Our Reflection

For most of my life I’ve played hostess to a loop of ugly, self-depreciating thoughts which set up shop in my head sometime in middle school.

I wasn’t particularly pretty and my grades where certainly nothing to get excited about. I was teased relentless about my big nose and my large boobs. So, as kids often do, I found identity in the one thing that people complimented me on: how thin I was.

Not long ago I was at a get together with a few friends and some people I had met just that afternoon. We were all chit chatting when the subject turned to dieting and weight, as unfortunately it so often does for us women. I admit, I hate these conversations. I hate the way otherwise rational woman eagerly start throwing themselves under the bus by “confessing” personal details about their body in some sort of martyr like fashion. I hate how disparagingly we describe ourselves as numbers, sizes and weights. I hate how we verbally accost ourselves for that extra cupcake that extra bite of ice cream we ate.

I hate it because even though I’ve spent most of my adult life doing it, I still don’t know the best way to respond anymore than I know what I am hoping to get out of these self-loathing kvetch fests myself.

Taking part in these conversations always leaves me feeling icky, bare and exposed–wishing I’d just kept my mouth shut. Wishing I hadn’t just confessed my most inner fears and frustrations about my body to a group of people. Regretting my impulse to publicly apologize for how imperfect a person I am.

However, this conversation was tame and I knew the other party well, so I felt safe to indulge a little in this body-conscious discussion.  We sat talking about her goals. My goals. What types of exercise we prefer. Foods that make us feel our best and our worst. It was all on the up and up.

But, like with any conversation had in public, at any moment a bystander can jump in and take the conversation in a new direction.

Soon body types were being compared and body parts scrutinized. Numbers were mentioned. Secrets were spilled. Imperfections flaunted. I even had the pleasure of being referred to as “big-boned” by someone I just met. The conversation just took on a life of it’s own.

The fact that I feel the need to somehow prove to you all that I am not “big-boned”really bothers me. I have typed, erased and retyped my actual height and weight several times, trying to decide what my motive is. And that’s exactly my point. It’s not necessary because the labels we assign ourselves or which are at times assigned to us aren’t always reflective of who we actually are.

 

After four babies and struggling with my health because of the damage celiac disease has caused my body, it has been a really hard thing to reckon with the fact that I am no longer the skinny girl.

For years I had it in my head that my non-skinniness was temporary and that inside me was the body of a 17 year old. One without stretch marks, that pestering loose skin around her upper arms, and that huge ugly scar from her cesarean. The body that made me feel worthwhile and pretty. And to be even more honest, a little hot.

After my first baby I went on a strict diet and exercise regime and lost of lot of my baby weight, only to find that I was left with nothing better than a thinner version of my newly postpartum body. So I did what any other sane woman would do–I cried angrily.

When I gained even more weight during my battle with celiac disease, I finally stopped looking in the mirror.

I hated everything I saw, so what was the point?

In 2005, after years of slinging insults and muttering curses to the reflection that so disgusted me, I decided the only way out was to go under the knife.

So one early spring evening when my husband got home from work, I went to see a plastic surgeon. I’m fairly certain my husband thought I was losing my mind, but he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. I sat in the waiting room, pretending to read magazines but instead trying to figure out what procedures the others in the room had done or were recovering from. My heart raced when my name was called. A drop-dead gorgeous nurse walked me back to the examination room and handed me a paper gown. Clearly, they new how to market. “The doctor will be in momentarily”, she said before closing the door on her way out, leaving me standing there, all alone with my thoughts.

There was a table and a chair on one side facing a floor-length mirror on the opposite wall in the chilly, dark brown room. I hopped between the chair and the table trying to find something comfortable, but I was shivering from cold and from the realization of how far down this road of self-hatred I had gone.

Later, I followed the doctor into his office. As we sat facing one another from opposite sides of his desk, he wrote down a plan of action on a pad of paper for me, explaining in detail what it all meant; a cut here, a snip there and just like that I’d be perfect. Or nearly perfect anyhow–because it would be a lot better if I could throw in for that lipo around the hips; an extra $2000.00 per side, of course.

I flashed the smile of a person who didn’t think $4,000.00 was a lot of money. Then I walked out the door and drove back home determined to make this work.

It had been a long time since someone called me skinny. A long time since I felt beautiful. A long time since I didn’t cry at the thought of having to be seen in a swimming suit. And at the moment, I would have given him every thing I owned in this world just to feel worthwhile again. Just to stop hating that monster I saw in the mirror.

I was desperate.

Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that an $8,000 elective procedure was so far out of the realm of possibilities that I’d as soon fly to the moon. And ultimately, I came to be thankful for that.

