Body Scans from 12.06.15

stripped part 2

I don't like spoilers, but this article contains various stats, as well as a discussion about how mine have affected my self-image and the psychology of my disordered eating and body preoccupation.

It's difficult to avoid all stats. For some, the troublesome ones can be reduced down to weights and measurements, but when it comes to how competition impacts eating disorders and body image, I'm not sure it's easy to draw lines regarding stats. One way or another, we are compared to others. Why are some of these ways more scary than others? What if you don't 'measure up' in any of the categories? Stats include whatever online photo/s you include, how many friends you have, how many interests and hobbies you have. How clear is your skin? How healthy is your hair? Are you a successful student? Do you have a career? Do you have a good attitude? A nice smile? For anyone lacking in any of these areas, how should they feel? If they feel 'triggered' by others posting such stats, are they supposed to rise above it, because it's silly not to? Once you give up the 'eating disorder stats' of weight and measurements and collarbone, bikini gap and thigh gap tests, do you go for the 'acceptable' stats which include accomplishments, 'healthy' weight, and a 'healthy' appearance endorsed by authority figures?

I recently had my body composition tested using DXA tech. It is not necessarily a very good thing to add more stats to one's life, and I do see how such testing could fuel preoccupations and add to the general craziness. However, the obsession with BMI annoys me. BMI really doesn't tell you much about a person's health or fitness. Blood work, blood pressure and body composition seem more likely to tell more of the story. And when it comes to my personal situation, I think having factual confirmation of some of my theories might be psychologically helpful to me.

Most people now have some awareness that BMI might designate some very fit and muscular people as being overweight or obese when they are not. But, no one seems to be saying that some people with a low BMI might be healthier than those with a BMI in the 'healthy range'. My recent health checks have all yielded 'positive' results. I seem healthy, despite being technically 'underweight'. I would hazard a guess that not many people looking at me would think I look underweight, and I suspect that many would actually think I could use some exercise, despite the fact that my overall body fat percentage is in the 'fitness' range, but depending on what I wear, there might be days when people think I look fit for my age. What does this mean?

At the DXA place, I was weighed in my clothes - 47.7 kg. Without the clothes, my weight was estimated at about 47.4 kg, (105 lbs). My height was measured at 162.5 cm (5'4"), which put my BMI at 18 and which means I was 'underweight'. I had the scans done 3 weeks ago, and I have lost a little more weight since that time. I am not sure if my body composition has shifted, but if it has, it would not be dramatic.

I had the option of changing into a gown, but I was too self-conscious to do so, and decided to stay in yoga pants and a long sleeve t-shirt (sports bra and underwear underneath - for the scans, you don't want any metal in there, including underwire in bras). I laid down on the x-ray table, my limbs were arranged by a technician and the scanning took 3-4 minutes. The technician warned me that people tended to look like 'squashed frogs', but maybe she was trying to make me feel better.

When it comes to the health-related aspects of my results, the scans show that I'm doing well.

I have very little visceral fat. This is the fat you can't see on the outside, the fat around your organs. My bone density is normal-to-high. So far, so good. These are both indications of health, and an encouraging sign that my years of excess haven't had serious or hidden effects in these areas. My overall body fat percentage was 21.6%, which for my age (49) is considered slightly low (the recommended amount is 23-34%), but this does not tell the whole story.

Depending on where you look, people have different ideas about what 'healthy' body fat levels for women are or aren't. Some, but not all, agree on the following:

Athletes: 14-20%
Fitness: 21-24%
Health: 25-34%
Over: 35%+

While the older women get the higher their body fat is expected to be, the average woman seems to be at around 40%, and yet there are fitness and health professionals who think women can or should be able to maintain somewhere from 8-14%. What body fat percentages do various celebrities possess? Are many of them in the 8-14% range, and if they are, should they get credit for training like elite athletes? What does it mean to be 'skinny fat', and at what percentage does that designation fit? Am I skinny fat? Is that why I don't look 'thin'? What does it mean if two women of roughly the same body fat and fitness level look different - for example, one has cellulite, and the other doesn't? Is this about fat distribution, skin type and elasticity, history of gaining and losing weight? Pregnancy effects? Hormones? Should women who have gained and lost wear a 'scarlet letter' which shames them for having ever gained weight if they haven't done it in the service of bringing forth offspring?

Average women are living quite long, so what is the big deal about having a bit more body fat? The possible burden on the healthcare system is not a good argument. It misses the complexity of the situation in psychological and evolutionary terms, is not likely to change behaviour, and might not really do much except cause people to be even more stressed out than they already are (and possibly gain even more weight.)

