Thursday, February 2, 2012

enraged by the "Cage"

Do you ever get that “I’m-so-fat” feeling?

For me, the better question is, “do you ever NOT get that ‘I’m-so-fat’ feeling?” For as long as I can remember, I have felt fat, and to be honest, my size has ebbed and flowed for most of my life. Just ask my doctor. His chart of my weight has all the peaks and valleys of an erratically behaving stock market.

Just before I met Jeremy, I was probably the thinnest I’ve ever been. Thank you, two-a-day work-outs and a budget that only allowed for very small portions. Since dating isn’t at all conducive to dieting, though, I put on … well, I don’t even know how much I put on, because I’m too scared to stand on a scale. What I DO know is that I loosely wore a dress in June that wouldn’t zip on the honeymoon. In October. “Fat and happy,” they call it, but as I quipped to my fellow bulge-battling friend Brian a few weeks ago, “When it comes to getting dressed every morning, I kinda miss ‘thin and miserable.’”

How messed up is that? I have an incredible relationship with a wonderful husband, who also happens to be the most patient person I have ever met – and thank goodness for that, because if he weren’t, there’s no way he’d put up with the many times each week when I grab the paunch in my middle and say, “I hate my body” – in spite of my abundantly blessed existence, all I can think is, “How many more miles do I have to run before my metabolism gets faster?” and “Why don’t those tips in Self magazine ever work for me?!”

I know I’m not alone in this. In her empathy-saturated semi-memoir Life inside the ‘Thin’ Cage, Constance Rhodes takes what she calls “a personal look into the hidden world of the chronic dieter.” I love this book. So do the many friends to whom I’ve texted excerpts, like this one:

I can recall whole conversations passing me by while I sat detached, engrossed in determining whether I was on track for the day, or whether I had eaten too much at lunch. Social events that should have been fun were spent evaluating how many calories and fat grams were in the meal I had just eaten.”

She could’ve ripped that right out of my journal. Or from the calorie-tracking app I keep on my iPhone. I hate how much time I spend strategizing my diet. I hate the dread I feel when getting dressed every day. I hate that, instead of enjoying the very full life that God has so graciously given me, I feel like things will only be perfect when I look perfect, but the truth is that perfection is a moving target. Remember the thinnest I’ve ever been? Even then, I thought I was fat. “Ten more pounds,” I’d tell myself, or “two more sizes.”

Rhodes’s cage analogy, then, is a great one. It’s a self-imposed imprisonment, obsessing over what I weigh. My husband sure doesn’t put the pressure on me. Even my mother responded when I said, “I’ve gotta go run off the ‘fat and happy’” with “I don’t think you’re fat, but I’m glad you’re happy.” It’s an unnecessary containment of my own creation.

So if I’ve locked myself into this “cage,” shouldn’t I also hold the key to free myself? Sure seems like I should. So what would make me feel better? Clearly, getting thinner hasn’t done it, because when I was, I still wasn’t happy with how I looked. And what determines how I think I should look, anyway? That question is actually what prompted this blog entry to begin with.

An old friend tweeted a link to this video.

Fotoshop by Adobé from Jesse Rosten on Vimeo.

It got me to thinking (again) about what a stronghold our secular, self-obsessed society has on my mind. As a Christian, I am called to be in the world, but when it comes to body image, I am very much of it, expecting my 34-year-old frame to fit the form that only comes from, if this video is to be believed, computer-enhancement (by “A-dough-bay” – I love that!).

But let’s break it down even further. Did you see the part about “secular,” and “SELF-OBSESSED”? How incredibly narcissistic (read: SINFUL) of me is it, no matter the very real external pressures of our society, to spend so much time thinking of only me – how I look, what I weigh, the size I wear. I wonder how many other women satan has ensnared with this same inward-focus. I say “ensnare,” because when my mind is full of me, there’s no room for you, for the “you”-niverse of others that God has called me to love as I love myself, which, as you can probably imagine, is a LOT.

What would it look like if I turned the time and money I spend worrying about and fighting with my weight in to time and money spent serving other people? Or advancing the Kingdom of God? You know what they say: “if you want to be free from yourself, just look outside yourself.” I’m sure that’s true. I just have a hard time diverting my gaze from the one I see in the mirror. The more I think about it, though, the more that I believe that's the key to my escape.

There’s no neat little ending to this entry. This is mostly because the battle is ongoing. Tired of living in “the cage,” I’m trying to write my way out of it, like those jailbreak movies where the inmates, little by little, dig a hidden tunnel that they hope will ultimately lead to freedom. And, as Christians, aren’t we also to be free?

God, You came to set us free, yet I am in bondage. Free me from the narcissistic grip of thinking first of myself. Release me to live in elusive contentment. Help me to esteem others better than myself, and forgive me for my obsession with self. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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