Body Image

Not wanting to be recognized in person of course is deeply, but not exclusively, related to my body image.  I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

As overweight as I have been from time immemorial, I maintained a relatively consistent weight for thirteen years, but put on some noticeable kilos in the last 18-24 months. I'm not sure if it happened while I was on medication in 2009, but it wasn't until later last year I finally began to feel heavier and unhealthier.

I've been watching what I eat, how much I eat, (because we eat healthily, but too much and to a very erratic schedule,) and exercising more.  I'm not quite back to my previous overweight-weight, but I keep focused because just the little exercise I do manage have reduced the amount of joint pains considerably.

What interests me is how incongruent my internal and external body pictures are.  Speaking of being startled by one's own reflections, sometimes I honestly don't realize it's me.  That is not to say I have an unrealistic picture of my internal self, but I do see myself perhaps 10 to 15 years younger in behavior/health, (about the age I came to New Zealand,) and the weight of 20 years ago, overweight but not obese.  But honestly, I don't really have an external picture of myself.  If I have to picture myself walking around town, then I have to say I see a generic Japanese invisible middle-aged female, but more often a translucent cloud/smoke/gas. 

My parents, especially my Dad, reminded me from time to time I wasn't pretty and I was short and there wasn't much I could do about them, but my weight and my intelligence, I could manage, and not managing them only proved I was lazy.  And then there was the spiel at my convent school about internal/moral beauty, and I don't remember a student who cared less about her external picture.  I was tidy and very clean, but looked down on "vanity" and felt sorry for girls who spent much time with their combs and brushes. Yeah, I bought the whole lot.

It's not that I didn't try, on both fronts.  Being told by Mom I needed loose weight at Age 9 without any practical assistance, I tried try to starve myself a few times, (not like an eating disorder, but in a childish way of skipping meals and snacks,) but nothing lasted to produce results or harm my health.  And my family always talked about nutrition and health so I never went on a eat-only-this style diet - this is about the time Mom became interested in organic food and joined a group that paid one farmer to grow only organics.

In my adulthood, I knew I was consistently overweight, and the line was going up rather than down every year.  But at one point, maybe in my late 30's, I got sick of thinking about it and started to concentrate on other aspects of myself.  Like what I can do, i.e. work and hobbies.  And though I felt the need to do something for my health as I aged, I never did much, except to go to an easy gym three times a week for a couple of years.  (I still didn't loose anything and I became an enigma to the gym staff.) 

I felt dejected about not completing my pattern making course, and am still too embarrassed to go back, even though I'm awfully interested in the top/shirt module.  I honestly feel sorry for myself, because as I age, I thought I was supposed to concern myself with maturity, character, and accomplishments.  Alright, perhaps with "health" but not "weight". Dad's given me scolding about my weight ever time we spoke on the phone until a year ago; he couldn't wait a whole day before I got on my case when I was home last January so I mentioned surprisingly calmly that a woman's self-esteem has a great deal to do with her relationship with her father and her perception of how her father sees her.  And he's mentioned it since.  Which has been great, and I call home far more often now.     

I feel pragmatic about my weight now.  I don't like my joints hurting or being out of breath, so I am staying on track, aiming to loose weight slowly but more importantly being more active consistently.

I wonder how unhealthy it is to have this vast schism between my internal and external pictures, or no real extremal picture at all.  I wonder if it's denial, escapism, can't-be-bothered-ism or something deeper, something like daring to defy Dad's orders.  I definitely don't put on weight on purpose, but there might be something there.

 So, remind me; what did I say about my weaving being the focus here, and not my person??


Desirée said...

O, I do think of my health first. But my first concern is not the weight, but my wellbeing. I'm thinking of years to come, and wanting to be able to do things I want to do. Like weaving, or taking a walk.

Meg said...

Looking back these last few years, I think I've become psychologically so detached from my body. It's more a necessary evil, a nuisance, and a tool and a vessel. The first GP I had in NZ certainly has a lot to do with it, too.

Merisi said...

I wonder if you have had a thorough physical that looked into underlying causes of, for example, not losing weight even though you exercised, something like a thyroid condition or physical depression. You write that you have been battling your own self image for so long, that must cost you enormous amount of inner strength and energy. I feel a doctor with whom you could really search for physical reasons should be able to help you put this body image question in perspective. Your person is not inconsequential, on the contrary. You sound like such a wonderful human being, you should have the support of a really good doctor who understands what women go through as they walk through life.
With warm hugs,

Anonymous said...

Meg, like Merisi I too think you should look at the possibility of a thyroid connection. I was ill for nearly 7 years (as far as we can fathom) with an undiagnosed underactive thyroid. I was really quite ill by the end but every time I saw my GP (and I saw about 5 different ones plus a so-called 'specialist' in that time), they said 'your blood results are normal' so that was that.

