take your wait problem seriously.
Frequently, we establish these waiting patterns early in our lives when we are more impressionable to others’ feedback and more invested in pleasing those around us. If we get the message that we don’t look good enough or are too fat to swim, dance, date, travel, or express our sexuality, then, frequently we begin to mentally formulate a “bucket list” of what we will do when we are acceptable and are given permission to dive into new experiences. Even if we were daring non-conformists in our youth, we may have been chastised for our audacity, leaving us embarrassed and avoidant of future attempts to try new things until we are certain no one will laugh at us or admonish us for crossing the invisible line.
But, as we grow older, we tend to let go of some of our concerns about how others see us. We also suspect that – even if we manage to attain that “perfect” size or number on the scale – no matter what our age, we will never look like the models in the magazines.
There is a freedom in aging that many people write about that I didn’t really believe until I turned 50. Then I truly “got it” and my new motto was, “F*#k you, I’m 50!”
I mean, really, does someone have the power to dictate what I can or cannot do because of what I look like? More importantly, why did I give others that much power over how I felt about my body for so many years? Changing that habitual way of living my life took practice, it took courage, and it took an enormous amount of, “I WILL” power. And you can do this too. And you can start now.
Why not now? Whatever age you are, when was the last time you took an inventory of your belief system?
How much of the waiting is habitual at this point? What would happen if you took a quiet moment to reflect on the things you have wanted to do in your life that you wouldn’t let yourself do because of your negative body image, and see if they still interest you? Some may be outdated and no longer seductive; others may be newer additions that you were intrigued by and just assumed that you couldn’t pursue until you had completed your magical transformation. As you review your waiting list, consider whose voice is telling you that those things are off limits.
Look at the situation from the present moment, in the here and now. Are the risks still as scary as they once were? Are you still willing to deprive yourself? I found that the voice telling me to wait had no real power, and I could listen to the other voice that was beseeching me to stop waiting for a time that may never present itself.
It’s too bad in some ways that it took me as long as it did, but I’m certainly not going to beat myself up for not having done this sooner. I wish things in our culture were less stigmatizing and shaming towards those of us who do not t into the narrow definition of beauty. There would be so many juicier lives being led and fewer people obsessing about such superficial matters. But, whatever age you may be, I ask you to consider walking out of the waiting room and making arrangements to fulfill some of your dreams, wishes, and goals. If it’s too scary to go it alone, there may be someone who has been waiting to find someone else who was ready to stop waiting! You never know… The important point is that you get moving … now. Small, mindful steps are better than no steps. And remember that you, not Jenny Craig, Nutri-Systems, or Weight Watchers, are in charge of your wait management.
So … what are you waiting for?
I hate being put “on hold.” In the old days of rotary phones, if there was more than one number for the phone, there would be several plastic square buttons lined up underneath the dial. One of those buttons was red, which was the Hold Button.
As a red-haired impatient kid, when I was on a mission of whatever I perceived was of GRAND importance … which was pretty much EVERYTHING … being told to “please hold” was tantamount to my world screeching to a halt.
As I got older, my patience improved in many aspects of my life, but disliking being put on hold was something I never outgrew. If someone did not have the time to deal with me at that moment, then why didn’t they just NOT ANSWER THE PHONE??!!
Time passed, and with it, the Hold Button morphed into the Call Waiting Click – new label … same result. I didn’t morph along with it. I was stuck in a time warp, still, the impatient kid wanting to get something.
For someone who has always hated being put on hold, it is ironic how much of my life I spent putting MY- SELF on hold. It was subtle at first. The weather would start getting warmer and kids would start going to the community pool or the beach. (I grew up in New York, not far from the Atlantic Ocean.) I would watch enviously as they rode off on bikes loaded with towels headed for a day of splashing and swimming. I made up excuses. “When it gets warmer, I’ll go.” When it got warmer, I resorted to, “I have a cold,” or “I get ear aches from swimming.”
