Friday, March 30, 2007

loosely categorized musings on body image politics: an ill-formed treatise of all things self-esteem

I wrote some of this post today at the gym as I ran around the track. The irony is not lost on me.

So. I've started being more intense about my exercise. I've never been a complete blob- I'd swim occasionally and definitely preferred walking or biking if I could help it. But in January some kind of bug bit my lazy ass and I took up running. On top of that, I would swim or bike the days I didn't run, and do a short little jumping-jack, weight-lifting, sit-up session either at night or in the morning everyday. The result is that I feel a lot better, look trimmer and in general have less annoying back pain, which is my personal favorite of the indirect pluses associated with my workout routine.

There are various reasons for this increase in my physical activity. The most obvious is of course my desire to look better, lose a little weight, and feel stronger. However, I've conditioned myself over the years to fight the instincts to 'look good', especially in mainstream and socially accepted ways. This is not to say that I spend all my time doing my best to look my worst, but just that I try not to get down on myself for not looking like everyone else. The result of this is that I tend to justify my actions in different ways, rather than admit that I just want to look better and, thusly, be more attractive to people I would like to make out with.

So I've come up with the idea that someday I want to do a triathlon. This is true. I would very much like to participate in a triathlon and reap the benefits of said participation. I am trying to accept that justification as well as come to terms with the truth of wanting to look better and be more attractive, because there's nothing wrong with wanting that, is there?

Is there?

The more I work out, the more I start feel this enormous pressure on me to look even better, to go further, to do more. Part of it might be that at the gym I am surrounded by all the people that look amazing already, and the people that look like me (nice enough, really, but strikingly out of shape comparatively) are fewer and father between than they are outside in the real world. I'm also experiencing a shift in my social circle that involves more jazz musicians, and that means more cocky, self-assured men that like a certain kind of woman. Who is not me. And who I have no desire to be.

But it's frustrating. I'm tired of having to fight for the attention of the opposite sex because I don't look a certain way. I'm tired of having to keep telling myself that it just means I haven't met someone that really actually likes me yet and that I should be patient and flexible. Because I'm tired, I start to make compromises. I bought makeup, and I wear it. I never used to wear makeup. I thought it made me look silly and on top of that, suggested a whole realm of insecurities I had no business poking my nose into. I have more sexy 'going-out' shirts now than I did a few weeks ago, because the one I do have got me so many compliments at a jazz party I felt like a friggin princess (nevertheless a busty one). I like it when my closer friends tell me I look sexy on a regular basis, but I am concerned when it only happens when I've made a particular effort to do so. I've actually started talking about calories and eating healthy. I've always eating healthfully- it's one of the things I think goes along with being a vegetarian- and I've also always resented it when I have to sit and listen to people whine about diets and what they can and can't eat. I don't like to think about these things. I enjoy food and beer and I enjoy these things at their finest.

But after a night of eating something rich or drinking a few beers, the next day you'll find me at the gym and certainly the thing on my mind has to do with how much effort I have to put in to counteract the negative physical effects of said binges. I'm on a completely different ground here than I've ever been. I'm trying hard to find a balance between doing the things I love: running, biking, swimming, eating, and drinking beer, and the attitude and approach I take toward each of these things.

It's all very confusing. On one hand, there is the me that fights all the socially acceptable ways for women to be: beautiful, slender, insecure about appearance (often for the sake of garnering attention from men), well made up, well dressed, etc., and on the other hand there is the me that wants to be strong and sexy and respected and feels that part of this involves fitting into the socially acceptable womanly front. I'm a little weary of hearing myself think that if I just looked a little better or tried a little harder to be more 'woman', this stupid boy bullshit wouldn't happen. I know that's not true. I know that the most beautiful and amazing woman I know here didn't have that protection from being treated like shit by someone who was supposed to be in love with her. I know also that she'll have no end of guys to pick from who will treat her better and I know that my pool is smaller.

There's really no end to this debate for me. I go in circles about it everyday. And you? What do you think?