A couple of weeks ago, I did something that felt pretty radical. As a nurse beckoned me from the waiting room to a scale on the way to the exam room in my doctor’s office, I asked, “Why?” Why step on the scale? What info to be had from the fact that my weigh goes up a few pounds and comes back down in what might be relatively predictable intervals were I to track such things?
Winter: a little up.
Summer: a little down.
Mid-June in the midst of birthday treats galore: a little up.
July, when the tomato plants are dripping their acidic fruits and every meal is an experiment in using as much produce as possible at its peak: A little down.
Mr. Rogers was famous, in part, for having a weight that stayed consistently at 143 – the numerical abbreviation for “I love you.” My body weight is, apparently, chattier than his. I suppose that wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has noticed my penchant for long, complex sentences…
But whether I was a little up or a little down on the day of my check-up, I was comfortable in my clothes, experiencing no symptoms correlated with either too much or too little weight, and finding no reason why the specificity of the number on that scale would matter to me, the nurse, or the doctor.
So I asked, “Why?” The nurse just shrugged and said, “You can decline.”
And so I did.
If the doctor had thoughts about the notation, “patient declined” where a trio of numbers was meant to be, she showed nary a nose wrinkle over my decision. She certainly didn’t speak of it.
This tiny little act of rebellion was not an act of spontaneity. This tiny little act of bucking a social norm was more than two years in the making, and I wasn’t at all sure that I would follow through when the moment came.
My last pre-pandemic trip was with a friend; I agreed to the weekend in northern Virginia without even a quick glance at the Embody Love Movement website. My friend vouched for them, the training was a topic of particular interest to me, and it seemed like a unique opportunity to spend some time together.
On the first night of what was a facilitator’s training, Emily Straight led us through the workshop we would next learn to conduct. Toward the end of the evening, I was paired with a radiant woman in colorful hijab. My heart sank as I was instructed to place each paper from a stack of sticky notes – each bearing a critique I had of my own body – onto her body. I circled her slowly, resisting every placement, not wanting to in any way diminish her luminescence with my self-judgment.
I returned home that weekend changed and changing. Some amount of the four decades of learned body shame did seem to slip off of me like a silk scarf being blown away in the wind.
Mostly, though, I had exposed my old problematic narrative and started shaping a new narrative with which to keep the old one visible, so it couldn’t sneak back in through a side door of my psyche. As Charlotte Joko Beck wrote:
The process of practice is to see through – not to eliminate – anything to which we are attached.
Key to my new narratives are that numbers just are; that my body just is; that weight gained is not a failing and weight lost is not a virtue. At most, either is a cause for curiosity around health and unconscious habits of numbing.
Most of all, my new narrative centers around the reality that I’m really, really over spending time and energy and focus finding fault with my physical form. I have so many far better things to spend that bandwidth on.
Joko also said, “a little humor about all of this isn’t a bad idea.”
And so I do find the play in my body as often as possible – from attempting more advanced yoga postures that sometimes leave me tumbling across the floor, to one particularly ridiculous dance that seems to have been born spontaneously when once catching myself in self-critique in a full-length mirror. It’s a sort of extra funky chicken of a dance.
The decision at the doctor’s office was in many ways for me. I knew that whatever array of numbers their scale showed would provoke a moment of discomfort. I knew that I would start reminding myself that I had eaten a couple of times already that day, water weight, full clothing, shoes, different scale – the full court narrative to back myself off the ledge of judgment stemming, ridiculously enough, from the briefest flash of an LED display. And so I saved myself the rigmarole by opting out.
I also made that decision for others, though, the majority of whom would never know I exist, much less that one day in July, I said no – not so much to the one nurse smiling at me from over her mask but to the unthinking reinforcement of interrelated social norms masquerading as health but really perpetuating bias.
I invite you to run your own experiment of doing the same.
I invite you to put away your scale and instead practice noticing how it feels to be in your body, as it is.
I invite you to say no at the doctors’ offices and to resist the recitation of weight gained and lost, both your own and in responding to others.
I invite you to find your own funky chicken dance, your own ways of affirming the body you have, and using it in ways that feel nurturing and honoring – not so that you’ll ultimately reach a given number but because it feels good. Period.
For years, I would tell the story of a time of post-traumatic weight gain and eventual weight loss. In the last two+ years, I’ve come to discover there’s nothing particularly interesting or useful in that story. That weight gain was explicable; the loss intentional. And though I was treated as skilled and virtuous when I lost the weight, I was no more of either. I was simply ready to stop treating my body as though it had caused my trauma.
My body deserved better.
Yours does, too.