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Monday, March 19, 2018

When Your Pants Still Don't Fit

We had a coffee date scheduled for Saturday afternoon.

One of my best gal pals and I decided to walk to our favorite local coffee shop.  Baby and stroller in tow.

"It's one of those days," I said to her when she got to my house. I was clad in stretch active wear that, if I'm being completely honest, has spent more time on the couch than the track. "I'm going to put on a hat, a dab of mascara and pray we don't run into anyone we know."

Precisely 10 seconds later, we ran into someone we both knew. She was a high school student from our church out on a run. Her blonde hair and her beautiful, sunny face was impossible to miss. We stopped mid-stride to greet her. She pulled the ear buds out of her ears.

"Are you training for a race?" I asked. "Or just outside enjoying the beautiful day?"

She grabbed her thighs, pinched the excess skin and replied, "I'm running to get rid of this."

Bless her soul, her thigh were about as meaty as a PVC pipe. That is to say, there was hardly anything there. I stammered something about needing to get rid of mine, too. How I was almost 10 months postpartum, but still ate like a pregnant woman.

We exchanged words with her along the lines of, "it's as good as it's gonna get," and "I look at pictures of myself from high school and wish for the days that I thought I was so completely overweight."

I was a size six. Completely healthy, but completely self-conscious.

I won't get into the nitty gritty of those days. Not here, not now. But long story short, I thought I was a fat girl. In fact, I have a vivid memory of  a guy who I had known calling me "bloated" in front of our entire AP Physics class.

This was over a decade ago. But I remember where I was sitting. I remember where he was sitting. One-third of my life later.

Since then, I don't ever recall feeling comfortable in my own skin. I don't recall trusting people not to slam me behind my back, or not to think that I shouldn't wear clothes that weren't classically flattering, didn't cover up my arms, or exposed too much of my back, even if I really liked them.

That began in high school. I was the same age as that stunningly perfect, beautiful high school student who stood in front of me. Who I exchanged slapstick self-deprecation with (because it has no age gap) and strolled away from.

Failing to convey that she's beautiful. Strong. Smart. Capable.

Failing to convey that one day she might not fit into a pair of pants that she loves and that doesn't make her any less worthy. It doesn't make her any less likely to achieve any of her goals, or be who she wants to truly be.

Looking back, I should've stamped my foot. I should've taken her by the shoulders and shaken her. Told her that she should only run if she truly enjoys the journey, not if the destination is some impossible standard of thinness.

I had a similar failed interaction with a friend who exclaimed to our friend group that she fit back into her pre-pregnancy pants.

I cheered. The whole room erupted into happy claps and congratulations. 

But...why? Why did we feel compelled to celebrate this? Why was my first reaction elation on her behalf? Why is squeezing your body into anything other than those awful mesh undies and yoga pants after having a baby considered an accomplishment?

Why were we even having this discussion? Why was this even important?

Having an unhealthy or overindulgent lifestyle that puts your heart and health at risk is one thing - but why, in an era of tolerance and love conquering hate have we still not conquered this?

Why are we pressuring our high school girls and postpartum women, both in tender emotional states, to be anything less than their whole selves?

Whether they fit into their pants or not.

I would live those moments over again if I could.

I'd hug them, I'd bring them close and pray that they could remember a moment of acceptance and peace, as vivid as my bad memory from high school.

I'd say to them over and over:

It's okay to wear yoga pants. It's okay to have a doughnut. And it's okay to let go of your vision of perfection to seek after health.

It's okay not to fit into your pants for a spell.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Honey, Don't Hold Back & Other Lessons Learned from
International Women's Day

Last Thursday, on International Women's Day, I graduated from therapy. 

My therapist and I met for about two months; and I was running out of things to talk about.

It was like a breakup of sorts; like breaking up with an aunt. Looking at a person who you've grown to trust and care for, and deciding to end your relationship with them. At least on that level.

She and I had gone deep really quickly. Because, well, when you're paying someone to talk about your fears, emotions and perfectionistic history, you don't want to waste anyone's time.

Or maybe it's more to do with the fact that you have a perfectionistic history and, well, if you're going to go to therapy you want to A. be the best at it and B. be your therapist's favorite client.

But the depression and anxiety I was facing had run its craggy course. It was like waking up in a different time zone, or the first evening after daylight saving: suddenly you wake up and it's still daylight at 7 p.m.

The world, it seems, is a little brighter. Anxieties are easier to manage. You look your beasts square in the eye. You march straight up to them. Because trying to ignore them only makes them more powerful.

You realize that if you've come this far with the beasts of self-doubt, anxiety, depression, negative self-talk and still managed to get out of bed, keep an infant alive, maintain an employed status at a full-time job and juggle with some freelance opportunities on the side, that you could do so, so much more.

If only you could work through what it is that holds you back.

It was a powerful, wise woman who helped me sort out my stuff. And we all have our stuff.

The same day, it was a group of powerful women who stood with me, arms linked as we prayed for a a friend who was deeply hurting. It was the same day that I got to brag about the female leadership in my workplace and how none of us have ever had to question if we were getting compensated fairly or if we were looked down upon because we were women.

We're respected. And if we're not, we're too busy to look over our shoulders, anyway.

This is what it's like to be a woman: to battle the anxiety, the depression, the fear, the loneliness, the doubts, the heartbreak and to have the strength to rise and do it all better the next day.

To nurse our children.

To chase after careers.

To be better wives.

To be better friends.

To battle noise that says we should be this not that. 

Thin, not fat. 

Vibrant, not grey.

Calm, not loud.

Republican, not anything else.

Sponges of miscalculated doctrine, not free-thinkers and meditators.

Stubborn, not graceful.

Thin, not fat. Thin, not fat. Thin, not fat.

But imagine with me, friend. Imagine as I did on my last day of therapy as I stood from that Kleenex-box green couch, empowered and emboldened.

Imagine your life – your very same life with all the same trimmings and trappings but with one life-altering difference:

To be unashamedly your very own self. 

And to not hold back for the rest of your ever-loving life.

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