More Thoughts on Self Image

I know, I know – "More food posts!"  Bear with me, they're on the way.

I wrote this post about a week ago and it seemed to resonate with some of you, and then a little something happened that got me thinking about other related things…so here you go, I'm pouring that out for you today.

I've been walking on a semi-regular basis with one of the other Kindergarten Moms (Rosa's Foster Mom, actually) (I know – I don't have any pictures of Rosa to post, and I'm sorry – I know so many of you are wondering how she's doing.  Hahahaha.) and we've got plans to go on an even MORE regular basis once the school year is done and we have a little bit more flexibility.  Anyway, one of the other Kindergarten Moms (who has four kids kindergarten age and younger) was talking to us about the whole exercising thing and losing weight after having kids and all that (I have NO excuse – my youngest is now 6, I can't blame any of this on a recent pregnancy)…and this other mom we were talking to – she is in FABULOUS shape – was telling us how huge she was at one point, maybe after her third child was born, I can't remember.  Anyway, Rosa's Foster Mom and I basically didn't believe her.  No, no, we said.  You could never have been huge.

And so she said she'd bring in pictures and prove it.  A couple of days later, she did.  And yes, she was bigger then – her face was fuller, she wasn't as toned as she is now. 

But the thing was, we shook our heads and said "No, no, that's still not very big." 

And I thought about that afterward.  

About how the immediate response seemed to be "No, you're not as big as I am!" 

And really?  I'm not obese.  Neither is Rosa's Foster Mom.  And neither was the Other Kindergarten Mom. 

But it still seemed like the knee-jerk response was almost a competetive one, in terms of who has/had the most weight to lose.  It was like "sorry, you may have been carrying some post-baby weight around, but look at ME!  I've got you beat!"  Like if we were men, we'd all be unzipping our pants and comparing…our huge guts…or something…well, you get the idea. 

It's strange, how we can be about ourselves, isn't it?

And then, after I'd chewed on that for a bit, I started thinking about Other Kindergarten Mom (instead of me and my thighs, which are The Biggest Thighs In The Univers, at least in my mind's eye sometimes), and about the two pictures she brought in from several years ago, and about how she looks now, and no matter what, she has gone from the way she looked in those pictures to how she looks now, and that took a lot of hard work and perseverance.  And for me to look at the pictures and be somehow dismissive of them – "Oh, you didn't look that bad – not as bad as ME in my current state of Sta-Puff Marshmallow Womanhood" is to deny her credit for all the work she put into changing how she looked. 

So I apologized to her yesterday. 

But I'm still thinking about the whole thing. 

It would be vain to tell someone "I look so much BETTER than you do," and so most of us don't go around doing that.  But what we do when we say things like "Oh, you were never as fat as I am now" is kind of the same thing, only twisted around and…weirder. 

Why do we do that?  It's competetive…but in a negative way.  Do we feel better if we tell ourselves we are somehow worse than one of our peers?  What the heck is that all about?  Not only are we putting ourselves down, but we're also indirectly putting down the other person, at least a little, by, in effect, saying "you had it easier than I do in going from where you were then to where you are now."  Is it a way to make ourselves feel better about where we are right now?  That we aren't there yet because for us, the road is oh so much longer and hilly?  Are we trying, somewhere in our heads, to tell the other person that they weren't as out of shape or whatever as we currently are?  Are we thinking that we're paying the other person a compliment?

I don't know. 

I just know it's got me thinking differently.

8 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Self Image

  1. I wish we could all get to the point where we don’t even bother comparing ourselves and our own bodies with others. My BFF is painfully thin and has been so her entire life, and people are really mean to her about it and say things they *think* are compliments (you’re so skinny, etc) that are actually just reminders that people are LOOKING AT HER BODY, something she wishes no-one would do.

    Until two years ago, I spent my entire life medically obese. It colored every single thing about my day to day life, and shaped my personality in ways I was unhappy about (but powerless to change). I’m not, now, but spending so many years in a fat-suit has made me different inside, and I see people through different eyes than I think I would otherwise.

