Thursday, March 15, 2012

Day 357: Egads! I'm Having Wacky Body-Image Nightmares!

The 10-day countdown to my "first look" at 12am on March 25th has commenced.  In the past few weeks I've started to feel increasingly anxious about what that moment will feel like, particularly since it's slated to happen at a party with a lot of people around.  (Granted, I'm not planning to actually conduct my "first look" in front of the whole party, but even if I do it more privately, I assume I'll be expected to report back!)

Anyway, it hasn't helped my nerves that I've recently had two different nightmares with some obvious wacky-body-image undertones.  In the first, I'm wearing a dress that is at least two sizes too small; I can't actually see it, but it's so tight that I'm literally trapped in it.  I'm physically uncomfortable, horrified to have so completely misjudged my physical size, and desperate to escape. Yet I can't physically pull the dress over my head because my body is so constrained and my arms are too weak.  (Ugh, I'm getting yucky shivers just thinking about it!)

Oh yeah, Baby, that's me! (image credit)
My second dream much is less horrific but similarly telling: in this one, I'm about to look into a mirror and I feel really nervous (weird, huh).  I stare at my feet, urging myself to look up, until I finally find the courage to do so.  Staring back at me is... A DUDE.  Yeah, I'm a dude.  Thankfully, I'm an incredibly good looking dude, so I like what I see.  But it's still completely weird.  While admiring my chiseled jawline and Abercombie-abs, I wonder Why didn't anyone tell me I'm a guy?!?!.  

A fear of greatly misjudging my body appears to be predominating my subconscious. 

The good news is that having these nightmares has forced me to acknowledge the very fact that I'm fearful, so now I can try to process this and deal with it.  For example, I've realized that part of my anxiety is rooted in the irony of having a "first look" at all.  Building up suspense around the "first look" is in some ways an inappropriate (and false) end to the project.  For one thing, looking in the mirror again will actually mark a transition, not a climax.  Further, emphasizing the moment of looking at myself in the mirror for the first time feels eerily evocative of a cheesy "Reality-TV Makeover."  (Will I squeal with joy?  Should I delicately touch my hands to my face to see if it's really me in the mirror? Will my husband say something lame like "Aww man, you look soooo good, Baby!  I'm gonna to feel like I'm cheatin' on my old wife with a new lady!"  I mean, this is the asinine behavior we've all come to expect from the "first look in the mirror" scene, no?)  It feels utterly off-putting to conclude this project by emphasizing my appearance, but I can't bring mirrors back into my everyday life  (which, by the way, I am genuinely looking forward to) if I don't start with a first look.  

Angst and fear abound, but a few things are helping me:

First, I'm reminding myself that the success of the project won't rest on my reaction to the first look: the days, weeks, months, and years after the will be more telling as to whether I've changed the better.  More importantly, unlike a, Realty TV Makeover, my metric for deciding whether I've changed for the better will be based on internal cues, not the extent to which my looks have changed.  (Indeed, much of this project has been a calculated physical makeunder, which I'm proud of and hope to continue!)  My personal mantra about being "an imperfect role model" is helpful for this: looking super cute isn't as important to my goals as being a happy, unique, and authentic person.

This button is MINE!
I'm also reminding myself that I will be in control, and that I'm not responsible for meeting anybody else's expectations.  If I want to, I can decide at the last minute to never look in a mirror again (I'm fairly sure that this won't happen, but giving myself the choice feels good!).  Or, I can kick everybody out of the room and count my pores for an hour or two until only my closest friends and family are left waiting for me.  With luck, I'll have a glass or two of champagne in my system, a cherished friend on each arm, and it will simply be silly and joyful.  But, if I start freaking out, I can make up "plan B" on the spot!

Finally, I'm determined to replace my nightmares with a new visualization. I've chosen to visualize the emotional experience of seeing an old friend for the first time in ages.  When we greet our oldest friends after a long separation, we're excited to see them in person because we love them.  We might notice physical changes, but we don't pass judgement or change our feelings for that person based on their looks; we're just so glad to finally see them.  I'm trying to wrap myself up in happy memories of hugging cherished friends and relatives at airports, bus stops, and train-stations.  I'm hoping that, by really cultivating these memories, I'll prime my brain to have a similar mindset for the "first look."

Have you every had a wacky-body-image dream?  I'd love to hear about it.  What's your interpretation?  Do share!


  1. Oh, that second dream is REALLY intriguing. For years in my 30s, I dreamt that I had developed a beard! This post reminded me of a powerful dream I had when I was about your age. I was standing naked before a full length mirror, when a ray of light pierced the open window and fluttering curtains behind me. When the light bounced off the mirror, my body was obliterated in light and only my feet could be seen. This dream has been spiritually important to me for years.

    When I imagine the moment when you look at yourself in a mirror for the first time in a year, I imagine reaching out and wanting to TOUCH the mirror.

  2. I think that moment when you look in the mirror should be a private thing and your First Look Party is more about celebrating your journey over the last year and what's to come as a result. And I love your analogy about hugging an old friend at the airport. You don't judge if they look different because you love who they are, not how they look.

