I’ve always known there would come a time when I would need to write about one of my least favorite subjects, and today is apparently the day. With three young adults in the house – two of them women – the topic of body image keeps floating to the surface like a punch in the face. “I’d like to inject my nose so that it goes up a little and is cuter.” “I have these weird [literally microscopic] lines on my foot, and I don’t know how to get rid of them.” Argh, if their “imperfections” merit this kind of attention, then I’m supposed to be worrying about my belly fat and cellulite, right?
Yes, the topic du jour is being fat.
(Please, please, please do NOT try to make me feel better by commenting that I’m not, that I’m just big-boned, or that I’m being too hard on myself. If you do, you’re missing my point.)
Here’s the thing. I’m not talking about fatness vis-à-vis the numbers on the doctor’s office wall chart. Or even facing that my once baggy pants now are impossible to button. I’m talking about the the whacked-out, controlling anxiety about the threat of being fat. I have been every size and covered the scale from low to high, and I have NEVER once believed that I was the right weight. If only I were 5-10-20 pounds lighter, life would be PERFECT and everyone would marvel at my perfectness. Yeah right. I have been 50 pounds lighter and don’t recall ever saying, “Bingo! I have arrived!” Nor has anyone ever said, “You are the perfect version of you right at this very moment.” Even on those days when I rocked those low-riders, I have foregone reveling in that glory for a much clearer focus on my double chin or my stretch marks.
What gives?? I mean, it’s not like I need to be skinny to do my job. I’m no professional athlete or super model. And contrary to what lots of people think, I’m not burying some deep issue by eating instead. I just simply get more pleasure from food (and booze) than I do from working toward an elusive “ideal” weight or appearance. After all, I know in my heart of hearts that those things really doesn’t exist at all, don’t I? So, why would I choose a life guaranteed to cause frustration and to deliver defeat?
Despite being somewhat competitive, I really don’t like to lose, so more likely than not, given the limited range of talents in which I am assured victory, I simply choose not to participate. Sure, I’d like to learn to swing a golf club as gracefully as a pro, but I’m telling you, that shit is a bear, and I have way too many things to do to work that hard on one skill. That said, I do admire Tiger’s drive, and could while away an afternoon watching the majesty of it. Why then, if I know this about myself, can’t I read the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition with the same respect for the achievement of those models and, in turn, the self-acceptance not to think I’m supposed to be able to look like the beauties that grace the pages?
I’m not really a fan of the chain link bikini anyway. No offense, Rebecca.
Jim dutifully works out regularly, which he sees as maintenance of his “vessel.” Sure, he battles the demons of a perfect body weight, but in large measure, he goes to the gym to help maintain his flexibility and mobility. I respect that, and I am grateful that he never makes me feel like a failure for not joining him. Honestly, I even feel tempted by the opportunity to engage in vehicular maintenance, certainly more so that I see any point in hopping on the elliptical with a goal of having one of The Top 50 Most Bubblelicious Butts on Instagram. Then again, I would be lying if I said that the anxiety of others’ expectations of how I should look FAR outweighs any instinct for self-preservation.
When we develop our egos about body image, it’s at a time of great social risk: adolescence. The constant threat of judgment, shame, unacceptableness, and – consequently – unloveableness is very, very real, particularly in middle school years, when that shit is everything. Try as we might – if it is even tried at all – being taught to see people from the inside out just hasn’t taken hold. Sure, we can blame the media, Hollywood, and, yes, even Nike, but shouldn’t we be able to drum up the strength and means to match – if not dominate – their influence? After all, we know that their only interest is in making money. Our interest is in making happy and healthy humans, no?
Okay, Nike, I’ll concede that carrying extra weight causes health risks. Have faith that those of us with some extra around the midriff are keenly aware of that fact. But don’t forget, though, that so does feeling anxiety, breathing polluted air, self-loathing, and being an asshole. And, as luck would have it, we all get to make choices about where we devote our self-care energy, don’t we? I just choose to devote more of my attention to my emotional strength and well-being. My trainers always have been of the psychotherapist persuasion, and I’ve been religious about working with one since my mid-teens. Take that.
Anyway, back to being fat. Don’t get me wrong. I know I’m not physically repulsive, but I really haven’t retained any memories of feeling beautiful or being told that I am. BUT I do know exactly where I was standing at age 14 when my mother’s friend said, “You’d be so pretty if you weren’t so fat.” Ditto the time my “close” friend commented when seeing a 40 year old me after a period of time apart, “Oh good. You are still skinny.” Or when I recently greeted a former professional associate, only to be met with a clearly disappointed, “Oh my. You’ve gotten so fat that I hardly recognize you.”
What the ever loving fuck?
First of all, why does ANYONE think it’s okay to say these kinds of things? Like I’m going to respond with a “Oh, thank god you said something!” Or an “I hadn’t noticed!” Or a “My bad!” No, I will not. I will spend all my energy figuring out how, given my inability to become invisible on demand, not to run and hide or to just stand there and cry. I will bumble around trying to find words to make the situation less awkward for YOU, even though you don’t seem to think it’s awkward at all. Not only will I do that, I DID do that. Every time.
While I’m on the subject of greetings, why does virtually every visit begin with a commentary about how someone looks? Shouldn’t we lead with an exchange about how happy we are to be with one another? Then again, don’t think of trying this with me, because when you don’t greet me with a hello NOT immediately followed by, “You look great!” I will know just exactly what your lack of assessment is saying: I’m fat.
Seriously, how messed up is that?
Speaking of which, and second of all, what the fuck about my holding on to these nuggets of cruelty? And not just for the afternoon or for a week. For FOREVER. Effing criticisms… they stick with us for life, like herpes (I’ve read). Compliments, on the other hand, evaporate into the ether like air from a popped balloon. Why does our evolution allow this dysfunction to persist when it serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever? Isn’t it time for this pointlessness to fall by the wayside, like webbed toes?
“Can you believe people actually used to care about what stupid people thought of them?”
“I know! Can you imagine what it must have been like to be judged on your appearance??”
“Right? What a waste of time and so destructive of humanity!”
“Thank GOD we live in a time when people are the champions of people!”
“Seriously! It’s a wonder that all of that emotional warfare didn’t wipe out mankind.”
Truth be told – and I know this will come as a shock to some – no matter what my body looks like, my intellect, character, heart, and soul remain the same. Actually, that’s not fair; they keep getting better and healthier. And I am extremely proud of my work in this regard. Put that truth in your pipe and smoke it, people… including you, Lucy (she says creepily referring to herself in the third person)!
Smoke it? Nah, I’d rather eat it, thankyouverymuch.
To read more about our Tiny House #1, view a gallery of that completed project’s progress photos, and join me in my musings, take a wander around my website.