Recently my friend Sara and I have been having discussions about our pants. This has been going on for some time, a shared angst over the fact that they just don’t seem to want to fit. Similar in size, age, and stature, Sara & I have been puzzled by this strange phenomenon visited upon us in our early 30s and our old tricks aren’t working. We both eat clean. Sara runs an entire nonprofit community garden at a large church and another equally impressive plot at her home. She is always canning and picking and pruning and just moving in general. And while I am undertaking no such endeavors, I have an anxious personality that keeps me in perpetual nervous motion. Sooooo…you know.
I will say that the one thing I blame difficult-to-button jeans upon is my children. Namely, their growing-up-ed-ness. While glorious in nearly every aspect (ie: no more diapers, no more interrupted sleep, the public school system whisking them away from me each day), the one mortal flaw of their growing bodies upon my frame is that I’m just not chasing them around anymore. When a good friend visited over the summer with her three and one year olds, I observed how she never sat down. You just don’t when they’re those ages, right? If they’re playing at the park, so are you. But with children aged 10, 7 and 5, if they’re playing at the park, my derriere is firmly implanted upon a nearby bench, nose in a book.
Don’t even get me started on the calories I burned breastfeeding. I’m kicking myself for ever stopping. You had a pump, darn it, Laura. A NICE pump. No gym membership fees plus the public service of providing breast milk to those who need it? MISSED OPPORTUNITY.
Anyways, I digress. Because my point in all of this really isn’t how to stay slim by perpetual breastfeeding and it seemed for a minute there like it might be. My point(s) are centered around 1) the need we women feel to constantly monitor our weight and 2) some concrete steps to get some actual real-live freedom. As illustrated by my own unhealthy focus on weight and the steps I’m taking mentally and physically myself.
At the beginning of the month, Dan and I spent a week in the Dominican Republic. It was a hard-earned incentive work trip, and we soaked up every second of paradise. We also apparently soaked up some intestinal bacteria that wreaked havoc on our digestive systems. We were sick our last two days in DR and then for weeks thereafter back home in the states. When I first stepped on the scale after our indulgent week away, the number sang to me of large, plentiful fruity drinks, pretty desserts laid out after each meal and hours spent lounging in a thatched hut on the beach.
Which is of course to say, I’d gained just a few lbs during our week away. Like 6-8 of them. But just tiny ones really. 6-8 tiny lbs.
Although I shook my head wryly and made a few half-hearted jokes about my vacay souvenir to Dan and a few girlfriends, I felt real sadness. Not crushing or anything, but pangs. However, I needn’t have worried because, as I mentioned previously, all was not right in the world of my tummy. So through several particularly miserable days and episodes of which I will not speak in detail (you’re welcome), every last one of those lbs quickly melted away, the last even taking a few friends with them that had been around a while.
And here’s the kicker: as the days went on and I was continuously miserable, I read on the trip’s Facebook group that many of my co-workers and their guests were also sick. And many had gone into their respective doctors for antibiotics, feeling respectively much better. So I began to deduce that I too might benefit from some professional medical care but then…
I saw the falling scale.
And I thought, “Well, maybe I’ll wait just a few more days.”
Because now that I’m 34, I can’t just run a few times and have kale salads a few lunches and not eat Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chip a few nights whilst watching Grey’s Anatomy and lose lbs the way my kiddos lose teeth. That doesn’t work anymore. Hence Sara & my collective angst.
But an exotic, foreign-acquired, zesty little bacteria strain dancing the mariachi through my intestines? Well. That was doing the trick quite nicely. Maybe I didn’t want to execute my little friend via Cipro just yet. One of my fellow travelers even quipped: It’s the final amenity from Thirty-One: the Fall Weight-Loss Plan.
Thanks, Thirty-One. You’re truly a gem of an employer.
But then, you know, I don’t know. I think I caught sight of my face. My eyes looked red and tired, my skin pale, just my entire countenance unhealthy. I had zero energy. Driving my daughter to her first dance class proved harrowing as I battled severe stomach pain. And I thought, oh dear God. I’m choosing to be sick in the name of weight loss.
Because that’s the thing, right? That’s the thing in our society. Skinny at all costs. Lose weight at all costs. Sure we want to be healthy, sure, sure, whatever, that’s fine. But most of us will try any powder or exercise regimen not because it is deeply nourishing and health-giving mentally and physically; it’s to lose some weight. And once we’ve lost the weight then we can think about being healthy. We’ll take a supplement over real food and a stomach virus over healthy days.
