{#TransparentTuesday} Self-comparison & going deeper.

When I post photos of my body these days, and mention having gained weight or lost muscle mass, I’m often asked how I handle the negative feelings and comparison to my old body.

First of all, this kind of question makes the assumption that I would automatically prefer my body super lean and muscular. At 13% body fat, with abs every day, I was “living the dream” and must have have been thrilled to finally arrive at a “perfect body,” right?

Despite the fact that this assumption itself is incredibly problematic, I can see why people think that.

After all, aren’t all women all supposed to be constantly chasing that kind of body? And if so, wouldn’t I feel terrible about “losing” something I had worked so hard for?

Well… no.

I chose to intentionally get out of shape this year, giving up all the habits that had previously helped me “maintain” my body, in a purposeful effort to explore who I would be without them.

Naturally, my body changed– most notably with an increase in body fat percentage.

The result is that I have significantly less muscle mass now than I used to, which means that despite having only technically gone up a size or two, the shape of my body is quite different than it was a few years ago.

Softer, rounder, jigglier. Less sharp lines, less angular edges.

These are fairly subtle shifts all things considered, but interestingly these physical changes have brought about a significant change in the amount of “visibility” and positive attention I get day to day.

Men and women alike used to comment on, praise, and gush over me– my body, my dedication, my strength, and how “inspirational” I was.

Nobody gushes over me anymore.

Strangers used to light up when I talked to them; I got lots of smiles and pleasant chit-chat everywhere I went, and generally just felt like everyone liked me.

None of that happens anymore.

Sometime in the last 2 years I gained just enough fat to cover up the sharp lines of my muscles and cheekbones, and I started looking “normal” instead of strong, special, or inspirational. (Remember here that a very angular/lean face is one standard for female beauty, so even fully dressed nowadays I am also just “less beautiful.”)

With my new (still totally healthy) body, I receive less attention, smiles, and compliments.

I am less visible overall, and experience less of a “people like me” feeling.

And that’s just with 10-15 pounds.

It’s important to stop here and observe that my experience is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to erasure and invisibility– fat women, women of color, with less acceptable body shapes, and women with disabilities are regularly erased and invisible in a way that I can only observe and imagine.

But going back to the question I am often asked–

how do I deal with negative thoughts and comparisons about my new, softer body?

(Pay attention, because this is important.)

I handle them by recognizing that the feeling I’m having is completely unrelated to the noticing of physical changes.

I’m not sad that I don’t have abs anymore, for example.

But I have felt a deep sadness that I get less attention from people, and grief that I no longer seemed to be as important or likeable to people.

I don’t miss my squat-booty, but I do miss the compliments and gushing attention I used to get.

Most people don’t distinguish between these two things, the feeling and the physical changes. Instead they see a physical change and feel a feeling, and then blame the change for the feeling.

But it’s often a lot more complex and deep than that– if you hate your thighs, what are you *really* hating? If you feel insecure about your round belly, what are you *really* feeling insecure about?

For a while I felt very bad and confused about the fact that without even realizing it, my adult identity had gotten tangled up with receiving a steady stream of compliments based on how people perceived me, my face, and my body.

All of my feelings were valid, and all of them had to be felt, acknowledged, and processed.

But none of those feelings had anything to do with the physical changes I was noticing in my body.

At any shape or size, there might be some feelings (sadness, anger, grief, frustration) about your lack of visibility or positive attention, the meaning and biases that society has attached to your body’s shape or size, or the injustice of female beauty standards in general.

That’s all ok. Those feelings are all valid.

But don’t mistake those feelings for an actual assessment of your body.

Don’t confuse those feelings with proof that there is anything wrong with your body, or let your feelings that really should be aimed at something external (like society) become misguidedly aimed at your body.

<3

Jessi

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