Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Body as Preoccupation

I've been working out at the hospital employee gym a few times a week since January, in an attempt to thwart my occasional tendency for winter adiposity from decreased exercise. Early this morning, my friendly gym attendant performed a service for me that I had hesitantly requested---calculation of my BMI, or Body Mass Index---a crude index of obesity based on the ratio of weight-to-height squared.

I stepped barefoot onto what looked like a high-tech metal scale with sensors that can actually measure body mass, water mass, lean mass, and other body composition factors. My total Lean Body Mass is 78%, making my body's Fat Mass 22%. My BMI is 25.5, the normal range for my height and weight being 18.5-24.9, obese being >30. While I weighed approximately 206 pounds about a year ago, I now weigh 188 pounds after months of great effort and duress.

As a child, I was always somewhat heavy, "husky" was the euphemism my mother and the salesladies at JC Penney's liked to use so frequently. As a 10-year-old trying out for Pop Warner Football, I was ensconced by the coach in a group categorically dubbed "The Overweights". We unfortunates who were "circumferentially challenged" had to run extra laps and do extra push-ups as the other slim and trim athletes relaxed and drank Gatorade, laughing as we huffed our way around the field. In Junior High, as a novice wrestler, I was again put in the "Overweight" club, although they used another term which my memory has efficiently blocked out. That was the end of my sports career, shabby as it was. I retreated into art, books, and not long after, massive amounts of marijuana and moderate amounts of alcohol. Music was the refuge, often fueled by altered consciousness.

Now, as a thoroughly middle-aged white man, I grapple with what some might term as body image dysmorphia. I can never be sure that what I perceive in the mirror is an accurate representation of reality, but I often let that perception guide my actions and reactions. Perhaps it's the effects of this culture that worships youth and beauty (a cliche, I know, but still oh so true), in which young women bare their flat, pierced midriffs and lumbosacral tattoos, and elegantly thin young men wear hip-huggers and tight rayon t-shirts. Perhaps middle-aged people always feel this way, longing for the days when nutrition and exercise didn't seem to matter and one's body assumed its perfect shape regardless of how one abused it. (I had only two or three blessed years in my early twenties that approximated such a physiological and metabolic state of gross equanimity).

What I wish for is a sense of humor about my body's predilections, a sardonic smile and laugh which accepts the inevitable and simply attempts to stave off further decline. Or maybe I'm one of those middle-agers who can summon the courage and fortitude to transform my body magnificently in a flurry of energetic self-discipline. Alternatively, I imagine I will continue to plod along, making small steps forward and small steps back, looking in the mirror and occasionally liking what I see, sometimes seeing something that isn't actually there, and perhaps eventually not even caring what I behold in the cruel clarity of the reflective surface. After all, if one loves oneself and is loved unconditionally by another, do the mirror's twisted messages reflect who you truly are in the eyes of the Goddess? That is an idea worth pondering.
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