Of course, the real reason was how much I dreaded having to wear a bathing suit in public. When I was unable to push the Hold Button ongoing, I yanked out the big gun: “I’m a redhead and I’ll just get sunburned.” I wore a giant t-shirt over my hideous black one-piece bathing suit, explaining when asked, “Too much sun causes skin cancer.”
I tried with all of my might to stay out of sight. I put endless opportunities of having summer fun on hold because of my body-hate.
I was 9, I was 10, and on and on into my teens. I almost didn’t graduate high school because of the swimming requirement in Phys. Ed.
Putting my life on hold became part of how I operated in the world:
When I lose weight then I will go to that party.
When I lose weight, then I will take that class.
When I lose weight, then Davey Bernstein will like me.
When I lose weight, then I will really live the life I want to live.
How many kids are putting their lives on hold because they are being consumed by such shame and self- hate they don’t give themselves the opportunity to try new things – to let go and dive in?
I think the first time I ever felt completely comfortable wearing a bathing suit was when I was pregnant and I had permission to be a fat woman in a bathing suit. The freedom I experienced was an indescribable joy. I remember that, at 8 months pregnant, I could feel my son swimming around inside of me as I was buoyantly bobbing around in the pool, completely un-self-conscious, no big t-shirt – just sunscreen and a big grin on my face.
I vowed at that moment to do three things:
The first was that – whatever traces of negative feelings I still had about my body – I would NOT push my Hold Button. I would allow my kid to experience the joys of being a kid, even if it meant wearing a bathing suit in public.
Secondly, I promised myself that whatever body shape, size, or type my child developed, I would love him unconditionally and do what I could to help him foster love and acceptance for his body.
The third and perhaps most challenging commitment was to take an active role in educating others about the damage that size discrimination can cause. Sometimes, ironically enough, this means asking people to hold their tongues and open their minds.
My son is grown now, and I am thrilled to say he has never put his life on hold, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I did either.
June introduced the concept of freedom as we began to explore our personal emancipation from our bonds of self-loathing and learning how to reject the societal constraints of fitting into a ridiculous – and for most, unattainable – standard. July expands on this as those of us who live in the U.S. face a month that opens with Independence Day.
At last, a reprieve from some of the challenges associated with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating that we have been identifying and problem-solving about since January! After all, for most of us, the stressors of school are no longer in the picture, and aren’t we all supposed to be enjoying the hazy-lazy- crazy days of summer?
However, what could ideally be a time for summer recreation and replenishment from academia and over-scheduled lives is an endurance test for many. It involves hiding, making excuses, covering up, and pretending. Root canals are preferred over pool parties; math homework trumps a day at the beach.
July can be a catalyst for frantic attempts to gain “body approval” before Labor Day arrives. The palpable pain of self-hate may feel intractable … incurable. The temptation to resort to the possibility of the “quick x” may increase, and with it, there may be a decrease in socializing and even feigning illness in order to avoid public feelings of body dissatisfaction.
It is difficult to imagine a world where summer isn’t defined by our bodies, beaches, and not fitting in. Feeling like an outcast is one of the problems triggered, so connecting with places and people that provide support and encouragement is crucial. Some wonderful websites that promote a positive self-image, size/ self-acceptance, and de-emphasizing beauty as the primary criteria for success and happiness are:
- Proud to Be Me: Proud2beme.org
- Body Positive: facebook.com/thebodyPositive
- We are the Real Deal: wearetherealdeal.com
- About Face: facebook.com/aboutfacesf
With or without support systems in place, one of the goals for July is to dare to declare your independence from the societal and media messages that oppress you and steal away your love of your- self. After all, aren’t we celebrating a country that guarantees all of us unalienable rights including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Those rights should apply to people of all shapes, weights, and sizes. As we enter July, we are reminded that change does not come overnight. The process of revolution and paradigm shifting may feel slow and sometimes tedious. But what about the progress you have made? What changes have you put in place since you set foot on your journey to regain a place in your heart for your body?
Important Dates to Remember:
July 4th – Independence Day