Operation Beautiful

Although my latest couple of posts (with the exception of my Italy recap) have been food-related, this isn’t just a food blog. As I said in my introductory post, I’m trying to be wholly healthy and happy. A healthy mind in a healthy body, right? Well, it’s time to show my fitness/well-being blog roots and talk about a phenomenon that’s been spreading like wildfire amongst most of my favorite fitness blogs. It’s called Operation Beautiful, and if you haven’t heard about it, you should check it out. Now. Go.

I’m going to be honest, here. Operation Beautiful is the sort of thing that makes me feel uncomfortable. I am – and always have been – the type of person who finds it difficult to express her feelings, be they positive or negative. I internalize my feelings and become uncomfortable when people get emotional and start having touchy-feely talks. I’d rather watch a science fiction movie than some feel-good romantic comedy any day of the week. So, by all rights, Operation Beautiful should be anathema to me.

But the thing is, it’s not. Although anyone who knows me in “real life” would describe me as sarcastic and a bit cynical, deep down I’m a big softy. I think I’m just, at the core of things, fearful of exposing myself to the world. So I keep it light. I’m the girl who makes jokes in the middle of a stressful situation, the girl who seems to be smiling at the oddest times. But underneath all that exterior crap, I’m hypersensitive and easily bruised.

And that’s why I’m participating in Operation Beautiful.

You are beautiful. Yes, you.

I spent many years of my teenage life struggling with horribly low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. I couldn’t look in a mirror without finding flaws – my ears were too big and my arms were too skinny and oh God I was hideous. I felt like the “before” version of the girl who gets made over in one of those obnoxious teen movies – glasses? Check. Braces? Check. Freckles and curly hair? Double check. The thing is, I internalized it all, perpetuating the feelings of self-hatred. Nobody who knew me then would probably have guessed at how much I hated myself.

And that’s why Operation Beautiful is so important. I don’t believe in fat acceptance; I believe in body acceptance. We come in too many shapes and sizes to view one ideal as perfect for anybody. Guess what? I’ve been skinny since day one, but has that changed the fact that I felt that my body was all wrong when I was a teenager? Hell to the N-O!

I remember the first time someone called my arms “sticklike.” I was 12 years old, just beginning that oh-so-delightful journey into puberty, and I was mortified. Suddenly I realized that people’s perceptions of me were based on my body, and my body was distinctly Not Normal. I was months away from junior high, and suddenly the fact that I’d always been in the lowest percentile of weight for my height had new meaning. In seventh grade, my band teacher came up to me in the middle of class and said, apropos of absolutely nothing, “Kelly, people used to think I was anorexic when I was your age, too.” Wait, people thought I was anorexic?! This was news to me! I remember feeling so embarrassed during the rest of that class and for the rest of that day. I quit band after seventh grade, largely because I had no desire to be around the woman who, along with another kid who made fun of me on the schoolbus, had helped shatter my self-esteem.

I felt this way for much of high school. When people flippantly tossed off comments about this model or that movie star looking “anorexic” or “emaciated,” I died a little inside. I saw myself in those women, in their bony collarbones and protruding hipbones. Unlike most of them, however, I was healthy. I ate well and I wasn’t completely sedentary. My body was just meant to be skinny. But somehow, people felt justified in coming up to me and commenting on my weight, in telling me to “put some meat on my bones.” I’m sure these people would never be so rude as to comment on an overweight person’s size, yet apparently skinniness gives people license to say whatever they want. I call bullshit. I realize now that these people are just ignorant and rude, but at the time all I felt was painful shame towards my body.

It’s taken me a long time, but I’ve mostly recovered from those painful years of internalized self-hatred. I know that this is who I am meant to be. During my amazing four years at Carleton, I met supportive friends and a boy who didn’t seem to find fault with my skinniness. Yet even today, taking the message of Operation Beautiful to heart and saying “I am beautiful” makes me cringe a little bit. I still don’t feel like I deserve to be attached to that word. And I’m betting that my feelings are pretty damn similar to women all around the world, fat women and skinny women and women in between. And that is why this is so important. Because we’re all in this together, folks.

So, yesterday I walked to the local branch of my city’s library, armed with my own Operation Beautiful notes. I smiled at the librarian as I walked in and headed to the shelves. I pretended to browse amongst the stacks, picking up Craig Ferguson’s book and thumbing through it as I surreptitiously looked around. I mosied my way towards the back wall of shelves, turned the corner, and found the magazine rack. I picked up one magazine, Self, and covertly slipped my Operation Beautiful note between the pages. Then another, this time in Elle. And, finally, one in Prevention.

I left the library smiling.

Mens sana in corpore sano…

It’s taken me a long time to find my “thing.”

If you’re like me and obsessively read vegan/health/fitness blogs, you’ll know what I mean. Katie has her chocolate, Angela has her glo[w], and Susan has her remarkable talent for inventing delicious fat-free recipes. I started a food blog over at Blogspot a while ago, but I just wasn’t feeling it – there was nothing special about it, and eventually I got bored just posting about food. So I started this blog with vague notions that it’d be more holistic, that I’d talk about my path to healthiness and how that path is not centered around food alone. But I still wasn’t feeling it, and after a couple of lackluster posts I sort of ignored my newborn blog, feeling guilty yet not quite guilty enough to post.

And then I read At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (a surreal and hilarious book, by the by, that I’d recommend to anyone who enjoys Irish fiction and thinks that Joyce is overrated) and suddenly I knew what my “thing” would be. It’s stupid, really, that it took my reading a completely random book to figure it out, because it’s not like “mens sana in corpore sano” is a saying that’s unknown or anything; it’s pretty common! But, hey, I’ll take it. As soon as I read the bit of dialogue where one character quotes that aphorism, I literally got all wide-eyed and excited – “a healthy mind in a healthy body” is an absolutely perfect way to describe what I’d like to achieve.

See, I think I’ve got the healthy mind part down. I just graduated from Carleton College, a fairly unknown yet highly selective, challenging and utterly fantastic small liberal arts college in Northfield, Minnesota, the town of “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment.” I now have my BA in English, various honors, and 16 years of institutional learning behind me. I think I’ve got the healthy mind covered.

But it’s the healthy body part that’s stopping me up. I’ve made great strides towards healthiness recently, but I’m not there yet. I’ve been vegetarian for four years, but basically eat vegan these days, and I’ll make the “official” switch soon. I took yoga during my last term at college and fell in love, and I’m trying to add strength training and cardio workouts to my daily life. I want that healthy body to match my healthy mind, gosh darn it, and this blog will chronicle my path to holistic healthiness.

Before I wrap up this little introductory post, though, I’d just like to add one more thing, and I’ll elaborate on it further in another post if need be. This is not a weight loss blog. There will be no calorie-counting, pounds-lost-recording, or fat-complaining here. I want to get fit, not to lose weight. Thanks to genetics, I have been skinny all my life, and now I’d like to become toned and truly fit. I hope this doesn’t alienate anyone reading my blog – everyone’s journey to healthiness is different; some of us need to lose weight, and others need to gain it to be truly healthy. I recognize that, and I hope that those who are on trying to lose weight can recognize and respect those of us on the other end of the spectrum. Weight is such a touchy, controversial issue, and it really shouldn’t be. If I ever do count calories or quantify my weight, it will be for a very specific purpose which I will make clear in my post.

So I guess that’s it – I’ve made the trek from Blogspot to WordPress, expanded my horizons, am about to embark on a quest to become wholly healthy, and I couldn’t be happier!

Ciao for now!
Kelly