New Year's resolutions are not really my thing. For one thing, after so many years of formal education, fall seems like the real beginning of the year to me. For another, if there's anything I learned from cognitive therapy, it's that there's no time like the present to begin the project of molding yourself into whatever you envision being. In other words, the clicking of the date from one year to the next doesn't hold any special significance in terms of efforts to become new and improved.
However, last year at some point, possibly on my birthday, I did make a sort of resolution. I resolved that this was going to the be year when I learned to come to terms with my body --- with its shape, its size, and the changes that come with the passing of the seasons.
In this goal, I have failed miserably.
I've fought a long and weary battle with my body over the years. There have been times when I felt I was winning, even a time when I thought that I had conqueored my lifelong foe of excess weight. It turned out that the level of obsession that was required to maintain the regimen that allowed me to slim down and stay there took such deep reserves of mental and physical energy that I actually made myself ill from exhaustion and stress. Ever since then, it's been a long, scrabbling slide down the mountain I once scaled so proudly, and with my new perspective from the top, the bottom looks worse than ever, fraught with guilt and shame I never felt before the climb.
And there's another front in this battle, one which is perhaps more insidious. It's the battle against the march of time, which none of us can win, and from which women suffer more than men because the moment we are deemed no longer sufficiently young, we largely become invisible to society at large, unless we inhabit some role specifically related to nurturing others --- something motherly.
I don't hate myself, or my body. I take what pride I can in my appearance and usually manage to be presentable. I incessantly work on my health and fitness (now, attempting to find more balance and stopping myself before I can obsess). I do the best I can with what I have, but I have not been able to shake the feeling that it's never enough.
And it makes me mad to feel that way, to not be able to reason myself out of it. To not possess the wisdom or the confidence or the inner peace or whatever the hell it takes to not care. I think I would have to be a lot less materialistic to achieve that, and let's face it, I like stuff. I can no more stop enjoying girly stuff like pretty clothes and makeup and hairstyles than a cat can ignore an enticing piece of string.
Mostly, I manage to keep any bad feelings about my body at bay. I like to think I know what my strengths and weaknesses are, and strive to be realistic about them. But every once in a while, something happens that throws me off balance.
A couple of weeks ago, I was on the subway in New York, on my way to an important audition. It was crowded, but a few seats were open, and two were on either side of a sullen-looking man who was saving room for cats. I carefully assessed the situation and determined that, even in my puffy coat, I could sit down without infringing, and so I eased myself into the seat, figuring that this guy would just shove over a little, like you do.
But he didn't. Not an inch. He clearly was unhappy, but he was not going to budge, even though the seat on the other side of him remained unoccupied. Now, I was in my own seat, but body parts were touching. This is not uncommon on the subway.
Then a lady sat down on the other side of me. She said "Excuse me" as she sat and I gently shifted slightly to allow her to get in and arrange her thick coat, and shifted back.
This was too much for Mr. Cats. He began to mutter angrily at me, under his breath at first, but then louder. The gist of it was that I had sat down on top of him and was, therefore, a bitch. Yes, he knew there was plenty of room to slide over. Bitch.
Now, the bitch part I took as a badge of honor --- any time a woman is found to act in a manner contrary to what any misogynist wishes she is immediately bestowed with this appellation --- and the rest of it I laughed off to his face, remarking to my concerned seatmate on the other side that she shouldn't worry, he was just having a bad day. "I think he has a lot of those," she said cheerfully, and we laughed some more, which only pissed off Mr. Cats further ... although he did not budge an inch until he stomped off at the next stop.
But I couldn't shake the upset for the rest of the day. I put it aside during my audition and sang well, but I spent the rest of the day, and days after, brooding over this unpleasant incident. Not unlike a victim of sexual harassment, I replayed it in my head. Was I in the wrong? Did I really sit on him, as he insisted? You'd think I would notice. Was it ill-mannered of me to expect this man, essentially taking up three seats, to move over a little? Does my body size, no matter how carefully and gracefully I manage myself, preclude me from the ability to politely sit down on the subway if it means touching someone else's body, even though smaller people are sitting and touching in the same way? Regardless of the answers, next time I'm faced with a similar situation, I'll probably just stand.
This is the kind of thought pattern I wish I could get rid of, and don't know how. Short of some life-changing experience, I'm not sure it's possible. But what can you do but chip away?