And I realized how messed up that is.
A few weeks ago, I said to Sara, you know, it really is all about the pants. It’s all about how my clothes fit. When I’m wearing comfortable, loose fitting articles of clothing, I feel a million times better about myself than when I’m attempting to squeeze into jeans that are a size too small. If I have to unbutton something whilst driving the car, I descend a notch into gloom. But if I wear the shorts Sara and I each bought on sale this summer from Whole Foods, the ones with (wait for it) ELASTIC waistbands, well. I feel pretty ok with the Laura I am.
Which led me to wonder: what if culture is like half-right? What if happiness really IS a pants-size away?
But what if it’s in a different direction than we thought?
And Sara shared this article with me. You should definitely stop reading this one and go read that one. I read it and I told Sara that is EXACTLY what I want to say. And because Sara is the gift of a friend that she is and cheers on my writing more than any other individual on planet Earth (I do have a few equally supportive Martian friends), she said, “Yeah but still write your article. The world needs yours too.” 100% gem, that girl.
So here’s what I did: I cleaned out my closet. I went all Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up on it, and not for the first time. But this time, I looked at each article of clothing and instead of just asking myself if it brought me joy, I took it a step further: Does it hurt me? If the answer was yes, well, bye Felicia.
K, here’s the part where we get reals because I KNOW. I know you have the Express jeans that are adorable and your husband bought them in the last size you told him you were which of course is two sizes ago and they are practically brand new because you only squeezed yourself into them a few times before they took up residence in the far back of your drawer and you don’t want to get rid of them because they are really nice and you like them and eventually you will fit in them again, you just know it. Ok. I hear you. Here’s the part where I tell you and myself that we probably STILL SHOULD bid adieu to our dark wash skinny cuts because here’s the thing, Sister. Never, in the history of women, has a single lady friend hated the task of just HAVING to purchase smaller jeans. That just don’t happen. So if you surrender your Express love and you do indeed need her in the future, it is with joy and celebration with which you will re-purchase her.
BUT. If you just absolutely can’t part with those jeans or that dress or the cute shirt you ordered and love but was too small, here’s what I suggest: a bin in the basement. They still have to come out of the closet. The closet can only contain articles of clothing that 1) bring you joy and 2) don’t hurt. A bin in the basement can contain the darlings with which you cannot bare to officially part.
But what will I WEAR, laments You. Ok, sweet thing, here’s the deal. In my community, I can instantly bring to mind no less than THREE Goodwill stores, all brimming with the castoffs of women who no longer fit in the Express jeans their husbands bought them that they only squeezed themselves into twice. So many jeans. Organized into sizes. And they cost $6.99. So here’s what I want you to do. Clean out your closet. Part permanently with as many clothes that hurt as you possibly can. And then drive your sweet self to Goodwill and shop for jeans that FEEL GOOD. Don’t even pay attention to the size because we all know sizing is crap anyways; there’s absolutely no standard to it. What is a size 10 at one store is a 12 at another. Heck, sometimes even within the same BRAND sizes fit differently. So just load up with as many sizes as you can and hit the fitting rooms to find the ones that sing. You’ll know. Your whole self will relax. And then you’ll feel smug and healthy and pretty at $6.99 a pop.
There is a place for true, real, necessary self-work at the physical, mental and spiritual levels and we are wise to do it. But what culture tells us about body image is not right, sound or healthy. Our inward voice must first be loving and our pants must first not hurt our bodies. Only when we are comfortable with and fully accepting of ourselves can we begin to do the actual holy work we need to do. Only then can we even know what that work is.
The band Gungor recently released its final installment in a musical trilogy series entitled One Wild Life. Each of the three albums focused on one of the following: Soul, Spirit and Body. Similarly, I have noticed themes popping up in my life centered around Body, Mind and Spirit and will focus on these central themes in my writing for awhile. It’s all tied up together, right? What hurts our bodies hurts our minds, hurts our feelings. Let’s tell our bodies we love them and accept them for exactly who they are today. Let’s start with pants that don’t hurt.
Because Tight Pants have their place, but it’s on Jimmy Fallon, not our bodies.