It’s another spectacular morning for walking, our fifty-fourth day on the GR5. The mist from the River Doubs rises to meet the sunbeams. The dew sparkles on the long marsh grass blades. We walk along the river for eleven kilometers against the current. This is the river where Jim skinny-dipped and I forest bathed yesterday.
Slowly, the limestone walls of the valley grow taller and move in closer. At this point, the GR5 guides us up, up, up out of the deep river gorge and onto a high bluff. The GR5 used to stay along the river, but the limestone outcroppings have eroded and fallen in places, so it is too dangerous to walk along the river in this section.
I’m happy clambering up out of the river valley. The uphill exertion releases more endorphins, and as I climb, my mind churns faster, ideas rising and taking form. I’ve noticed I usually have more ideas as I go up. I don’t know if it is from the endorphins or from more oxygen to my brain. I pull out my iPhone and record a Breathless Kathy video. I talk about how strong I feel. Then I watch a bit of it while I walk.
I gasp when I see myself in the video. So, I record another video, talking about what just happened when I saw my external image. Internally I feel strong. But, when I look at the frame of myself, it does not match the picture in my head of a young thin woman. The picture on the phone, like a mirror, is of a woman who is starting to turn gray with a rounded belly. I have not seen myself in a mirror much this trip, except my face in the bathroom mirror. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I looked in a full-length mirror.
Looking back, I see that not looking in a full-length mirror was a blessing, a gift to myself.
Our culture brainwashes us, to the extent that when I think of “strong,” I automatically think, “thin and young.”
Strong can be older, wiser, and rounder. Both my character and body are proof of that.
I know it intellectually, but I just got triggered by my photo. I thought I had completely accepted my body. Standing in the river yesterday when I was forest bathing, I felt one with my body. I loved my belly. How can an external image crack the internal image so quickly? Body image acceptance continues to be a long road.
Because I overate cookies and sweets through middle school, high school, and college and I have a big-boned body, I was always the big girl. I was never super fat because I did sports and stayed active. But I was different from the stick-thin bird girls in my competitive private schools.
How do we help change society’s views of older, rounder women, when I can’t even change my own beliefs? That picture of me is me.
My body has changed some. I’ve shed a little here and a little there from all the walking. I don’t use the word lost because lost implies that I want it back. Though in truth, I know it will wander back to me when I get home.
Still recording, I talk about my fears of going home at the end of the walk. Will I unshed a little here, a little there? Once home, there is no way I will be able to keep up with walking six or seven hours a day, nor do I want to. What will my new norm be? Why, at the age of fifty-seven, do I even care what I look like on the outside? Maybe I care more about the inside. Wouldn’t it be healthier for everyone if we didn’t judge others for their size? No one knows what is going on inside another. I have had thin female clients that endlessly worry that they will gain a pound. They are so wrapped up in their body image that they can barely participate in their lives. I send compassion for all the women and men who worry about their size. As a culture we need to get over this. We need acceptance. I will keep working on accepting my body—my lovely body.
I stop recording.
What I do know is this: I can walk day after day. I breathe, walk, and absorb this feeling into my bones. That picture of a rounded woman who can walk all day across mountains is strong.
She is me.