There’s a heart upon the hill

I’ve been thinking for quite some time about the best way to write this without seeming self-satisfied or preachy, but haven’t come up with anything particularly brilliant, so I’m just going to write it and see how it turns out.

For most of my life, I’ve thought of my body as something immutable, a vehicle for my activities, as static as a car or a chair. Mostly, I didn’t think about it much at all. I still don’t notice things that other people seem to note as second nature: did taking Ibuprofen help my headache? Does exercising really release endorphins? I am so oblivious to changes in my body’s state that I cannot answer these questions, even if I try to focus on them. Part of it, perhaps, is my natural hesitancy to make judgments without a side-by-side comparison. I know that, as a human, my memory is flawed and I will not be able to accurately compare the way I felt an hour ago with the way I feel now, not without my current state affecting my evaluation of my previous one. (For these purposes I discount the option of noting states at various points in time, mostly because I am too lazy to actually write things down every few minutes. It would, however, a good way around the issue were I ever invested enough to put in the effort.)

It wasn’t until college that I really realized that the clothes I chose could make my body look more or less attractive. This is something I’m still working on and coming to terms with, something to which anyone who’s been subjected to my somewhat random and always-in-flux wardrobe can attest. (Other, just-as-big-if-not-bigger factors in my wardrobe are comfort of garment, softness of cloth, and presence of useful pockets.)

But I’m not really writing about clothes, not right now. The real revelation for me, recently, has been that my body is not as static as I had heretofore assumed. I didn’t really realize this until my Peace Corps close-of-service physical, when I was surprised (and slightly appalled) to learn that I’d gained more than a dozen pounds during my service. In retrospect, it made sense: clothes I’d brought with me weren’t fitting quite right; I ate at least one type of starch at every meal; I exercised infrequently. Still, it was a bit of a shock to me. I’d always thought of my weight as a constant trait, like blue eyes or long fingers. Despite everything I’d read, positive and negative, about other women’s attempts to reshape their bodies; despite the limitless media dollars devoted to that very topic, I’d somehow never realized that my body might be subject to the same rules that everyone else’s seemed play by. Really, I simply hadn’t thought about it in any sort of meaningful way.

Still, faced with the evidence that my body followed the same laws as others’, it seemed to make sense to use that to my advantage. From a basic survey of sensible weight-loss regimens it becomes obvious that there are only two real components: eat less, and exercise more. Why there is a lucrative publishing industry founded in people rehashing these easy rules is mysterious to me, but I suppose it speaks to the desire of Americans to buy something that will do their hard work for them. At any rate, after returning home I did not follow either of these strictures with particular rigor: certainly, being in an environment with fewer readily-available starches and (surprisingly) more necessity for exercise didn’t hurt. I was, however, curious to have more accurate measurements of my habits (and well aware of the advantageous effects of observation bias), so I started tracking what I ate, for informational purposes. After several frustrating pedometer experiences, I got a Fitbit, which perfectly and easily plays into my love of collecting data. Once I started working, I began walking to and from the Metro every day (three-quarters of a mile or so each way). My clothes started to not fit again, in the other direction. At this point, I’ve lost more than I gained in the Peace Corps, and am well below what I think of as my static body weight. External factors continuing to be advantageous, it seems like I’ll continue to get marginally smaller each week or so, although hopefully my wardrobe can breathe a sigh of relief and stop changing so much.

And that’s all. No poetry, no moral. This post is as much, if not more, for my future reference as anything else. Look, future me: this is where I figured out this part of being an adult woman, and these are the bits I picked and chose. I hope it worked out well for you.

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