Did men ever look in the mirror, I wondered, and find themselves wanting in deep fundamental ways? When they opened a newspaper or watched a film, were they presented with nothing but exceptionally handsome young men, and did this make them feel intimidated, inferior, because they were not as young, not as handsome? Did they then read newspaper articles ridiculing those same handsome men if they gained weight or wore something unflattering?
These were, of course, rhetorical questions.
I looked at myself again. I was healthy and my body was strong. I had a brain that worked fine, and a voice… I had hair, ears, eyes and a mouth. I was a human woman, no more and no less.
–excerpt from Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I’m only on chapter nine, but I’m already completely enamored with this book, not because the writing is impeccable, which it is, but for its magical way putting my messy feelings into sensible words.
For the past three weeks I’ve felt like crap. Well, not that’s not completely accurate, my body is the strongest it’s been in a long time. The truth is… well, the truth is a scary thing to face, especially on platforms so… public! But, the best writers always say write your truth or someone else will, and whoever that someone else is won’t do it justice. So, for honesty’s sake and for the sake of upholding the high call of integrity as a writer, I’ll tell you how I really have been feeling these past three weeks.
Fat. Unattractive. Undesirable.
Whelp. There it is.
Give me five minutes to bury myself in a human-sized cocoon of humiliation.
Around October of last year I joined a gym and started taking my health more seriously. My decision was not at all to achieve some vanity goal–I had but two reasons:
1.) To fuel my body for doing what I love–travel. I often find myself hiking to view points whenever I visit a new country, it’s one of my favorite activities to do. My last climb was in Edinburgh, Scotland. I made it just fine, but on the way up I noticed other bodies having a hard time with the journey. I didn’t want that to be my fate, I couldn’t imagine having to give up amazing views because my body simply couldn’t manage.
2.) My students. Teaching kindergarten should be a category in the Olympics–it takes up so much energy! Lifting, running, jumping, hopping, dancing: every day, every minute is playtime and I need my body in the right condition to give my students the best day ever.
Traveling and teaching, both of these reasons encouraged me to get in better shape; whenever I wanted to quit I’d just think of climbing up Machu Picchu, my heart racing at the sight of the ancient ruins below or spinning around one of my students in the air like a helicopter until so much laughter fills our bellies that we both collapse to the floor.
I was full and content with each change my body underwent, even if those changes were small, because I knew I was walking in the direction of my goal.
Somewhere along the way I got lost, shifted my gaze from travel and teaching to the attention I was getting from men, the compliments I was getting on my changing body. It felt good to turn heads to feel more womanly. Gosh, I’m a class A dummy, aren’t I?
I’d push myself harder in the gym, wanting more results, more compliments, more heads turning, more vanity, more vanity, more vanity. Instead of being fueled up, I felt bogged down. When embarking on a fitness journey it’s normal to encounter ups and downs, which was fine when my reasons were true to myself, but when it all came down to looking desirable for men, I just felt drained.
Three weeks ago I moved into a new place, it took a whole week to move all of my belongings to my new home. For an entire week I didn’t have the time nor the energy to go workout–commence the self-loathing! I sent pictures of my new abode to loved ones, one photo being in which my body was in the reflection of my mirror. My friend commented on my weight loss, but I honestly felt like an elephant. I thought, might as well ship me away to the sanctuary in Chiang Mai and invite tourists to ride me for 500 baht. Dramatic? Absolutely, but completely honest.
In reality, my body was still strong, able to do things that it couldn’t do months ago.
Last week I started going back to the gym, once again pushing myself for a fickle goal resting precariously the back of spineless men who could only love a woman for her body, not her soul or heart or mind or voice. It was, needless to say, not enjoyable. I just felt immense pressure to carve out my body into a form that looked more worthy of affection.
Yesterday, however, was different. I didn’t cave into the pressure, I didn’t push myself beyond what I felt my body needed that day. I stilled myself, told myself I was beautiful–and believed it–reminded myself of the initial reason for all of this, and listened to my body not the voices of others. It was a great workout and I felt so proud of myself.
Like Eleanor, I had this come-to-Jesus moment when I realized how stupid and hurtful I’d been acting towards my body, my oldest, most faithful home. “I looked at myself again. I was healthy and my body was strong. I had a brain that worked fine, and a voice… I had hair, ears, eyes and a mouth. I was a human woman, no more and no less.”
I have a perfect body because it’s performing miracles every day.
I am breathing, thinking, loving, creating, feeling, speaking, blinking, fighting outside forces that try to harm me every day.
I AM LIVING—how much more perfect can this body be?
This body is supernatural, even in the simple things, like eyelashes! Ain’t it an act of God how they catch each bead of sweat, carry it away in the soft curve of their arms, keeping my eyes dry and safe so that I can see myself clearly. Perfectly.