This isn’t a debate about plastic surgery. Who am I to decide if it’s the right thing for another person or not? What I do know is that I was looking for was permission to feel beautiful. And that, I realized, just wasn’t going to come by way of trying to carve out my inner skinny girl with a scalpel.

I admit, I was very upset with myself for participating in the conversation. It goes against one of the rules I have had set for myself to help me stay in a healthy head-space. But I slipped up and when things went out of my comfort zone, it was too late for me to jump ship. I just had to ride it out and hope for the best.

And for just a moment I became that self-conscious, self-loathing girl of 25 again. I wanted to shrink back into my shell and hide from my rising insecurities. But, then I remembered that just three hours ago I had left the house feeling good about myself. I was wearing a skirt that I felt played up my curvy features and a sweater I felt complimented my skin tone. I had truly felt good about what I’d seen in the mirror, and I grounded myself once more with that thought.

I realize this was actually necessary to show me how far I’ve come. There was a time when this really would have destroyed me. I would have heard that remark and it would have chipped away at what little self-esteem I had. I would have incorporated it into my personal ritual of self-bashing.

But, I no longer think of myself as the fat skinny girl. Yes, I have days where I feel like a bloated, big-nosed, stringy-haired hot mess, but I make a point to now see myself as a sum of all my parts instead of only individual short-comings.

I’ve worked hard to tear down my unhealthy habit of self-hatred and replaced it with a healthy self-image, and I don’t ever intend to go back to thinking of myself as the ugly duckling. Because when it’s all said and done, we are the only ones who hold the keys to deciding just who is staring us back in the mirror every morning.

 

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16 thoughts on “Our Reflection

  1. Looking back over a life of fighting off depression over weight, I can understand the way that we make our whole self into weight. I started off always very thin. I didn’t even ever think about it. I expected to always be thin. I didn’t even know how eating and weight were related. I didn’t care about eating, so I didn’t care about weight. I married and got pregnant and had a lovely son. I was shocked at how big I was after the baby, but not too worried, until my husband, who hadn’t seen me during most of my pregnancy finally arrived from California to see our son. He didn’t say anything, he didn’t have to. He was floored. He expected to see the 114 lb. wife he left, and instead he saw the 150 lb. wife that was now. Wow. So many things were tied into that look. My mother was heavy, most of the women in my family were, and I’d once asked my then boyfriend what he’d do if I ever got as “fat” at my mother. He said it wouldn’t make any difference to him. Well, obviously that wasn’t true, I thought.
    I was angry, and hurt. I shouldn’t have been. He did love me then, and still does. I don’t remember him ever being ashamed to take me anywhere. I remember myself not going out to parties and other gatherings because of my weight….but I don’t ever remember him making me feel that way. It was all me. It starts right away with weight, it becomes so important. We confuse who we are with how much we weigh. It’s so easy to do.
    I have been fat for the rest of our married life, Since I’m now 80 years old, I no longer care about my weight. I’m never hungry anymore, and it all seems to be smoothing out. I wasted a lot of anger and hurt feelings and sadness over thinking I was only my weight. I was, and am, so much more. Lots of reasons went into my attitude about my weight. Many more than I can report here. It’s not just the attitude from the outside, it’s all the things inside that have happened to you that come together to complete our attitude about our weight. I’m not suggesting that we should all be fat. It’s not fun, and it’s not healthy. But it’s not the end of the world either.

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  2. This was a really good post. I had no idea you had those concerns about body image. You always seem so confident in yourself. Like I love that you don’t even have a scale. My mom used to pressure me to get a nose job and there was one time I went to a plastic surgeon about it but never went through with it. Enough people told me they liked my nose the way it is. Sure, I got made fun of for it from time to time, but not often enough to consider going under the knife for it. Even when I fell a few weeks ago, my mom said she was hoping I had broken my nose so I could get a nose job. I just laughed it off at that point.

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    • Melissa, I have learned to become confident with time. That doesn’t mean I don’t have those voices in my head that bash me down. I just keep working at it. The first part is the hardest because you go through the motions without actually feeling good about yourself. But eventually, with time and practice, I’ve changed how I view myself. And I actually am quite happy with my appearance now. I wouldn’t rather look any other way–and that’s the truth.

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  3. I too understand just how much weight can just weigh us down. It took me a lot of years to finally understand that the game is one we all play and it is our own. It’s tough to fight society’s very strict definitions of beauty coupled with the fact that we are socialized to believe that we should both not be happy with our physical features and also be humble (which really means being self loathing). It took me a long time to be okay with how I look and while I certainly have my moments of insecurity, I finally realize they are just moments. You truly are beautiful. Thank you for such an honest post.

