I've never really articulated my own journey about body image, mostly because it is such a sensitive topic for women. Even with my closest friends, discussion on the topic isn't so much discussion as it is self-disparaging comments. It's especially tricky because many of my girlfriends express envy for my body. I don't say that to be all "oh look at me and my awesomeness," but rather that it feels wrong to talk about your own body image issues when others see your body as one with errr...less issues. Which can lead to a lack of self-examination, thereby allowing some unhealthy thoughts to persist when they could've been brought to light and worked through with others. So here's my attempt to crystallize some thoughts.
I don't think I was really aware of my body or self-image until second grade, when I started wearing glasses. I was obviously the only kid in my class with glasses, and back then there was no cool hipster glasses look, just the dork look. I hated my glasses, how they marked me as a nerd (it didn't help that I wasn't good at any sports that involved round objects and would bring books with me to recess), how they made me easy fodder for bullies who thought it was great fun to steal my glasses. Once adolescence came around, I started breaking out and then I added hating my skin to the list. I went through a growth spurt that left me several inches taller than my female classmates, relegating me to the back row where the boys stood every time we had a class picture. The crowning glory of middle school was my seventh grade school picture, where I had bad skin, a sullen expression, glasses slipping off my nose, and in-the-process-of-growing-out-bangs that my mom insisted that I push out of my face with a headband, thereby causing a weird ring of spikes around my head. The one positive body thought I remember having during this time was thanks to doing martial arts -- I was grateful that my legs were strong and I could hold my own when sparring against high school guys. But even then, I don't think I had any idea what my body looked like. I was so covered up against San Francisco fog that I think I thought of myself as just a head on top of some (unfashionable) clothes.
At that time, I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman I knew. She used to model when she was younger, and looking through all of her old photos just made me wish I could look like her. I totally identified with Meg Murry's angst in A Wrinkle in Time, thinking that she was a monster compared to her gorgeous mother.
|With my mom on my wedding day. Photography by The Youngrens.|
It wasn't until college that I really began seeing my body for (what felt like) the first time. Blame it on San Diego's gorgeous weather, beaches, and the fact that for three-quarters of the year, girls walked around in tiny shorts and tops. I suddenly realized that my legs, which had served me so well in martial arts and less well (but not their fault) in high school sports, were not quite the thin, gamine limbs that it seemed everyone else had. This was only emphasized by one casual comment a guy friend made (I'm sure he didn't mean it to be hurtful, but it's funny how these things stick with you, isn't it?), that I must have done a lot of running in my "formative years," because my calves were burly. And thus began the hate part of my love-hate relationship with my lower half.
Oddly enough, what helped a lot was talking to my mother. I don't know how it came up, but somehow she mentioned that she, too, disliked her legs. She commented on how sad she was that she (and I) hadn't inherited my grandpa's long, thin legs, and that she never wore skirts or dresses because she wanted to hide her short, thick legs. I was floored. My mother, the most beautiful lady I knew, had body image issues too? I began to see that these issues I had with my body were only going to be a prison of my own making if I let them continue. But even knowing that, it was still hard to let go of the lies that I'd subconsciously, accidentally absorbed from society.
Once I started working after college, my body began to change as I no longer walked everywhere, my metabolism slowed down, and suddenly became a foodie. Granted, it wasn't a big change, as teaching is still a relatively non-sedentary profession, but it was enough to get me worrying. Because as one commenter on Gertie's blog said, "When bloggers bash thin women, I wonder if they can know how absolutely unwinnable that game is. All 'thin' can ever be is 'not yet fat today,' and 'not as thin as I could be.'" At the same time that I was worrying over my (so it seemed) ever-thickening legs, I was absurdly proud of my tiny waist. It's hard not to take something so silly as what you happen to be genetically blessed with (my mom also has a fantastic waist for having had three kids) and turn that into a source of pride. It's funny and sad that one of my primary reasons for not wanting kids yet is that I would miss my waist.
Which brings me to now. I'm slowly inching closer to thirty, and yet I still find myself having a very similar battle as when I first started being aware of my body. I don't have some awesome answer to this ongoing struggle. I know, cognitively, that I am wonderfully made and that my worth is not in my body or what others think, but that's such a difficult truth to take to heart. I'm still afraid of gaining weight, although my husband's sweetness on that issue is extremely freeing and refreshing and healing. I still think about calories when I eat yummy food, although to be perfectly honest, I decide to ignore that most of the time and eat it anyway. The only difference between then and now, it seems, is that I've decided that I'm not going to be afraid to wear what I want, while still trying to make sure that what I choose is flattering and camouflaging at the same time. I love making dresses that have the retro look with nipped-in waists and full skirts, which I feel simultaneously emphasize my best feature and hide my worst. But if I feel like squeezing my legs into skinny jeans, I'll do it anyway. I know that my bust is smaller than the American norm (and the big pattern companies' sizing norms), but I like being able to shop for cheaper bras in the kid section, and at least when I sew for myself I can adjust accordingly and not be constrained to RTW sizes.
A lot of other sewists talk about how sewing helped them to accept their bodies; I don't know if that's so much the case for me as it is that it's helped me to know my body and what works for it. I think I'm still working on the acceptance thing, but as that commenter continued, "When bloggers bash thin women, I wonder if they can know how absolutely unwinnable that game is. All 'thin' can ever be is 'not yet fat today,' and 'not as thin as I could be.' Only when we walk away from it do we remember how to live and be happy." (emphasis added by me)
Recently one of my friends posted on her blog about completing the Insanity workouts by Shaun T., and she said that she was pleased with how much more fit her body was after the two-month series. I've always thought she was absolutely gorgeous, and to hear (read?) her thoughts on how her body functioned and not how it looked, made me think...it's time to start being more concerned with health and whether my body can do what it needs to, than how my body fits into some random standard set by modern society.
This entry was kind of all over the place, but I feel relieved? weirded out? catharted (you know like the verb form of catharsis :P)? to have written it all out. TL;DR Summary: being close(r) to society's standards of beauty doesn't mean you don't have body image issues; health is what's most important. I need to remember that my worth is not in my looks.