Saturday, January 4, 2014

Social Behavior Adaptations Needed

Illustration borrowed from smokefree(dot)gov
When asked why I want to lose weight, I generally ask whether 
the person wants the politically correct reason or the truth.
The PC reason, of course, is "for my health" and,
while it is legitimate because of concerns about high cholesterol
and the possibility of developing Type 2 diabetes,
the truth is I am tired of being invisible, invisible to men 
and to prospective employers.
But especially to men.

All my life, I've dealt with issues related to my body image. 
Basically, I had/have none. As a child, my brother, sister 
and I were neglected, unkempt and unwashed. 
I was rarely addressed by my name; classmates 
called me "Stinky," "Cootie," or "Scag." 
Until I was well into my 20's I was often called ugly to my face. 
At the age most girls begin dating, it was clear to me 
that the boys I liked would not be paying attention to me 
because, well, I was, of course, ugly
Confused and insecure, I could tell you more 
about the fantasy world I wove for myself 
than I could any details of my everyday life.

One summer during college, I watched television coverage
of the Russian gymnasts competing in the Olympic Games. 
The women had beautifully sculpted bodies, 
like racing Thoroughbreds, honed and lean from years 
spent in the gym. It occurred to me that, 
if weight training helped to create the gymnasts' looks, 
it could do the same for me.

I went to the strength coach at my university,
a middle-aged man who worked with football players, 
gymnasts, and wrestlers. Of course, he'd never
before worked with a woman. Coach Bill developed a routine 
for me, basically the same as the men were doing,
but with lighter weights and more repetitions.
In order to avoid developing bulk, he added a lot
of stretching exercises to increase my flexibility.

Over the next year, I lost about twenty pounds. 
There must have been dramatic changes
in my appearance, but I never saw them myself, not
in a mirror (that I can recall) nor in a photograph.
I just remember what the measuring tape
told me, 38-25-38, and the fact that nice-looking
men were coming out of nowhere to hit on me.
Having very little social experience to speak of,
I had no way of knowing that men who say
nice words weren't necessarily nice men.

I had worked hard in the gym only to find that I was
experiencing the opposite end of the same stick;
at one end was the chubby girl who was seen as "easy"
because she'd be grateful for the attention,
and at the other end was the young woman who was 
"asking for it" because she was fit and took care of herself.
The worst of these experiences involved an episode
of date rape that left me physically injured, very ill,
and traumatized. I retreated into my shell and,
while I maintained my conditioning for many years,
I rarely went out and became wrapped up in work,
going out on very few dates.

Many years later, the toned and shapely woman
disappeared into obesity brought on by a sit-down
job as a customer service rep for the IRS. My co-workers
and I were under the control of a management staff
that created and maintained a very toxic working
environment. I gained weight so fast I was in
constant pain, topping out at about 275 pounds.
I retired as soon as I was able, preferring poverty
to slowly dying at my desk.

Last spring, with the help of my doctor and
a dietitian, I began to lose weight. A big part of my
success so far has been due to the swimming I do.
But I again I find myself having to face old demons
as the rats come out of the cracks in the walls.
When I returned to my part-time job last November
 for an assignment, men who could not have been
bothered with me in May suddenly found a "new girl."
One man, of whom I am a bit scared, was offended that
I didn't want to go out with him. He didn't know why
I should be afraid of him because he couldn't
recall ever speaking to me. Uh-huh.
I shared the same lunch table with him on two or three
occasions just last spring. Apparently, I was "invisible,"
but as I emerge from my lard cocoon, my existence
may be acknowledged.

So ... how do I learn to handle this?
Listening to my instincts has helped me to avoid
trouble in the past, but how to I develop
a gracious way of avoiding bad feelings in the future?

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