My Left Foot Doesn't Work Right, and Yeah, I Still Have Body Issues, But I'm About to Be 32 and I've Come A Long Way Baby

On the almost-eve of my 32nd birthday, I've been thinking a lot about the 20 year evolution that my mind and body have taken.
Publish date:
September 6, 2013
body, aging, body issues

Fun Fact: If you stabbed me in my left pinky toe, I wouldn't feel it.

I've broken my left foot enough times that I've lost most of the feeling in my left pinky toe and I can sooner twirl plates to the "Benny Hill" theme song than stand for any remarkable period of time on only my left foot.

As I've often noted, I'm very accident prone, and though my physical therapists and doctors have said I'll recover eventually (mentally, physically, whatever-ly), I've become pretty OK with the body that I have the privilege of ambling around in.

What I've been more at odds with is the resilience of my mind and how it deals with my body. I'm about to turn 32, and it's been a long road to get to where I feel like I have a right to offer any sort of commentary on body positivity.

It's not an easy thing to admit, but fear has been a dominant thing in my life for as long as I can remember (you could even say I'm "fearful" of admitting it). Maybe it's because I'm a die hard (recovering) perfectionist, but a motivating factor in my life has always been fear -- of rejection, ridicule, judgment -- you name it, I trembled at it.

For a large part of my life, I've been afraid of my body.

I wasn't an especially timid kid. I dreamt of being an Olympic equestrian/the female Steve Martin/a whale trainer, and held no thought of body image or size acceptance. "Size acceptance? What's that? I'm this size, and you're that size, what of it?"

This all changed when I was 12, almost 13, and I was on a family trip to Hong Kong for my grandmother's funeral.

At this point in my life, the scale was simply an apparatus that the doctor used to compare my height to my weight. The numbers held no real significance to me, and my body was merely the conduit through which I trotted through life.

When we got to our hotel, a swanky establishment that my uncle, some big shot at the company who owned it, had gotten us, I notice a shiny digital scale in the bathroom. Of course I climbed aboard to investigate.

The next couple minutes of my adolescence are burned in my brain, and unbeknownst to my family, dictated the next 15 years of my life.

The scale read "120 pounds." My dad, who in his defense has mellowed into one of the kindest, most supportive men in my life, peeked over my shoulder and announced loudly, "Wow! You weigh THAT much? You better watch it, you don't want to get even heavier!"

It was like "The Wizard of Oz." Things suddenly went from black and white to harsh, cruelly unforgiving color.

To this day, my dad has no idea how much his words impacted my young brain at that moment, and if I knew then, what I know now, I would have said something. But instead a jolt of mortification ran through my body, and in an instant, I felt my first pangs of what I can now articulate as shame.

I was so embarrassed of my body.

From that moment on, when I looked in the mirror, instead of seeing myself -- a tall-for-my age, athletic girl with a penchant for all things tie-dye and neon -- I saw a body whose thighs touched, and whose tummy was unacceptably round. I was "me" and I was "my body," two separate entities.

That night I started obsessively doing crunches, 200 in the evening, 150 in the morning. Counting calories and fat grams became an essential part of daily life. I scoured lady mags for weight loss secrets, and I started drinking black coffee because it was supposed to speed up your metabolism. I read somewhere that no meal you ate should have more than something like nine grams of fat in it (!!!), so I subsisted on "Snackwells" low fat cookies and beef jerky. I was in a very bad mood for a very long time.

Throughout middle school and high school, I would regularly report my weight to my parents.

"I made it down to 115! I'm down to 108! I'm only 102 pounds!"

"Keep it up," my dad would say, "You don't want to gain it back!" His approval, and that of my openly jealous girlfriends was intoxicating. Fear of failing, of letting down my dad and losing the control I had fought so hard to attain was a compelling force.

I remember one of the highlights of my freshman year of high school was when I was at a friend's house for a sleep over. We decided to play a game called "Slam," something one of us had seen on "The Real World: London." On little slips of paper, you wrote down things you hated about the other people you were playing with, mixed them up in a bowl, then read the hate-facts out loud. The "game" was to guess who the nasty remark was about. This was an incredibly healthy way to spend our time.

The highlight of my night came when a piece of paper was pulled and my friend read, "I hate her perfect body and her size 2 jeans, and that she never seems to eat anything." All eyes went to me, and though I pretended to laugh it off and roll my eyes, inside I was giddy. "MY WORK IS PAYING OFF!!!"

Time shuffled on and my body changed. Hips, boobs, periods -- all that stuff threatened to undo my work. I would do "Reebok" Step Aerobics workout tapes, and swim laps between play rehearsals and tennis team practice. I loved food, but I feared the loss of control so much that while I'd afford myself the reward of a gooey, greasy, Tex-Mex dinner, the days after would secretly be spent counting back the calories and fat grams I'd so "carelessly" fed to my body.

I played this game of control until I hit college, when for a brief period of time, I turned a blind eye to that obsessive self control and just wallowed in what felt good. It all came bounding back to bitch-slap me in the face, when, none of my clothes fit and the fear that I was "disgusting" and "a failure" vetoed every bite of nourishment I took (or did not take).

The following few years were spent alternately fearing that I was never going to be in control again or fearing that I would LOSE control again. It wasn't until I was 27 that I finally threw up my hands in surrender and made the conscious decision to "see what happens."

And stuff happened.

I got bigger, I got smaller, I got bigger, I got sick, I got well. My foot broke twice, and twice I healed.

Somewhere in there, the fear quieted down. I don't know if it's realizing that -- surprise! -- the health of my mind is connected to the health of my body, but I've gained back a little of that "elementary school Louise." The Louise who relishes the pleasure of doing something, as opposed to how her body LOOKS doing it.

On the almost-eve of my 32nd birthday, I've been thinking a lot about the 20-year evolution that my mind and body have taken. I've gone from not thinking about my body, to obsessing about it, to indulging it, to breaking it (in so many ways), and now, from where I sit, I think I can say I'm grateful for it.

New fears have replaced old ones and I'd being lying if I said I always have a grip on them. But the enmity between "me" and "my body" is mostly a memory. A strong, often painful memory, but no longer a force of my everyday.

In so many ways I'm proud of the way I've picked myself up over my 32 years. And while I'm still walking around on fragile bones and fears, for the first time in a long time, I'm not really afraid to move forward, and just "see what happens."