A number of weeks ago, I walked into my acupuncturist’s office to schedule another appointment. Dr. Zou looked at me and proudly proclaimed, “You gain weight. You not so skinny as when you came.” I knew this to be true, of course. In fact, the dress I was wearing that day had been hugging my midsection in a new way than when I had put it on three months before. The thing is, I am a foodie. I hail from a long line of Italian eaters. And when I land on new soil, well, I take it to a higher level; I become a food zealot. My obsession with new flavors trumps my normal ability to show some self-control and I dive into Dim Sum and Chinese BBQ with reckless abandon.
In part, I do not find this troublesome. Keep calm and eat on. Life’s short, live in the moment, love deeply and eat well are phrases I stand firmly behind. Except when I have eaten exceptionally well, or exceptionally more, my body has become something I love less. This is problematic, to have such a narrow definition of my outer beauty, that five pounds could cause me to avoid watching myself change, to wrinkle my nose when I put my hand on my stomach during a yoga pose, to think, “You should do something about this, stat.” Those words did come to mind when Dr. Zou noted my fuller figure. And then I hit pause.
After walking home after making my appointment, I sat myself on the couch to do some real reflecting. How is it you can see the beauty in others’ many shapes, but you cannot give yourself a few pounds grace? Has the weight affected your fitness? Your overall health? Why are you so attached to a number on the scale, or a number on the tag of your pants?
I mulled over such questions and while I was doing so, words from a good friend surfaced in my mind. A few years ago, having turned food zealot in Ecuador, devouring patacones, empanadas and bundles of pan de yuca on a regular basis, I was expressing to her the discomfort I was having in my own skin. She told me about something she’d read from an author who wanted women to embrace and delight in their bodies. The task sounds deceptively simple, but in reality is a challenge.
Stand before the mirror naked and give your body 2-3 compliments – out loud – before dressing each morning. Apparently it was good practice to do so, giving your body several compliments before donning your trousers or skirt. At the time, I didn’t heed Michelle’s advice. It felt too strange. But after Dr. Zou’s words poked that body image issue again, I decided to give this a go. We spend a lot of time bemoaning what little pieces are wrong but rarely look at our bodies as working and wondrously whole.
For the past month, I have been making a point to look at myself, rather than hold the towel tightly around me while I pull on my clothes. When I work out in my home, I sport only my sports bra and shorts, watching my reflection move in the window. Shifting the kinds of thoughts that surface when I am really seeing myself is not easy; it takes a mindful effort. It is true that the tone in my tummy is not as visible right now, but when I am holding a plank, it is still clear that my core is rock solid. Some of the pants that I packed when I moved to China are uncomfortably tight, but you know what? I like my hips right now. And my booty? There’s sure something round to shake on the dance floor.
I largely know where my one-dimensional idea of beauty comes from. Open up any fashion magazine and there you have it. The world can use more women who strut down the street with real confidence. Whether I return to my pre-China weight, or whether this is my new normal, it’s all beautiful.
My Western mind took Dr. Zou’s words harshly, but to my acupuncturist’s Eastern mindset, she meant to compliment me. In other words, what she meant was “Dang girl, those dumplings look good on you.” And today, I agree.