my body: the other white meat

In ALL, INTROSPECTION by Stephanie Klein25 Comments

I’ve never separated “who I am” from my body.

I hadn’t thought to think of my body as storage. For a heart, some lungs, and a spleen. It lugs things, gets calloused, and goose bumps. And colds. My body has been slapped and threatened with a wooden spoon to the count of three. It has tread water beneath a canoe and has danced across a stage as I sang. It has done side bends and sit-ups to Sir Mix A Lot, has had fractured bones, and infected lymph nodes.

I’ve never had the thought to consider my body as something other, foreign, as if it has its own name. But when I am able to, it’s extraordinarily freeing. It’s bumped its head, and really hurt its nose, when I decided to dive off a starting block, as if I were diving into deeper waters than 3′. It has dolphin kicked its way to the middle of a lake, has sprinted, and won out, doing the most stomach crunches of my entire grade. It has housed two lives. There’s a pink gummy scar to prove it. That body was knifed open. It’s been infested with lice (when I refused to shower after my babysitter made me look like Bo Derek when I was eight). It has curled into fetal position, and slept in a room with too many strangers on a train in Europe. It has gone decent stretches without being washed. It has done cartwheels, hung on for me from the top of the monkey bars, and has hidden beneath blankets and a boardwalk.

When I view it as a vehicle, I’m less hurt by it. I don’t take it as personally that I look this way. You can almost make peace with how you look. You’ve been through a lot, you’ll be through a lot more. You are just a carrier, baggage really, for what’s inside, for what matters, for what people remember you for. I want to stick around, so I’ll try to keep us both happy. I’ll eat and love and live with gusto, full force, and in return, to help you out a little, I’ll exercise once in a while. I won’t eat too much red meat. I will try not to get diabetes on you. I will walk and keep up with my children to keep us both happy. When I look at it that way, it seems only fair.

Comments

  1. I saw a great play once where the leading woman had a monologue about the many ways she earned the wrinkles on her hands (caring for babies, nursing patients, tending to her dying husband, etc.) Ever since then, I've looked forward to wrinkles and age spots. I'll have earned them.

    Great post.

  2. i really like this post. i just had my first baby, and here i am, 11 weeks post, and my body seems like that of some one else, as it is so unfamiliar to me. i never had hips before, let alone one bigger than the other (WTF??) and now i'm offically a member of the "Muffin-Top" club. I'm back to work this week, and all my suits are SO tight, i can barely bend over. even putting on pantyhose for the first time in nearly a year was a chore…and a good laugh, followed by a silly fleeting cry. as for crying: well, having to put my sweet little pumpkin in daycare is quite possibly the worst feeling EVER. plus, i haven't been given the "ok" by my ob yet, per excessive tearing and popping of stiches, etc. so…here i am, feeling sorry for myself…and then i think of my daughter, and all is good in the world. sooooooooo much better than i ever thought it would be: being a mother. and the perspective it brings: wow. YET, i would be a liar if i didn't say that i think of the old me, and wonder about me and what i am all about, and this vessel that its being carted around in…

  3. I've been trying to do this. Get over my self absorption. Forget about what I 'see' and try to focus more on what I know. It's a slow process. But one you articulate well.

  4. I love this idea, and I think there's a lot of truth in it. When I think about it, the times I find it easiest to eat/live healthy are the times when I need my body for purposes besides looking good in skinny jeans. Like when I'm taking a dance class (even just for fun) and I actually need to be in better shape to do what I want to do, versus just to fit into my clothes, I find myself just craving a healthier diet, etc.

  5. This was beautifully written. In my life I've noticed my body and mind operate at different levels more often than not. One grows without the other. One won't listen to the other. As women we fight with our bodies, we don't understand them completely, even though we all read "Our bodies, our selves." Even though our bodies have been with us since the beginning. People always say they know something as certain as they know "the back of their hand". But I don't know the back of my hand at all! I'm not sure if I've ever really examined it (inspecting a manicure doesn't count).

    Bodies are surprising, fascinating, and I think we often take for granted. When I was little I used to ruminate about how unfair it was that I could never see my own skeleton, or so many other parts of my own body. They made me, those parts were me, but in a strange way, they owned me far more than I was able to own them. I couldn't see inside my body, I couldn't control it. We get sick, we get old, we change all the time and it's such an amazing and frustrating idea to fully understand. As a mother, it must be a revelation to look at your body as a source of life.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, I once thought of my ex as essential to my own body as an arm. He was an extension of me, he was always there for function and need and tactile pleasures like touching a piece of silk or more important, tacit pursuits that brought me joy–like writing or drawing. And when it was over I felt crippled by the loss. That is, how could I live without an arm? It was elemental, essential, necessary. And then I eventually got over him, us, our loss of love and it seemed to me such a strange idea I had had, me, my boyfriend and my arm. And recently (yesterday) I went to get my wisdom teeth pulled and the receptionist only had one arm. I'm not even kidding. I'm not sure what that means. But it feels important. When–if ever– I understand the symbolism or epiphany or whatever it was, I'll be sure to share it with you.

