All I Really Needed to Know About Accepting My Body I Learned from My Dog

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

Feeling inhibited by changes in your body? Just ask, “What would a three-legged dog do?”

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 shaped 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 a 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 that 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 than 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.

9 thoughts on “All I Really Needed to Know About Accepting My Body I Learned from My Dog

  1. I love this. After several surgeries, I have some major scars which create “interesting ” shapes on my belly..but I’m here and I’m healthy and I’ve learned to appreciate my body for continuing to do everything I need it to do and won’t spend a second criticizing it for it’s “flaws”… :o)

  2. This was a delightful article to read. I often have looked upon my two year old dog to understand how simple joy is: playing ball in the local park, earning treats for doing tricks, lying down in the sun, licking people’s faces, barking at strange dogs, playfully chasing the more friendly dogs, drinking water when thirsty, snoozing when tired. Obviously, human happiness can’t possibly be placed on the exact same pedestal as dogs’ but it can certainly be remodeled after the very obvious and simple canine happiness.

  3. I absolutely love this article!!! We can learn so much about appreciating life from our animal companions 🙂 Thank you for sharing your (and Kayla’s) story!!!

  4. What a wonderful way of looking at bodies, for after all, we are mammals too! My son and I each have orange male cats, mine is a big fat thing even though he spends a good amount of time outdoors chasing chipmunks, rabbits and birds. My son’s is a wiry scrawny kitty, who never goes outside and spends a lot of time lounging around. Different kitties, different kitty lifestyles, different bodies. Funny, just like people.
    ps LOVE this quote you wrote “what happens to my body has no connection to my spirit”

  5. I(46) have an 8 yr old Mutt(Momma’s Mutt) and I have had him since he was 6 wks old. He and I have aged together we don’t seem to mind that we both walk a little slower these days. We’re both getting a little rounder too. He chasing our cat a little slower too or rather I should say the cat seems to chase him slower these days. But I haven’t thought about learning from him about us aging and gaining weight together. This has made me think about it in a new way thanks for writing it.

  6. oh i loved loved LOVED reading about the wagging tail!
    kayla sounds simply beautiful.
    gwendolyn lost her eye two years ago, and her tail wagged during all of recovery (two months +).
    i do love halle berry’s quote, as i’m an exbulimic who places many vegan eggs into that aesthetic basket, but i do understand where you’re coming from; and i’m glad that you realise it’s okay to NOT conform to society’s ideals of perfection.

  7. My cats would revolt if I brought a dog home but I absolutely loved this piece. It’s a national pastime to over-analyze and over-think just about everything, and our appearance seems to be at the top of the list of things we judge about ourselves. It keeps us from enjoying life. Yes, we need to look at the dogs. 🙂

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