Just got back from having head-to-toe pictures taken of my naked body. Don’t get too excited. The photo shoot involved a kind, quiet, sandal-clad hippie chick taking unflattering shots of me whilst I stood on a wooden step under blinding white studio lights somewhere deep in the bowels of New York Hospital. The photos will serve as a baseline to help me and my doctors monitor my skin for any new moles or changes to existing spots. 2 weeks ago I had a benign melanocytic lesion taken out of my left calf. It’s a common condition and an easy procedure. We’re being extra cautious given the fact that my Dad has melanoma. Why mess around?
It occurred to me that, pre-cancerous spots notwithstanding, I’ve become pretty comfortable in my own skin in recent years. Part of it is that I appreciate health ─ my own and that of those I love ─ more than I ever did. You see enough people get sick and/or die, you realize that health is a precious gift … one that ought to be treasured. So I don’t focus on the stuff that used to vex me about my own personage … my increasingly l – o – n – g boobs, my galactic pores, the proliferating wrinkles around my eyes, the five to ten pounds I fluctuate, and the excessive body hair I rock in unfeminine places. Overall, I think the full package works. Perfect? No. But it’s me, and it’s real.
Another part of it is that I live in my body quite a bit now, whereas in the past I lived in my head almost 100% of the time. The stepping stone for that one was marathoning. In 2003, I found myself at a low point – depressed with my social life, hating my job, wondering why I wasn’t living the life I thought I wanted. I needed an escape … something external and physical to throw myself into, to become obsessed with, to give me a purpose for a little while. Some people choose relationships for this — dating, marrying, parenting. Some choose their jobs. Others choose hobbies like knitting, riding, yoga, woodworking. For me, it was running.
Training did great things for me – physically, emotionally, and psychically. After the first marathon, I hired a physical trainer to help me strengthen my knees and prepare for the second. Working with him, I learned how to use almost every machine in the gym, and how to design exercise routines that build muscles and help keep me strong and feeling good. I don’t know if I’ll run any more marathons, but I’m pretty sure I’ll keep making exercise a priority in my life. Before we started working together, I was intimidated by the gym and the whole “fitness industry” in general. (Side note: If a healthy, athletic, educated 20-something marathon runner feels inadequate, imagine how others must feel!) I thought the gym was the domain of stronger men and skinnier women … and I didn’t belong. Man, was I ever wrong. Now I know better. But it took patience to come to this realization. The key was not letting myself be deterred. Just jumping in to try something and not worrying about looking weak or stupid or lame. I think this is the key to basically everything. Love, even.
In the beginning I had to summon the mantra of my beloved high school physics teacher: “Fake it, just fake it.”
“But it’s physics,” we’d complain.
He wouldn’t budge. It was the whole concept of “acting as if.” Not sure how good that really works with physics, but regardless we all got by and finished the class.
Lately I’ve been trying to do one thing a day that scares me. (Side note: sounds very Oprah-ish, doesn’t it? She didn’t become a billionaire humanitarian by accident, so I figure – not a bad person to emulate.) Years ago, taking off my clothes and letting a stranger photograph me would have been pretty damned uncomfortable. Today, thanks to time and experience, it was interesting rather than scary. It’s weird once you get somewhat of a handle on your fears. While I was super comfy joking with an uber-powerful honcho in an elevator the other day, I was paralyzed with fear when I encountered that cute guy sitting next to me on the plane. Certain defenses and self-protection mechanisms that served a purpose long ago are not needed anymore, yet the fear persists and is still very powerful. The best we can do is be kind to ourselves and each other and keep trying to grow up and be brave. As I read in a book yesterday, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”