Self care is doing hard things: The beauty of constraint, and my belly.
I am three months and some change into this 5 month trip, and haven’t really written about the experience (except on this especially confident-sounding day). I’ve hardly posted on my Instagram or Facebook pages, and I certainly haven’t created the travel blog I expected to write during this time. Am I keeping all the travel glory to myself? Am I having a horrible time, or the time of my life? From my social-media and blog presence, nobody would ever be able to tell. I have a secret: I’m feeling really embarrassed.
Before embarking on this extended voyage, I expected to share all my secrets to travel success with a young child. I planned on showing you all what I packed in the ONE suitcase that I’m sharing with the kiddo, as well as my favorite and least favorite items I toted along. Oh, and I’d look really good in all these photos, too. Prior to travel, I seem to forget that it’s not all about living simple and carefree and becoming some new person. Yeah, travel changes you but you’re definitely still the same person. Somehow, I seem to forget this. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to be living with much less, and imagined that amazing feeling of spaciousness within me as I soaked up the Mediterranean sun. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful of this experience, and have had beautiful days and life-changing experiences, but travel is a challenge and it brings up a lot of “stuff”, and it knocked me out a little. That, and all my “stuff” became useless crap that actually hurt my feelings, and the “spaciousness” mostly comprised of my belly.
So, my embarrassment all started when I blew my fat pants to smithereens and mooned a bunch of people in Valencia, Spain.
Except, that’s not really the embarrassing part. My weight fluctuates, and I should be used to this, but this time I took it very personally. In photos of me in beautiful places, all I see is my mid-section flopping over my too-tight jeans. I have been obsessed with how my extra dozen pounds look on me to a degree that I am completely ashamed of. In fact, I am completely offended by my own thoughts. I am fat-shaming myself…a total disservice to me, everyone around me and womankind at large (no pun intended, honestly).
Worse, it’s not just my body I have been overly scrutinizing, but everything about my looks. (“Ugh! My hair is too short and mousey! My eyebrows look weird! Do I have jowls!?”) I’ve even questioned how my husband could still love me. Ouch. I honestly wouldn’t throw myself a bone. This complete horseshit attitude is what is really embarrassing. I should know better… and not just because I’m 34 and Jesus, get a grip woman! But also because I feel my mission is to teach confidence and ease, and reveal the truth of natural beauty and what it truly is. Whatever that really means….I guess I get so far down that rabbit-hole that I lose all sense of direction.
I am having a hard time approaching my mid-30s, not because I don’t want to age, but because I’m not aging as gracefully and sexily as I had hoped (to whose standards and where the bar is set, I don’t even know.) Mostly, I haven’t been aging as confidently as I would like. Lately, I’ve been feeling frumpy and invisible, and my esteem has felt so bad that I am shocked at my inner-dialogue. I have been speaking to myself in the self-sabotaging way that I warn against in 21 Days, except instead of skin issues, I am pretty sure I am creating weight-issues. I have put myself on a diet (first time ever), but am beginning to overly-identify as a “34 year old frumpy mom, trying desperately to diet but failing, failing, failing”, which inevitably will set me up for failure (ok, so it’s only been a couple weeks, and I haven’t actually failed.) I know that acceptance and grace with my body as it changes is a healthier and more productive environment to foster positive and healthy change, instead, I am focused on “I can’t lose weight like I used to…it’s all rolling downhill from here, manatee”. (For the record, manatees are fucking beautiful.)
So, for weeks I wore my ill-fated “fat pants”, a pair of cheap jeans I got in Montreal until my nicer, “skinny-me” jeans would fit me properly again. I gave myself 6 weeks to go from a 30 waist to a 27 (my “normal” jean-size range). Yes, I fully expected to lose weight while travelling. It could have happened, since I was walking a ton every day, but I guess that wasn’t enough to justify my diet of veggie paella, wine, oranges and chocolate. Until one day at breakfast, I split my jeans from seam to seam, right under my butt cheek. Talk about a blow to the ego: I just blew apart my “fat pants” while innocently eating a tostada. I wore my baggy yoga/lounge pants to the zoo that day with a plaid shirt, feeling foolish and blatantly un-stylish among the effortlessly beautiful Spanish women. I was the lumberjack mom among fashion-model mothers, oh and hey, did you know I WORK IN THE BEAUTY INDUSTRY?! Talk about feeling like a fraud.
I was distraught and obsessed. I didn’t really want to shop for all-new wardrobe for my blossoming body, but I felt the weight of carrying around my “skinny-me” jeans as though they were physically tied to my mid-section. The fact that my expensive Patagonia sweater looked ridiculous on me (I swore it shrunk in the wash!), or that my jacket had trouble zipping were equally troubling. Every morning was a battle to dress me, like a toddler, I was unwilling to attempt to squeeze into clothes. I truly didn’t know what to do about myself, and like an outer-body experience, watched myself flail desperately around in a situation that really didn’t need to be so dramatic. I was taking this so hard, but I knew I didn’t need it to be so rough. It was the fact that I was “away from home” that made it all so much more complicated to me. I had nothing to ground me, no safety, nowhere to hide clothes that no longer fit.
I finally decided it was time to take control and relented and got some jeans that fit me, about a week before leaving for Kuwait. I finally had normal human pants that weren’t ridiculous-feeling to wear outside. Immediate boost to confidence ensued. I felt contained and safe in my pants and then I then knew exactly what I needed to do. I had to stop making decisions. Bad decisions, good decisions. All of it. I clearly had lost some control over what I was doing to myself and needed to be taken care of. I needed constraint: black and white rules about what I could and couldn’t do. I decided to do yoga every damn day, and I have been now for over 50 days. I decided to follow Tim Ferris’ slow carb diet (I’m doing my best with it). I made my husband stash my skinny-me jeans in his suitcase so I wouldn’t see them and their taunting, mocking pant-faces (he ditched them in Spain for all I care now).
These things have made a surprising difference with how I feel about myself. Although I’ve only lost a miniscule amount of weight over these past few weeks, feeling some control over the situation, having certain rules, have stopped me from feeling like I’m not even trying (and therefore, why try?). It helps me feel safe, like knowing that I don’t have to decide if someone were to offer me a cigarette (I just don’t smoke, ever). Constraint helps me feel that I am taking care of myself by setting certain boundaries and adopting a new frame of mind. My yoga isn’t a habit, it’s just what I do every day, so it doesn’t matter if I just unroll my mat and do downward dog for 10 seconds or if I do a full hour session. I just do yoga every day, no big deal, and the best part is how it affects my body when I’m not “doing” the yoga: better posture, better breathing, better brain. Daily yoga is a constraint, just as my awareness of my diet is. I manage what I consume, without obsession, but with awareness. There are certain constraints that help making decisions when ordering at a restaurant easier, or whether I should have second helpings. Constraint removes guilt. It removes difficult decisions, and it makes adopting healthier habits easier.
Constraint the beauty of editing in order to feel more freedom with yourself.