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Hideous Mutant Freak?

I’m becoming better friends with my body. (This isn't about masturbation, so there's no need to get grossed out and stop reading.) What I mean is that I’ve been getting over this bad attitude I’ve always had about my body, like it was some burden, some troublesome alien entity that was fixed onto me, but not really a part of me. My body made demands that I tried to meet, but I didn't want to deal with it too much since I wasn't so crazy about it. I made occasional attempts at regular maintenance like check-ups, infrequent and haphazard exercise routines, and eating and sleeping and such, but mostly I just didn't want to be bothered. Inner life is the true mark of a man, right? What a crock: I was just insecure but too lazy and pessimistic to do much about it.

Last year was a big wake-up call, though, a reminder about taking care of myself that I couldn't ignore. As I turned things around and tried to function like more of a well-tuned machine, I also started to pay more attention to the physical needs I used to ignore: I’ve been eating better (note to self: try to eat dinner more regularly, and cook for yourself now and then), getting more exercise, and even gasp! resting when I feel overwhelmed and stressed out. I even have regular moments of thinking I’m not so scrawny, not so funny-looking, not so invisible. I’ve been figuring out how to accept the body I’m stuck with (even if I’m not crazy about it), how I can adjust it to my satisfaction, how to remember it's part of me, not just a shell or an annoyance. Trust me, these are the hallmarks of an all-new, never-before-experienced Sparky. I don't have the whole act down pat yet, but I’m still trying.

My friend João, a Brazilian choreographer and dance teacher, has been visiting us from Germany while he takes a class here. He's extremely, sometime shockingly, observant, and very sensitive to how people move and carry themselves. When I picked him up from the airport a couple of weeks ago, he immediately remarked on the difference in my bearing in the two years since he'd seen me last. He picked up on the way I carry less tension around, how I stand with a little more confidence, how I focus a little bit more on what I’m doing at a given moment instead of wandering and fidgeting. (None of this was in evidence at lunch yesterday, when I realized how jumpy I was after a stressful morning and had to consciously remind myself that no one warms up to a fidgety freak.) Lately, I actually pay attention to how wound up I get, and start making small adjustments until I let it go a bit. It's been weeks and weeks since I was so tense that I walked around looking like I’d just been shot in the small of the back.

Still, I have an utter lack of objectivity about my body and the way it looks. Every so often, I take out the camera and do a batch of self-portraits so I can get an outsider's view. Photography, of course, is not totally objective, but it does give me a chance to get outside myself and see what everyone else might be seeing. It's hit or miss, without a doubt. I can still understand why I’m not everyone's type, but I can also see how some things about me actually work well enough. More importantly, I can see the change. I can see that my thirties, my change in attitude, and my concerns about my health seem to be treating me pretty well. It was just a matter of realizing the body isn't a loaner: it's mine and I have to treat it that way.

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