Skin is an incredibly important conditional factor when it comes to appearance and how it is judged/appraised. If you look at models, even plus-size models have nice skin that tends to look firm and smooth, but is this really how most women's skin looks? And why is 'curvy' an adjective that now only applies to women of a certain weight? Women in porn are quite a bit thinner than they used to be, while still being very curvy, and there are very slim women who have body types that are traditionally feminine. Females chosen for movie roles are often very slim, while still possessing the desired curves.

What if you have 'curves in all the wrong places'?

Roughly, when my body is divided into parts, the breakdown of body fat percentages is:

head: 19%
torso: 14%
arms: 27.5% (average of the two)
legs: 30% (average of the two)
overall: 21.6%

I want to discuss both the health-related and psychology-impacting factors in relation to my body composition. I find it somewhat amusing that my head and torso are considered in the 'athlete' range, whereas my limbs are only in the 'health' (or 'recommended') range. Yikes, what was it all before I lost weight and concentrated on getting more exercise? And what would it take to actually look fit all over? I feel like I've worked pretty hard already. I think, though, that having this info helps me to see that my perceptions aren't totally out of whack. My arms and legs are big and have a high fat content in relation to the rest of my body. This could easily result in me being perceived as bigger, or less fit, depending on what I wear, or what angle I am viewed from. I will try to take some photos which further elaborate on the issue, when I tackle part 2 of this subject matter.

One thing that has occurred to me is that the discrepancy in fat distribution might relate to my patterns of excess. For periods of time, I don't find it difficult to adhere to a fairly low fat diet on a daily basis (10-15%), as long as I can have periods of excess, and this is preferable to me to having a more moderate amount of fat continually.

I am unlucky in having 'curves in all the wrong places', but 'lucky' in that this sort of condition doesn't bode ill for health. Men are unlucky in being more prone to the kind of fat (around the midsection) that can impact health. I'm just unlucky in the sense that I will live a long life being sexually irrelevant to men. Which is worse? I'm laughing at myself, but I think underneath that I have been affected in ways that aren't easy to shake off.

It does seem to me that all along, I've had some idea of what was going on. Because I do not have an equal distribution of body fat, it actually is likely that people perceive me as being bigger according to what I wear, or that they might be 'disappointed' in seeing me naked if I've first managed to wear something flattering. At the same time, I don't want to get on the tangent of calling my body type 'weird'. There is some reason it was designed the way it was. I don't think it's grandiose thinking to say that I have or had a considerable potential for fitness-related things, or to speculate that although I am not beautiful or symmetrical, I might have a stronger and healthier body than many who are or do. (This is relevant because people often cite evolution: men are drawn to beauty and symmetry because they are indications of good health.)

Also, because of how the camera adds weight, I can attempt to explain why my body in particular might be susceptible to not photographing well - because the camera 'flattens' things, and my body is wide from the front and back, and narrow in profile. Meanwhile, my face/head are the opposite, which does seem to bear out my assessment that the lighting and photography that might suit my face does not suit my body.

It seems that people like to think of selfies as 'selfish'. But, if we realistically examine the culture we are part of, it is virtually impossible for females in particular to avoid being compared to models. Everyone has that baggage floating around somewhere in their conscious and unconscious. If someone says 'you should be a model', it means something in particular. If no one ever says it, it means something, too. Is it morally preferable to wait for someone, in all likelihood a guy, to say 'you're worth photographing, I want to photograph you' than it is to acknowledge that you want to be photographed, and to take the initiative so that it doesn't remain an unfulfilled secret wish that you wait for someone to give you permission to act on? Maybe it represents that you want to get in the game, or interact, be part of the big picture? What if you aren't in any circumstances where anyone would ever take your photo? What if you are photographically challenged, but not lacking in creativity? In today's visually-oriented world, should you just give up if you're not model material? Should you accept that you are just not one of the lucky ones who can inspire desire, or that the kinds of romance depicted through the ages is not for you, but you can probably still get married to someone who will live a life of quiet desperation pining for someone more beautiful, and/or who will dump you for someone 20 years younger if they ever get the chance?

When people say that women are harder on women than men are, it's not a very well thought-out assessment. Men sometimes aren't consciously in touch with how hard they are on women, and part of this might well relate to not having realistic ideas about standards of beauty. For example, the average woman might weigh 144-155 lbs, but men will think of average as 120 lbs. When a man is saying he's ok with someone average, what he usually means is the 120 lb version of average, with smooth, clear skin, and not necessarily what is indicative of average, or, he might have in mind an idealized version of 'plus-size', complete with firm skin, large breasts, and photogenic features. And why would women be hard on other women? Well, perhaps in an unconscious sense they are trying to get women to 'give up', drop out of the game. This can be an unconscious strategy to reduce the competition - for men. And women's harshness toward other women can also represent that all women are hard on themselves in ways that have been profoundly internalized. Everyone believes that women should be judged first on their appearance. This belief is just expressed differently by the different sexes.

