How Many Cameras Are On Me?

Image credit: pepsicated.wordpress.com

Image credit: pepsicated.wordpress.com

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.

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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.

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The Gifts of Staying

Walking Lightly Ranch

Walking Lightly Ranch

When I contacted author Laura Munson in July about her Haven Writing Retreats I wasn’t sure I really intended to go. I’m a toe-dipper, not a cannon-baller. I generally take my own sweet time gathering information in order to make a decision. It could take me months to decide what model cell phone or vacuum cleaner to buy, for God’s sake. But after talking with Laura on the phone, I knew. She felt like an old friend. The kind where no matter how long it’s been, you just pick up where you left off. She seemed to understand where I was at and I felt certain she could help me.

I was contemplating going in late September, but there was a cancellation for the August retreat, just over three weeks away. I made the call to confirm I could get my financing in order, and then hesitated. I knew once I told Laura I was coming there would be no turning back and I was scared. The next day I emailed her, “I am both excited and terrified. Looking forward to seeing you soon! I’ll be the one breathing into a paper bag.”

That’s when my old friend anxiety paid me a visit. For the next several nights I couldn’t sleep. I felt like I could vomit. The voice in my head was on a mission. “What have you done? You can’t afford to go to a retreat. What if you need that money later? Besides, you’re too sick. You won’t have enough energy to participate. The travel alone will be exhausting. You should just stay home.” This is not the voice of reason. This is the voice that tries to stop me from going after my dreams. So I listened instead to the voice of my heart.

That’s not to say my inner critic took a vacation. Oh no. That voice never really goes away. So when some of the writing exercises stretched me in ways that were uncomfortable, I breathed through it. When my “I’m not doing it right” story had me wanting to cry, quit, run, I stayed.

“Out beyond ideas of rightdoing and wrongdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” ~Rumi

I stayed because there were ten other extraordinary women willing to bare their souls and share their stories. I stayed because Laura, our courageous leader, showed us by her own example how to ‘lay yourself bare on the page.’ Because I stayed, I walked away with renewed confidence in my writing, a more solid vision for the structure of my book, an author’s statement, and a clearer idea of my writing voice.

But it was so much more than that. I am amazed at how close I became to these women who were strangers just a week ago. We laughed. We cried. We got real. Because I stayed I met all these beautiful souls who don’t seem to realize just how magnificent they are. That astounds me. Until I also realize I am one of them.

This is my author’s statement, which is written on a brown paper bag: “I write to find my way–and to remind others they are not alone.”

So if you are looking for somewhere to explore your creativity on the page, I can think of no better, more nurturing place than Haven. Any time you step outside your comfort zone, it will be scary. It’s tempting to stay on the shore because that’s where it feels safe. But if you can just breathe and trust and stay, your dream will ripple out into the world in ways you never imagined.

Come on in…the water’s just fine.

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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.