The Skin I'm In

11:50 AM

(TW: disordered eating, body image, etc.)

So once again, my life's insistence on being in constant motion has kept me from writing. This is kind of a weird time for me, both work-wise and otherwise. I feel like the pressure and stress have eased up a bit, but I'm still pretty busy. (As an illustration, my pup, Juno and I toured the entire state of Illinois last Tuesday through Sunday, and she's still sleeping off that trip.)

Luckily, my husband, Andrew and I were able to take some time away from life and go to a music festival in Cincinnati, which is where the above picture of me was taken. Unlike Bonnaroo, which we hit up a few years ago, Bunbury is pretty low-key. We saw a bunch of bands I'd been waiting a long time to see (The Killers and Grimes, to name my favorites), but we didn't have to endure camping in the hot sun for a whole weekend.

But I still took naps on the grass during sets I didn't care about to manage my endo pain.

While my endo pain mostly stayed away, I was forced to confront another issue that I regularly deal with: my body image.

Before I hear a chorus of "Ohhh Tracy! But you're so thin!" let me say that I know. I've heard that my entire life. And honestly, I don't think I took issue with my body until after I graduated college and started living on my own. It wasn't necessarily because of endometriosis, but it happened to coincide with it.

When endometriosis really made its presence in my life known, it added a new layer of discomfort with my body. Obviously, its pain and fatigue are difficult to deal with. But when your body rejects certain foods and drinks, or when it bloats without warning, or when it just doesn't want to do other things it's "supposed to" do, you start to lose confidence in your body. You start to feel like it isn't yours. And then, if you're me, you kind of resent it.

I think that when you start to view your body as a foreign place, you start to feel cramped and anxious inside of it. That feeling intensifies for me when I'm out of my routine and my comfort zone - like I was at Bunbury.

On day one, I felt great about myself. I was wearing a crop top for the first time that summer and prancing around with music-festival-induced joy. By day two, I was tired and not eating the way I usually do, so the body dysmorphia started.

In our hotel room, I stood in front of a mirror and picked at myself, grabbing at my sides and neck and anywhere else I determined there was "fat." Andrew chided me with "Would you quit it? You look beautiful." But I didn't want to hear it.

You see, no matter how often I hear "You're thin" or "You're pretty" or whatever, it doesn't connect with me. It's like in my brain, I know they're probably right. But in... my heart? My other brain? It doesn't connect.

Like this Pomeranian

I've never had a full-blown eating disorder, but I have had bouts of disordered eating. I think they label it as "orthorexia" - when you try to eat so healthily that you end up depriving yourself of adequate nutrition, calories, etc. When I was first diagnosed with endometriosis - and in the months prior when I knew I was sick but didn't know why - I'd go through a few weeks of that, stop for months and then pick up again.

It's almost like I was fighting a body that I thought was failing me. And whenever my energy runs low and my pain runs high, and I can't make it to the gym as frequently as I want, or I can't eat the way I want, these issues start up again.

It's especially frustrating to be dealing with all of this at a music festival. Aside from the fact that, I mean, I'm supposed to be having fun, I'm surrounded by people in crop tops, cute sundresses and short shorts. And seeing them makes me pick apart my body again.

Andrew took a few pictures of me that weekend, and in between sets, I'd zoom in on my imperfections, as if staring at them would make them go away. If Andrew caught me doing it, he'd gently tell me to put my phone away or try to tug it out of my hand. But as soon as he wasn't paying attention, I'd open up the picture again and stare.

I know I hold my body to high standards. Despite having a chronic illness with painful and frustrating symptoms that always fight my best intentions, I push my body to a level no one expects out of me - except for me. For a while, I forced myself to go to the gym five times a week, regardless of how awful I felt or how much pain I was in. I’m all for fitness, and exercising does immensely improve my endometriosis symptoms. But I was practically abusing myself.

I spend a lot of time scrolling through Instagram and comparing my stomach and muscle tone to others'. I can't help but say to myself every time I see someone stronger and thinner than me, "Look at that person. If she can do that, so can you."

All of this is rooted in fear. I know I'm afraid of losing complete control over my body, when I've already lost so much. I'm not entirely sure why I seem so convinced that will happen, but it's probably because my family has a long history of complicated, ongoing illnesses. And so I guess I've always been waiting for my turn, and well, it came with endometriosis.

But the good news is that after a while of being frustrated with my body, I eventually hit a respite. And that came in the form of Grimes' set.

After a few hours of silently hating myself at Bunbury, Andrew and I crossed to the other side of the park to finally see Grimes. Up until then, I’d only really considered myself a casual fan of her music. I knew her most popular songs, but I hadn’t ever seen her live or delved into her lesser known music. But even still, I know she’d put on a killer show, and I wanted to see it, no matter how terrible I felt. 

The pre-show music cut out, and the crowd around me erupted as a trio of dancers came out on stage to synthesizers and strings. I felt genuinely excited for the first time that day and craned my neck to see any sign of Grimes. Minutes later, she pranced out with a huge smile and a sprite-like energy that immediately captured her audience and set their feet to dancing.

Grimes couldn’t possibly care less about what you thought of her appearance. She was clearly wearing an outfit she thought was fun and fabulous, even though I’d never find it on Pinterest. She wasn’t wearing makeup, while I put on a full face that would only melt under the sun. She grinned and glittered with every button she hit, even though she apologized several times over for hitting the wrong one with the lights hard to see under the bright sky. But she never seemed to falter. She flowed.

Or as Andrew put it, “I feel like she wouldn’t give a shit if no one was here. She’d keep doing what she’s doing. She’s doing this for her.”

I decided that day that I wanted that.

As I finally threw caution to the wind and showed off my sick dance moves, a line of women about my age pushed their way out of the crowd. One of them suddenly grabbed my arm, and I bent my head down to hear her. “You look so cute.” 

Flustered and mildly embarrassed, I stuttered a thank you without returning the compliment. In my moment of Grimes-inspired vulnerability, no one shamed me. No one screeched at me to cover up the parts of my body I was ashamed of. No one mocked my dancing. In fact, it was celebrated. 

Grimes’ show ended a few minutes after it was supposed to, but I wanted more. I wanted to stay in that state of vulnerability and acceptance and actually loving my body for what it was. But I decided it didn’t have to end after the last song or the last day of a music festival. I wanted to take it home with me. 

I’ll always struggle with accepting my body. Now well into my 20’s, it’s ingrained in me. But it doesn’t have to be my resting place anymore. I can remember the way I felt watching Grimes, awestruck and inspired by her I-couldn’t-give-two-shits music and persona. That’s something worth wanting to emulate — not some touched-up abs on Instagram. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to better yourself. I'll always want to do that, especially with my endometriosis. But there is something wrong with wanting to be something that isn’t yourself. Today, I choose vulnerability. Today, I choose me.

This was adapted from a piece I wrote on Medium.

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