A texty departure, gentle friends! Also a new tag: rants*. Outfit posts will be back shortly.
Somehow personal style is, well, personal and far more revealing than I had anticipated. I keep things deliberately topical in my social media- Facebook, Twitter, and I tried to with this blog, but things keep leaking out. This is a (rare!) brain spill about weight loss and body image, with some angerballing about college.
A bit of background: I am a returning student in my 30s. I've burned through my savings of several years and worked as many as three part time jobs to staunch the money hemorrhage while attending classes on three different campuses due to overcrowding. And yet during this pity party I'm painfully aware that I am one of the lucky ones. This stress and exhaustion and fear for me is (hopefully) temporary. There is no end in sight for the adults working multiple jobs, all days of the week, supporting families on barely or less than subsistence wages.
After this last summer, I'm not gaining my weight back. I have not been able to digest things properly for weeks. My stomach sounds like a herd of cats burping and growling at the same time whenever I eat. I'm constantly nauseated. I lost thirteen pounds in four months, bringing the total to twenty three overall, my kidney got infected, and my hair has been torn out. I get hives now after recovering from each round of school, and eczema has started appearing in patches on my legs.
Every semester I lose weight and I never fully recover it. I feel like a set of Russian dolls; every semester I am smashed against an edge, and a smaller version of myself is set back on the table. I do not know what happens when we come to that last little solid one. I suspect that I am there now.
I've started politely correcting people who compliment my weight loss, who counter my explanations of stress with the dubious silver lining of becoming slimmer, more conventionally attractive. I am the reverse of the accepted paradigm: when I lose weight, it is a wasting process. It signifies that stress has destroyed my appetite and study has overrun the need for exercise and sleep. It means the things I take pleasure in have been set aside in a desperate sprint for a ticker tape, marking the end of only one more section of this monotonous grueling trek.
I miss my physical strength. Half my lifetime ago, I wanted to be the media's feminine ideal, to have slender limbs and more prominent bony landmarks. Now I do not want my build any other way, and I want so much to have it back. I had the luck to fall in love with a sport that made me realize how beautiful a body works: a symphony of cables, pulleys, and organs that made me want to sing when I ran and when I flew in the air for that amazing fraction of a second. I miss my gentle long jogs, my weights, my pushups, my core exercises, my flexibility, and my wushu. When I do those things, the endorphins fill me with an overwhelming awe of how trillions of cells make this complex organism I live in. Life is a constant battle against entropy. Each breath becomes a conscious, incredibly precious gift.
Most of all, there is guilt. I feel guilty that I consciously burned my health and betrayed the body which has served me and worked so beautifully all these years in a desperate prayer for a future.
I want to hug my body to tell it how sorry I am, and reassure myself that we'll build ourselves back up together. I want to feel that sense of awe with each breath again, and to experience those precious hours in which I feel I have fully embraced the joy of being alive.
(My friends, by the way, are amazing. They buy me my favorite foods and check to make sure I am eating, supporting my unusual desire for weight gain. As I type, there is a large container of my very favorite lamb stew waiting for me in my refrigerator. It is as thick and delicious as you can imagine.)
I've watched the lines around my eyes deepen and show even when I am not smiling. I've watched the roundness of my face that I used to despair over gently fall away, leaving deep channels between my nose and chin. My dimples, once almost hidden by my cheeks, are showing more as my thinner face creases and pulls taut around them. I'm still young, but as I laughingly tell people, the model is modern but past its warranty. I feel my body changing as the battle against entropy rounds its curve, yet somehow the internalization of age makes me more patient. Well, more patient if I weren't so angry at this school process.
There's a lot of anger. I am so angry at this clown show that has thrown roadblocks every step of the way as I try to graduate, at the complete irrelevance of so much of our only certification system, and watching more and more years sunk in a desperate race to compete for a shrinking pool of jobs.
There is so much impotent frustration that the education system that could give me such beautiful tools as chemistry and biology would then have me spend years solving the same problems, cranking out the same answers like an assembly line. I don't like this frenetic pace, the shakedown and lazy way of distinguishing between goal-oriented students by testing how well we can memorize minutiae, culling us on the basis of tiny tricks and mistakes in identical problems rather than how we can use these new languages and concepts to change our perceptions of the world around us.
It was using my new knowledge to read academic papers in the little time I am not cramming trivial details that made me think I might be suited to graduate school. And yet when it comes to statements I have no idea what to write, how much of myself I should hide and how much I should show. Everything in this system so far says what distinguishes me is how perfectly I can recite the arbitrary knowledge someone set down in a text and someone else cherry picked for exams. It is this, I am told, or be denied entry to any further steps. It takes almost all of my time to stay above water in competitive courses in which this and only this determines my grades.
I started this blog because I was so frustrated at this system. I wanted an organic creative process, the unexpected paths it opened, and the resultant excitement of discovery. It has been so conspicuously missing in the countless years of education I've slogged through in thirty three years.
Lately I find myself dressing for the things I am so grateful did not change about my body, even after this latest and most dramatic round of weight loss. I am dressing to emphasize the thickest, sturdiest parts of my physique- my shoulders, my upper limbs, my midsection. I used to have a physical sense of invincibility that wore as an armor to help me get through each day.
I'm in a privileged position, becoming more rather than less conventionally attractive when I lose my health, but what I want is if we could be, as my friend Mo said, our ideal selves. What would we look like if we had enough sleep, enough money, enough to eat, enough exercise, enough fulfillment, and enough love? For now it feels like all I can manage is rice porridge with ginger and bok choy. And lamb stew. I'll eat all the lamb stew I can.
* Rants that are remotely related to style through body image, anyway. You will be spared my rants about the history of civilization, evolutionary psychology, control mechanisms, statistics, feminism, politics, and economics.