Archive for September, 2013

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Why Big Girls Fear Bouncing

September 29, 2013

I shudder a little as a bead of sweat drips from my lower back straight into my ass crack, and try to focus on the chick-singers-of-the-90s soundtrack my adorable, tiny, lesbian spin instructor has chosen for this morning’s workout. She’s what I like to a call a speed-happy teacher. Her workouts include such rapid cadences and her legs rotate at such an impossible rate, I often wonder if my face reflects the mixture of awe and despair I feel as I try to keep up with her.

But mixed in with futility and fatigue is another feeling, a horrible clenching sensation; it is an intense, self-inflicted force that seems to be working against any efficient output on my bike’s flywheel. After a while I figure it out: I’m desperately trying to keep myself from bouncing.

Now, before the spin instructors of the world jump on me – I know, I know. You shouldn’t necessarily be “bouncing” if you have your resistance at the correct level. But at some point, when you’re told to match your pace to the rhythm of the song, and that song is Destiny’s Child’s Jumpin’ Jumpin’ (think about it), shit’s gonna bounce.

So I’m very busy bracing myself against the natural syncopations my curvy body wants to add to the song, and causing my musculature a stressful disservice in the process. Why? Because as a young girl I was taught that seeing flesh move – boobs, thighs, butt or otherwise – is unattractive and unappealing and it should all just stay put.

That’s why by the time I was in middle school I was effortfully pulling on girdle underwear and stuffing myself into minimizer bras every morning. That’s why I spent years feeling shame as I watched television or looked at magazines and saw no resemblance between those bellies and my belly. And that’s why the other day, at 32, despite 7 years worth of analysis, I had an absolute, certifiable melt down in therapy, realizing I’m still at war with my body.

But it’s worse than that. It’s so much bigger and so much more insidious than that, and the solution so much more daunting. Because as I stood on a crowded subway on my way home, crying behind sunglasses, and eyeing the women around me, I realized I was not just prejudiced against my own body, I have been inflicted with a prejudice against my body TYPE, on myself and others.

Once, somewhere around 13, my mother came into my room as I lay on my bed in my underwear and commented on how “Zaftig” I looked. I think she meant it as a compliment, but where weight, and (from as early as I can remember) my particular need to lose it, was such a consistent topic of conversation around the Rosenberg household, I instead took it as a vile insult. To this day, when I hear the word something inside me seizes in revulsion. At this particular session, my therapist used the word to describe me and I practically spit across the room at her from behind the tiny fort I had built out of balled tissues.

Now I find myself in the painful process of taking a harsh look at how I judge other women, consciously and unconsciously; how my monkey-mind plays a constant game of comparison, swinging from body part to body part, throwing its sick feces around. And I am crushed by the overwhelming task of change. How can I possibly glorify anything other than smooth, taut, immobile skin, when I never see anything but? If I never see shaking, jiggling, pock-marked skin, if I never see pubic hair or buttzits, if I never see the watery flesh of soft arms anywhere else but on myself, how can I ever heal? I can make progressive comments on Facebook all I want about the fleshy models on Modcloth, but my diseased brain still glorifies Athleta.

The Buddhist response (the one I always look to first…) is forgiveness, namely of myself and the family members who influenced these beliefs. But to truly work through this, I think I have to figure out how to forgive … all of western society? I mean, seriously. The industries that support the Glorification of the Lean have undergone some change, but there aren’t enough Beyonces and Rick Owenses and Rebel Wilsons out there to make a dent yet. The only way I think I can heal, grow, and see myself as sexy is to let go of my anger, forgive my culture, and sever my self-worth from its clenching fist.

I gotta let go and bounce.

When I was drinking, I could bounce. People drink to conjure their “beer goggles,” right? It’s a blurry lens to pull over the eyes and make the prospective one night stand sitting next to you more attractive.  I drank to make what I like to call full beer headgear.  With beer headgear, the goggles have little mirrors in them, so instead of seeing my date as more attractive, I was magically able to see myself as more attractive. Additionally, beer headgear comes with two beer ear plugs – or beerplugs – which accomplish a much more important goal: quieting the unending prattle of body-hating self-judgment.

I could dance in a beerhelmet. I could flirt in a beerhelmet. I could bounce in a beerhelmet. And I think I judged others less in a beerhelmet. I wouldn’t trade my sobriety for anything in the world, but after 4 ½ years I still have not figured out how to generate a boozeless bounce. Of course, alcohol is used the world over to enhance social buoyancy, I’m no one new or special, but there are also lots of non-drinkers out there, and they must have figured it out one way or another.