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  4. The other night I was at a party and this happened, but it got ugly. Attacks were made on my friend in the guise of “helping her help herself.” They said that she had a fat ass and that she was more than curvy (which is the term I applied to her to help tone down the conversation), and then I made the mistake of turning the attention to myself in my defense of my friend. These women said “What would you know with your perfect body?” and let me tell you how sick I am of hearing that. NOBODY HAS A PERFECT BODY, and certainly not me. However, when I look at my imperfections I am teaching myself that they are not important and they are not who I am. My bodily “imperfections” do not define me. I remind myself that what I see as imperfections is mostly product of the culture I was raised in. But I am still not iron clad and I feel like crap every time I walk into Sephora to buy the little bit of makeup that I wear.

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    • Curvy is to imply that one has a curvy shape. Not to “politely” point out one is overweight. One could be overweight and curvy or slim and curvy. I for instance have always been curvy–thin or not.

      But, I understand your point in using it and I totally get that! What an awkward predicament! I’m glad you were there to try and smooth it over.

      Shame on those people you were speaking with. What right does anyone have to comment on the body or person of someone else? “Helping” someone face their problems by public humiliation is really just a form of bullying. It’s ugly and stupid. And I am just totally floored that grown woman would behave in such a manner. Floored! One of the BEST things about being a grown up is finally being able to take off the childish blinders and see people are people.

      That said, I once had a very thin friend. Everyone called her “stick” and “olive oil” and “twig” etc. I, never thinking twice about it, assumed she took it as a compliment . One day she burst into tears when someone started in on her. She just sobbed, brokenhearted. She explained that it was no different than calling someone fat and that people never thought about her feelings because they would assume, like I did, that somehow their teasing was a coming across as a compliment. She was being tortured by the constant insults and it chipped away at her self value.

      It helped me realize that it isn’t about fat or thin. It is about respect of another person’s body.

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      • I don’t see my friend as overweight; I see her as curvy and voluptuous. She has always been that way and yet she had gastric surgery because everyone told her she should be thinner. It isn’t in her genes and she has never been able to maintain the weight loss and she beats herself up over it. She is constantly dieting and fails and hates herself. It isn’t, as those women implied, because she lacks self restraint (she runs marathons for heavens sake!) but because she is simply not built to be skinny. I think it is a travesty that beautiful women do this to ourselves and to each other.

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  5. This is really a great piece of writing. I truly appreciate you sharing your thoughts and insecurities. When I was younger, and even after having my children, I wasnt skinny, but I certainly did look good. Big boobs, and just curvy enough. Times change. Its amazing what stress and a few traumatic circumstances can do to ones body and vanity. Its sad how women berate themselves over perceived flaws and imperfections! Men rarely, (if ever!) do this. I’ll probably never be a nicely shaped size 9 again. I admit the reason why is I’m either too overwhelmed or too lazy to do the work it would require.

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    • Thank you Chava for your comment. I totally get what you mean. But I also think that women’s bodies shouldn’t be expected to go right back to being what they were at 17. Change is a part of life. And a part of getting older. And that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing should it?

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      • It should definitely not be seen as a bad thing. I’ve never had my 17 year old body back, nor do I expect it either.

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  6. There’s so much in this post that I can relate to, I’ve been sitting here, not even sure where to start my comment. But thanks for putting words to this insidious thing so many of us deal with. Ever since college, when I filled out, I was always a little overweight, but I carried it well and was told I was big-boned. I kind of came to terms with my size, but I was always just a little dissatisfied. When I lost some weight in the last couple years, mainly due to stress, not a diet I would recommend, I was shocked at how happy I was to have lost the weight. It highlighted how much I still valued this whole weight thing, even if I said I didn’t.

    I find it disturbing how easily these “values” of “beauty” can seep into my brain. I want to just be healthy, whatever size that is, you know? But there are so many messages telling us that skinny is better. I loved your comment about how it’s not about fat or skinny, but about respecting everyone’s individual body. Including my own.

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    • Thank you so much for sharing that Rivki!

      So much of the controversy around weight bothers me. Like how there is a whole section of people who like to call others out on being “overweight”. And how we as a society seem to value the look of bodily health over the feel of mental health.

      I’m a size 12. I’m very happy here. Maybe I could do a 10 happily if I wanted to put a little work into it. But the effort it would take me to stay at an 8 or 6? That just doesn’t hold value to me. I just simply don’t want to be that size. I like how my curves fill out a skirt. I like my hips and busy line the way they are.
      I want to be in the place where I can eat normally, get a normal amount of exercise through walking the dog and sometimes eat a huge plate of smothered nachos without feeling guilty about it. For me? That’s a size 12.

      But I constantly feel like I should be saying I want to be skinnier. Or that I feel like I shouldn’t be eating those nachos. Or that I’m guilty about that piece if cake on Shabbat. But I’m not. At all. And that seems to bother people if I say it, so I don’t.

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