Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hiding behind hipscarves?

First off:
I was sent some angry email after my post about vanity - there is some politically correct notion that fat is not ever bad? I'm not saying it is. I'm saying that there is a range of healthy and happy weights - my definition is probably less stringent than the Weight Watchers list. But ther is absolutely a point at which excess weight is in the way of life's enjoyment, is in the way of bodies doing what bodies are meant to do: move. So send me more hateful email...I'll take it. It's self-delusional to pretend that being very overweight isn't an unhealthy and unhappy way to be.

Now, on to the actual post....
I'm just in from walking, and it was a cold, clear, spring-is-coming day. Lovely walking weather. I've been playing catchup after an 80 hour week at work, doing laundry and domestica. And it is already Sunday night, darn it.

While I was out walking, I was letting my mind wander. I was planning a post I wanted to write here about the movie Away From Her - I cried many tears today watching it. It's a complicated film, based on a short story by one of my favorite short story writers, Alice Munro. It's lovely, and harsh, and difficult to watch. It has people compromising themselves both selfishly and unselfishly. It's fantastic. But I don't want to write about it today. Any more today. :)

Instead, I want to write about something else that occurred to me. It is hard to be perfectly honest and direct, even in this almost-anonymous space. I have been thinking about my bellydancing blog posts. And then about my vanity post. They are all true, and they are honest. But they are only part of the story. The surface, happy, glancing part. Here is at least one other part: I seldom recognize myself in mirrors, in motion, in photographs. Well, I do - but only after a moment, a long pregnant pause while I try to reconcile the image with my own self-portrait, my internal self-awareness.

I have heard this is common, but I think there is something peculiar in this for some people - it seems to me that it is related to the fact that I gained a lot of weight with almost no negative panicky moments. Quiet dismay, yes. Quieter adjustments of clothing, purchase of new clothing, yes. But not panic. I gained a lot of weight - a disfiguring amount of weight. Why didn't I panic? Because I think I just quit looking at myself. I looked in mirrors to apply makeup and style my hair, and that was just about it. From the neck down I was a mystery. No, not true. From the neck down I was some image I burned into my brain, a plumper version of my "real" self, but not a woman who lost herself in pounds.

Also, to the kind and usually loving people who read this and don't post comments but instead email me - please don't send me an email saying "you're being too hard on yourself." I'm not, honestly. I am not attaching a value judgment (it was "very bad of me to gain this weight") to this. It simply happened, and I'm trying to understand how. I was distracted by big huge questions in my life, my husband's health...but still. Did I gain the weight to hide, to make myself inert at a time that inertia seemed necessary? Did I not look because to look would have made it real, would have pressed me to change something? I honestly think not. I think I didn't look because to look might have made me ashamed, or afraid - and in my life those two emotions have little purpose. I can ill afford either, and I don't know how to be my true self when I feel either.

Last summer, I walked through the lobby of my then-office building, an all-glass affair with glass doors, foyers, windows everywhere, and mirrored columns, and I saw myself reflected in a whole dizzying series of images. Distorted to appear taller and thinner by some, shorter and wider by others, oddly wavy in yet others. Two things were remarkable to me that day. I did not choose to "believe" either the least flattering or most flattering image. And, I saw myself. Clearly. It was a good, healing moment. Until today, I only shared that moment with one other person. I was confused by it - wondered why it felt so big to me. He seemed to get why, and I wonder if he'll chuckle at this entry should he ever read it.

So I will tell all of you now: standing in that belly dance studio, with the heartbeat rhythm of the music loud and the hip scarves shaking, in a room with mirrors on two walls, I could not escape myself. At first I didn't want to see - do we all imagine ourselves more beautiful in motion, more graceful? Or is it that we only see our flaws at first, never quite spying the beauty of our motions, or our rhythm? I don't know - but at first, I did not want to see. I closed my eyes, in fact, until I could find my natural hip circle, my natural shoulder shimmy movement. But practicing head slides - well, you must look. You are moving your head back and forth, no shoulders, around an imaginary line on the mirror - you must look. I looked, and I think maybe I saw my real self for the first time in a long time.

I like me. She's crazily imperfect, and she is not the woman I keep in my memory, the one fit from biking and hiking, laughing into the camera at her 35th surprise birthday party. No. The me I see now has more lines on her face, there is something darker in my eyes, but my gap-toothed smile is still bright, and I still laugh with the joy I remember having since I could name memories - the giggling, life-full joy that I insist is a living tribute to my parents. I can't see my face in laughter without seeing my mother and my father - his coloring and eyes and mouth, her nose and the too-proud snippety-ass lift in my chin.

Let spring come soon, please. Very soon.

Peace and good thoughts ~