Straighten Up and Fly Right.

postureLet’s talk about posture, shall we?

When your Square Peg was a precocious tween, I used to walk around the house with a book on my head like the photo to your left. But it had nothing to do with posture. It was just the excitement of getting from one side of the room to the other without dropping the thing while my siblings cheered me on. In other words, posture? What?

I’ve been slouching since I woke up one morning and finally understood why my mom had banned me from wearing my beloved All This and Brains Too t-shirt. (The “This” part was incurring the kind of attention no mother wanted for her 11 year-old daughter. Yep, you get it.) It was almost immediate: I began to hunch over like some kind of creature. Some of it was the literal pressure on my back, some of it was the emotional confusion that came with development, some of it was the desire to hide what was suddenly the only thing people seemed to notice about me. By the time I reached college, I was basically Quasi Modo. And now? Well, I wish I could tell you that your Square Peg sits straighter, walks straighter, and no longer slouches. All lies. Those would be lies.

I have the worst posture. It doesn’t help that I sit in front of a computer all day, that sometimes I lean forward to even see the screen because I’m apparently 85 and can see nothing, that I contort my body in the kind of horrible ways that would make an aerialist from Cirque de Soleil shake her head pitiably. Throw in the fact that I was in a car accident some years ago and you have someone who does not sit or stand well.

So the other day, my mother saw me standing in kitchen, my neck in its typical hunched over position, and nearly screamed.

Ma: Why are you standing like that?
Me: Like what?
Ma: Like that. It makes you look sickly, especially with your weight loss. You look frail. Straighten up.

Of course, I knew I didn’t look frail (the absence of rice from my life has convinced my African mother that I’ve become sort sort of 80-pound weakling; we’ll discuss that in another post), but I looked at myself in the mirror and certainly agreed that my stance was terrible. And yes, with the weight loss, I did take on a kind of starving imp from Les Misérables quality. It’s surreal, isn’t it? You recognize things about yourself, you know yourself, but to turn towards a mirror and really look at these things is an entirely different animal. After all these years of telling myself to straighten up, it was kind of interesting to see the need to do so before my own eyes.

Won’t happen overnight; I’ve slouched and de-slouched about five times while writing this post. We’ll get there, though. Confidence isn’t necessarily in the shape of your back, but it helps. Onwards!

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On Visuals and Inspiration.

The most popular question I get as I continue on this gaining health journey: what inspired you to want to lose weight in the first place? I don’t mind the question; to me, it’s natural that people want to know. And so I tell them: I was making very unhealthy choices in my life and it was beginning to affect my well-being. So I needed to make significant changes. Admittedly, however, there was another reason I was inspired: pure cosmetics.

Let’s be real about it: an enjoyable part of weight loss/health gain is how good you look in clothes. Sure, I’m still working on the whole not wearing baggy clothes thing (it’s all mental; we’ll talk about that in another post), but I can easily say that getting dressed has become far more enjoyable than it has been in the past. Of course, you know that beginning at age 30, my body and I became besties. I accepted this house in all its glory and that will never change, weight loss or not. But to dress it up in outfits I’m not used to wearing is certainly a treat. That said, I recently realized that even before I embarked on this journey, I had a lot of visual inspirations along the way; women that had transformed before my eyes and looked great and caught my attention. Seriously, I was stalking them on Pinterest and finally figured out why. Here are a few:

America Ferrera.

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Can I tell you, first, how much I adore this actress? I saw her in Real Women have Curves and absolutely thought she was amazing (see it if you haven’t); to me, she was the heart of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (no shame; see it and you’ll agree that it’s a terrific movie); and come on, Ugly Betty. So, being a fan, I certainly noticed a few years ago that the chubby girl on Ugly Betty was chubby no more. She was sleek, elegant, more confident. I remember thinking that I wanted the same thing if I ever slimmed down: still looking entirely like myself, stylish, real. An inspiration, for sure.

Marsha Ambrosius.

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Oh, Marsha. That hair that gives me life on a daily basis. Anyway. If you don’t know, Marsha is the other half of the soulful duo Floetry and an accomplished solo artist in her own right. Other than drooling over her gorgeous natural curls, what appealed to me was Marsha’s style. I loved how her style seemed to evolve along with her slim-down. Google her and see what I mean. Her sense of style is everything.

Jordin Sparks.

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What I love about Jordin? She talked about her journey. She talked about loving Zumba (and I learned that she took classes with my instructors!), she talked about watching her portions, she discussed the joy of wearing a dress without a bone-crushing instrument holding her together underneath. (Tell us how you really feel, huh, Ms. Square Peg?) I loved her transparency. Each time I saw her photo or happened to read an article about Jordin, I remember noting how impressed I was by her openness. Went a long way with me.

Real Women. There no photos of these women. But to me, they’re far more important than the bold names listed above. Some are my friends. Some are strangers. And yet whether I’ve watched their journeys occur right in front of me or talked to them about it, I have been and continue to be inspired by them. There’s a woman here at the office who, for years, I’ve watched transform before my eyes. When I see her now, I marvel. There are friends who are dedicated and so forthcoming about their continuing journeys to better health. Wholly inspired by them, too, even more so.

So, my dears, if you’re currently on a journey, whatever it is, what’s your inspiration?

Why Not Me?

"Why Not Me?" book by Mindy Kaling.  HANDOUT  [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

I won’t get into why I love Mindy Kaling more than you’ll ever understand–and I do, I just stinkin’ do–but this excerpt (printed

in Glamour magazine) from her forthcoming second book of essays, Why Not Me?, (a title that was basically the theme of one of my recent short stories; I may post the whole thing on here soon) is just winning in every way. It’s perfect. It sums up a lot about women, confidence, perceptions, the whole lot. Read, please.

