I wonder if the Caitlyn Jenner thing was such a big deal because of what she was wearing.
Would it have been the media circus it was if the picture was her in jeans and a t-shirt? Or a simple sundress?
I think that picture of her, wearing what she was wearing, really triggered people---transgender and cisgender alike, because it focused on her body. Not her gender preference or her courage or her past or future identities but her BODY.
And we have an obsession with bodies in America and some really distorted body image issues as a result. Folks who are praying for another day of life or people who are starving may wonder what the hell is wrong with us. I sometimes wonder that.
What the hell is wrong with us?
Why do we spend such significant amounts of time stressing and obsessing over this?
How do we conquer these body image blues?
This past weekend, I took a trip to St. Louis for my birthday to visit with my friend and climb through the City Museum. It both does and does not house art. It is a massive indoor/outdoor playground and event space made of found or reclaimed and recycled objects which are plastered, nailed, soldered or connected to the ceilings and walls in whatever way possible. And people climb through the structures to make their way between floors. It's terrifying and difficult and beautiful and the rebar kills your knees so wear knee pads if you ever go. I did not and it hampered my experience, but that's not the only thing that did.
It was my body image issues. Amidst the exercise of constantly testing the limits of my fit and strong body, I spent a significant amount of time concerned if I looked "male enough". I felt self-conscious of the size and shape and proportions of the different parts of me, from my hands to my face to my shoulders and hips, and I felt like people were staring at me all day and all night, everywhere we went. Rather than use the body I've been given to walk around feeling proud of all it can do, I spend MORE time focusing on how my image is perceived and judged by others. I make up stories about what they think and what it says about me and I think if we harnessed the energy of this collective experience among humans, we would need no more fossil fuels.
It's equally terrifying and liberating to share this because it feels incredibly sad and pathetic AND it's also the only way I can conquer these issues. We can never conquer what remains obscured and avoided.
Something that helped me get over the discomfort of people staring at me was reframing WHY they were. My friend suggested it was geographical because we were in the Midwest, and maybe folks are more friendly there and wanted to make eye contact. Maybe they were tying to read my tattoos of different quotes in my handwriting scrawled up and around my arms. Maybe I'm so damn gorgeous people just can't stop looking. Those ideas helped for a while until I came back home to Somerville, MA and experienced the staring all day yesterday. I am keenly attuned to other people staring more than ever in my life, maybe because I'm paying closer attention to it now as my body changes by the week from my transition. I think it's because my shape is "off"---and people are trying to figure out "what" I am. Or maybe that's in my mind.
I returned home and spoke with another friend about this. We shared our relative insecurities about our bodies, equally incredulous at the fault we found with ourselves. "You worry about THAT?! Wow. I never even noticed it before..."
Our body image issues make sense to no one but us.
I know people who have profound physical limitations and it humbles me to think about those friends of mine as I waste time complaining about the physically perfect and capable body I am in. Everything works the way it should, as long as I'm doing my part to strengthen it. On my birthday, I posted a video on my Facebook wall saying that I am not struggling with my body as much as I did 20 years ago. It's true but it doesn't mean there isn't still some struggle. Since transitioning and as I approach middle age, I come in and out of confidence and clarity and insecurity from moment to moment as the hormones and exercise reorganize my muscle and fat percentages. Things don't look the way they did and my clothes don't fit the way they did before. I realize that what I mistook for self-confidence in the past was actually my denial of not connecting to my body in any real way. That explains why I ate crap and sought out and put up with crap in relationships and jobs and other aspects of my life. Why fill a life I love when I don't think I deserve to feel comfortable in my own skin?
We all have bodies. We all do things to them on a daily basis that speaks volumes about how much we respect and appreciate the skin we are in. Some people work out or think about food obsessively to compensate for their insecurities. Some don't do anything at all. Some people get tattoos, others don't. Many people act like we can consume whatever we want in the form of junk food, alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, etc. and it just flows out of us like water through a drain. But it's not true. Basic biology says that what we consume is absorbed and used before the waste is eliminated. What we ingest creates the very cells of every hair, bone and muscle fiber on our bodies. We truly ARE what we eat.
It can be tempting to shrug that off and keep ignoring that truth and keep eating what brings us momentary pleasure instead of what truly nourishes us on a cellular level. And we can live our whole lives like that---grasping for what feels good now even if it isn't serving us in the long term. We might do that because it's painful to think about. It's painful to admit how we've been neglecting ourselves or not appreciating what we've been given.
But if we want to truly conquer the issues we have with our own bodies, we can bring the truth into the light a bit more. It doesn't need an interrogating spotlight but just some sunlight will do. We can be honest about what we've been avoiding or hiding from. We can be truthful about the parts we neglect because it's uncomfortable, what we eat or don't eat, how we move or don't move and why. My body is strong in places that feel good to look at in the mirror. The parts that feel less good to look at, I don't address them as much. I can kindly attend to that or not, I get to choose.
But acknowledging all this doesn't feel nearly as bad as the incessant worrying. Conquering the blues doesn't have to be a war. In fact, a silent surrender may work best.