um...internet, i have a confession.
i have body image issues.
no big surprise, i know. i'm a woman in my mid-twenties who lives in the united states. in los angeles. in the 21st century. kind of the spawning ground for body image issues.
but i'm not brining it up to place blame on location, age, or even society or culture.
i bring it up because i realize that i've always had these body image issues, and my geography in recent years has served those issues in different ways.
as a college student, my weight yo-yo-ed pretty regularly, depending on my activities, eating habits (i toyed with vegetarianism for a few months, during which i lost about 15 pounds, but then gained it all back pretty quickly), schedule, relationships, etc. i've never been "overweight", but i've had enough cushion for the pushin' to make me uncomfortable in a bathing suit. i also started smoking in college, which, tho i did not realize it at the time, would play a huge role in my weight issues.
eating was not so much a "comfort" in college, as it was pure sustenance. and, given my class/extra-curricular schedule, sustenance usually came late-night in burrito form. not healthy. i did not have healthy habits, and pretty much ate what i could right before i passed out from low blood-sugar in order to continue working myself into exhaustion. at this point, i did not think about my "body image issues" in those terms. sure, i knew i needed/wanted to work out, but there were NOT ENOUGH hours in the day, and i remember thinking "as soon as school's out, i'll get into shape". it could wait. the culture of college allowed this attitude. "everyone gains weight in school". the implication being, to me, that "real life" and therefore "real life habits and behaviors" could wait until after i donned that cap and gown.
i was at my heaviest as i graduated from college and headed to new york. the weight quickly dropped, as i was walking everywhere, smoking like a chimney, and frequently could not afford full meals. heap onto that a healthy dose of loneliness and a splash of depression, and yep, that's a recipe for weight loss for this girl.
eating in new york was a luxury. and, yes, i relished my jutting hip-bones with the same satisfaction that i relished the first cigarette of the day. but, perhaps naively, i still did not see my own relationship with food. even though i was unhappy in new york, i felt sexy as a "skinny" new york girl. the culture in new york, for me, was about going-going-going, about surviving, about being sexy and wearing black (i was ridiculous). it made sense at the time to not be eating regularly (did i mention i was ridiculous). but in all honesty, i didn't think too much about food or weight while in new york. no, i was mostly obsessed with how to make rent...
i maintained my weight pretty well through the san francisco years. the first couple of years in san francisco continued to be lean, financially, which meant that food was seriously budgeted. i was also working anywhere from 2 - 3 jobs at a time, which gave me little time to obsess over my abs, and also meant that i was on the go very regularly, which gave me little to no down time to snack. as the finances balanced, i learned to enjoy cooking and taking my time with my meals. i gained some of the weight i had lost in new york back, but not enough to raise concern. i continued to smoke in san francisco. attempted to quite twice, with little success. i DID start to notice that every time i quit smoking, i would get insanely hungry, and thus i started to fear a bit that quitting would cause a significant weight gain.
eating in san francisco became, very naturally, a part of life. while i still wasn't "working out" regularly, i discovered yoga while living in san francisco, and that helped keep me a little toned, at least. and sane. :) my "body image issues" were practically non-existent, and i remember at one point thinking "thank god i'm not obsessed with my weight. i have enough neuroses". meals were enjoyed, food was a gift and a treat. in san francisco, the other girls i was friends with didn't seem to talk about their weight very often, people seemed more comfortable with and accepting of varying body types. i mean, it's san francisco. it's one of the most politically correct places in the country. i wasn't that concerned. i was also unaware that, apparently, as my mid-twenties approached, i was reaching my shelf-life and that AGE was going to become my enemy (said sarcastically). there were other things to think about. racism! politics! culture! theatre! being active in your community!
that's when i moved to los angeles. um. i don't mean to piss on your silver lining of a cloud, but it's fucking hard to find community here. in fact, it's kind of a lonely city, despite having great friends. i started to SEE myself when i moved to los angeles. and i, frankly, wasn't that impressed with what i saw. surrounded by beautiful actors and actresses, models, ads, hollywood, santa monica (mecca to beautiful people, btw), and the dreaded southern california beaches. i saw myself through different eyes. i felt lumpy. unattractive. started counting calories. complained about my weight a lot to my friends and boyfriend (something i NEVER thought i would do, and god help me, i'm trying not to let it into my relationship). finally joined a gym in order to do something about what i've started viewing as my "disgusting body". obsess over my thighs and compare myself to other women. i had a job when i first moved here that was so awful and demoralizing that i hated myself as much as i've ever hated anything (including manpris. ew) and that certainly didn't help with the self-esteem.
here's the thing: according to the scales at both my doc's office and my gym, i haven't ACTUALLY gained any weight since i moved.
so what's changed? sure, it would be very easy for me to blame the fact that i now live in LA, the capital of beautiful people. it would be easy for me to blame my fashion magazines, which i am OBSESSED with. it would also be easy for me to blame hollywood, with their impossible standards of beauty.
but, you know what? that means i'm not taking any responsibility for myself. yes, i believe there is a double standard about weight and beauty for women vs. men. yes, i believe that hollywood and the fashion industry play a large role in the impossible objectification of beautiful women. however, i also believe that i have some pretty deep-seated self esteem issues that i have never fully explored or worked on. these issues may never have been brought to the surface if i hadn't moved back to LA, and that might have been ok...for awhile. but, as they have now, i suspect they would have continued to manifest themselves in other ways, like, oh, multiple failed relationships with unsuitable partners.
i do not blame LA for GIVING me a complex about my body. i THANK LA for giving me opportunities to balance my life in other healthy ways (like having a successful relationship with a wonderful partner and finding a healthy, successful career) so that i can take the time to view and accept my self-esteem and body image issues.
i now work out 2 - 4 times a week, as my schedule allows, and try to find different activities to keep myself in shape. i'm no where near where i'd like to be. and the issues continue to manifest themselves, especially in social situations that involve bathing suits. but it's getting better, slowly. i'll be there eventually.
my geography changed. the issues didn't. they just got a new niche.