    That being said, the pictures that I've seen of you always look fabulous! I think you'll look in the mirror and smile at what you see. "Yep, I'm still me."

  3. I would like to think that I would look in the mirror, shrug my shoulders and say, "Ok, that's done. What should we dance to next?"

  4. I cannot fathom the anticipation that you must feel as the countdown begins. What I can do is share a story and then share how it may relate to your anticipation.

    My husband and I were only married 7 months when he was in a 480 volt electrical explosion that blew up in his face. He was working as high voltage electrician at the time. I received a call at 9:30pm at night and was still not certain upon my arrival at the hospital if he was even alive. He was alive but looked much like a marshmallow looks when you have set in on fire and its charred black and dripping. He did die 3 times while he was hospitalized but that is a story for another day.

    During the weeks following the accident I tried to make sure that we avoided any contact with mirrors because I knew he would be shocked by what he saw in the mirror and I needed to allow as much time and healing as possible to pass before that inevitable day. Everyday he would ask me if his lips were gone and every day I assured him they were not. He could see what his hands and arms looked like so he could only imagine what his face looked like. When family and friends would visit I would make them compose themselves in the hallway before entering his room. Bursting into tears, looking horrified or shocked was only going to make him feel worse and he was after all still the same person on the inside though he was dealing with a range of emotions after the shock and trauma from the accident started wearing off. Me… I felt like we could deal with anything as long was just kept him alive.

    When the day came when I could no longer postpone letting him look in the mirror and I had to put myself in his place and remember that the last time he looked in a mirror was weeks before when he was getting ready for work and the face reflected in the mirror then was not the face he was going to see now. I had to prepare myself for the emotions he would experience when seeing his face for the first time.

    We got through that experience and many more that became our lives for the next several years but everyday I was just grateful that he was alive. How does this relate to you? I would think for you it will be like seeing a friend that you have not seen since high school or college. They look very much the same except maybe a different haircut and possibly a little wiser from the events that have transpired in their lives since you last saw them. Even if they have gained a pound or lost a pound, changed their style of dress or changed their hair you would pick up right where you left off and be just as thrilled to see them without judgment of the superficial exterior changes. I believe looking in the mirror for the first time after a year will be a similar experience for you, like seeing an old friend whom you love, be glad to see and you will be completed unaffected by any superficial changes because you will now see a knowing in the eyes that look back at you. As my husband began to heal and his appearance began to improve over the months and years ahead, he too was happy to an older but wiser friend in mirror.

  5. I totally understand (and you know I do!). I'm wondering if there's a way for you to ease into the transition so that it feels as safe as possible. (Yes, I'm borrowing treatment language here...) Maybe do it gradually--starting to look at old photos a little more or something?

    Also, and I know you know this but I'll say it anyway: However you do your "first look" is totally up to you. I mentioned this when we talked on the phone but don't recall if it came up over dinner--I had thought I'd look at myself, have an unveiling where I'd be able to see myself and feel just so pleased to reconnect with myself, but I couldn't do it. I never had a "first look"; I never had a "moment." I stole some glances at myself, first in full-length mirrors in passing, and then occasionally up close, but almost like in my peripheral vision. I was hesitant to let it go, and was also nervous I'd look in the mirror and see a troll, even though I knew logically that wouldn't be the case. Maybe three days in I finally was looking at myself as I used to, but that too was gradual. It wouldn't have been safe for me to just stare at myself head-on after a month of not doing so at all--I'm not one to shy away from intense experiences, but honestly I wasn't equipped to handle that "moment."

    I don't know if doing a gradual "first look" is what would be right for you, but I'm just saying that if following through what whatever you've pictured in your mind is what feels safest, by all means do it--and if changing that vision is what starts to feel best, change it. You don't have to tell anyone about that moment if you don't want to (well, by the time you write about it in your book, but by then you'll have had time to get used to it).

  6. One of my nightmares is one where my teeth keep falling out in a matter of minutes. Then, as I look into the mirror (that's right, the mirror!) and see my reflection, I reach up to my mouth to touch my remaining few teeth with my finger. By touching them, they come loose and just as they are about to fall out, I wake up. Carry over from too many years at the orthodontist? I wonder

  7. when i shaved my head i would have dreams that my hair grew back overnight, long and luscious and i was soo happy! now that it is growing back, i have dreams where i shave my head again and think- noooO! what have i done?

    clearly i am still very attached to my physical appearance which is so silly but a reality that many of us live in. i have stopped wearing makeup now and my skin and face look so much healthier. i am finally loving how i look without makeup on a daily basis and am working through body image issues with the rest of me.

    i dont think its healthy for so much of my thoughts to be consumed by the outer physical appearance of this lense my consciousness experiences life through.

    i would like to go a while without mirrors as i am very very addicted to them :) maybe i will do it!

    how did you deal with the reflective walls/mirror like glass that seems to be everywhere in our modern world? what if you are walking towards it to enter a building or something?

  8. I am so happy you decided to blog your experiences without mirrors! It is such an interesting thing to do!
    I have tagged you in a TAG POST ~ and would love to see you do it and tag other bloggers too! I think it would be great to get you thoughts! Check out my blog to find the questions and have an amazing day!

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