Even 'plus size' models (who are not always technically plus-sized, but look more like average women, or even slimmer) are photographed with firm-looking skin, when the reality is that a large percentage of all women have cellulite. And when it comes to aging, the ones showing skin are the ones who look the most like the young women, the exceptions, or if there are some issues, there is still a case of it being better than the norm, although it is presented in a certain way as if to say 'even though I look like this, I'm ok, especially if I have these beautiful kids to show for it'. I think it is human nature to try to show the best, and to play down 'weakness' or 'flaws', but the more all of this goes on, the less anyone (including men) has a realistic idea of what women 'should' look like. And then we also have people who say that if one woman can achieve 10% body fat, then others who don't have more work to do, are lazy and self-indulgent. But there's very little awareness that 'healthy body fat' levels can display as not perfectly smooth, or that two individuals with the same level of body fat and a comparable level of fitness might look considerably different - one 'acceptable' and the other looking 'unhealthy' or 'unfit'.

It seems likely to me that my body fat distribution has affected my self-perception, and others' perceptions of me throughout my life. My body fat is not equally distributed, and even when I have exercised a lot and am capable of quite a lot from a fitness point of view (even when young), I might still look overfat in areas - especially in the legs. Going only by the scans above, and these comments, I can easily imagine people thinking 'ew' regarding my body type, and thinking it's a 'weird' body type. What is the reality moving around in life, in clothes? Do photographic facets tell the whole story? Do they give an impression of the kind of physical vitality I might have in person that is hard to convey in a photograph, but would be conveyed through motion, posture, and when in a room with other women? Is there a kind of energy or vibe that doesn't come through in photos?

I have been doing certain exercises for months, including lunges, hip raises, various versions of donkey kicks, squats, and now also deadlifts. I've also done a lot of pilates, as well as pushups and exercises for arms and upper body. Over the last 7 months, the amount of exercise I've done works out to more than half an hour a day, and roughly half is cardio and half is toning. But I think the assumption might be that I don't work on my legs enough, or that I'm doing exercises incorrectly. Or maybe I'm not doing enough overall, I have to step it up, or I'm not eating enough protein, or eating too high fat. What if I've actually followed the 'rules' pretty well, but still don't have the results that everyone thinks I should have? Should I look at increasing load/weight, but if I do, do I risk my legs getting even bigger? So, should I build my upper body to compensate? But meanwhile, my body fat would have to keep decreasing, and surely my upper body would be mainly muscle, and even less breasts? I think it makes sense that women with certain body types, like mine, think what makes most sense is to try to make the body as small as possible. However, it should be an option to go for muscle. If you do, though, you risk people calling it 'scary'.

When I was younger, it was likely my body fat was lower, especially during the times I worked out a lot. It was still possible for me to have cellulite at those times. Now, I find that my skin is looser. I have become aware of how stretching in various positions might result in bits not showing, but it would be too difficult to constantly be aware of having to flex and stretch and pose so that no loose skin anywhere on my body ever shows. I do admit that I feel like 'it's over'. 7 years ago, it wasn't too bad, but now, there is no way to 'fix' things. There is no way I will ever be able to just 'let it all hang out'. I am too aware of what people's (albeit unrealistic) expectations are, and how easy it is to horrify people. I've been thinking of sex as 'expendable'. It is a major effort to not totally give up on sex, but at the same time, I think the best I can do is try to remain open to the possibility of something unexpected, in spite of what my observations regarding the current state of things are screaming at me. However, I can't hold my breath, and I'm not sure I'm capable of 'looking'. I tried to be open to others finding something 'interesting' about me, I tried to be open to connecting deeply, but honestly, I think what most want is someone pretty, young, and 'nice', and all of that trumps 'interesting', any day. And even nice men take a magnifying glass to images they see, so to speak. In private, they zoom in, they flip images around to peruse them from different angles, and they do compare them to the ideals they have formed over a lifetime. They have ideas about perfection, and often about 'desirable' or 'acceptable flaws'. I think of the pleasures in life as relating to food, alcohol, drugs, fantasy. And sleep.

In the past, I have often worked out 2-3 hours a day for several weeks (or longer), and I do think it made a difference. This time around, my efforts have been less concentrated, but longer-lasting (more than 7 months). Usually, I lose control at a certain point and it's non-stop binge city (food or alcohol). I don't know what will happen this time. I could lose control at any time. I think I could enjoy life a bit more if I could trust myself to be able to maintain at about 105 lbs, but I have aimed at that in the past, and never been able to accomplish it for more than a short time. Will this time be different? The truth is that I do find it easier and more enjoyable to deal with the outside world when I'm about 105 lbs or so, and that might not be something I can change.

