Well, I stepped on the scale this morning.
Not really! I just thought that sounded like a good opening line. I don't have a scale because I get too married to the numbers and forget what it means to have a healthy body despite the daily weigh session. However, I do judge my body by the way my clothes fit, and even though I didn't set foot on a scale this morning, I did put on my skirt and made a sad face when I couldn't get the zipper all the way up. (solution: wear a longer shirt that hides the half-open zipper.) And then I thought to myself, “Here it is, at last. Bear Season.”
“Bear Season” is what my husband and I call Winter. It's kind of a pet name for the part of winter that we don't like so much—the part where we both eat too much food, don't get enough exercise, and therefore become fat. Like bears. Calling it Bear Season makes it easier to accept the changes that come with the season and keeps us from being bitter. (Not really. I mean, that IS the idea, but it doesn't really work. I'm still totally bitter.)
Now I'm going to tie Bear Season into a thought I posted briefly about on Instagram recently:
This is something I think often and really believe. When I think about the people in my life and all the issues and baggage we carry with us as adults, raising children seems almost hopeless. I look at the parents of my peers who did a great job raising my friends and family, and despite that, we still get together to talk about our issues over lattes or wine. And the scary thing is that the ways we can screw up our kids come in all sizes and shapes, some will go unnoticed, while others are obvious no-nos. Some are supposed to be off-limits, but we just can't help ourselves--it happens. Despite our best efforts, we pass on our insecurities to our children on a daily basis. And that's when I get to feeling hopeless.
I'm sure you can take a moment and list off a handful of things that could be considered "baggage" that were loaded onto you by your parents. Maybe you feel like you can only run the dishwasher once a day at a specific time. Maybe you feel guilty whenever you choose to drive your own car instead of using public transportation. Maybe eating Taco Bell is a sin equal to cannibalism. We all have these little things, it's okay. And the baggage containers come in a wide array of styles and colors. So many to choose from! So many ways our well-meaning parents screwed us up! And we say to ourselves, "I'm going to do it differently. I'm not going to give my kids these issues. I'm not going to make them feel guilty about not riding the bus. I will not!" So we just choose different guilt trips to plant in their malleable little brains. (Not on purpose, of course. That's what makes this such an optimistic post. We're all trying really hard, this garbage is just going to happen anyway. That doesn't sound very optimistic, but it is.)
Here's what I know I'm passing onto my children despite my ENORMOUS efforts not to: NBI. Negative Body Image.
I'm probably not the only one striving to raise daughters who feel beautiful in their skin no matter what, while staring into the mirror at our stretch marks and crows feet and muffin tops and cursing ourselves for "allowing" those "imperfections." And here's the really crazy part. I see other women and I think, "OMG YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL YOU ARE LIKE A GODDESS." Then I look in the mirror at myself and I think, "OMG YOU ARE A TROLL, PLEASE, FOR THE SAKE OF THE EYES OF HUMANITY DO NOT LEAVE YOUR HOUSE TODAY." These are my actual thoughts! Isn't that terrible? And I know my girls see it. I know they hear me saying aaaalllll the negative phrases we aren't supposed to say in front of them. "My nose is too big." "My hair is so limp and thin." "My skin is so terrible, what am I, thirteen?" (So, in that case, I'm doubling up on the insecurities: Not only is it unacceptable to have pimples, but also being thirteen must be the worst thing ever. I am such a sucky mom.) But the whopper of Negative Body Image Phrases that Must Not Be Said is any variation of: "I'm fat."
"Do I look fat in this?" "Ugh, I'm so fat." "I need to lose weight." "These clothes make me look fat." "Look at my fat face." "Look at my fat arms." Fat fat fat fat fat fat fat.
WHAT ON EARTH.
I heard/read a quote recently that was so brilliant I have kept it at the forefront of my mind, not just as a reminder for myself, but also to be able to say it in appropriate situations. The quote is: "Fat is not something you are, it's something you have." So perfect, so true. Fat is something we have and it's something we need to have. And yes, obesity is a problem, and yes, we need to live healthy lifestyles. But guess what? Fretting about whether your bottom looks a little bit "too round" in your jeans is *not healthy.* Standing in front of the mirror and verbally putting your self image through a shredding machine is *not healthy.*
What is healthy? Loving our bodies the way they are at their healthiest. Loving our bodies even at their less-than-ideal level of healthiness and trying to get to that place. Not hating ourselves for the natural changes that our bodies go through, be it through pregnancies, surgeries, age, or seasons. We are grownups now, we're going to have some scars that mark us as such. Some are easier to be proud of than others, but really, every mark is a symbol of our story, every line on our face, all the fading elasticity of our skin, each gray hair is part of who we are today. And you can say, "You know, I love that I am 35 and have this peppering of grey, but I really like how I look with red hair," and you can dye it and fall in love with your hair again. Or you can say, "You know, I've noticed my favorite shorts don't fit since I've gotten into the habit of having ice cream every night at midnight," and you can move that habit to a time earlier in the day when your metabolism is working more efficiently. There are always things we can do to help us reach or maintain our best health, but even if we're falling short, we're still US. The scale doesn't tell you who you are, just as fat isn't an adjective.
This all leads back to our current season, Bear Season, when maybe it's natural to put on a few pounds. During the summer I walk a lot and I prefer walking as my main form of exercise. In the winter, I mostly hang around my warm kitchen and eat. Yeah. The natural outcome of this lifestyle is that I tend to plump up in the winter months, then I work it off when summertime rolls around again. I've always really had a problem with that, and felt that no matter how much I try, there's nothing I can do to not gain weight in the winter. (Somebody might have mentioned at one point in my life that baking cookies every day wasn't an effective weight loss regimen, but whatever.) Truly though, my husband and I often talk about "eating the seasons" and the rhythm of our diet at home. In the summertime we eat a lot of greens and raw veggies. I think most days our lunches were just a plate of vegetables and fruit, with a popsicle for dessert. And between those types of meals we ran around outside all day and worked in the garden and played hard and walked everywhere. These days, as the weather cools I want warm food. I want heavy food. So I make stews and curries and big steak and potato meals. We still eat our veggies, but we cook them so they warm us up. We add them into the soups and have them with big chunks of bread. And while we're eating that yummy, heavy food, we're sitting around the table talking to each other. After dinner, instead of rushing out to ride bikes before bedtime, we stay in together and draw, knit, or read. It's turned to a quiet, slow, warm existence; quite the contrast from the burn-all-the-calories Summertime. But definitely not something I would categorize as bad.
So here I am, at the beginning of Bear Season, unable to zip up my blue skirt with the cute eyelet edging (waaahhh) and I'm thinking, "Am I really going to spend another winter loathing my body? Is it really worth it?" I know I'll likely shed the pounds when spring rolls around again when it's easier to get outside. (And maybe this will be the year I don't, because I know that year is coming.) In the meantime I'll do boring inside exercises that keep me healthy and active enough, but I'll also eat a lot of yummy wintery foods, and I'm going to work really hard this year to love my body during Bear Season. Bears don't practice self-loathing. They don't stand in front of the mirror whining about their tummies and wondering if they look "too heavy" in their fur. I have never seen a bear do anything like that. So, I'm deciding right now that I'm not going to either, because I want to try to love my body through all the seasons, just like the bears do.
My hope in all this self-love jabber, of course, is simply that the baggage and issues my kids take away from their years with me will be different from my own. My optimistically doomed little bear cubs!