I haven’t taken a picture of myself in quite a while. Well, actually that’s not true. The reality is I haven’t seen a current picture of myself…until recently.
When I packed my camera to bring with me to a writing retreat in Montana, I didn’t think much about the pictures that would be taken. Aside from shots of the lake, garden and buildings, we took pictures of each other and of the group as a whole. I wanted to capture those memories and the people I had met. So far, so good. Until I realized my fellow retreaters were posting these pictures on Facebook…and tagging me in them.
I was horrified. I’m aware I’ve gained weight and I thought I knew what I looked like, but I think I have body dysmorphic disorder in reverse. Instead of looking in the mirror and seeing myself as fatter than I really am, I guess I see myself as thinner. I often look in the mirror and think, not too bad. But seeing a photograph of myself? That’s a whole different story.
It was as if that episode of Friends, the one where they show video of Monica and Rachel getting ready for their high school prom, was replaying itself inside my head. Monica, who was much heavier in high school, reminds the group, “The camera adds ten pounds!” And then Chandler pipes up, “So how many cameras are actually on you?” And that’s what I’m wondering…How many cameras are on me?
I didn’t think to stand in the back or to camouflage myself in some way. I’m short so I’m used to being in the front of a group photo. I’m sitting down in some of the shots and my belly could be used for a table…my boobs are trying to choke me. When I saw each one I felt deep shame. I cried. I panicked. I quickly hid the pictures from my timeline and untagged myself. I didn’t want anyone to see how much I’ve changed.
But I haven’t really. Changed, I mean.
I thought about asking them not to tag me, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be that person. I wanted to believe I had finally come to the place where what I look like didn’t matter to me. As I wrote in my post What If I Stopped Wanting to be Thin?, I don’t want to spend any more of my life dieting. Trying to mold my body into something I think it should be. I’m learning to listen to my body and give it what it needs. Forcing myself to diet would be stressful. And that’s the last thing my poor worn out adrenal glands need right now. But the temptation is there. It’s always there.
People think the answer is to lose weight. That’s the advice I always get. But I’ve been up and down that road so many times it’s worn with the ruts and potholes of shame and guilt and failure. The real and true answer for me is to learn to accept myself just as I am. People will tell me I just need to take better care of myself, to watch what I eat and exercise. But I think taking good care of myself means not falling prey to the belief that I am what I weigh. That I’m somehow less than because my body doesn’t look the way it used to. That I’ll be happier if I’m thinner.
But that’s a lie. When I was thinner I just wanted to be…thinner.
I wondered who had seen the pictures before I got to them. I worried about what people would think…people who haven’t seen me in a long time. But do I really want to waste energy worrying about not looking like I did in high school when I was thin and perky and knew nothing about real life? I have a friend who often says, “Don’t you wish we were 18 again?” And I can honestly reply, “Not on a bet!” Oh, I would love to have that body back. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But this body has come with some hard-earned lessons. The woman in this body is so much stronger, smarter, more authentic than that 18 year old ever was.
I eventually fessed up to my fellow retreaters. I was honest about how hard it was to see myself in those photos. I even told them one of the considerations for not going to the retreat was that I had gained weight. Which I realized was silly because these women had never seen me before. They had no idea I’d ever looked any different. When we were saying our goodbyes that last morning, one woman in particular gave me a hug. My eyes welled up and tears rolled down my cheeks as she pulled me close and said, “Don’t hide. You’re beautiful the way you are.”
I want to believe that. I really do. It’s still not easy, but I’m working on it.
I’d love to hear your comments below. If you liked this post, then please ‘Like’ it and share with your friends. And don’t forget to click ‘Follow’ to get email notifications whenever I post something new. But most of all…thank you for reading and being a part of my journey.