Yesterday was not my typical day. I went for something unusual. It was a matter of facing issues of sexiness, convention, self-image. Dare I mention… there was a three-way involved.
Hardly a secret to my intimates, I’ve lived my life with all too common dramas of weight and body image. There have been ghastly periods and triumphs, lulls for which I am grateful, and in the past few months, creeping gain that I have not been able to successfully address – and the number it does on my head.
I do not welcome revisiting this challenge, but nor can I pretend it doesn’t exist – and I imagine that I am not alone in this lifelong, recurring and difficult battle.
Women and Body Image
Ours is a culture that demands certain things from its women. We need to be honest about the experience, as well as its impacts.
- We know that being fat affects our wallets, which are thinner on average for those who are significantly overweight. Let’s not forget the statistics on salary and appearance.
- We know that being fat affects others’ perceptions in more general ways. We’re seen as lacking discipline, being sloppy, being less than deserving.
- The health consequences are variable; our “real” health and fitness cannot be assumed by an excess of poundage, but we certainly can anticipate serious problems from excesses of sugar (for example) or obesity (of course).
Obese workers… are paid less than normal-weight coworkers at a rate of $8,666 a year for obese women, and $4,772 a year for obese men…
And confidence? Social life? What we project to partners, not to mention what we model for our children?
Bias Is Subtle
What some refer to as “looksism” can be blatant or subtle. We may practice its principles without even realizing. And incidentally, studies indicate that a mothers’ comments and behaviors regarding her own weight and her child’s, in particular a daughter’s, can set the stage for eating disorders and body image issues – for life.
As for yours truly, I lived my share of cruel remarks when I was a slightly pudgy child, more as a preteen and teen, and absorbed plenty of self-damaging inner dialog. I observed my mother’s self-destructive behaviors; food was her anesthesia of choice for what I can only assume was an unhappy life, and often I was tacitly invited to participate in those very same excesses that were both soothing and mortifying.
In my twenties (and single), I lived the sort of invisibility that is often the fate of the overweight gal pal partying with skinny friends. Thin girls are the winner-women with their take-me-to-bed bones; fat girls sleep alone at night with dreams of shedding skins.
Flash forward a decade or two and I experienced something very different. In particular, the times I lived overseas, my curvy body was not cause for discomfort, and my confidence soared.
Eight Down, Eight to Go
Here I am, for the umpteenth time, struggling with weight and body image. Specifically, I’m attempting to battle back from gaining eight irritating, impossible pounds. Now that may seem like a minor offense and a small amount.
Unfortunately, my usual approach – slow and steady healthy eating, smaller portions, exercise – doesn’t seem to be working.
Cue the dilemma – “I have nothing to wear” is more than a line, not to mention the potential budgetary impact: 90% of my wardrobe is currently too small. Part and parcel of the problem – the need to present myself professionally, which requires clothes that fit properly and, as I find it useful… in which I can actually breathe.
Although I work from a home office, that doesn’t preclude the requirement to go out and about and see people. The all important ingredient – confidence – is ramped up when I feel like I look good, and withers on the vine when I’m convinced that I don’t.
Besides, when I look in the mirror, I’m blue.
And living in self-dislike is really lousy.
Big problems. When it comes to gaining weight, that is. If you’re small in stature as I am, a few pounds make a huge difference.
If you’re up one size?
You can manage. Suck it in and deal.
Tough. Very tough.
And eight pounds on me is exactly that – three sizes, maybe two.
And thus I had to face a minor (but immeasurably deflating) crisis: trying to find new jeans, new trousers, one new jacket. Given that holiday sales were running early, I took a chance and cruised the mall.
Here’s the gist. I can put my brain into work mode (of course), no matter what I’m wearing, particularly as I’m cranking out deliverables in solitude most of the time. However, the impact on how I feel about myself – the sexiness factor that comes from confidence more than anything else – is significantly eroded when I feel fat.
And I’ve been fat – and thin – and spent much of my life preoccupied with both.
I’m not sure if it’s the fact of missing the clothing that I feel good in, or sensing that I’m fighting an increasingly lost cause, or, somehow, that I will be perceived as not caring about how I present myself. Or maybe I feel like I’m losing some version of me. It’s tough enough counting the rings around the trunk without the trunk widening to unmanageable proportions!
And, I am as motivated by the fear of being judged as any other person, or perhaps I should say, woman – and more by women than men.
Is it all in my head?
Some, sure. But the rest is on my hips and a few other strategic locations.
Everyone Needs a Three-Way
Two men in my bed?
Keeping one smiling is more than enough for me.
My three-way was something else. The three-way mirror assorted fitting rooms as I dashed through item after item, disgusted by some, surprisingly pleased by others, and my antics entertaining one very nice sales woman. Let’s just say – there were no expletives deleted as I grew more frustrated, and the twenty-something laughed and said “you sound just like my mom.”
And when I sighed and said I was so fat she should break out the “wide load” sign, she replied “but you’re not fat!” and “those jeans are the same size I wear, except you’re a petite” – I had to squint, stop, and take stock.
I had to use the three-way to see. To really see. Not through my mind’s eye as a fat woman, not through my worries of becoming seriously overweight (again), and not as the daughter of a woman who was obese for most of her life.
I had to jolt myself out of that distorted view; I had to see myself as I was in the three-way – front, side and back, and also – the saleswoman, myself as I am, myself as I become magnified by fear.
I had to focus on how important it is to feel comfortable in one’s own skin. This may not be the skin I prefer – as taut or tiny as I might like – but as long as it houses me in a healthy manner, can’t I stop criticizing myself?
None So Blind As…
Naturally, I will continue to eat in a healthy fashion. Yes, I recognize that a crazy work schedule has wreaked havoc with my exercise, not to mention my sleep. And much as I would like to think not, age and a changing metabolism may also be playing a role. But I understand why eating disorders recur, why even women “of a certain age” obsess and starve themselves, why we ache to be what we were (or believe we were), all the while knowing that fundamentally this shouldn’t be important.
And I tell myself there are none so blind as though who will not see. I tell myself that this may be “it” for now – or the foreseeable future. I remind myself that if I don’t love me (or at least stop the inner critic who is constantly putting me down), I will not project the value or competence that most of the time is fully present.
My atypical day? Right. Shopping. But I will note that when I got home and slipped into my new jeans (that didn’t cut off my circulation), I was motivated to fix my hair and touch up my makeup. In general, I felt better.
More confident. Sexier.
That three-way – two ways?
Not a bad thing, really.
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