Remember film? Remember when taking pictures used to be expensive and meant for special occasions, just like long distance phone calls? Hmm. If you're under thirty, you probably don't. Take my word for it - it was just as complicated as listening to music used to be. Photographic evidence of what we really look like may have been more significant and revelatory in that time. Seeing yourself from an external perspective can be as weird an experience as hearing a recording of your own voice. Is that really me? Comparing a photo to our inner image of ourselves can snap into focus that we've changed, that our outsides don't match our insides.
Change is proof that change is possible. Unfortunately, we tend to believe in external change - that things happen to us - but not so much in internal change - that we have the power to make things happen. This is why so many of us believe that body weight naturally goes in only one direction. Worse, we believe in Old Age, the idea that as we get older, we slow down and become frail and ill. There is only one fate possible, and that is a fate of pills, surgery, pain, and debilitation. There are relatively few positive role models of aging toward strength and grit. Most of us may never have met a single elder person who is stronger at 60 than in younger days, and we don't really believe such things are possible. Must be genetic.
The thing is that the body is continually renewing itself. Even brain cells continue to grow with age. We aren't surprised when we get paper cuts, and they miraculously heal without even leaving a scar. We aren't surprised that our hair and fingernails continue to grow. Faced with evidence that our bodies are malleable, we don't make the connections. We don't truly believe that we have any choice or input about how our bodies work.
We'll tolerate chronic neck and shoulder tension, sleep deprivation, or regular migraines because we assume that these are just the price of the ticket for being a working adult. Life is hard, life is stressful, therefore we must walk through each day with at least a certain measure of pain. When we see our own faces reflected back to us with stress lines and circles under our eyes, shoulders slumped in weariness and care, we see exactly what we expect to see. Disappointing, but whatcha gonna do. It's this same fatalism that has us routinely eating foods even when they disagree with us later, overindulging and staying up too late even when we feel punished the next day, gaining weight every year, hating it, but feeling like this is just what happens. Dammit, body of mine, why can't you just be awesome for once? Oh well. Pass the brownies.
Hold up a baby picture, a graduation photo, and a selfie from today. Instant timeline. This kind of timeline feels real. A "before and after" timeline feels fake, partly because we know how often they are faked. Who's to say that the "before" and the "after" are even the same person? Only when we've made our own personal physical transformations do we understand that major change is possible for anyone. The way I look today has nothing to do with how I looked a year ago, or how I'll look next year. It isn't carved in stone. Maybe I'll always be short, but I do have control over my posture. I can also control my sleep schedule, my hydration and food intake, and my strength training routine, or lack thereof.
I don't photograph well. A kind friend tactfully said that I am "difficult to capture on film." That's fine. I feel like I would not have enjoyed being a "10" in life, and now that I'm over 40 I just can't care that much. I look how I look - I look like myself. I feel that I look like myself even though I look so different than I did in my teens and twenties. That sense of identity felt exactly the same when I was fat as it does now. I've spent at least a year of my adult life wearing each of eight clothing sizes, and I always felt the same. There I am, that's me. The biggest difference is that I have more energy now. I'm measurably more physically fit than I was at every age from 15 to 30. I run faster, I can lift more weight, I have greater endurance, I can cover more miles, and I can do things I couldn't do when I was young. I can spin a hula hoop, do a pull-up, and climb a rope. I couldn't do any of those things until after I turned 35. Who cares how I look, when the experience of being in my body is so much improved?
That's the trouble with photographs. A sweetly smiling facial expression can hide total inner turmoil or deep sadness. A cranky frown could be the result of trying to smile into the sun on an unusually happy day. Pictures can be deceiving. Our pictures of our own bodies can be deceiving, as well. We feel like we simply ARE a certain way, physically, whether that includes poor body image or a poor state of health. We forget how much we changed in our first decades of life, and we think that at a certain age, positive physical change quits happening. What we don't know, what we can never see, is how far our timelines extend into the future. Each day is simply one snapshot in the series. What if another snapshot a little further ahead showed a stronger, more vital self?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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