My goal weight is 44.5 kg (approximately 98 lbs) - but this is not the weight I want to maintain. I just wanna go the distance. It could be that this figure has been in my head since I was 7-10 years old, because of a little booklet my mother gave me at that time which contained ideal weights for women. At my age now, according to the booklet, (height factored in) I would actually be allowed to weigh more than 108 lbs (108 was the figure for adult women, 98 for teens and young women, and over 108 was for 'older' women - they were allowed a pound a year extra over a certain age, I think with a cap of 10 lbs, something like that.) I factored in a kind of inflation related to modern thinking/perceptions, and the omnipresence of cameras (as well as that the 'camera adds 10 lbs') and it seemed to make sense that I should aim at what young women 'should' weigh. I am only half-joking, but I do see a kind of humour in it.

Aren't I over all this now? Isn't it all seeming ridiculous and tiresome at my age? In truth, no, I'm not over it, and I think it might be 'unfinished business', or maybe even a sign that underneath everything, I still care about and wish for a sexually passionate and intimate relationship. I am still trying to achieve some kind of 'personal best' that would help me to psychologically enjoy such a relationship more. Effort is linked to that sort of thing. Objectively, it might be that I need to create a task or quest, and in my isolation, it is difficult to find an 'appropriate' one, or a more appropriate one. I think I can use the experience in a creative way that perhaps helps me to contribute more to the overall discussion. This becomes a sublimation of unrealistic and frustrated sexual desires. Does it make more sense to try to achieve something respectable and practical in life, something that would be more 'worthy' of 'love'? Fuck respectable and practical. This whole thing might be my great white whale, but dammit I can't get rid of the compulsion to go after it one more time, and finally get it right. It's no longer about trying to 'deserve' love, it's about beating this beast.

I have long suspected that to photograph 'well', I would actually need to be less than 98 lbs, but what I'm hoping to do is to see if I can develop my photographic skills to compensate. When I read about it being illegal to use models with a BMI under a certain amount, I find it ludicrous. Body types differ tremendously. Some women probably can't achieve the look without going lower than others (and might not actually look smaller than others of a higher BMI), but the weight/height stats alone don't prove who is healthier. Besides, how do you police this kind of thing? Most women know that you can gain or lose a few pounds fairly quickly if you try, or if you have to for a special occasion, or the right motivation (or at least it's less difficult when you're young). A large number of women live with fluctutating weight. I don't think the solution is to outlaw certain BMIs. Unfortunately, I think we all have to get more obsessed with the topic in certain ways - we have to examine the angles in more analytical ways, and we have to become more educated about variations. And, perhaps this might also be unpleasant, but it could be that we have to start examining the nature of competition itself in less moralistic and simplistic ways, and figure out what we really think in response to some of the cold, hard truths. We have to examine what human beings really are, want and value, as opposed to what they think they are, and should want and value. Not all people agree that superthin models look sick or awful (I don't), and those who do cannot expect their taste and morality to be accepted by all. What do those who have studied art and design think?

I want to know for sure what 98 lbs actually looks like on me. I think that I need to know. I realize it's risky to try to control this and expect to get away without triggering or reactivating some type of eating disorder or stress, but I think it would mean something to me to do my best, try to examine the outcome as objectively as possible, and then try to accept the backlash, wherever that goes. Am I again going to level off at about 130 lbs or so, or will I regain more? Part of the hoarding I have been doing involves preparing for a variety of outcomes and possible weights. I have bought clothes and underwear in a range of sizes, and think I might be ready to accept 'who I am', whatever that means this time. Er.. to a certain extent. I think I will reach a new level of peace with it all that won't necessarily be complete - I may isolate myself again, and not really want a lot of contact with 'reality' and people's judgments, but I might be more relaxed about living life in my own way, in excess, with enough food and wine to help facilitate a fantasy life.

Or, maybe I have reached a new phase and life will open up in ways I don't expect. Ha. Time will tell.

When I reach my goal weight, I will post the second part to this entry. If I don't reach it, I will probably try to do my best to take a few shots to illustrate some of the psychologically complicated issues related to my body before I gain too much weight back.

Yes, I'm well-aware that I sound stuck and doomed to repeat history. If that's the case, then bring it on. It's not like I see anyone really demonstrating alternatives that look appealing or realistic for me, personally.

I felt a burning need to seek out this information. In the end, though, the 'healthiest' thing to do might be to say 'ok, I tried this, I learned something, I'll see what I can realistically adjust, and get another scan in half a year to test that out, but maybe the way to go is to make a conscious choice to remind myself that the 'shoulds' can be challenged at every opportunity.'

stripped part 2

->exile on meme st: a diary