It’s especially hard, when you hear these things every day, to want to keep putting yourself out there. People’s reaction to me is sometimes “Uch, I just don’t like her. I hate how she thinks she is so great.” But it’s not that I think I’m so great. I just don’t hate myself. I do idiotic things all the time and I say crazy stuff I regret, but I don’t let everything traumatize me. And the scary thing I have noticed is that some people really feel uncomfortable around women who don’t hate themselves. So that’s why you need to be a little bit brave.

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Needless to say, I’ll be snagging the book and reviewing it on the ole blog. And if this excerpt is a preview of what to expect, I simply cannot wait.

Misty.

Misty Copeland was rejected by a ballet academy at 13 years old for having the “wrong body for ballet.”

She is now, as of June 30, the first African-American female principal dancer for American Ballet Theatre. MistyCopeland

Here are the following reasons I admire her and am inspired by her to no end:

1. Ballet is one of my favorite genres of dance. So lyrical and moving, so classic and beautiful. So, yeah, ballerinas are everything.

2. She overcame crazy, crazy odds in her life. Poverty, a pretty unstable home life as a young girl, that wack rejection letter, loving a genre of dance that isn’t known for its diversity, starting in ballet older that most of her counterparts, the list goes on and on. But Misty came up on top.

3. This Under Amour commercial. It kind of slays me. And it gave birth to one of my favorite phrases, “I will what I want.”

4. She does her thing with power and grace. Not much more to add to that.

So that’s Misty. I hope to see her dance with my own two eyes on a stage one day, and soon. And if you hear about someone whooping uncontrollably from her seat every time Misty twirled and dazzled on that stage, you’re welcome.

San Diego.

In 2001, I had a nervous breakdown. No need to sugarcoat it. I lost it. I was 22 years old, a receiver of news that changed my entire life–I couldn’t breathe. I was wild-eyed and crazed. All that said, while sitting placidly at work one day, I went on a travel site and booked a 4-day trip to San Diego. Just like that. I chose San Diego simply because I’d always wanted to go to CA as an adult (we went to San Francisco and San Jose when I was a kid) and had no desire to go to LA. I had heard lovely things about San Diego, so it seemed like the place to go. 

My parents were naturally shocked and incensed that I was about to travel to a place I’d never been, unaccompanied and alone, while in the midst of a mental meltdown. But what could they do? Their eldest child was a determined one, even when trapped in such a dark place. Plus I was drowning. Deep down, I think my parents knew that if I didn’t escape, even for a mere four days, I would be consumed. A good friend drove me to the airport; I got on the plane; slept the whole way; and finally arrived in the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

I’ll tell you something: the sky in San Diego looks like a blue Fabergé egg. It just does. It’s like every combination of blue you can imagine, that sky, from powder blue to cerulean. I spent many days looking up at that sky. 

I took a trolley tour and explored this lovely city. 

I asked strangers to take my photo (pre-selfie days.)

I went to La Jolla and died from how incredibly magnificent it was.

I walked with myself. Down sidewalks, in the mall, on the beach.

I went to Hotel del Coronado and marveled.

I stuck my toes into the Pacific Ocean. 

It’s amazing how being in a place can re-wire your mind. Maybe it was the sky, the temperate breeze, being one with my myself, deep in prayer–whatever it was, San Diego saved my life. It just did. A few years later, I went back on my second solo trip to SD, although I was far less tortured than I was the first time in the city. 

But that first trip. Indescribable.

I’m of the mind that every woman should travel alone, at least once. Not necessarily to ease the suffering of a mental breakdown, but to just be alone with herself. You learn a lot.

Choose Beautiful.

Every day I go through the average door. But yesterday was a unique day. So I chose to go through the beautiful one.

Therein lies the power of Dove’s new inspirational ad campaign. (They’ve been quietly setting a new precedent when it comes to ads about beauty and women, Dove. I love it and I don’t think the media talks about this initiative enough.) In this video, women in different countries are presented with two entryways in front of buildings they’re walking into: Average or Beautiful. The images are immediately powerful. Some women stand before the doors and visibly wonder where to go. Some hesitate. One woman simply walks away, deciding not to choose either. Some, without hesitation, walk through the Average door and later discuss how sad their choice made them feel. Interestingly enough, these are all beautiful women, and those that walk through the Average door boggle the mind, especially those that society would say are “traditionally” beautiful. Says a lot about how, ultimately, a woman feels about herself.

There was a moment that got me, of course, right in the center of the chest and elicited my tears. (At 1:55). This woman’s quote is the one I provided above. It spoke to me because 10 years ago, had I been standing before those doors, I would have chosen “Average” in a heartbeat. My choices would have been related to not wanting to appear vain; related to what I would assume society thought of me; related to visions of what people standing nearby would whisper about the average girl having the audacity to walk through the beautiful door. Such was my world back then. I’ve talked about it at length here; I grew up in a dark place as a young woman, racked with low self-esteem, low self-worth, low everything. So that’s why it got me. I imagined myself 10 years ago and like this beautiful woman expresses, it would have been another day going into door Average.

But then, like her, I felt joyful. Because right now, this very moment, had I stood before those doors? Having worked on myself and owning who I am as a woman, a person, a human being? I would have chosen “Beautiful.” Without hesitation.

I hope you would, too.