Friday, July 16, 2021

Autism Answer: Body Positive - The Way I See It

Sipping coffee with the sun bursting through the window behind me.


It is summer where I live. 

As I sit at my desk I'm surrounded by reminders. Behind me cats are shedding and seeking cool tile for sleeping. My love taps on his computer only when necessary and heads outdoors (shirtless when I'm lucky!) to take care of the pool, dig up dirt & reorganize landscaping, climb ladders & fix stuff winter broke.  Out the widow ahead of me I see a river teaming with life. People kayak and canoe, birds hop and fly, fish splash, green growth floats past lazily. On the path and sidewalk people skate, walk, bike, roll, and enjoy all manner of interesting seasonal transportation. 

Everyone is dressed in the summer attire most comfortable to them. 

The weather is hot and humid. Some of us respond by wearing as little as possible, some of us respond by wearing light fabrics over most of our bodies, some of us respond by sweating in sweaters and feeling perfectly good about it. 

I like it all.  

When I was a young girl growing up in Ontario, Canada I rarely wore clothes that allowed skin to show. Long pants, long sleeves, long bulky sweaters were more comfortable to me than shorts and Ts in summer because shorts and Ts showed parts of me I was uncomfortable having seen. I wore t-shirts, yes, but always with a sweater or flannel wrapped around my waist as a safety net. When I went through my phase of wearing skirts and heels I did so wearing panty hose to cover my skin. My blouses were most often sleeved. Regardless of the weather, that was what I felt comfortable wearing. 

Then, I moved to Texas. I had two small children at the time. Little people who would climb all over me, need hugs and holding, need lap sitting and sleep snuggling. The heat in Texas nearly made me mad, and I started to dislike myself as a mom when every time one of my boys wanted to hug me I instinctively pushed them away because it was too hot to handle more things on me. More things touching me. So, I decided to be comfortable wearing t-shirts and shorts. Once that was comfortable suddenly I wanted less. Tinier shirts, shorter shorts. The smaller amount of clothes the better. Any itty bitty breeze that existed I wanted to feel as much of as possible. I wasn't any more comfortable with the look of my skin but I was far more comfortable exposing it in order to feel not so dang hot. After a while, I forgot to be uncomfortable with the look of my skin.

I know you don't care much about me or my evolving fashion sense, the entirety of which has to do with my desire always to be comfortable. But I think it's a nice little peek into how what we and others wear shouldn't be overly judged. We are kinder and our better selves when we're comfortable. So if someone is comfortable wearing something you don't like or understand, maybe don't waste time judging it. In fact, if it is appropriate to do so, make good use of your time by asking questions! What is comfortable about wearing a sweater in the sweltering heat? What feels cozy about not wearing a bra even though we can tell you're not wearing a bra? Get curious in a kind way. We learn so much about ourselves when asking and answering questions. 

I've been thinking lately about the balance between liking the body I'm in while continuing to actively take care of it. Even work on making it better. Sure, I can say it's only because I care about keeping my body healthy but, the truth is, I'm in a new relationship and find myself back in the headspace (one I haven't spent time in since my teen years!) of hoping I look good.

So I thought it would be fun for me to answer these questions I recently came across about working out and body image. While answering these questions for myself, my best friend called and we talked about the answers together. It turns out we have a lot of similar opinions on the issues though the things we choose to do about them are quite different. The conversation was fun! Feel free to peek at these questions yourself, check out my answers and consider your own. Are we surprisingly similar? Wildly different? An interesting mix of the two? 

Having a positive feeling about the body you're in - and there are so many types of bodies! - is a valid part of holistic health. But that doesn't mean shrugging your shoulders to any potential problems and just saying, "Well, I'm body positive so I guess I like it." When we love we pay attention. We notice things and check in. We are brave and do the work of admitting when something isn't okay so we can find a way to fix it. <--- This is all stuff I'm loving about being in love, by the way. :D

So, here are my answers to some questions meant to help me continue to find balance between loving my body and wanting to help it be better.

I hope you'll share some of your thoughts as well! 

The Way I See It:

1. Why do you work out?
I confess, I don't exactly work out. However, I do actively and purposefully include activities into my day that will work out my body. I have never been able to consistently put aside a set amount of time to exercise, I don't enjoy the work out and I don't get that accomplished energetic feeling others talk about afterward. But I do strongly believe that my health is my own responsibility so I do things like dance, roller skate, stretch, and go for walks in order to keep my body looking and feeling healthy.

2. What body image issues are you currently fighting against?
My biggest challenge at the moment is wanting to believe I look sexy. I'm in a fantastic relationship and for the first time in my forty-six years I'm enjoying great sex. I love that. The only down side is I'm noticing this new need to believe I look sexy to my partner. I feel sexy when we're being intimate, but throughout the course of a day I'll catch myself hoping I look sexy. Suddenly I'll notice that my stomach is flabby, there is an overwhelming amount of cellulite on the back of my thighs, and my breasts are like deflated balloons. In a way I feel like a teenager again. Wanting to look good but not believing people when they say I do. Luckily I'm not a teenager so I know better and don't let it hurt or influence me too much. Yet, it is there.

3. Do you think it's possible to love your body if you still
want to change something about it?
I absolutely believe that. Because loving our bodies means being willing to see when we need to make changes in order to keep them healthy. We are always evolving and the health needs our bodies change, too. And quite often the clues for changes we need to make will be in how our body looks. I think the trick is keeping an eye on why we want to change something about our bodies. Even if the why is that we want to like the look of it, that's okay. As long as we want to like the look of it for ourselves, and not only for other people. And as long as we don't fall into the "grass is greener" mindset. When I'm struggling to know if I want to change because it's what I want or because it's what society tells me to want, I imagine living alone in the world. Does the cellulite still matter to me then? If the answer is no, I decide it's not worth my worry.

4. Do you think diet and fitness culture is toxic?

I think it can be, yes. Just like any movement or culture, we can get caught up and take it too far and hurt ourselves and people around us. And when there is a whole group of people doing it with us we are at greater risk of not seeing when it isn't healthy for us. Each person will have different reasons for caring about diet and fitness, and finding a healthy balance will look different for each person and family, so I think it's important to keep an eye on yourself and not judge others too harshly in order to avoid toxic culture.

5. What lessons have you learned about body confidence? What would you still like to work on?
Personally, learning to focus on how I feel in my body rather than how I look in my body has made a huge difference in my life. On top of that, practicing not comparing myself to others but rather appreciating the diversity of shapes, sizes, and abilities has given me a great boost. I would, though, like to work on this new wanting to believe I look sexy thing. It's annoying! And it is definitely my job to work on it since my partner has given me all the signs and said in all the ways that I do look sexy to him. I feel embarrassed that I want to believe I look sexy, but I do.
Hmmmm.... maybe working on feeling embarrassed about it is where I can start. It can be hard to figure something out when you're brain is busy being embarrassed. So there it is. I want to believe I look sexy to my partner and I think that means continuing to take care of my body while trusting he's serious when he says I'm sexy to him.


So there I have it. A few things I'm sticking with and something to work on. 

I wonder if my love thinks me learning about myself is sexy? tee hee!

Happy summer, friends!