There’s nothing quite like the Sound and Fury that occurs when someone posts an unflattering photo of me online. Gasps of horror. Rending of clothes. Gnashing of teeth. Hurling of curses.
Coach Dave has experienced this phenomenon. So many times, in fact, that for a while he stopped posting pics of me altogether, in fear I’m sure for his nards.
And he’s not the only one who’s been cast as the villain in one of my photo-melodramas.
But I’ve been trying to be more evolved about it, you know? Trying not to let my appearance define me. Trying to own my body exactly as it is. Trying to let go of the idea that my physical imperfections mean I’ll die alone, surrounded by empty Nutella jars, having grown into my bedframe.
It’s hard though.
There’s no preparing yourself for online candid photos. I don’t know about you, but every time I round the corner from the living room toward the full-length mirror outside the bathroom, I stand up a little taller, maybe suck in my gut an inch. Without even thinking about it! Same when I walk past store windows. And if someone points a camera in my direction, I automatically pull my shoulders back and jut my jaw to minimize my chinny-chin-chins. In other words, I curate my appearance for myself. Often subconsciously.
But the candid ones, the ones that get snapped when I’m at the bottom of a front squat or hunting for that Frito that dropped into my lap, posted and tagged on Facebook, offered right up to all my acquaintances and exes, those are the ones that leave me shaking my fists at the sky.
After the meet, Dave was sure he had one in the bag. He posted a photo of me on Facebook and commented that it looked so badass that I couldn’t possibly argue with him about it.
I believe my comment was: Dave, you’re the worst.
He deleted it immediately, so immediately that he didn’t see my follow-up comment: You can leave it. I need to get over myself.
I sent him a message saying I would have to learn to deal with this insanity, that he was off the hook, that he could post whatever he wanted, that it would be a good Zen exercise in letting go of things I couldn’t control.
P.S. You’re not the worst. You’re the best.
You believe in me when I don’t believe in myself. You see me in a different way from how I see myself.
You’re the best.
I’m the worst.
He wrote back and reminded me how much progress I’ve made and told me he’d always be there to support me. (I’m kinda choking up here as I write this…?)
So let’s talk about what he saw vs. what I saw.
He saw me doing something in spite of my fear.
He saw me competing.
He saw me dropping into a squat under 123 pounds.
When I take them out of the context of, you know, myself, those seem like pretty badass things to do.
But all I saw was a goofy nostril shot and two fucking Redwoods attached at my hipbones.
So large. My legs looked so large. Sometimes, with time, the sting goes out of a thing, but weeks went by, and they were still all I could see when I looked at the photo.
And then ten days ago, Dustin Hoffman made the cyber-rounds.
Three minutes and eleven seconds of deep, deep shit about beauty and expectations and assumptions in our culture. And how he was brainwashed into believing that beautiful women were worth more than un-beautiful women.
And I thought, I’ve been brainwashed to think that my legs are not beautiful. I’ve been brainwashed—by my society, yes, but I myself haven’t exactly raged against the machine, have I?—to believe that their circumference and composition make them repulsive. Unacceptable. To be changed.
But you know what their circumference and composition actually make them?
Perfectly functional ones, in fact.
They say a lesson presents itself to you until you’ve learned it, and I keep thinking I’ve learned this one—honest, I do. I get super-mad at myself when I realize I haven’t. (That’s helpful.)
But I guess here’s the part I didn’t get before: The lesson can’t really be learned as long as I’m still brainwashed. I’m going to have to un-brainwash myself, or maybe brainwash myself in a different way.
How do I do that…?
Looking in the mirror and repeating, “My legs are OK exactly as they are,” feels real Stuart Smalley, but that… that might be what it takes.
OK, now you go. What have you been brainwashed into thinking?