When I first realized that I was unhappy with my body and when I first decided to do something about it, I dieted. I dieted for what seemed like ages. And sometimes I lost weight and felt a bit better, and sometimes I didn’t.
Eventually, I added exercise to my life’s routines to supplement the dieting. And sometimes I lost weight or gained muscle tone, and sometimes I didn’t.
After THAT, I began to play around with clothing and style as a means of making peace with my body. And with very few exceptions, dressing to my figure has been the most effective, reliable means of feeling good about and connected to my body. Unlike diet and exercise, I could very carefully control the outcomes associated with what I wore. I could change my outward appearance on a whim, I could tweak it immediately, I could transform my look completely using only clothing and accessories.
It took a few years, but eventually I began to crave more control over my body and my presentation. I was sick of being told that, yes, it was fine to avoid the sun but didn’t I realize how peaked I looked? I began to wear blush, and felt more in control of my complexion. I was sick of a mad mop of curls that got frizzy and unruly if a light breeze so much as ruffled them. I chopped off my hair, refined my pixie cut over several months, and felt more in control of my hair. I was sick of looking at, attempting to combat, and feeling unhappy with my copious body hair. I ponied up for some laser hair removal treatments, and felt more in control of my Sal-scape.
In some cases, intense focus on control can trigger a spiral. From what I’ve read and been told, exercising control over the body as a means of calming distress sometimes transforms into disordered eating. For many people, there’s a fine line between making changes to feel more in control of one’s appearance, and making body/appearance/eating/exercise changes because they feel like the only things that can be controlled. My own feelings and actions haven’t crossed over into that realm, but I am acutely aware of the connection and remain vigilant should such a spiral begin.
My body is amazing, and I love it. My body is also stubborn, unpredictable, and incredibly sensitive. If I eat a candy bar, I will get instant heartburn and a robust crop of zits within two days. I have a protruding disc that acts up on occasion, and am yet to determine what exactly triggers my back pain. I get ocular migraines, but only sporadically. Even on hormonal birth control, I will occasionally get the dreaded pre-period breast tenderness so badly that toweling myself dry makes me wince. I do my best to change my behaviors, food intake, and stress levels to mitigate these reactions, but mostly I just have to roll with them. When I cannot make sense of my body’s wants and needs, I simply relinquish control and respond with kindness.
Although the idea of seeking to control certain aspects of my body and its presentation may sound rigid or risky, I am careful about my choices. I am fully aware that 97% of my body’s doings are far beyond my reach and all I can do is react to them. That other 3% is important to my self-image, my confidence, and my ability to maintain good diplomatic relations with my physical form. I’m perfectly willing to let go of the things I cannot control. But the things that I can? I will.
Is there anything about your appearance or body that you’ve sought to control over the years? Anything that you’ve tried to control, but then relinquished? How do you feel about changing what your body does naturally? Does it seem harsh or hypocritical? Or normal and productive? I know that some of you amazing readers struggle with or are recovering from eating disorders. If you feel comfortable commenting, I’d love your input. Do you feel that exercising control over the body is risky or unhealthy? Always? Sometimes? Where do you draw the line?