This upcoming year, I’m in two weddings, and I’m getting married the following year. After watching numerous people around me “sweating for the wedding” and eating meals with about as much taste as Communion wafers for months prior to their nuptials, I swore I would accept my body in whatever state it was in and put a dress on it.
Doesn’t that sound so wonderfully idealistic?
Real talk: Every time I get period bloat, I feel like the lardiest sentient being on this gorgeous green planet and I vow to make a Lifestyle Change.
The Lifestyle Change (henceforth known as LC) is society’s way of tricking you into feeling happy that your new diet consists of mushrooms from the side of the road sautéed in coconut oil. It’s terminology so expertly crafted, so rhetorically sound, that you convince yourself that chocolate sucks and you’ll never drink another glass of wine because you just feel like your insides are “glowing.” The reality of the situation, however, is that eventually you’ll realize the LC is slowly sucking your soul out of your body via mouth, straight up Dementor-style. And when that moment happens, at least for me, there better be literal oceans separating me and the nearest Texas Roadhouse.
I come from a huge Italian family where not finishing your entire 3000-calorie plate of cheesy pasta is akin to first-degree murder. Don’t get me wrong; growing up on my father’s homemade bread and my mother’s endless supply of baked goods was incredible. I am the happiest little chunker in my childhood pictures. My parents never forced me to play sports to “build character,” AKA get me out of the house, so my amount of physical activity from ages 1-13 was very minimal. Let’s do the math: constant carbcomas + no exercise = thunda thighs. Look, it even rhymes!
College arrived with a new gift – the pressure to Look Sexy. Between frat parties and football games, College Mandy became obsessed with having a Kardashian body while simultaneously drinking as much Natty Light as humanly possible. I ate vile cardboard-tasting Lean Cuisine sandwiches and woke up at 5 am to run stairs so I could be a size six. I distinctly remember eating only Greek yogurt and baked beans for an entire week. Beer aside, it was a miserable existence.
Right now, I’m trying to find the balance between This Nutritious Meal Tastes Like a Butthole and I’m Gonna Become Pregnant With a Pizza. That in-between stuff, the TRUE LC, is…really fucking difficult to settle into. Yeah, yeah, I know, small changes, progress not perfection, one day at a time, self love, Namaste, the whole nine. My small change yesterday was eating roasted Brussels sprouts and kidding myself into believing they tasted good. Today, when I opened the Tupperware of leftovers, I took one whiff and practically shot-putted those tiny stink cabbages into the garbage disposal.
So many people on the internet feel so strongly about health and fitness, and I can’t begin to count the amount of slightly patronizing, paleo, #fitfam things that show up on my instagram feed. I have a desire for self improvement, I want to look good in those wedding dresses, but at what cost? I will go on a run, I will choose the slow churned ice cream at Food Lion, but I refuse to eat vegetables I hate, and I will never, ever give up my one true love, cheese.
Finding peace with our bodies can feel impossible, sometimes. I’m approaching my period right now, and I feel like that blueberry girl from Willy Wonka. But I think the best we can do is endeavor to recognize what serves us and what doesn’t. Inhale the good shit, exhale the bullshit, and eat the damn cupcake.
Between the unspeakable horror of the Vegas shootings, the fact that I’ve been teaching Edgar Allan Poe for the past week, and my newfound (uncharacteristic) dedication to the new yoga studio that popped up in town, I’ve been thinking a lot about the human psyche. No, not that kind of pretentious, Freudian, motherfucking (heh, get it?) rumination on the soul and the inherent qualities that lie within that hipster psych majors love to soapbox about after too many craft beers. I’m talking about what makes us tick, what makes us feel the most alive, what qualifies as a “weird” or “abnormal” reaction to a situation, and what we have the power to change about ourselves and our perspectives.
I realize that I am a very reactive, impulsive person. I am internally motivated, internally driven, but externally affected by people and places and situations in ways that I struggle to control, sometimes. Yeah, I’m always that asshole who starts crying when my friends are crying, rendering me the worst Unintentional Scene-Stealer in a crisis. I absorb the red-hot emotional burdens of others like a solar panel. I scream when I laugh. I visit new cities and immediately Google “job opportunities in ____________,” flirting with the concept of renting a bungalow on the outskirts of town and getting a dog I know I can’t take care of, before eventually abandoning my pursuits a week later. I buy dozens and dozens of Tupperwares because food blogs convince me I need them. At least I know I’ll stick to my guns re: the uselessness of mason jar salads.
We all know those people who appear to have so much clarity in their lives. They seem perfectly enlightened, they know what they want, they fill their weekends with “on-brand” activities to get pics for their impeccably curated Instagrams. Do these people ever question their normality? Do they ever feel easily influenced, out of control, a planet revolving around someone else’s sun? Do they ever seek and embrace darkness?
In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Poe writes, “Why will you say that I am mad?…Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me.” His characters, which are largely said to be an extension of himself, not only embrace darkness, but exude confidence in their manner and thoughts. Like me, they are internally motivated, internally driven, but reactive. Impulsive. As my student Jonathan said of TTH’s narrator, “He like, not okay in the head, like he do too much.” When I peruse National Park campsites I know I’ll never visit and buy lipsticks that only look pretty in theory, do I also do too much? Do I need to calm my shit, slow down, and root myself in the here and now, the attainable, the reasonable?
As I ponder the inexplicable evil of the Vegas shooter, I wonder how some people can allow a volcanic eruption of hatred to slowly mount over the course of a lifetime. What is it like to meticulously cultivate negativity, to consciously craft depravity, bit by bit? What makes them tick, and what makes their ticking so much more intense and horrifying than everyone else’s? The Vegas shooter is a Poe narrator, in every sense of the word.
When I think about all of those Tupperwares, the way I pop Ibuprofen like candy when my body aches, or the fact that I sob every time my fiancé travels out of town for work trips, I hate the way I feel everything. But I would rather light up the sky, in short, passionate bursts, or get momentarily dragged into some distant star’s orbit, than allow myself, over the course of my lifetime, to craft the unhappiest, vilest narrative concealed by the illusion of tranquility and rationality.
I don’t know where I’m going with this, but I think we should all be encouraged to like ourselves and others a little bit more.