"Have you gained weight?"
It's taken me many years to get where I am, when it comes to self-love and body acceptance.
But that doesn't mean it's now easy. Sometimes, moments catch me off guard.
Like this one. A simple question, totally innocuous, from my wife - who I know loves me and thinks I'm beautiful.
And suddenly, all I feel is self doubt, angst, worry, and that feeling - of not being good enough. All the body love goes away just like that - in an instant.
We've been raised, trained to have a visceral reaction to a question like that.
At the other end of the spectrum, a question like "have you lost weight?" even now, would make me viscerally respond in the opposite way - pride, preening, glow. Still. Even today. Even now that I know none of this has anything to do with my worth or who I am as a person.
My knee-jerk reaction to the question...of have I gained weight? Defensiveness. Worry. Anxiety
"No! I mean... I don't think so...?", I stammer.
But how could I know, really? I don't weigh myself. I haven't in many years. I don't even own a bathroom scale. That number is not a measure of my health, well-being or worth - so why would I?
She clarifies, "I'm wondering if you might be dealing with some bloat or something?"
My wife is body positive too. She gets it. This is not a judgment. Still... I react. And, in fact, hesitated from telling this story - because of how others will react. As if she was being cruel, inconsiderate - when that's not the truth.
"Well my clothes seem to be fitting about the same so I don't *think* I've gained weight..." but I feel tense, tight, almost frozen.
My wife sees me every day. All the rolls and lumps and bumps. She knows my body, sometimes better than I know it. So a change would be noticeable to her. I'm about to turn 40 and I've been showing signs of peri-menopause. And, after all, during her peri-menopause, she experienced wild fluctuations in body/belly size due to bloat - sometimes 2 clothing sizes worth of difference day to day. Her question comes from a valid place. So, I logically understand that her question came from a neutral, non-judgmental place of observation. She wasn't sizing me up. She wasn't looking down on me. She wasn't sneering. She was noticing. She was seeing me - something I usually appreciate.
"Maybe I am a little bloated.." I finally muttered, unconvincingly, wishing I could crawl into a hole and cry.
She accepted my answer, reassured me that she was just checking in because of her own experiences with bloat.
But still, I sat with angst for a good hour or so afterward. Quietly, silently suffering. Too embarrassed to even admit to her that I was struggling (in fact, reading this will be the first she's heard of it).
The thoughts swirled in my brain... Have I gained weight? Am I deluding myself with this body positivity stuff? Am I looking less attractive to my wife? Maybe I have been eating too much? Have I been having too much salt? Too much junk food? Maybe it really is just bloat - maybe hormones? What if I'm lying to myself? Anxiety!!
The memory of the conversation still sits, uncomfortably in my mind, poking at me now and then with shades of old worries, of old self-conscious feelings of not-good-enough, old dogma that had been drilled into me from the time I was 11 or 12 years old.
But I know better. I know it was a non-emotionally loaded question. Why was my whole self reacting with such angst? When did talking about our bodies become such an emotional minefield?
And hell, maybe I have gained weight. Who the fuck cares?!
I've worked hard to learn about myself, my body and to separate fact from fiction. I've learned how to love myself and all my soft, round, vulnerable places. I've learned to be kind to myself. I've learned how to make sure I'm aware of how my body is feeling - about wellness and energy levels and I've learned to pay attention to measurable information to guage my overall health (blood sugar, blood pressure, etc).
Yet, all it took was something so simple and innocent (and from a source I trust even!) to send me right back to that old place.
I know who to blame: the diet industry.... bad research, nonexistent (or poorly done) follow-ups to bad research, bias studies paid for by corporations with something to sell and something to gain from the results, and a culture that values aesthetics over function every damn day.
And I know who NOT to blame: my wife for her casual inquiry... or myself, for reacting the way I did.
This is the culture we live in. And it's bullshit. And it makes me angry that it has so much damn power. But how much power does it have really? Only as much as we allow it to.
I've worked hard to live an embodied and confident life. And all of that work can be undone in an instant.
I'm telling you this story because no matter how far along this path to self-love you are, no matter how hard you work at learning to love yourself and your body - there are going to be moments, days, weeks or longer where it doesn't feel right or natural to be okay with yourself as you are.
But you know what? That shit is temporary. If you allow it to be.
You can let these moments happen. You can be kind and compassionate with yourself when you react the way that I did. You can let yourself have those moments. You can acknowledge the discomfort. Allow it to unfold. Breathe. And then you can step back on your self-love path when you feel ready. You can do that.
And so can I.