Today, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror of Barnes and Noble for an embarrassingly long amount of time. Three minutes. Five. Ten. Why? Yesterday I finally “caved” – I went to the thrift store and bought a whole new set of pants, having barely managed to squeeze myself into my last pair of “fat” pants no longer.

I needed to up my size. I learned in the dressing room the need was even more drastic than I thought.

This was a bit of a shock – to go from a zero to a six  – (holy I’ve been squeezing Batman) and so I found myself poking and prodding for days afterward.

How different do I now look?

Honestly I have no idea.

And am I any more or less attractive than I was before?

Well. That’s subjective, but I am feeling damn adamant that it’s about the same.

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To assert in the title of this post that you lack objectivity is, I know, offensive. I apologize. Nonetheless I am certain the statement is true – it is literally impossible for me to see myself (and for you to see yourself) outside of my own current situation and time. As human beings, just as it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to other people, it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to a way we have been in the past or how we anticipate we might be in the future.

We have no objective standards. It is beyond important for us to realize this fact.

To help demonstrate to you just how powerful this phenomenon can be, I have compiled a wide variety of comparisons of different photos of myself taken at various points in time.  Below are two photos posted with comments on them: one set from the context in which the photo was taken — the then — (so if the photo was taken in 2011, I share my thoughts from 2011), and then one set from today, the now.

Today I look back on photos in which I had thought I was egregiously overweight, bloated, jiggly, or poorly shaped and I think either ‘healthy wow’ or “skinny wow” – two sets of thoughts that were completely beyond my my current, unobjective, fearful mind.

Will I do the same thing in the future with my current self? Will I, over time, come to view the body I am in in this moment in 2014 as even more worthy of admiration and love and beauty than I do now? Will I look back and think all of my “bad” days were so unbelievably uncalled for?

Almost definitely.

I am not objective.

I do not pretend to be.

First up are photos from my pre-weight loss days.

Fall of 2009, right before I shed thirty pounds in three months, so I weighed approximately 135-7 pounds. Here, I am participating in a (unorthodox) wilderness evacuation group, having the time of my life, and in extraordinarily good health and fitness, as I lifted heavy things and climbed mountains all day every day:

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Spring of 2008:

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Fall of 2007: Hiking the Great Wall – after a whole summer of living and doing trailwork in the Colorado wilderness.

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In retrospect, I looked good, and happy, and healthy.

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Then come the post-weight loss double-zero, lean years, in which I maintain my attitude of being hyper critical and fearful:

 This photo is from the Spring of 2011, from my go-go dancing days:

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The fall of 2010:

 

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This photo is from the winter of 2011, in which I thought I was having a “fat month” intermission during the lean years:

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Spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:

 

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Okay, the fact that I was worried about being “fat” in these photos is scary.

Also the spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:

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This photo is from the summer of 2013, right before my recent complete fertility and regular menstruation-gaining weight gain:

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Then are the photos I have taken of myself since the weight gain. Since they are so recent I do not have “then” and “now” selections, but I do have “bad brain” and “good brain.”

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From the thrift store when I was trying on new pants – checking in on how far apart my feet now need to be for the gap:

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This photo is from last weekend, taken at 4am in the hallway of a Latin dance conference in Chicago, at which, of course, I was so happy:

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So there you have it. What are some takeaways?

-You probably saw a woman much healthier and lovelier than I ever did/do – then, now, good brain, bad brain. Though I think I’m getting the hang of it now.

-Thighs are a big deal for me. We all have that one “big deal” flaw or what-have-you that is the most important to us.

In fact, this point is worth delving into a bit, since a study I participated in in college demonstrated that we seek in and judge other people the things that we are so attentive to as flaws in our own selves. So I immediately look at people’s skin and their thighs when I “judge” them – or at least these are the characteristics that stand out – because I focus so intently on my own.

Crazy, huh?

-When I was 137 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs, though I guess that’s not apparent in these photos – and every time I looked at these photos on facebook I winced, thinking other people would find me unattractive.

-When I was 105 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs – and every time I looked at these photos I felt bad about myself, like I wasn’t winning the skinny game.

-When I returned to 130+ pounds in 2013 I still had bad days, but the good days significantly outnumber them. “Bad brain” tries to pick apart my body and put it into these tiny, scrutinizable, dissectable pieces, but “good brain” says “hell no, woman, you are healthy and whole, inclusive of every piece of you.”

-Fear robs us of love and objectivity. In my current body, I am so afraid of being judged and rejected as substandard. But in hindsight – having already lived the time – I look back on it knowing that everything was perfectly fine and healthy.

-Even in a case in which I/we look back and find myself in less good health, I can still see how my fear made me feel unacceptable, but I needn’t have felt that way, since everything was just plain okay. And I am on a continuously evolving, surprising journey. 

-Life is not neat. It is messy. This fact can be scary, but it can also be quite lovely and liberating. Looking at photos of like this demonstrates how much our bodies change even while our reactions to and fear about our bodies stays the same. I have the same fears and anxiety at 130 pounds as I did at 105, and at 137. Of course there are differences, but my anxiety about it all has always been present. Knowing this fact teaches me a bit more each day to let go of control and embrace each day as it is.

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Okay! Whoopah. What do you think?

Also, I talk about these things at great length in Sexy by Natureand I am giving away free copies and sharing parts of the book at the blog post here (!). So check it out and get free stuff.

 

 

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