Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Water Polo, Bruises, and Carbs

If it is not already evident by the title of this post, the focus of this publication is weight, self-image and self-esteem. On Sunday, I turned 21. I have been on this Earth for 21 years, two days and 22 hours. While not the greatest time in the world, or even in a lifetime, that is still a large amount of time. It took 21 years for a girl to be okay with how she looks on the inside, outside, with her face, features and body. If that doesn't depress you, then you either have been living under a rock and are immune to the harsh pressures of society, or you like eathing puppies.

My main hesitance in writing this post is, that while I find it a personal accomplishment that I mean every single word of self-worth, "body-image" topics are a touchy subject and sometimes people are unsure of how to handle them. I am not asking for pity. I am not asking for a pat on the back. On the same side, I am not asking for commentary, or even thoughts, of condescention on "silly" girls for not being able to tough up and bear it in society.

Today people are donning the color purple in protest largely against the bullying that occured causing individuals to chose suicide. To this day, I do not understand bullying. While one might be insecure, I personally collapse inward with my insecurities, so the idea of lashing out in the opposite direction perplexes me. I have also been bullied so yes, I am a bit biased.

Growing up, I was not grossly overweight, but from about third grade until sophomore year of high school, I had a lot of extra weight on me. I was chuncky and the combination of being overweight and rounded bangs didn't really help me out in the physical beauty department. While I have judged based upon physical appearance, I do not let that alter my behavior towards individuals. I can't say the same for the rest of the world. Being bullied at school for several counts, physical appearance included, societal expectations, and some very hurtful comments at home led me to have a horrible impression of myself. For many years I did not like what I saw in the mirror.

Six months ago I did not like what I saw in the mirror.

Age, puberty and the normal growth process elongated my face, so I no longer look like the exact image of myself at four years old, although it is still a very very close resemblance. Losing weight though was more difficult. I have always played soccer and enjoyed playing outside, however, with my sweet tooth, love of food, and metabolism, that level of physical activity quickly proved to not be adequate. By freshman year of high school, I was sick of bullying, off-hand comments and, at my worst, being a size 13. That year I started cutting out junk food and soda and joined the track team at my high school throwing javelin. While not as cardio intense as the sprinters' group, it was certaintly more than sitting reading all day.

Sophomore year was when things started to really take root. I was still playing soccer, but switched to running sprints for the track team and finally joined the swim team. I have always loved swimming; water is both my depressant and stimulant, thus there could be no better fit for me and exercise. The main thing that really sticks in my mind though from that year is that was when I started counting calories. I would keep a running total in my head every day throught the school day for every gram, every number. If it entered my digestive system, a complex series of counting mechanisms and weighted system would have run three times before it entered my mouth. Initally it wasn't too bad. Initially.

Junior year was really when I should have been slapped silly. A heavy course load, my first boyfriend and my own mental pressures started getting to me. After losing about 15 pounds over sophomore year, and being in a pool for five hours every day doing my Christian Service project, being thin was the new norm for me. In addition, a constant rate of weight loss became the norm for me. In sophomore year I counted calories giving myself a daily maximum of 1600-1800 calories, which for a girl of my height, is a decent point to aim for. In Junior year, and the summer that followed, my restriction was set down to 1200. The summer after Junior year I ran or swam between five to seven days out of the week, but never really counted how much I was doing. Looking back on it, I was overexherting myself. Being a bit of a perfectionist can be a double edged sword with weight loss. Calorie counting becomes a day, a competition to strive to achieve the best every day, every second, everything that entered my body. On my "worst" day, I remember being proud running for 45 minutes, swimming for 2 hours and consuming 800 calories.

Numbers are a tricky thing. If we go by the numbers, I was never really anorexic or bulemic, or whatever you want to call it. At my lowest, I weighted 115-120 pounds. For some girls, that's normal. For some that's overweight. For me, on a 5'7" frame with athletics and my build, that means I lose a lot of bulkier muscle, am a size 0 and pardon my bluntness, but don't have much in terms of the womanly junk. My parents never really said much, but that summer at the shore on our family trip, I remmeber recieving a lot of looks and comments from my uncles. The first comment when we arrived in the door was that I needed to eat something.

Eating disorders are always a touchy thing to discuss. Knowing what certain friends know about me, the opinion ranges from that I was mildly anorexic to just taking normal activites a bit too far, however, sometimes no matter what opinion you are hearing, it just isn't enough. This brings me to college years. The mentality that I wasn't good enough every time I looked in the mirror persisted until just recently. I know I spent too much time looking into the mirror, varying angles, asking my ex-boyfriend if I didn't look fat.

I still look into the mirror now, still suck my stomach in a bit, but it no longer is a measurable competition how thin I can attempt to make myself look. I like to say I'm a size four since I fit into some 2's and some 6's. For my male readership, a four in jeans is a 27" waist. Yes I am aware that womens' sizing makes no sense. The main hurdle that I credit to my body acceptance is finding the balance with my body and my activity level in college. I am about 140 pounds and I'm happy with that. I like my muscle. It's hard to find a specific turning point, but personally, once the idea that muscle weighs more than fat sets in, an athletic contentness can take hold. Some women love their curves. I love my muscle. I love my stocky thighs because of their leverage in wrestling with friends, because I can climb and scramble in easier directions. I love my muscles because they are me, and well I happen to actually like myself.

While this posting seems to jump from trials and struggles to a happy outcome, I feel that this is an extension for how personal acceptance can occur. I do not claim to speak for all situations--every one is different and impossible to be comperable--but I offer up my own situation for personal fulfillment and reader understanding. With any disorder and disatisfaction, where do we point to as the leading cause? The individual themselves or the environment surrounding them? Personally it was a combination that drove me towards a desire to lose weight, to be the "best" (or more socially acceptable definition of "beautiful") me, although my own mental processes were the more difficult hurdle to overcome.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that beholder should only be the individual themselves. In relation to bullying, it'd be nice if we could all back off a little and let kids be. They'll figure things out. Every awkward child is a gem, every shy girl is to be treasured, and every girl's body is her own to hopefully decide what she wants to look like in her own way. Attractive is not dolled up in a skirt, dress, makeup and size two frame. Attractive is whatever the individual wants it to be, and for me, attractive is my muscles in a double layered swimsuit with my mascara running and laughing my ass off at my own awkwardness during water polo practice.


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