  6. See, and I think I mentioned this in one of your blogs or a mail to you while you were still pregnant, having a baby is what did it for me. You just learn to look at your body different, you learn to appreciate it, are amazed by it. Makes me personally feel more womanly, feminine if that makes sense.

  7. Have you seen theshapeofamother.com? I think it's really inspiring and lovely, celebrating real women's real bodies! (I'm not in any way connected to the site, just happened to read about it just after I read your latest blog…)

  8. My mom has always told me to be proud of your scars, because they are a record of what you've been through and overcome. An archaeological record of strength, as it were.

  9. great point of view! i'm usually decently self-confident, but recently have had some bouts with my self-esttem post a little weight gain. this is such a better way to view your body! so much healthier! i really like this concept and am going to have to adopt it! i need this today…thank you!

  10. I don't often get around to sending comments…but I had to make time to tell you I absolutely loved this particular peice! Brilliant!

  11. Brilliant post! Stephanie, sometimes you write and I feel like I can't identify with it, then sometimes, you write and I feel like you know just the right thing to say, at that specific moment, on that certain day. Well done…

  12. Also, I am a little weirded out by how often I have been one of the first few commenters lately. Must. Stop. Checking. Blog. Too. Often.

    I'm not a weirdo. I promise. I just have a dull job.

  13. I think it is ridiculous the length to which women try to "erase" signs of aging. I can't wait to have laugh lines– I love what they entail. And I think a woman with a head of gray hair looks extremely distinguished. Everyone should be proud of where they have been and what their body has been through. Obviously, easier said than done.

  14. I can't really distance myself from my body completely in the way you describe above. But I sometimes think of a line in that sunscreen song: 'it is the greatest instrument you'll ever own' and I'm motivated to take better care of it/me.

  15. Yeah,Carolina, right. Almost as great as writing. And Brussels sprouts are almost as great as pasta, aren't they? I respect people who believe in regular exercise, but find it truly funny when they try to compare it to any kind of mental activity.

  16. About exercising… I do exercise and am pretty fit but every now & then I get the sore knee the sore shoulder & I know these things happen. I am aware of proper form so not to strain muscles etc. But my big worry is how much can certain body parts take. You always hear of elderly people (& some not so old) that their knee just gave out or to much wear & tear over their lives & then they are out of commission. Is too much exercise now going to hurt us later? I know you have to keep active, I guess moderation is key. I hurt my thumbs lifting bar bells, did it for 3 yrs. & now, forget it. Anyway that is my concern for the day.

  17. When I was little and I had severe asthma, my mom taught me to think of the asthma as something separate from myself. It was okay to say that "I hate the asthma" but not okay to internalize it as a personal failure.

    Now that my mom is ill and going through chemotherapy, I say to myself, "I hate the chemotherapy" and it helps me separate the chemo symptoms that my mom is having from who she is It's easier to remember that she's still the same amazing woman underneath the horrible side effects.

  18. I liked this post.

    I had a small skin cancer on my cheek a bunch of years ago – had it surgically removed – needed plastic surgery to sew up this large incision – afterwards I was bruised and swollen and even had a black eye from it. It was traumatic at the time. But now I have just the scar from it. And I love it. It is evidence that I am not perfect but I can adjust to imperfections. What is important is what lies underneath. What is important is acceptance of yourself in all your imperfections. I am sure there are more to come.

  19. Actually, Georgia, exercising can be compared if you work out to that level where you produce endorphins. It can help depression, lower your blood pressure, sweat out toxins, etc.

    It's the motivation to exercise that I have problems with but once im there i usually kick some ass because I figured if i made the trip I better make it worthwhile, so you know, I wont have to come back for a week or so. Kidding.

  20. Exercising, skin care and eating healthy are always good goals, but, let's be honest, the greatest advance in anti-aging techniques in our lifetime: Hair color and highlights.

  21. Georgia: Take a look at the recent spate of articles in the New York Times on the connection between exercise and the brain. Not only can exercise improve and maintain mental acuity, but some studies have shown that, while we all possess the various "nuts and bolts" required for the development of Alzheimer's, those who exercise regularly are far less likely to ever develop the symptoms. For that reason alone, count me in with Carolina!

  22. Georgia – Do You think that marathon running doesn't require mental activity? You believe that a person is capable of running 26 miles without Any MENTAL activity? Think. Please.

    I do some of my best thinking when I'm running. I contemplate. I realize. And in a way, I'm humbled – because I realize that good things come with hard work and with patience. Just like I'm not going to run 26 miles in two minutes, I'm not going to achieve anything worthwhile in a year. Life takes time. Dreams take time. Running takes time. Writing takes time.

    And i love brussel sprouts and pasta. Did you ever acquire any tastes growing up? Sushi, Coffee, Wine?

  23. I absolutely love this post and I love the idea of "just us" memories.

    Like Jill, I canNOT wait for Moose to come out! My friends and I have already pre-ordered our copies. It's like our Harry Potter :-)

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