I knew that wasn't correct as I had the textbook symptoms (my mother had the same problem as did a fraternal and paternal aunt so the familial connection was quite strong). Eventually I insisted on a referral. The consultant I found had a reputation for treating your symptoms and not just the blood results and straight away could see I had a problem and put me on treatment.

Within two weeks the fog started to lift and I began to feel human again. Sorry for the long post but all I want to say is, it may not be a thyroid problem but also it could be and you shouldn't ever be put off by anyone telling you your blood results are 'normal'. GP's nowadays, certainly here, are so driven by blood tests rather than clinical examination that they just overlook, or ignore (depending on your point of view), what's in front of them. The doctor who diagnosed me examined my thyroid gland (which was enlarged). He was the only doctor out of the 5 or 6 I saw who even got out of his chair to examine me.

On the weight front, unfortunately it didn't just drop off as I was hoping once my thyroid was being treated. I'm still heavier than I was before I was ill but lately have been making more effort and have lost 21 lbs since January but the rest of my health is now much better and I no longer feel as if I'm mentally crawling through treacle. Good luck!

Meg said...

Hi, ladies.

Well, I have had my thyroid checked once and though the blood test was clear, she sent to a specialist, who thought depression was my problem. As did a GP I went to see because my GP at the time used to laugh at me - she was think, tall and young and kept telling me I had to try harder to loose weight. About the same time a homeopath suspected I had depression, too, so I changed to the nice GP. So we've been focusing more or less on my depression, and the standard "exercise more - it helps your weight and mind."

Most folks on my mother's side have been overweight or obese, so over the years, (in Japan, in school and the work place, one gets a pretty good standard health check every spring,) the focus has been on my weight. Without really looking into causes, you know; just family trait.

And I kind of resigned to thinking it was because I am lazy.

Merisi, I have spent a lot of energy on the matter all my life, and at times I avoided talking to my Dad for this reason; I think Dad and the convent school was a lethal combination where self-esteem is concerned. I think I "overcame" it by ignoring it since I've come to NZ. (Plus the food here is much fattier.)

I have in fact been thinking of going to see the doctor to discuss it, but my fav GP retired so now we have his brother, and as genuine as he is, he seems a bit powerless compared to my previous GP, so I'm not exactly having high hopes for it.

Will let you know how it goes.

Anonymous said...

Weight has always been an issue for me. I hate to admit it - but exercise - is the key. When I went away to college I lost 30 pounds just because my only means of transportation was a bicycle. In my 50's I began to gradually gain weight. Finally, when I got a dog (!) and had to walk him I began to lose some of it. It is hard for me to get the exercise in unless I am "forced" to.

Health is one thing, but our culture has created an unreasonable burden on women to conform to an unobtainable body image - which depressing results in women. I can't help but think this is a vestige of "keeping women in their place".
I enjoy your blog and your art
Stephanie S

Unknown said...

Meg, this has to be one of the most honest and heartfelt blogs I have read in a very long time

I can empathise, but perhaps could never be as out-front about my weight as you have been here.

I blame my weight on my inherited build; very little that I do seems to make any significant difference to it. I know I should try harder but it takes so much energy that I often do not have.

I have learned to live with both my build and my weight and try to make the rest of my life as healthy as I can.


Meg said...

Weight, looks, body... What a nuisance. Sometimes I wished I could be just a spirit floating around, but then I'd have a hard time grabbing my shuttle or stepping on the treadles. And if we were all spirits, there isn't a whole lot of need for scarves!

I have another aspect I wanted to discuss, the post is partially written, but it feels so inappropriate considering what's happening to my country right now, so I'll wait a few days.

Also, sincere apologies to those of you who haven't been able to post comments on my blog in the last few months. We can't figure it out, but I keep changing the settings. In one case, it was possibly a Firefox setting, but otherwise, the behavior is erratic and we have been unable to identify the problem.

I can only ask to please try again, and possibly using the Name/URL option. You don't need an URL for that option.

Meg said...

Anonymous, I kind of assumed you were a woman, but if not, please excuse my hasty response. In my defense, I don't get a lot of blokes coming this way on the weaving blog.

Anonymous said...

Hi Meg, I'm 'Anonymous' (only because I don't understand all this Google account thing). I'm Bev, and yes a lady (well every so often!)

Hoping things are OK in NZ. The news reports have been so upsetting to watch. We feel for you.

Meg said...

Hi, Bev. Phew, good to know.

Unfortunately the situation in Christchurch is pretty bad, and those involved are starting to get frustrated because there is not drastic or visible changes now, and there is looting, profiteering, and curfews/cordons to speed up the rescues. And still many homes down there are without powers so they can't watch the telly nor listen to the radio.

And fewer new footage and too many unconfirmed numbers bandied around, so not much new for remote news junkies, either. But life goes on and a bunch of people are starting to think of long-term help.