This morning while doing my morning blog-check, I came across Sheila’s post here, which linked to these two posts, which I read and immediately thanked Sheila for linking to them in the first place. Go check them out – the topic – loosely – is body image…self image…what we see when we look at ourselves, and how we should look at ourselves and probably don’t.
I know that when I think of my body, or look at myself in the mirror, I focus on the flaws, mostly. I have to be in a certain good frame of mind to like the face reflected back at me. I have to be in that certain good frame of mind, also, to see beyond the post-baby imperfections (3 years post-baby at that) and be proud of the body that grew those two babies in the first place. I see the parts that aren’t perfect. I look past the good stuff to actually LOOK for these imperfections. There seems to be some odd sort of comfort in making sure each flaw – each dimple of cellulite or loose pinch of flab – is still there, right where it was last time. Yep. Hideous. That’s me. Okay. Proceed.
Once when I was a self-conscious and shy teenager (because, of course, I was the ONLY one…) we went to the beach – my family – and despite the blazing sun, I intended to stay on my towel on the sand…in my shorts and tee shirt. It might have even been the hideous summer when I wore jeans – no shorts at all. But I digress…. No way was I going to parade across the sand and go into the water in my bathing suit – with all my uckiness exposed like that. My mother had no patience for my explanation – and she said – in what I remember as a rather irritated voice – "what makes you think everyone’s looking at YOU?" – in other words – get over yourself and go cool off in the water – like you’re supposed to at the beach! I went…but was still unconvinced that the entire beach-going population wasn’t snickering behind their trashy novels and bottles of sunscreen.
I’m still a lot like that. Hypercritical to the point that I cripple myself. I keep trying to change, though.
I know someone whose daughter has an eating disorder. She was treated for it years ago, but it is back, and it is destroying her. She is married. Has small children. Works two jobs taking care of other people – but will not care for herself. She denies that there is a problem. Her body is suffering. Her mother, this woman I know, shakes her head and clenches her jaw and her eyes get red and glassy with tears. Why? What is that girl thinking? How to get her to stop?
What is it we’re trying to get rid of? We seem to starve ourselves into invisibility…or eat so much we bury ourselves under layers of pain. We look away from the mirror, we work so hard to camouflage ourselves – and it’s all in the futile attempt to hide ourselves from ourselves. And we can’t. And, of course, it’s not necessarily about the food. The food is just a tool. Or a weapon. There are so many weapons.
Where do we learn this from? This self-loathing? This dissatisfaction with our bodies? Certainly all the stick-thin supermodels and airbrushed magazine covers don’t help things. I’m trying to remember how I got that way, though. I don’t know. I don’t know if I learned it from my mother or just absorbed it from my peers. I don’t know.
But I don’t want to teach that to my daughter. I watch her at this age, and she is so proud of her little body. So unconcerned about it. So happy with it. She plays, she runs, climbs, jumps, spins in circles, falls to the floor, rolls around wrestling with her brother, hugs, throws, draws, plays with play-doh, carries the cat around, rides her bike, splashes around in the water, whacks the neighbor’s little boy on the head with a whiffle ball bat, and shakes her little booty, much to the panic and consternation of her father.
She loves herself. She enjoys her little body and all the wonderful things that that body allows her to do. She does not compare herself to anyone, unless it is to insist "No, I CAN DO IT MYSELTH!" (that’s how she says "myself." I think it’s very cute.) She is mighty in a tiny package. A little force to be reckoned with. And her body – and her perception of it – is perfect. As it should be.
I envy her.
Somewhere inside me there must be a little girl with a confident strut and an absence of negative self-image. She peeked out the times I was pregnant, when I felt invincible and earth-motherish, and maybe a few other times in my life. But for the most part, she is hidden away beneath layers of my successively older and more critical selves.
And it’s not just the body image that has been affected. Other aspects of that little girl have been covered by layers of doubt and derision. She is smart. She is creative. She is strong. And she wants out.
So I’m trying to peel away the tanglement of many years and just not care what the people on the beach think of me. Because really, even if they’re thinking mean things – so what? Why should I care? Who are they, anyway? Why have I allowed them to have such a hold over me?
And the sad thing is, they don’t exist anywhere but on the beach in my mind. They are my voices. My mean thoughts. Fed and nurtured til they grew big and strong and powerful.
Such a waste of time and space and energy.
Time to peel their fingers off me. I have too much to do. Too much I want to do. I can’t be dragged down by them any more. I need all this mental energy for other things. Time to be rid of my own straightjacket.
I’ve worn it for too long.