Sunday, December 27, 2009

RE: What does it mean to have a "good" body?

December 27, 2009

Pop culture and the media provide a great tandem impetus to check-out your belief systems, if nothing else. How do you feel about the whole "being famous for being famous" style of coverage and what, exactly, are we promoting with respect to young women and their own belief systems about themselves? This all got me thinking and, let's face it, everything gets me thinking, about myself and what I really think is a "good" body. Thus, what follows is a newly published (today) by The Union essay on just this topic and it's aptly titled, "The Good Body."
A good body. As a female in American society I’m only too aware of the term and the discrepancy between the concept and its reality. When I was a teenager a “good body” was much more important than a good mind and, in fact, it was the highest compliment that could be paid. While guys strove for a six-pack abdominal region and tight rearend, girls were to be small in stature, though shapely and symmetrical in all measurements. You know – natural looking.
The importance of the good body concept diminished as the years gained momentum until I hit my forties. But it wasn’t age that brought it back to the forefront of my awareness, but rather a challenge. A big, scary, mysterious health challenge. Oh, I’ve had health scares in my life before. It doesn’t seem as though you get to be over thirty without having some sort of medical history to talk about. I’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumor which turned out to be benign, experienced a high risk pregnancy that threatened both my daughter’s and my own life and my immune system has crashed more times than Windows NT, but I have always prevailed, known exactly what I was dealing with and relied upon my body to heal. And it did. Until my introduction to a controversial condition known as lyme disease.
Controversial because tests are unreliable, the medical community is often skeptical and the patients frequently remain untreated because of lack of awareness. The illness began as lyme disease so often does -- with a tick bite -- in my case, two tick bites because I’m an overachiever. I had no evidence of a bullseye rash whatsoever. I joked at the time, “At least I don’t see legs,” not knowing in my ignorance that it’s those small neophyte ticks that are really the beastliest of them all. It would be another three months before I would collapse entirely, landing in the emergency room and experiencing my health insurance and all of its many options.
As with any disease in its beginning “diagnosis” phase it’s a time to question everything; the symptoms, the treatment, the future. Lyme patients are often told they are simply “stressed out,” wanting attention and it’s nothing a Xanax won’t cure. The only problem is simply saying “you’re not sick,” doesn’t make it so. I was forced to acknowledge my illness and the woman who had previously challenged her body every chance she could, relying upon its innate ability to accomplish the seemingly impossible, was forced to watch this same body fail her as it refused to take direction or even small suggestions.
As I traipsed from doctor to doctor, watching my hand shake with intention tremors, hanging on to surfaces in order to accomplish simple tasks, sleeping the days away, struggling to grasp a cohesive thought, I couldn’t believe my body was letting me down. How could it not fight this? It had fought everything else I had ever thrown at it. I trudged around my local public library amassing books on the topic of lyme disease, accessed every on-line lyme disease website and contacted a lyme disease support group whose members empathetically validated my struggles. It was only after taking all of these steps that I began to gain an understanding of what disease is really like and how to heal. I needed to rely upon my body. My good body.
Through the trauma of my illness I gained an understanding like no other. It would be months before I was able to drag myself up onto a treadmill, death gripping the apparatus so tightly my knuckles turned white as I chanted my mantra, “This is good for my body. This is good for my body,“ appearing to all the world as though I were riding a bucking bronco. But I persevered. I wouldn’t give up. Because it was just me and this body. We were in this together.
I discovered what a good body I have, although it sure doesn’t look like what you would think. It’ll never grace one page of a “Victoria’s Secret” catalog. This good body is often overweight, pasty looking and symmetrically off. But it’s a good body like no other. My body has rallied through a disease that has taken me to the depths of despondency, stopping off at the contemplation of my mortality. And yet, there’s that body. Every morning. Every day. Willing to give it another go. Willing to submit to aggressive treatments. Willing to sustain a rigorous regimen of mega antibiotics. Willing to submit to daily exercise, though a trip to the grocery store constituted an aerobic feat. Willing to heal in the face of an illness that often does not grant that opportunity.
As I sit here and contemplate the rest of my life, my health, my purpose, I have a new love. Added to my passionate love for my supportive family is my new love of my body. It possesses a seemingly limitless ability to sustain me even when I don’t know how to give clear cues. What is a good body, really? We don’t need the media to tell us. We don’t need a lover to tell us. We don’t need a plastic surgeon to tell us. Our body will tell us. Just take a look in a full-length mirror. That’s exactly what a good body looks like.

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