Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I recently read a very moving blog entry in which the writer was part of a team challenge. Their assignment was to write a love letter to themselves. I recall thinking that gee, I wish I had written that.
But I couldn't come up with anything even remotely similar.
I think everyone's love letter to themselves would be a little different, even if they all covered the same issues and touched on similar highlights. Amazing to think about, but even as many people as there are, we are each individuals with different natures, experiences, opinions and so on. We are like branches on a common tree, each of us going off in our own direction in an effort to gain a spot of sunshine.
So I started with why I felt so uncomfortable writing a love letter to myself that I couldn't begin to compose one that would be real and to the point. I like to think that I'm on good terms with myself, only to find that my body seems to house an estranged couple who have fired their marriage counselor and can't move out for financial reasons. Not good.
Failing at the love letter approach, I tried thinking about self-acceptance, and had much better luck. I've crossed this bridge enough times that my surroundings felt familiar and believable.
From self-acceptance to love won't be such a quantum leap, will it? I can only hope.
I do know this: that as a girl I viewed myself as sufficient in all ways, and saw my body as being like this wonderful all-terrain vehicle that took me places and was fun to be in and was easily as good as anyone else's. My friends (each also in possession of their own super-cool ATV) and I would meet and do things and go places and life was good.
I can't really put a finger on when my self-view began to change, all I know was that my 13th birthday found me miserable, living in a rapidly-changing body that did embarrassing things like growing painful breasts and hair in awkward places...and much worse. What's more, my friends began to act differently. The girls became competitive and critical, as did their mothers, and the boys separated themselves from us and began to observe us like the changelings that we were, which didn't help matters any.
My father abruptly stopped wrestling with me on the living room floor. He tried to be nice about it, but I still felt rejected and freakish. He made it very clear that he still loved me, but he had definitely drawn a boundary line.
My mother was suddenly very demanding and adversarial, though not as bad as some of my friends' mothers. My best friend's Mom would often catch up with us and disparage our appearances, our clothing, our makeup...everything. I once remember her looking me up and down and saying, "I see you're wearing those shoes again..." with a disappointed wag of her head, as if she had caught me pilfering from a church's collection plate.
I struggled with self-image all through high school, never satisfied with the size of my waist, my muscular thighs, my plump arms. I was never pretty enough, smart enough, clever enough, well-dressed enough...the list went on and on and on. Never good enough. Never enough, period.
Of course, it only worsened after I got married. Then my struggles with my lack of self-approval was reflected in the eyes of my young husband and further amplified from there.
And then, wonder of wonders, I was pregnant. My body bloomed with good health, my belly grew, I gained weight and incredibly, I felt beautiful for the first time in my life. My body craved citrus fruits and chocolate, lean meats and colorful vegetables, and I was happy to oblige. I gained 20 pounds that melted away after my beautiful son was born. My world was complete. I had a midsection that now bore so many stretch marks that I looked like a detailed road map, but I had this amazing little boy to show for it.
If I am unable to pinpoint when I began to disapprove of my body and my self, which was predictable enough considering the pressures I was under at the time, I can say with great certainty that it was motherhood that restored my self-confidence. Suddenly my body was my ally again, telling me when things weren't right, alerting me to problems, accomplishing chores that I once would have believed impossible: delivering a healthy, gorgeous child into the world. My body was seemingly tireless, wonderfully accommodating and very capable. I was once again in possession of my own ATV, and was immune to criticism from others to the point of 'heaven help whoever tried!'.
I don't know if I'll ever be able to write that love letter, being as I still seem to harbor a certain distrust for a body that could betray me so, and which has since then started to break down, but I'll keep working on it, and maybe in time I'll be able to look at myself with complete affection and concern. I'm always working on it, insofar as I am able.
I like to think that I no longer compare myself to anyone else, but I admit that when I see photos of classmates I occasionally think to myself that I've held up pretty well, considering, so I'm not entirely immune. The difference is that I know how closely linked I am with that person - that we are the same age, and if the fact that I don't smoke or drink has given me a reprieve, it is, at best, temporary. My wrinkles will blossom forth at some point and my flesh will sag, and that's all there is to it. I have lived long enough that I know these things are forgivable. Time brings changes that can be neither prevented or healed; it has only to be accepted.
And I can do that. My body is the product of a life thoroughly lived to the best of my ability. I put great demands on it, it has served me very well, and I can forgive it it's frailties and flaws.
The question is, are my sins against my own body forgivable?