As I stand in front of the bathroom mirror before my shower and wait for the water to warm up, I commence my regular routine of self-loathing.
I study my stomach in disgust, angry that it still looks 4 months pregnant when all efforts to disguise it are removed. I woefully acknowledge my stretch marks, battle wounds from two pregnancies, angrily climbing their way up my overly-wide hips; a renegade mark snakes its way across my rounded lower abdomen. I berate myself for my too-big thighs, calling to mind the line from Love Actually (one of my favorite movies) where the Prime Minister's secretary admits in embarrassment that her boyfriend left her because "no one would fancy a girl with thighs the size of tree trunks". The mirror starts to steam up, signaling that my shower is ready before I even get a chance to move on to my flabby arms and puffy face.
The bathroom mirror offers a stark contrast to what I see when I look at myself in the full-length mirror in my bedroom. This is the mirror that I study myself in after I've gotten dressed and am ready to leave the house to brave the world. This mirror seems to be kinder, and actually gives me occasional confidence in my appearance. Sometimes I even allow myself to think, "Hey girl, looking good today." But then, that's a dangerous train of thought. Because when I permit myself that small morsel of self confidence, the fall is all the more difficult.
The fall comes when I see myself in a photo or on video. The fall comes when I see how I "really" look to others, when I've been captured in a moment playing with my son, unaware of the camera and not making sure all my clothes are arranged just so, that my stomach is sucked in and that my face is tilted at an angle so that it doesn't appear as fat as it really is. A moment that I should be happy to have immortalized instead turns into another opportunity for my inner Mean Girl to remind me of how things really are.
And she doesn't let me down. She pounces with claws fully extended, ready to rip my already bruised self image to shreds. "Ugh, look at yourself. How could you think you look skinny in those jeans? You're NOT skinny, so it's impossible to look skinny. In fact, you look pretty fat. You were stupid to think that you might actually be making progress with your weight loss, baby. Sorry to tell you, but you've got a looooong way to go. No one can even tell that you've lost any weight. That's how big you are. You're so big that losing 10 pounds doesn't even make a difference in how you look."
When I try to do something good for myself, like sticking to my running program, she's there, too. "You'll never be able to actually run a 5k. Look at how you're struggling to run for 5 minutes. You are so screwed when you get to week 6, because that's just straight running. You just won't be able to do it, and then how embarrassed will you be. You may as well just give up now. You always knew running wasn't for you, just accept it."
It's a constant struggle to silence this evil bitch that lives inside my head. In the past, I took what she said at face value. In the past, I believed her without question. In the past, her opinion was the only one that mattered. It barely made a dent when my husband told me how hot I am, how attractive and beautiful I looked. His words were no match for the suit of armor the Mean Girl had erected around my heart.
The funny thing about this suit of armor is that it handily brushes away any positive thoughts, but readily and willingly accepts any hint of negativity directed at me. Well-intentioned but poorly worded comments are easily twisted into grenades that blast holes in my confidence, repeating on loop in my head. Someone from the office says, "You barely look like you had a baby! You'll be back to slim and sleek in no time." I hear, "Wow, last time I saw you, your belly was hugely pregnant! Now it's not. But you're still fat. Maybe in time, you'll be in better shape."
But I'm starting to get sick of this Mean Girl. She's worn out her welcome, and I'm starting to see her for who she really is. How is it that she was insulting and berating me when I was in high school, skinnier than I've ever been or ever will be again? How is it that she was making sure I felt like a huge fatty when I was getting married, weighing in at what is now my goal weight (a number that is still many pounds out of my reach)? I'm beginning to see the holes in her strategy.
No matter what I look like, she tells me I'm ugly. No matter what effort I make towards becoming more active and fit, she tells me it's not good enough. No matter what I weigh, she tells me I'm fat. No matter how well I ate during the day, she still sends me to bed feeling guilty about some treat or indulgence. And I'm finally calling bullshit.
Enough already. It's more than enough. Yes, I might still be "fat". But I'm truly making an effort to get down to a healthier weight. I have never stuck to a self-imposed exercise program for longer than 4 weeks, and the fact that I'll soon be entering Week 5 of C25K kicks SO much ass.
So when Mean Girl tells me I'll be screwed when I reach Week 6, I respond with, "That's ok. I'll just do Week 5 until I feel ready to move on."
When Mean Girl tells me the running isn't helping me look any better, I say, "Ah well, doesn't matter. I'm really doing it because I'm trying to learn to enjoy exercise."
When Mean Girl tells me my stretch marks are hideous, I choke back tears and tell her to shut up because the only person besides me who sees them doesn't care anyway.
When Mean Girl points out someone else who is skinnier, prettier, better dressed than me, I remind her that I'm doing my best and that that other person has different battles.
Since I'm just starting to fight back, Mean Girl is still pretty strong. A lot of times she just laughs at my feeble efforts to deflect her jabs. But they're starting to sink in. I can feel it. I'm starting to believe that, just maybe, the things I say in return are true.
And that's the real battle.