I don’t think I can go it alone. I need my friends to stop hating on themselves, too. I need us all to stop commenting on one another, comparing one another. I need men and women to be more outspoken about what they find sexy, across the whole spectrum. I need Hoda and Kathy to stop doing specials on dieting while sucking back pinot grigio at 8 AM. I need to see what models’ thighs actually look like without an airbrush. I need the expression, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” to be banned from the English language. I need every woman to wear just a sports bra at yoga, not just the skinny girls. I need more Beyonce. I need more Rick Owens. I need more Rebel Wilson.

And in the meantime… I need to bounce.

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COMMUNAL WHINE

September 7, 2013

There’s this meditation class I attend semi-regularly. By semi I mean, sometimes I go for long swaths of time showing up every week for my dose of dharma and silence, but then I book a show or download a new video game or a new season of So You Think You Can Dance starts and I don’t make it for a few months. As such, last week I made my triumphant return after months of show/game/dance.  It happened to be a special class where instead of the usual meditation and dharma talk, we sat for a bit and then heard from the LGBTQ members of the class, and heard testimonials on difference and sensitivity and understanding.

Lovely.

Truly. It was a well organized and incredibly well spoken evening. But it nagged at me that almost everyone’s share involved a glowing description of the incredible community and family they found in this class, in all the amazing friends they’ve made in this very room. While I sat feeling like the Kool-Aid got passed around while I was in the bathroom, one girl exclaimed, “I just want to give you guys all a big hug! I feel so much love from this group!”

Now, I’ve been going to this class for over two years. From what I’ve seen, no one talks to people they don’t know.  In fact, that very day I had arrived early, and found myself alone with a woman to whom I’ve introduced myself a couple times previously (mostly while waiting for the bathroom), and she told me her name as if I were brand new to the class. There is a crew of cool kids who all sit up front near the teacher and ask questions, and the teacher knows them all by name, and then the rest of us sit behind them, staring at the back of their gregarious heads. There was one girl I really liked who talked to me occasionally, but she hasn’t been in class in a year or so. Maybe she found a new video game.

It would be easy for me to write off this group of people as having hierarchy and clique issues, and maybe some of that is at play, but this particular experience of exclusion throws a wrench in the story I usually write about myself and groups, at least for the last 4½ years.

Not drinking alcohol (though unequivocally one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life) has proven the perfect Ego-tool for narrative manipulation. “Because I don’t like being around drunk people,” is a terrific, catch-all excuse for reclusiveness and social anxiety. It is terrific, partly, because it is completely honest. I really, REALLY don’t like being around drunk people. But it is also effective because it projects my issues outside of myself. I don’t have to deal with my insecurities and discomforts, the problem can be “them” and not “me.”

But in this class, because the founder of the parent organization came from a recovery background, and my teacher comes from a recovery background, a high percentage of my classmates come from recovery as well, and I would say if not “most,” then “many” of people there are non-drinkers and non-users. Not to mention, it’s a meditation class – no one’s hauling a keg up 3 flights of stairs to a Bowery yoga studio.

My tool is broken. But the Ego is a remarkably tricky vixen. Faced with feeling exclusion from this population, my brain went through gymnastic efforts to reorganize: “It’s because I don’t identify as an alcoholic.” “It’s because I’m not queer.” “It’s because I’m not covered in tattoos like everyone else.” It’s a lot of noise.

At some point, being unable to find community, can’t be blamed on the community. I can try to blame the lack of alcohol in my blood or the lack of AA in my schedule, but when it comes down to it, it’s a lack of something in myself. It is a received idea that I don’t fit in, that I have managed to internalize, and I’m the only one who can fix it.

Last night I spent a wallowing 45 minute commute home after seeing a terrific show written and performed by an artist I know, but not well. At the end of the show, I waited around with his closer friends but when the opportunity came to wish him well, I turned and headed out of the theater, paralyzed by the fear that he wouldn’t remember who I am. The theater where the show was produced is one at which many of my friends have worked – some of them have had commissions there or been artists-in-residence. But in my 10 years in this business, I’ve never managed to break into the “scene,” there, and the space, though beautiful, fills me with the dread of a middle schooler with nowhere to sit in the lunchroom. As I headed to the subway alone, and pulled out my journal to write, I finally had to look the situation in the face and recognize something was very wrong, and it was in no one’s hands but mine.

I got home, put my bag on the kitchen table and took a deep breath to calm myself. As I did, I caught the scents of multiple hugs I had received throughout the day: the oils of two separate yoga teacher friends of mine, one peppery, one sweet; Febreze and cigarettes from one actor friend, bourbon from another. The thought was soothing. Maybe my community is not in one place, under one roof, in one occupation, following one philosophy. Maybe I will always have to amass my “family” from far reaching, disparate corners of my life. And can I be ok with that? Can I accept that I may never fit in with a particular group, but can choose to chisel out my own version of sangha?

I’m not sure. Maybe. Right now I still sort of feel like the kid in the lunchroom. But maybe.