An inevitable mess of gray: coming to terms with real body acceptance and imperfection
August 30, 2017
Content Warning: Eating Disorders, Food, Weight
I never felt like I fit anywhere. I was never big enough to be curvy but I never felt small enough to be thin. In the real world, I experienced thin privilege yet there were so many things that my thinner, more petite peers did that I felt barred from. As I starved and restricted myself smaller, it seemed like I was never sick enough for it to be alarming but I'd never be healthy enough to be okay. I just always felt like I was floating somewhere in-between.
I've shifted through shapes and sizes my whole life. I've seen my hip bones crease the waistband of my jeans and I've entirely lost my hip bones under layers of flesh. But that was then and this is now. And now my body feels healthy. It feels strong and capable and well-cared-for. I am in the best shape I've ever known myself to be in. I exercise quite a bit but I fuel my body for that effort and I rest for recovery. I'm not saying this to pat myself on the back or to make you feel like garbage if you're notin a good place. I'm saying this because even with all of that progress and positivity, I still feel like a shade of gray.
Now, as a fitness instructor and self-acceptance advocate,* I have days where I feel more "in-between" than ever. I want to be taken seriously and seen as good at what I do, but I also refuse to perpetuate unrealistic expectations. I am not "perfectly" toned and thin like many of my fitness counterparts yet I don't have substantial curve or enough plushness to realistically consider myself as anything but thin. I am fit and it shows, but so too does my softness. I bend and squish in some places when I sit because I am still me. And I refuse to work against those parts of me because doing so puts me in a danger zone — and to what end? My recent post on loving your body and exercise at the same time talks more about this balance between work and body love.
My body sits in a gray zone that no one seems to talk about yet most of us exist in. The perfectly normal zone where I'm okay with my body but I'm not always happy with it. Yes. I have days where my body frustrates me, and this goes beyond looks. Some days my body feels slow, or tired, or not tall enough, or whatever, but that doesn't mean I'm not still loving myself through the frustration. *cue awful relationship metaphor.*
I am in the zone that ranges from size XS to L based on the store, the type of fabric, and how bloated I might be. I am in the not all-better when it comes to ED but not totally struggling anymore zone. I am one of the halfway people. My body, my story, and my life is a gray zone and it's likely to stay that way.
And that's okay to accept. It's okay to exist in these gray areas and still feel at peace in my body. With all the talk of self-love in the world right now, it's becoming harder and harder to know what that means. Does self-love mean loving yourself enough to go on that new diet or to end dieting for good? Does it mean loving yourself so much that you know you deserve that $40 boutique chocolate bar or that you don't actually need it? To be honest, I don't know for sure but what I do know is this: you should be able to sit with yourself. Whether doing so requires buying that $40 boutique chocolate bar as self-care or seeing a therapist once in a while, I think "self-love" means finding safe tools and a non-harmful path that allows you to get to a place where you can sit comfortably with yourself and be at peace there ...right in the gray zone.
For some people, bodies and food can be simple. Some people can acknowledge that bodies change and then move on to the next thought. Others can have a completely healthy, non-complicated relationships with food.For many of us, however, nothing is that simple. Nothing exists in black and white but rather everything seems to swim in a sea of "what if" and "supposed to" and "good" and "bad" and "right" and "wrong."
And that's okay. Our bodies and food don't have to be simple. In fact, the truth is that they aren't all that simple. Food is complicated. It's a matter of survival but also one of social connection, culture, and emotion. Food involves politics and economics and the environment. It's complicated and so are our bodies. They are multifaceted and multipurpose tools. Our bodies are both vessels for progress and vessels for enjoyment. They crave both restraint and indulgence. They want work and they want rest and they have different ways of showing those needs. It's a lot to figure out and a lot to work through on top of all the pressure from the world to make your body look a certain way.
And don't you start throwing the word balance at me as a cure-all because you and I both know that everything doesn't always come with balance. The constant pressure to be balanced can actually be counterproductive to actually feeling balanced. If you go into every aspect of life that's a little un-balanced (think: starting a new job, having a baby, going on vacation) full of anxiety over how you're going to maintain an even scale, aren't you just tipping it more in a harmful direction? Rather than obsessing about finding a way to undo or even out every choice that doesn't feel perfectly healthy or in-line with your goals, what if we could just learn to endure those moments by knowing that moments end? Maybe the trick isn't alway fighting for more balance but learning to endure imbalance without panic. There is something to be said for accepting that things aren't neat, that lines are blurred, and that life is an inevitable mess of gray.
Real body acceptance isn't a matter of perfection. Your inner peace isn't always achieved or felt the same way. There is no cure-all or guarantee for your well-being. There are very few matters of what is right and what is wrong in each new phase of life. What worked yesterday might not work today. The way you felt about yourself yesterday may not be the same way you feel today. The world isn't black and white and that's okay.
So this one goes out to all the in-betweeners. To the ones who feel equal parts strong and soft. To the ones who don't want to fit it but aren't sure if they're ready to stand out. For everyone who is a little bit of "both." Your life might always feel a bit like gray zone but that's okay. May you be the most vibrant gray there ever was.
*I think I like this term. I'm so f***ing tired of "self-love" as a buzz word and way to sell things that I'm going to use this one today. The meaning of self-love might be blurred but I know exactly what self-acceptance means, and that's what I think counts.