Dear Reader – (day 20) On Pumpkin Spice and Body Image

Dear Readerpumpkin spice toast

This is my pumpkin spice cheater indulgence.

What I really want is one of those big fat pumpkin struessel muffins from Costco. The ones that hover around 340 calories in one fell swoop.

But instead, I’m opting for sprouted grain toast with pumpkin spice cream cheese spread – 110 calories, if I spread 3 teaspoons of cream cheese just so.

I know cream cheese isn’t the cleanest thing I can be eating, but it’s better than that whole dang muffin, and the toast gives me a little fiber and protein. Healthy stuff.

This whole calorie counting/ food swap inner discussion with myself took me to a whole new train of thought.

Body image.

Sometimes I need to convince myself that watching my calorie intake is actually worth the sacrifice.

I like food, and unfortunately, I have a very specific weakness for junk food.

I wish I didn’t, but I do.

The thing is, I’m a small person. And I think when I say I’m watching what I eat, or I count calories, or I’m working out to lose a few pounds, this might seem ridiculous to some people.

And this is where body image comes in.

When I look in the mirror, or try on clothes, I don’t usually see all the good parts. My eyes skim over everything and then zero in on the one part of my body that I particularly loathe.

My stomach.

I try to be ok with it. I try to tell myself its beautiful, and it’s ok that it bumps out over my pants, because if I didn’t have that tummy – that “blubby belly” or “doughnut dough” as my kids call it (because, unfortunately I said it first) – it would mean I never carried my four kids through 9 months of pregnancy. The wrinkles and blubber are battle scars of sorts, badges of honor. Something I should choose to be content with.

I tell myself this, I really do try to internalize it and make it truth for my heart, but I can’t convince myself of it.

I think most of us suffer insecurities about our bodies, and when we tell others exactly what they are, we look at each other like the other is crazy. We don’t necessarily see flaws in other people, just ourselves.

Last spring, my mom came to visit.

While she was here, my husband and I had a dressy event to attend, and I chose to wear a bright orange eyelet lace summer dress I had bought at Goodwill for $6. I paired it with gold snake-skin Guess heels (from Ross) that glimmered with a hint of aqua, and coordinated with aqua and gold jewelry.

I was nervous about this get-up. It was from Goodwill. Could people tell it was from Goodwill? Was the orange too much? Was I kidding myself that the whole ensemble was cute?

My mom complimented me on the way out the door – said I looked beautiful or something to that extent – I honestly don’t remember her exact words. I thanked her, but I remember wondering if I really did.

When we arrived at the dinner, two people complimented the dress – said they loved the color – and instead of taking these compliments at face value, I blushed a little and wondered if they really thought that or if inside they were really thinking it was godawful and someone ought to insist on acting as my fashion consultant, like maybe they were snickering on the inside that I was so unfashionably out of the loop.

Months later, Mom had a conversation with my sister. She recalled that night and that dress, and told my sister that I looked “stunning”. A couple of times she said it, and framed it in other compliments.

When my sister told me this story and I told her how I had been feeling that night – that I questioned every compliment and shrunk a little wondering if everyone was being genuine – and I confided in her that the majority of the time I feel like a fashion failure, we both ended up chuckling at how differently we all view ourselves from what other people see.

And this brings me back to my own body image and the struggle to get my brain in the right place.

I remember reading Shauna Niequist’s words in Bread and Wine,

“I want to be the kind of person who makes peace with her body. Also, I want to fit into my pants. Not size two pants. Not Barbie pants. Just, you know, very average-sized jeans from the GAP. I want to live with peace and confidence, without deprivation and shame, and while I’m being honest, I want to retire the maternity yoga pants that, unfortunately, I’m still wearing because they’re the only ones that fit.  I don’t want to live by rules and regulations, but I also don’t want to be ruled by my appetites.”

I remember reading that and thinking, “Yes! Me too!” I want my clothes to fit, and I don’t want to be ruled by regulations OR my appetites.

It’s a constant struggle – trying to find honest love and acceptance for this imperfect body that’s mine yet still enjoy food (because I do so love food from one end of the spectrum to the other) within reasonable limits.

I don’t have any answers, really, but I guess maybe sprouted grain toast with pumpkin spice cream cheese spread is part of it.

Maybe that is a move in the right direction – trying to keep myself in the realm of health + decadence and not overdoing it.

Then, there’s got to be a way to teach myself that this body is good and right regardless of the flaws I see. That, my friends, is (I think) the harder lesson of the two.