    I know you never give us a glimpse of yourself (other than of the awesomeness of how you spend your days) (“Blessed are the cheesemakers? What’s so special about them?”), but I hope that you know that you are beautiful exactly the way you are because I have seen WHO YOU ARE through your wonderful words and your precious family. Get healthy if you can or if you need to, but I hope you won’t ever obsess about your physical size. It’s unproductive (a word that I would never affix to you, dearest of Jaynes).

    πŸ˜€ I hope we get to meet someday.

  2. I think when women do that (at least from what I’ve experienced) it’s mostly to gain sympathy. I don’t think that the intention of discrediting their hard work (or the luck of having a naturally fit body) is there, but the person making the comment is reaching out for some sort of help, sympathy or that “magic thing that will fix everything.”
    If you’ve ever watched the show “How to Look Good Naked” (both the BBC and American versions) it’s really interesting to see the variety of women that come on the show. There are women who are big, small, short, tall… all shapes, sizes and colors – and for one reason or another they are uncomfortable with their body. When I see a woman that’s a size 8 or so on the show and she says “I think my legs are chunky” usually my face screws up and I think “seriously? you think you’re fat?! I’d love to look like that!” But they all have their stories as to why they feel that way. No one is more compelling or valid than the other. They’re all valid.
    The whole issue with body image in our culture is really upsetting. It seems that there are very few women (I think I read like 4%) are actually genuinely happy with their bodies. The amount of time and money women spend on gym memberships, plastic surgery, magic little pills that are supposed to melt fat away – it’s crazy! And it’s all in an effort to be comfortable and happy with our bodies.
    Deep down, I wish there was some magic pill or simple routine I could do where I’d wake up tomorrow morning and have the body I am working towards. But, would having that body really solve all the problems? Would those anxieties still exist but manifest in a different form?
    I guess after that long ramble, what I’m meaning to say is that whether or not you love or hate your body it really boils down to what’s in your head. Working on both your body and mind is important to finding peace with your body image. We’re all slowly working on it – but I’m hoping we can all get there. πŸ™‚
    Lastly, it was considered in ancient times that women who were larger (or fuller) were more desired than women who were smaller because they were more than likely to be able to produce multiple healthy offspring. Also, those women tended to be from more well off backgrounds – more food/resources available.

  3. My sister was always thin – very thin – when we were kids, and I think in some ways that contributed my own poor self image. I wasnt fat, I just wasnt skinny, either. But compared to her, I felt fat. The thing was, she wasnt thrilled either when people told her admiringly how thin she was, or how lucky she was to be so thin. She wasnt TRYING to be thin – it was her metabolismat the time. She eventually got married, had a couple kids, and some of that weight stayed. She is healthy and active and looks great.

    I agree with you – its so sad that we are all always checking each other out. I think its with one eye on our inner mirror, at least for some of us. Not always looking at other women, but comparing ourselves to them. Whether in a postive or negative light, it really doesnt matter, its the fact that we ARE making comparisons, and inevitably someone looks better than someone else. And thats not really WHO they (or we) are.

    I dont put pictures of me on here, and I admit its partly because I dont like to look at (most) pictures of myself. I say I just prefer being on the other side of the camera, but then the follow up to that has to be – is it because I just really really like taking pictures, or because its a safe place to hide? Its both, but more so the latter. But my husband, who sees me with such a completely different lens from mine, has said several times that there need to be more pictures of me, so that years and years from know, the kids will know what I looked like when they were little. And hes right. So I try not to hide from the camera, or hide behind it. Ill hand it over to him sometimes so he can take a picture of me now and then. I also do it because I know I am an example to my kids, and I dont want to teach them (especially my daughter) to look at herself the way I (too often) look at me. When
    she smiles for the camera right now, it is an open and honest smile. Not one that says Ill smile but as I smile please accept my apology for looking like I look and being who I am because I know its sub par. Its such an awful habit to get into, and a hard one to break. And it has nothing to do with externals, either. Its all that excess baggage in my head. Thats really the weight that I need to lose.

