Author: Susan Price

A Matter of Balance

Eat reasonable amounts of healthy foods. Exercise regularly. Stay on track.

Girl in Balance Artwork by Hebron Chism

It sounds pretty straightforward. Speaking as someone who has tried scads of diets, lifestyles, regimens, books, gyms, training regimens, classes and sports over the years, I can say that each time, I have discovered and rediscovered that the weight, health and fitness equation really does come down to doing these three things regularly.

Much of the time, I have a hard time really accepting this.

The artwork pictured here is a piece I commissioned from the amazing Hebron Chism. It’s called “Girl in Balance.” It depicts me when I was 15 years old (the age my son is now). The piece is a celebration of self discovery, with a bittersweet edge.

My parents divorced when I was 7, and my Mom worked 2 and 3 jobs and went to college, so money was tight and my parents were largely absent. My two brothers were great human beings, but they were older, able to escape. I was trapped at home a lot.

Loneliness and relative poverty are a hell of a way to spend puberty. I comforted myself with Beatles records, dancing, playing the piano, and lots of hot, sweet, milky tea and toast with margarine.

But back to the moment this artwork depicts. Through the help of some dear friends, I had taken up tennis, gymnastics and jumping rope, and had gotten my body into decent shape. To my amazement and delight, I learned that I could stand on my hands for up to 10 minutes at a time. This ability literally turned my self-concept upside down.

I rent studio space for my interactive agency from artist and art community leader James Hendricks. When Hebron camped there for a few months, I saw him sculpting these gorgeous human figures out of blocks of plywood, all poised and graceful and in balance. I was particularly drawn to the ones of heroic female figures. Here’s one of the Chinese Mulan woman warrior figure. Note that Mulan can not only shoot an arrow with her feet while standing on her hands – she also wears a mask.


Even though each piece ends up affixed to a stable base, each of Hebron’s sculptures actually does BALANCE as a freestanding wooden figure.

Except mine! Let me tell you why he made an exception in my case.

Commissioning the Girl In Balance Artwork

I had never commissioned an artwork before, but James knew how taken I was with Hebron’s pieces and encouraged me to talk to him about them. After a philosophical discussion about what I liked about the piece, some Google images searches and a few skillful questions via email, Hebron caused a bunch of concepts to come tumbling out of me, which was very therapeutic! What balance means. The beautiful arc of body I remembered as I kicked up into the handstands. The ability to surprise myself and others. The vital importance of books and my piano to my ability to maintain emotional balance. The aloneness – which ended up symbolized by that lovely elliptical base.

We went back and forth on the body position. Hebron explained that I couldn’t have maintained that pretty arced body position for 10 minutes at a time; that in order to be stable, my body had to be pushed up much more straight – or it would be too much effort to maintain the balance. He explained that I started with an arc and then straightened up – I had to have done. That rang a bell, and I realized I had never actually seen myself in the position anyway.

So we compromised – he depicts me just as I had kicked up into the handstand – with the little flutter of my shirt showing that movement – in the moment JUST BEFORE I achieved balance.

And that makes it even sweeter. It symbolizes the fact that none of live in balance. We wobble. We strive. Sometimes we fall and have to get back up. And that’s ok.

The other thing this artwork made me realize, is that I can be superwoman like Mulan. I can stand on my hands for 10 minutes at a time, and do it alone, without help. But working that hard to maintain balance, I can’t really do anything else. My hands are occupied. I can’t shoot an arrow. To really get things done, I need to stand on my own two feet, and be willing to accept the help of others.

I do yoga to Rodney Yee DVDs. If you don’t know him, Rodney is a very well known yoga teacher, with many years of experience. Beautiful control and body positions. Yet on our big-screen TV, I can see his muscles flexing as he constantly, constantly, wobbles and corrects, wobbles and corrects. Even Rodney Yee. His corrections are so small you have to look carefully to see them. But they’re there. Most of the time, even Rodney isn’t in balance. He’s working to achieve it.

Thank you, Hebron Chism, for helping me find my balance and better understand what balance means.

The Diet Equation

I am not a math genius. But after more than 45 years struggling with weight and fitness issues, I submit to the validity of the following equation:

Energy Stored (FAT) = Energy Intake – Energy Expended.

Dammit, dammit, dammit! I wish, wish, wish I could find a diet, pill, surgery or anything that would mean I don’t have to master myself and take responsibility for and control over all variables in that equation. But I’m ready to give up on the wishful thinking. I have tried many things, and considered many more. Whenever it seems like someone has THE answer – often that’s a fleeting, nonpermanent state. I’m getting OK with that.

Everything leads me back to the equation, and the need to take responsibility for what I eat and how I live and move.

The Health and Fitness Spiral

Speaking for myself alone, these are important contributing factors to unhealthy weight and obesity:

  • Wishful thinking
  • Self pity
  • Stress and overwork
  • Hard marketing and easy availability of cheap, fast, inexpensive foods loaded with sugars and refinedĀ flour

I lack the math skills to express a spiral, but my best method for gaining control over my diet and fitness is a positive feedback loop or spiral.

Reps for My Tiny Little Willpower Muscle

Tiny, repeatable actions can move me up the spiral toward health and fitness, or down toward indolence, overeating and self-pity. What I’ve learned is that, at any point, I can initiate a positive feedback loop with a single step toward where I want to go. The starting step can be ridiculously easy, like ordering the fish instead of the bacon cheeseburger, or going for a 10-minute walk. Or here’s one: trying a food I have avoided for years, like this beautiful produce from the Leon Valley Farmers Market around the corner from my house that happens each Wednesday morning:

beautiful golden beets and colorful chard

That one step boosts my confidence and self esteem a tiny little bit. Let’s say my first step was a 10-minute walk. The walk gets my blood moving and perks me up. Internally I’m saying “Good for you, you got out there, at least.” My stress level goes down just a tiny little bit. I’m 10-minute-walk nicer to my family. I feel 10-minute-walk better about myself. And feeling just that little bit better, I do another small thing, and another, and another.

Pretty soon, I’m starting to think I’m someone who cares about herself. I order the salad and fish instead of the bacon cheeseburger. My clothes begin to feel looser. I take more care in selecting what I’m going to wear. I notice how I feel.

And so on, up the spiral, just a tiny little action at a time. A wise woman once described this type of small-actions-getting-big-results-over-time as training a tiny, flaccid little self-care muscle. Over time, with enough reps, I’ve become someone who takes care of herself more.

Sliding Back Down? One Upward Step Stops the Slide

Like almost everyone I know, I do well for awhile, then something happens and I start losing ground on my spiral, slipping down in the wrong direction. I get overwhelmed, stressed or anxious. On a business trip, I comfort myself in a hotel room with food. I hurt my knee and can’t work. Waaah. And the scale, or my clothes, sooner or later tell me I’m not taking care of myself again.

The answer is always: Love myself, forgive myself for slipping, for being human, for finding this place again. As soon as I notice it’s happening, take the first step back up the spiral. Start from where I am.

Fresh figs from my backyard