It’s taken me a while to write this blog post, but it’s time. I’ve brooded about what I wanted to say about the body image/girls-aren’t-supposed-to-be-ripped narrative that’s taking place on Paleo blogs and podcasts across cyberspace because this topic is close to my heart.
I started rock climbing in 1997, when I was a plumper, less body-obsessed 19-year-old. College took its toll on me and I gained about 20 pounds my freshman year. Here I am then at 5’0″ weighing about 135 lbs. I’m on the left.
Thank God I found rock climbing because I had really no interest in other sports or exercise, so I didn’t move much up until that point. I started rock climbing in Sequoia National Park with my mountain man boyfriend, Major Bryant. I returned to college in Madison, WI after my mountainous hiatus from school and started going to the climbing gym. There I soon discovered what was possible in terms of muscle tone and strength from my newfound climber friends like Lindsay below.
I decided that the more ripped and lean you were, the less you had to carry up the wall with you and therefore you climbed better for it. And I had become afflicted with an insatiable desire to be a very good rock climber. I’d finally found something I was passionate about and it was a good way to get out some of my teenage anger. So I started doing strength training exercises, biking, running, and of course climbing with a fervor fueled by that hunger for greatness. I lost some weight and started thinking I was looking better. But it definitely wasn’t good enough. Here I am on the right about 2 years after I started climbing, weighing in at around 120 (still at 5’0″).
Then I moved to Boulder, Colorado, the rock climbing mecca of the United States. Professional rock climbers abound here, which not only raises the bar for everyone around them in terms of strength, but also in body composition. Don’t get me wrong: the strongest climbers are sometimes not the ripped-est, but often they are, so we wannabes try and try to get ripped nonetheless.
If you’ve ever been to Boulder, you know the vibe. You can’t drive down the street without seeing people running or biking. Fitness is life here and it shows in the wiry bodies at Whole Foods and the pelotons of weekend warrior cyclists audaciously blocking the roads every Saturday and Sunday. For many, the mantra “leaner is better” infiltrates their lives and guides their neurotic eating and workout regimens. It’s contagious and I caught the bug. I went from 120 to 100 lbs in the 9 years I’ve lived in Boulder, and not without many neurotic moments. At first I cut out gluten and dropped from 120 to 112. Then I had an epiphany about the fact that I could stop bingeing – that I was not going to starve if I didn’t eat the whole box of gluten free cookies – and I went down to about 107. Then I had a few month stint with anorexia where I went down to about 96 lbs. I soon realized I love food way too much for that, and that I’d like to walk up a flight of stairs without almost blacking out. I’ve been steady for about 3 years now with a regular schedule of eating at about 100 lbs. I went from climbing 5.12a to 5.13c in the time I’ve lived in Boulder, too, so in ways my obsession with my body worked – I got stronger.
But through all of my success at dropping weight and “leaning out”, I’ve hated at least parts of my body most of the time, regardless of the numbers on the scale or my success with climbing. I’m brainwashed like everyone else about what a woman’s body should look like, and honestly I’m just coming to terms with that now. My posture is slumped because I don’t like my big C-cup boobs to be too prominent and because I don’t want my womanly butt to stick out. I wear black a lot. I don’t wear sexy dresses or dress up really ever because I’m self conscious about my body and my femininity. I don’t like that my thighs don’t look like a marathoner’s (and why should they when I run at most 60 minutes per week??). When I look at my stomach and I don’t see a perfectly defined six-pack, I admonish myself for not working hard enough. I don’t like that I have rounded hips or a butt because my idols (who I’m reassessing) are muscular women with man figures who don’t have to wear bras and don’t have a hip/waist differential. Turns out that some of the women I’ve looked up to for so long don’t get their periods, so they may as well BE men. What is wrong with me?
I’m 34 years old now, and it’s taken all this time to get to a place where I can look objectively at the measuring stick with which I evaluate myself. This year has been the beginning of a transformation for me. I started riding horses – an activity that isn’t a hardcore workout but that is FUN (and even takes away from my workout time). I’ve opened up to the idea of having children, which was out of the question before partly because my body will potentially change so much.
And this week has been even more revelatory for me, as it seems to have been for a few other Paleo women (here, here, here, and others). I am tired of not being satisfied with my body. Tired of it. This constant inner nagging about my “imperfect” body perpetuates a relentless stream of low-level anxiety, affecting everything from my work to my relationships and my climbing. I don’t want to get to 75 or 80 years old and look back on my life only to regret having wasted so much energy and time on something so trivial, so I’m stopping it.
My assignment to myself is this: every time I think something negative about my body, I have to reach down, gently touch my own butt and say to myself, ‘I love my ass.’ I’ve been doing it – you should try it. All of a sudden I feel better about my ass. It’s like magic! I’m not saying I’m going to “let myself go”, as they say, and start eating bon bons for breakfast and not working out. I love the way I eat – it makes me feel good – and I love working out and trying hard. But it’s time to be more realistic about my lovely body that I’ve worked hard to get. It’s FINE. In fact, it’s better than just fine, and these ridiculous air-brushed misconceptions of what my body SHOULD look like are not worth my time.
I noticed that something was really changing when I got all gussied up in a low cut top and a short skirt (for me, at least) the other day and asked my boyfriend to take a picture of me for the record. Then I asked him to take another one because I wasn’t satisfied with the first. In the first picture, as you can see, I was slumped over and I looked unsure of myself (which I WAS because I was in a short skirt and someone was taking a picture of me). In the second picture, as you can see, I’m standing up straight and even sticking my chest out, confidently. And here’s the best part: for once in my life, I think I look pretty good.
Picture number 1 – me not so confident.
Picture number 2, chest out and all.