    And I hope we get to meet one day, too. πŸ™‚

  4. Yep, youre right – its all in your (my) head. And to touch on another point you raised – if there was a magic pill to transform us into the shape we want to be in, would that solve it all? Would we be happy? And of course, we wouldnt. I think, at least speaking for myself and my past experience, that its the process that brings the happiness. And its not a cure-all kind of happiness, either. But I think the exercise and taking care of myself and, eventually, becoming a more healthy size and shape, is what made me feel good about myself. But a magic pill wouldnt do that, because it would be too easy. I think its the journey, and the hard work, that results in the better sense of self. But again, I can only speak for me and make
    assumptions about everyone else. And sure, theres the lovely endorphins that kick in when we exercise that make us feel good. But its also just…satisfaction in a job well done.

    Who knows. Like you said, there are as many reasons as there are women who are dissatisfied with how they look in some way. But so much of that is the fact that theyre looking at all.

  5. I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, and at my support group people are always saying things like, “Why are you so down on yourself? You’re so great!” right after they’ve said, “I feel fat, I’m a total failure.” I think a lot of that has to come from society telling us that if we say nice things about ourselves, we’re bragging, which is pretty ridiculous. But I’m right there with everyone else saying, “I’m ugly and unlovable, but you’re perfect!”

  6. As I read this post and then the comments I had so many things go through my mind about what to put in my own comment. Now… all I can think of is maybe we all need to start a “grateful journal” again, you know the one Oprah suggested a few years back. And make it all about ourselves. I grew up being “the skinny one” and to a lot of people I still am. But I weigh more now than I did when I walked into the hospital to have my son 24 years ago. Who knows maybe I had been too skinny all those years ago, maybe I have the opposite of Osteoporosis and my bones are really heavy, because I have worn the same size clothes for the last 35 years. What ever it is, I am aware of my weight just like everyone else. But I dont’ bring other people’s weight into who they are, I don’t think I even notice it. Years ago I managed a ladies only health club. I think one of the reasons I had that job was because I had the mind set of we were all women and we all had one goal (just at different levels) and that was we wanted to be healthier for ourselves, and the ones we loved. We can all find things about ourselves we aren’t happy with, no boobs, big ears and nose, etc. But we probably have many more things that we like about ourselves and then there are the things we don’t even think about that others find attractive, or like about us. Jayne, you are a great mom and example for your kids, a wonderful wife and an awesome chef. So that makes you one beautiful person in my book. And you have great hair too!

  7. It’s kind of like making good cheese right? If you spend the time doing it yourself it tastes much better than if someone just hands it to you.

    I’m the kind of person where I need to be active (whether or not I need to lose weight) otherwise I get a little neurotic and obsessive or (in the winter) depressed.

    I think having the body that we all want would help in some ways (ie, I wouldn’t dread clothes shopping as much as I do and maybe I’d make a little bit more of an effort every day to look nice) but it’s not going to solve everything (wearing a size 6 won’t pay off my student loans any faster than wearing a size 16). Realizing that is helpful.

    I agree with Judith – taking stock of what we’re grateful for, or even what makes us feel beautiful (like the ONE dress I own that I don’t feel like I look like two-ton-Tilly in) and indulge in them a little more than we do now.

    Maybe a challenge is to find 1 something that you feel makes you look beautiful (be it a new color of eye shadow, a peice of jewelry, shoes or an article of clothing) every month. It can be things you already own and maybe not wear all the time (like a pearl necklace) or you can buy them if you so wish. If you feel beautiful then you’ll radiate it.

    Today, for example, I decided I’d make an effort. I wore a plum colored short-sleeve sweater dress, a chunky beaded bracelet, earrings, AND I put my contacts in, did my hair and makeup and wore heels. Maybe once I month I make that much of an effort.

    The heels made my back straighter and it looked like I walked with a little more confidence. People were a lot nicer to me in the hallways at work and asked how I was instead of just smiling the early morning “hello, I haven’t had my cup of coffee yet” smile and walking away. It felt good.

    So maybe putting a little bit of effort into myself in the mornings is a good thing. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’ll rush right out and buy a ton of sweater dresses, but it does mean that maybe I’ll wear this one a little more often than 3 times a year.

  8. Judith,

    I have great hair? πŸ™‚

    A grateful journal. Thats a good idea. Theres also a website called Grace in Small Things that kind of serves a similar purpose.

    And sometimes I think about it like this – perhaps our bodies, faces, hair, etc. are just the costumes we wear.

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