gratitude-a-thon day 184: accepting my body (sort of)

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Women and their bodies. This twitter post from comedian Annie Lederman is a good example of how hard it can be to look in the mirror if you have a vagina. Men aren’t like we girls, when it comes to looks. Sure, they might pump and primp some, but they do they really look in the mirror in horror that their bodies don’t look just like Ryan Gosling’s? Not really.

But women, well, that’s an entirely different box of cookies. Women look in the mirror, horrified that they don’t look like a 15 year old girl. This is what we’ve done to ourselves. We’re so youth obsessed, that if you have an inch to pinch, if you have a pooch, or a pouch, or a piece of ass you can grab, you’re ashamed.  If you don’t have bodacious boobies, long streamlined legs, and a taut tummy, you are a sloth, a second class citizen, a B-lister.

You would think that by my age, I would be immune to the pressure, but I’m not. There, I said it. I’m not. I was walking around the reservoir the other day and saw a woman runner who was clearly anorexic whoosh past me and I immediately thought, “I wish I looked like that.” My mind took over before logic rushed in and I came to my senses. Sort of. Because the truth is, I wish I looked like that more than how I actually look. And that is seriously fucked up in the most severe way. FUCKED UP BEYOND FUCKED UP-NESS.

But examine your world for 10 minutes and you can see why this instant envy of a body that’s sinewy and muscular, with as little body fat as a piece of tofu, seemed so attractive to me. We’re surrounded by younger and younger models, who shout at us from magazine ads and billboards, and corrupt our television life with unrealistic bodies, with images of success that only include being thin. Thin always=happy, right?

When I was in high school, before anorexia was a mainstream topic, I was on the edge of it. I dieted my way through all four years, never becoming emaciated, but plenty thin. I was obsessed with how little I could eat. And then on the weekends, with how much I could eat. I exercised a lot. I knew the calorie count of air. My obsession was boring and mind numbing and took up time I could have been doing something more productive. But with an unpredictable alcoholic father, it makes sense that I was trying to control something that I could control, my body. Even at 5’6 and 115, I still thought I was fat.

Fortunately (and unfortunately) when I was in my early 20’s a back injury prevented me from over-exercising, and my body weight became what it should be naturally. It was hard to give up running, a good way to keep me thin, but I didn’t have a choice. I still watched what I ate, and did silly diets now and then, but I was never again like I was in high school. And I think about how lucky I am that something clicked for me, foist upon me by a faulty disc in my spine, I became more realistic. I no longer had all the tools I needed to be super thin. And THANK GOD FOR THAT.

But I admit, I still have feelings about my body and it being less than perfect. And as I have aged, I have had to let go of any delusions of it ever being near perfect again. With c-section scars, and cellulite, my menopausal inner tube of fat circling my middle, my flaggy arms, I am what I am. Which isn’t to say, that I don’t exercise, because I do, but I don’t over exercise. And it isn’t to say, I don’t watch my weight, because I do, and I would gladly diet if you just got more food to eat. I am lucky to have a halfway decent metabolism. But I’m heavier than I’d like to be, and I’m always working on it  Unfortunately, the image of perfect bodies can still make me long for the unrealistic, ridiculous and unhealthy.

My daughter has a strong body. It’s beautiful. She is a soccer player and can boot that ball into tomorrow. I love to watch her on the field, running like a windy day, and ready to kick some serious ass. I took her to the beach yesterday with two of her friends. Their  bodies all jet fueled with youth, were rocking bikinis and frolicking somewhat unselfconsciously in the ocean. They ate chicken ceasar wraps and chipwich ice cream sandwiches. My daughter did mention how thin one of the girls was a few times with an envious lilt. And she is starting to call herself fat on occasion, but she doesn’t care the way I cared. She doesn’t feel the way I felt. She doesn’t have to. And I’M HAPPY for her that she doesn’t. I guess I did. I guess it was my way of managing my world back then. And I still have a bit of a hangover from that time.

But that’s just my story. And only a sliver of it. But what about the rest of us? What about all of us who can’t look in the mirror because we might see Danny DeVito looking back at us, or worse yet, the fat lady from the circus? How do we get real, in a world where real is no longer real. I always tell Ally to eat healthy stuff, but to also eat treats and that food is one of life’s best parts. I tell her that her body is gorgeous, and it moves like a perfect ballet. She loves food, but she has a hunger for sports and life that make it work just fine. But she will likely struggle at some point, give in to the ideal of the perfect female form, depicted by the thin and airbrushed. There’s lots of progress, of course, just look at the Dove campaign, but we women are still in the middle ages when it comes to our bodies, and what we deem acceptable. I’m grateful that I didn’t ever fall over that food disorder cliff I came so close to. And grateful my daughter values the strength her body gives her to play soccer like a rock star.

And now, yay, it’s breakfast time.

4 thoughts on “gratitude-a-thon day 184: accepting my body (sort of)

  1. Wow is this ever a personal war I wage with myself as well. Alek used to say that I only saw myself as a series of flaws and could never see the whole package. My current beau constantly tries to correct my attitude about this. But like you, when you grow up with the world telling you that Cheryl Tiegs or Christie Brinkley are the ideal… Well now… No one was telling me that I was the ideal.

    So I developed my “personality” right? I remember telling some friends once that I would kill to know… For just one day what it would feel like to be drop dead gorgeous.., and they (all lawyers) were horrified. But I was being honest.

    And at 55 I still struggle, as all women do.

    If I had a daughter I don’t know how I would handle it. Sounds like you’ve done a good job on that.

    Oh and in today’s NYT there is an article about little girls wanting to wear heels. And so it goes.

    • first of all, jocelyn–i’ve always thought you were beautiful! not just pretty, or sort of ok, but actually beautiful, so your admission surprises me.

      i didn’t write much about developing my insides, but obviously, that’s what i did. it was a better use of my time! xo

  2. Layered, complicated, insightful. As you can tell by your amazing response! Between the ages of 18 and 25 I was 114 and 5’6″ as well (skinnier before that). I ate everything in front, behind, below, and above me and never gained weight. At McDonald’s (a frequent college hangover stop) I would eat the Big Mac AND the 6 piece McNugget. And I had fries with that. My parents had me checked for tape worm. The year I got married, my body just changed. For good, I guess. It took me a while (a couple of decades) to get used to it — to not have being really skinny part of my identity. Something that people would talk about. But I see the women in my family and it’s just what I got w my genes. I was lucky my body held out as long as it did. If I’m exercising and not overeating, I don’t care anymore, though. I haven’t had a scale since… I dunno, but i was still married at the time, so a while ago.

    • it’s weird to have “once been….” anything and then change. takes some time to catch up with your new identity. but it’s ok, it turns out, just sometimes you still have the hangover symptoms.

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