By Pia Guerrero
Last night a woman asked what I do for fun. I quickly answered, “Hang out with my dog, Kayla.” To that she looked at me a little funny as if to say, “Oh, you’re one of those.” I don’t obsess or coddle my dog, as she wouldn’t have it. And certainly you won’t find me coochi-cooing her at any time. But I will say she’s taught me so much in her short life that I am inspired by her daily and truly love being around her. Kayla has taught me to prioritize fun, enjoy eating, live in the moment, and leave the past behind. She’s also taught me a thing or two about loving and accepting my body.
Gaining Weight as You Age is Completely Normal
Next year I’ll turn 40. The closer I get to that age, I notice the harder it is to maintain my weight. I used to wonder
what was wrong with me, for while most of my habits stayed the same, my waistline didn’t. Kayla is 11 years old. She weighs about 65 pounds and her lifestyle has gone from running around the park everyday to a brief walk once a day and lots of lounging around. She has arthritis and with aging has come some extra weight. In watching the dogs in my family over time, one thing is consistent. Regardless of their activity level, they gain weight as they age. That’s why there is “senior” food, to accommodate for the fact that, like humans, dog’s metabolisms slow down over time. Yet, in the human world, major freaking out seems to accompany the completely normal weight gain that happens as we age. Here’s one example I recently stumbled upon:
Once a year, Halle Berry 40, tries on the Mickey Mouse jeans she bought when she was 15. “It’s my annual test,” she reveals in the April issue of InStyle. “I try them on once a year, and if I can still fit into them, all is good in the world!”
We are fed by our media driven culture that we’re supposed to have the same bodies we did when we were boys and girls. What Kayla has taught me is that there is a natural progression and increase in size that comes with aging, which is 100% normal. Thanks to this observation, I don’t hinge my self-worth on the fact that I can’t fit into my prom dress anymore.
Marketing Gimmicks Make No Sense
As a 2 year-old, Kayla loved chew toys. She had all kinds and especially liked the squeaky ones that come in the form of a steak or turkey drum stick. What I noticed about these toys, along with the drumstick and steak kibble our cat ate, was that Kayla had no idea what these “shapes” meant. All she knew was that she liked to chew on rubbery squeaky things. As a dog owner I see gimmicks in almost every product in the pet aisle from camouflage covered “hefty” balls to bone shaped dog beds. In the marketing world gimmicks are used to make products “stand out” from or seem better than the rest. In reality gimmicks are mere novelties that speak to our ideals and views, void of all relevance to the product’s actual function or usability. It’s kind of like dressing your little dog up in a cowgirl outfit. The dog doesn’t care or want attention. It doesn’t even know what the hell you’re doing to it. It’s all an futile exercise for the entertainment of the human, making the whole process pretty ridiculous.
Gimmicks are made to entice us to buy certain things, like a pink headband with a bow for a bald baby girl. The baby doesn’t care, but we project all this meaning onto the headband to reinforce a completely made up differentiation in gender based on color. Blue for boys and pink for girls is a new concept in our culture. Supposedly back in the day, boys wore pink because it represented a watered down version of the fierceness of red. And girls were dressed in blue as it reflected the purity of the Virgin Mary. Like food shaped dog food, the blue and pink gender differentiations that mold the clothing, environment, and identities of our children are completely arbitrary, constructed and make absolutely no sense. The same logic applies to the perfumes, clothes, shoes, and gimmicks sold to us the make us believe we’ll be more sexy or attractive. You think that mascara is going to really give you 10x bigger lashes and make you more attractive? Think again.
I Am More Than My Body
Kayla was an athlete. She’d run after the balls in the park and right as she caught them she’d dive head first into a spectacular roll over, only to pop right up on all fours with the ball in her mouth. Unfortunately, in her old age a major tendon in her knee snapped requiring surgery. The vet sent her home with a 16 inch exposed incision on her leg barely held together with crude staples. The vet didn’t cover the wound and she also didn’t send Kayla home with pain meds (luckily we had some left over from our other dog).
The first night we brought Kayla home after surgery, she groaned in agony all night. I slept on the couch next to her so that I could pet and comfort her easily. Every time I caressed her face and ears, she did something that surprised me. She wagged her tail. A sign that even in the midst of such discomfort she found happiness.
Throughout the ordeal Kayla continued to wag when I did this, and as her condition improved she went right back to being an affectionate guardian and mildly hyper goof ball. Unlike a typical human reaction, Kayla didn’t mourn the loss of her ability to run after balls and she certainly didn’t care that she had an ugly 16 inch scar. She just continued on with the same zest for life she had before, wriggling on her back to massage it, chasing after butterflies, and excitedly waiting for table scraps.
I’ve had two kidney transplants and a number of surgeries that have left me with countless scars. What I’ve learned from Kayla is that what happens to my body has no connection to my spirit. Through her, I see that I have a choice. I can lament the changes in appearance of my body and indulge in regret and sadness for what I don’t look like anymore. Or, I can choose to appreciate the miracle that is my body and celebrate the second chance at life that these operations have given me. Like Kayla, my scars and larger size don’t mean anything except what I choose to make them mean. They don’t change anything about me, my character, or my spirit. I’m still me. Just as attractive, loveable, and vibrant.