I have a rather unique problem, I think. Whenever I look into a mirror, I see a better body than my flesh and blood body. And I’m always shocked and disgusted whenever I see pictures of myself wearing something that I thought looked good on me or flattered me, only it didn’t.
It’s like I have the reverse of this body image graphic you see – I look into the mirror and see something beautiful. It’s only after I’m slapped in the face with reality that I realize – I’m NOT all that and oh my gosh! Where did that gut come from?! And are my hips REALLY that bad? And look! My arm fat is flapping in the wind – again.
It’s so depressing.
I’ve gotten to the point where I loathe Thanksgiving. And it’s not because of the food or my family members, it’s because of those damn family pictures that my mother-in-law insists on taking.
Don’t get me wrong, I think taking family pictures is a great idea – we all change so much from year to year, but it’s the fact that I have to stand next to “the beautiful people” that really gets me down.
I look so BIG compared to all the skinny, shorter people in my in-law family. And seeing that comparison and being confronted with all of my physical flaws just depresses me. For days afterward.
I go to gatherings feeling good about myself, I see pictures of those gatherings and feel like a complete whale later. And that starts the whole “why do I even try” pity party that I throw myself that last for weeks – which only makes it worse because the holidays roll around and I see Christmas pictures of myself looking pasty and bloated and I feel even more guilty as I stuff that fifth piece of fudge into my mouth.
It really isn’t a pretty cycle, people.
Luckily, I snap myself out of it when January rolls around. But more on the whole exercise thing later.
For now, suffice it to say, my body image? Predictably alternates depending on the time of year.
All this to say, I have a healthy body image, but there are times I succumb to outside influences.
Let’s back this up a bit …
I was a skinny size eight when I got married. And though I felt good about the way I looked, I hated every single minute of it.
I couldn’t eat what I wanted to. I had to constantly deprive myself of the simple pleasures of life. I had to. I’m the sort of person who gains weight really easily. (I also lose it pretty easily – more on that later). So any kind of junk food or anything calorie laden made me balloon outward faster than you can say Willy Wonka.
Forcing myself to stay away from the foods I loved only made me crave them that much more so when I caved and actually ate them, I felt guilty for days. That guilt transformed into anger and I started resenting myself and other influences that I felt were trapping me into this vicious cycle.
But I continued to watch every single thing I ate in order to maintain my size because in my mind – you weren’t beautiful unless you were skinny.
I remember walking around with my gut sucked in all the time. (I didn’t want Kevin to think I was fat). In fact, I sucked it in so much that my stomach muscles would ACHE by the end of the day. (That did help me though when I had Dude – the nurse was all like, “Wow! You have great stomach muscles!” and it wasn’t because I worked out, it was because I sucked them in).
I was so self-conscious back then. And I think part of that self-consciousness stemmed from the fact that Kevin had been married before and his first wife? Was quite pretty. And quite skinny. I think I was competing with her on some weird level.
In short, I was miserable. I mean, truly, truly miserable. I looked good (in my opinion), but I paid a high price for looking like that.
Then I had babies. And suddenly, I was given permission to EAT. Anything I wanted! At any time I wanted! Because the baby needed nourishment. And I was happy because for the first time, I didn’t have to watch what I ate, or feel guilty about what I ate.
I gained a lot of weight. And my body changed. Not just weight wise, but now, I had boobs. I went from a size A to a size C, and I LIKED that. (So did Kevin). My hips were fuller and I had a new thickness around my waist.
The hips and waist? I wasn’t so happy about.
Again. I struggled with my body image after kids, only it was a different image this go-around – it was a more mature and well, for lack of a better term, USED body. It was stretched out and more maternal. For years, I longed for my pre-baby body. I wanted that tight little body back. And though I’ve worked on my body over the years and I’ve certainly dropped the pounds and even got close to my pre-baby weight (though not quite), everything was proportioned differently.
I had curves that wouldn’t go away. No matter what I did or how early I got up in the morning to try and get rid of them.
I was me – only fuller.
My weight has fluctuated a lot over the years. One month, I’m a size 10, the next month, a 12. The next? Back down to a 10. Half a year later, I’m a size 16 … and when I reached that size? That’s where the madness ended for me.
I hadn’t even realized I was that big, body wise, until I could no longer fit into my jeans anymore and had to buy a bigger size. And when it really dawned on me that that size was a 16? I suddenly woke up from my self-imposed stupor.
I did not WANT to be that size. I felt sluggish. I felt awkward. I felt BIG. And I didn’t like myself too much during that time period. It was that realization that motivated me to get my butt in gear and start losing weight (again, later on the whole exercise thing).
Many, many, MANY gallons of sweat later, I’m down to a more reasonable weight. I’m currently a fat 10, or a skinny 12, depending what I’m wearing or what time of the month it is. My goal is to whittle my body back down to a comfortable, and solid, size 10 before summer hits.
Because I’ve learned, through years of trial and errors, that that is a comfortable size for me. I can eat what I want (within reason, of course), my body feels good and I think I look pretty good in my clothes. I feel like …. me.
And I think that’s key. You have to pay attention to your body. It’s constantly “talking” to you, the problem is, I think most of us don’t listen. It’s so easy, so very easy, to just give up and go crazy with our diets, or not make the effort to exercise or even MOVE. It’s so much harder to maintain a weight, it really is.
But for me, it’s all about habits. It’s all about discipline. It’s about having the desire to keep my body in good shape – I want to live a good, long life. I want to physically be there for my grandchildren and even great grandchildren. And I know I can’t do that if I don’t take care of myself NOW. Longevity is my motivation.
Society’s idea of beauty is so unrealistic, isn’t it? These impossibly thin models … is it even normal to be a size ZERO?? Really? And what kind of life is that? To be constantly deprived of life’s simple pleasures, like food. Why would anyone want to live like that? I suppose, if one is willing to live like that, that’s one thing, but for me? I prefer to enjoy life while at the same time, find a happy medium that works for me.
And though I will continue to work and improve myself, I will no longer kill myself to dip under my comfort line just because society has deemed it superior somehow.
I think everyone has to reach that point where they are finally comfortable in their own skin. It doesn’t happen overnight, often times it happens as you get older, and sometimes, it can’t be reached without outside help, but eventually, there has to come a time when you put your hand up to the world and say “ENOUGH ALREADY.” I am who I am – take it or leave it.
I’m not saying that you can’t be improved, or that you should give up trying, oh contrare. I’m simply saying that there comes a time when you have to stop trying to be something you’re not. I can’t tell you when you reach that point – it’s different for everyone. But that limitation is there and the sooner we accept the fact that we will never look like that size zero model on yesterday’s cover, the happier, and better off we’ll be, I think. You just have to find what’s REAL for YOU.
And then don’t apologize for it.
Personally? I’m DONE trying to fit into society’s definition of beauty. I am strong. And I am okay with my body.
I can, and will improve it, but overall, I. Am. Me.