Sunday, September 19, 2010


(PHOTO: Stunned self portrait. "Bed head No. 3")

"Being affirming and self-accepting happens easily if we consciously practice refusing to embrace negative accounts of ourselves and our realities." - bell hooks

I've been doing a lot of work lately, work that has kept me far from the leisurely hours of morning writing. My dissertation work is in full swing now, and I'm beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. As my brain cooks big thoughts, however, my morning bed head has been reflecting back to me the status of my inner mind. Every morning for the last month, I've risen with sloth-like grace, lumbered to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror. My hair has given me the first chuckle of the day every day for the last 30.

The photo above is my first self-startling attempt to capture the magic. The preview flash dazed, but I prevailed. Mornings are rougher than they once were, and I can't blame it on an active night life at the local pub. No, whatever is happening to my head on the pillow is a mystery to me. Of course, most of the things going on in my head are.

I took a break from climbing. I had to - I had reached the wall of my own inability to risk. I couldn't get up or over it. Instead, I would show up to the wall, give a few half-hearted attempts at projecting, and then ask to be lowered. I wish I could blame the difficulty of ascension on a lack of talent or the difficulty of the routes themselves. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on my mood, the problem came down to my being gutless. I've been afraid to let myself grow. The progress, or rather the possibility of progress, scared me spitless.

In my intellectual life, I take risks all the time. I'm not afraid of inquiry or the complexities that come from questioning all that seems "inarguably true." But in my lived life, I tend to cower. I tend to refuse possibilities or ignore the knock at opportunity's door. For the longest time, I attributed this to my socially awkward ways. Then, I decided my cowardly nature was due to a poor body image - I always have to negotiate (and renegotiate) my sense of physicality. For years, particularly the last ten, I thought being overweight was the reason for all of my problems.

I have, over the years, figured out a way to connect just about everything to my weight. I created an anvil to hoist upon my shoulders, something that could keep me down and miserable; something that could keep me isolated. And it wasn't until I had to take a step back from climbing that I could hear my inner critical voice and recognize it for what it really was: Batshit insanity.

So a month ago, I decided that it was time to take risks in order to regain an appreciation for my physical self. This was no small task. My first act of resistance was to reclaim an activity I often said I could or would never do: run. Thinking in terms of approaches to climbing areas, I thought running could help me to gain the endurance and strength to hike to a climbing route and not exhaust myself before I ever donned my harness. Thinking in terms of self-respect, I wondered if taking on running would help me to see something new about myself I couldn't see without it.

While researching training plans, I found the "Couch to 5k" program online and joined it. I've been working on interval training for a month and I'm making progress. It's a big deal to me, I think, to be able to run two minutes and walk three for a total of 30. When I started I could barely manage the thirty-second run. I also felt horribly self-conscious taking my place on the track or among the treadmills at the gym. But I did what the "experts" said I should, and I made sure I celebrated (through positive self-dialogue) even the smallest of accomplishments.

And then, when running started to feel good, I bought some shoes.

Three weeks ago, I added circuit training to my routine. I went to orientation, worked with the trainer to figure out my limitations, and then got down to the serious business of learning to let go of all that which diminishes my ability to love myself and to love my body. Some feminists claim the hours spent working out are part of the oppression of a patriarchal beauty aesthetic. Others would claim my body image struggle would be ended if I just "learned to love my big, beautiful body." Hell, they may be right. But(t), what happens if you like working out? What about self-respect gained through marveling all the strong, wonderful things a body can do?

As you can read, I'm nowhere near finished with my self-inventory. And I'm nowhere finished with climbing. I'll be back at the wall Tuesday. It's time. It's time to stop thinking I'm wasting others' time if I project a route. It's time to stop beating myself up for all the years I didn't take care of myself. It's time to stop worrying about what others think of my body and just let it live by doing the things that bring me joy and self-respect.

Existential navel gazing? Perhaps. A slogging through middle age vanity issues? Maybe. But since beginning P'UP a year ago, I've come a long way. I bike commute to work. I carpool to the grocery store. I've changed my eating habits radically in just twelve months, and enjoyed it. I put down the pack-a-day habit and took up running - or trying to run. I've had setbacks, like a broken heel. But I've also had personal victories, like my first outdoor climbing trip to Shelf Road.

But more than that, I've learned it's time to let go of my nightmare self-loathing and wake up, beautiful.


  1. "What about self-respect gained through marveling all the strong, wonderful things a body can do?"

    Exactly. I'm stoked to read this. Keep it up.

    See you at Shelf.

  2. Thanks, Adam. I'm pretty stoked, too.

  3. Erica! You have always inspired me! You are one of the inspirational people in my life, and on my facebook list of inspirational people! I love this post and your blog! ;DDD


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