Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

I was too ashamed to write about it, but now I will

I've been wanting to write about this for awhile, but if I'm being honest, and I am, I'll tell you I haven't because there are multiple levels of shame involved. But over the past couple months, I seem to keep running into articles or conversations that remind me this thing isn't going away in my head and I want to face it.

You see, I'm 63. And about a year or so ago, I realized that what I was seeing in photos or mirrors just wasn't me. It wasn't the me in my head. Weight gain after menopause, aging, changing skin and mass–it was all going on at once.

This isn't really even about weight. But it is tied up into it. When I was little I was told I was chubby. Looking at photos, I wasn't it, but I felt it and looking at magazines and loving Twiggy and Cher, I felt chubby. When I was about ten my father patted my belly and said, and these were his exact words, "You are too young to have a pot belly." My mother scolded him. But it stuck, I can still remember how I felt, I felt ashamed, and sad. 

But looking back at photos, I didn't have a pot belly. 

So like many young girls I had body issues that followed me around most of my young life into my 20's. It was at about 25 I started to see myself differently. I started to be okay with what I saw. I maintained a good weight, but again, my scale number always felt too big, it wasn't as small as others my age and height. A masseuse at the time told me I had a 'very beefy back". I did, it was muscle. But that term also stuck. {And I found a new masseuse.}

For my 30-50 years, I really liked what I had. I felt good in my body. Somewhere in there, at about 30, I gained some weight and went to WW. I took off the 15 pounds and never put it back on again. I simply was eating too big of portions. When I saw women older than 50 gaining weight, I figured they were doing something wrong, and I naively thought in my 30 year old head, That'll never happen to me, I do yoga, I hardly eat sugar and meat, I walk, etc. I'll age gracefully.

But I did turn fifty and I did start adding weight and it would not come off. It was slow at first. I even had all my blood checked and thyroid-it must be something, I thought.

My naturapath said not to worry about weight. Do more, she said, just move more, don't worry about the scale. So I did. But the wieght kept coming. Even WW did not work this time. I am not a dieter. I am a realist. Calories in, calories out. But I move, and I eat very healthy food.

I lost 14 pounds last year and had wanted to lose 10 more, but nothing was working, and I gained 4 back. But of late, I have started shifting my focus to simply being content with a working body, a body and face that does not look like the one I had 5 years ago let alone 30.

That is part of it. When I think of me in my head, I think of that time of my life when I was content with my body and image-that was when I was 40ish. Well, I'm 63. What sense does it make to compare myself to that. I mean, we don't look back at baby pictures or photos of when we are five and try to regain that. 

I want to reimagine in my head what I look like and be okay with it.

Here's where the shame comes in.

I work with many people who can't walk. They can't bend over. They hurt. Some of them aren't much older than me. Their bodes are fragile. And here I am being upset that I don't have my 40 year old 'looking' body. My jowels have sunk, my neck profile makes me cringe...and some people just wish they could stroll without a wheelchair, or have dinner with their husband again. I want to stop the negative and damaging and hurtful thinking.

So I am taking a new approach. I ask myself, what has my body done for me today that was helpful, that I need it to do-my hands helped my sick chicken, my arms and legs helped me clean the barn, my spine held my neck and head up so I could see the beautiful garden and flowers, my eyes can see my best friend and husband clearly, my ears hear nature and music, my lungs and organs are not sick...none of it has to do with what my body looks like or what it was like at age 40 or 50 or 55. None of it has to do with a mirror, or a scale number.

I was inspired to write this for two reasons. One was because I saw a post that had gone viral from Instagram, posted by the actress, Valerie Bertinelli, who is 61. I am not a follower of her, but I watched her raw and honest video post she made after a stranger, a troll, had come out on one of her posts and bluntly said, "You need to lose weight." Ms. Bertinelli likes to cook and share recipes. She has gone up and down in weight her whole life. She honestly spoke about the shame of having the weight, and of never being able to conquer it in her 61 years. She was pointing out the troll's comment was unhelpful [clearly it was], she was owning the shame and was owning the fact she loved to cook and just wanted to be what she was. When I saw the video, I cried, for her, but for me too. I knew how she felt.

And then another thing came my way today. It was a post I had made years ago, and someone on Facebook had reshared it when it popped up on her memories. It was so amazing to see that post, I've posted it below. The words of wisdom I obviously took when I first saw it were even stronger and clearer to me today. I loved that she says it can take a while to get to know your new-old face, but once you grow into it your perspective on it will be different.

Today I took the photo you see on the top of the post. My first thought is usually, does that look like me? And of course a photo is not always a good representation of what others see. Lighting, for one shifts. but also when we are with others, in real life, we see a string of movements a person makes, not one head-on view that can be unflattering.

My new project is to re-see what I am, who I am, where I'm headed. I do believe as we age there is a turning point where we are more 'in our new-old bodies'. I never had much issue with aging physically until I was about sixty. It's a challenge. But my body is so much more than what it looks like. It's so much more than that stubborn number on a scale. My body is what it does, what it achieves every minute it is alive. And I'm blessed to still have a working body. I do not want to shame her anymore. I think listening to Valerie Bertinelli speak so honestly was a turning point for me-I felt her pain, and I held my body and felt my body saying, 

"Love me, I am your body and I'm working hard for you, don't hate me because I look different than that young woman you once were, hold me, help me."

I felt my body must have felt the same way that little girl did when her father told her she was too young to have a pot belly. I know how that felt, I don't want my body, or any other person, to feel that any more.