Sunday, March 08, 2015

We Are So Much More

I went to the gym tonight.

I'm not fat, by any stretch. I'm in a healthy weight range for my height and body type. I'm a size 6. When I was in High School I was a size 2 or 4, depending on what I was wearing, and while sometimes I still dream of wearing clothes so effortlessly, the reality of having given birth to seven children, means that it's not likely.

Especially since I like food.

Still, I'd like to lose a bit. Not because I have to. Not because I'll be perfection if the numbers just hit that point on the scale.

No, I want to be a little bit thinner because I like the way I look. Because lately my jeans have been getting a little tighter. Because I know that if I'm not careful, my eating and weight can easily get away from me.

So, I went to the gym tonight.

I didn't have a ton of time, and it's been a couple of weeks. So, I thought some time on the elliptical and a few weights would be a perfect workout for me.

Like anyone at a gym, I pay attention to who's there. I people watch. The college girl to my right, in her tee-shirt advertising a local pizza place. And to my right, the girl I see all the time. She appears to be anorexic.

I'm not trying to diagnose her, which I'm not qualified to do. But when I started at that gym, almost two years ago, she was a different person. Trim, and clearly athletic, she was a little thinner than I would be comfortable with, but she looked healthy.

Tonight I saw her in her tank top, which I don't often. I mean, she's almost always there, on an elliptical and moving at a rapid pace, but usually she's pretty well covered. See, she starts most workouts in a heavy coat. As she works out, she strips down her layers. She must have been at it for a long time, because tonight the layers were off.

I found myself working to not stare. She's skeletal now. She's lost her color. There doesn't appear to be an ounce of fat anywhere. Her bones are protruding, and she's become a mass of sharp angles and hard lines. Her hair looks like straw, and it's thinning and falling out. She looks like she could collapse at any minute. I don't actually know how she could have the energy to keep exercising.

I wonder if those who love her have confronted her about this. I wonder why the gym keeps letting her work out there. I know she often stays till closing and has to be asked to leave.

I know nothing about this woman, save what I can see, and yet, I feel like what she has is an exaggeration of what so many of us have.

We look in the mirror and see our flaws. We see what makes us ugly. We see what we think we need to fix. We see what the world might not love, and become our own bullies.

I know that eating disorders are complex. And I can't begin to speak to the myriad of issues that would lead this woman or any other person, to end up in one. But I know that that we women have to stand up to a culture that leads us to thinking that our only value is in a set of numbers on a scale, and how well we can attract men.

So, how do we stop believing the billboards and advertisements, selling us impossible images and unrealistic expectations? How do we change our culture so that we are valued more as people, and less as objects to be admired or derided if we don't meet the standards?

I'm teaching my daughters to dress for themselves. I'm teaching them that healthy is more important than skinny. I'm teaching them that their value is inherent, and inside of them, which cannot be changed with alterations to their bodies.

We are so much more. My daughters are so much more. And I want them to love themselves.

But can I be louder than the billboards, than the ads, than the movies?

I don't know yet. And, I have to admit, that really scares me.

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