My Love-Hate Relationship With My Body

Navigating the rough waters of vanity
Navigating the rough waters of vanity

Years ago I saw a cartoon of a balding middle-aged man standing in front of the mirror in his underwear, gut spilling over, grinning and giving himself a thumbs-up.  The caption read, “I’ve still got it.”  In the next frame, a gorgeous woman stands in front of the mirror with the caption, “Ugh. I’m so fat.”  I have thought about that cartoon many times since I turned forty and have become more self-confident in some departments, yet more insecure in others.  Why are we so self-critical and hyper-sensitive? And why do we knowingly chip away at our self-esteem and ego?

In my experience, albeit limited, women who are at peace with their bodies fall into two categories:  Those who have gone through a life-threatening illness and those who are older and wiser.  My women friends who have battled serious health issues, seem to be grateful to be alive and if not completely well, dealing as best they can.  They thank their bodies for not giving out, and are grateful for every day that their parts function.  They do not obsess over a few extra pounds or a new wrinkle.  Last year, I celebrated with friend who completed chemo, and was thankful to fit back into her larger clothes.  Her increased appetite, hair growth and roundedness moved me to tears.  Does it take a close encounter with death to appreciate our bodies?

In general, my older women friends possess more of the proverbial wisdom that comes with age.  They are less consumed with the circumference of their thighs, and gracefully accept this next phase of life.  Maybe there is a correlation between slackening of muscle tone and increased brains cells.  Older women seem more confident, opinionated and settled.  And what, exactly, do I mean by “older?”  I mean, I AM forty-five! Should I just relish the strength and self-assurance that comes with age, or continue to fight the aging-process inside my head?

While busily dividing women into categories, I neglected to mention the young women (I’m old enough to call them girls) who have not struggled with true body changes due to childbirth, health issues or natural aging.  Perhaps I am jaded, but I have lumped those young women into a category of victims of mass media’s portrayal of the perfect figure. And we’ve all finally acknowledged that the ideal six foot tall and rail thin woman, only exists in a starved and photo-shopped world.  Magazines, runways and advertisements make it almost impossible to be satisfied because the “ideal” is shoved in our faces everywhere we turn.  No wonder so many girls and women struggle with eating and exercise issues.

I know I am making generalizations, but the rest of us who have not yet found perspective, seem to be forever absorbed in our every curve, lack-thereof and what we wish we had more, or less of in the body department.

At a dinner last week, I complimented my friend, who looked gorgeous in her dress, and she promptly replied, “I look fat.”  She then complimented me and I swiftly rolled my eyes and responded, “I’m too short to be wearing this dress.”  Why couldn’t we say thank you and dig into our meals?

I promised myself when my daughter was born that I would set a good example of a balanced lifestyle, and healthy approach to my body.  I have always been physically active, so I exercise, eat and cook healthfully, but indulge when I feel like it.  I am simply not willing to give up sugar for life, but understand that my metabolism just cannot support carbohydrates for breakfast, lunch and dinner at this stage.  While I believe moderation is key, I’m convinced my metabolism lost its hearing recently.  There’s a reason why they make Spanx even in a size small.

Even the fittest trainers at my gym admit that after childbirth nothing stayed the same. They look like models to the rest of us, but humbly acknowledge that they struggle with self-image too. We always want more, or less than what we naturally have, and we cannot turn back the hands of time.  On days when I am feeling positive and philosophical, I remind myself that this body is not what it was at 20.  But it has earned its stripes, producing two great kids, and I should be grateful it’s still kicking. But the cosmic karma has to be aligned just right for me to find that grounding (and sadly fleeting) thought.

Why is it so damn hard to be accepting and grateful?  I’m annoyed there is more of me to love.  But I also know they’re also called love handles for a reason…

6 thoughts on “My Love-Hate Relationship With My Body

  1. Watching my mom suffer from ALS, you quickly realize how superficial we can be about jiggly arms and thighs. She couldn’t walk, talk and eventually swallow. She wasted away in front of me. I try to eat a healthy diet and workout, but I don’t sweat “perfection”. It would be too much pressure anyway!

  2. Please be kind to me (as a heterosexual male along with 98% of males) for weighing in on this subject that I’ll dub “Barbie envy.” That term is reserved of females only. The nature of beauty in it’s rawest female form is to attract a mate (oh the horror! shudders the 1970’s feminist. Then shudder me as I find her strangely attractive though politically opposite).

    Enter stage right in your minds, the “beauty mark,” that blemish that sets you apart from Barbie, that trait that is easily identifiable to your mate, that which sets you apart from Barbie (whom BTW he does not find attractive, though he can admire the perfection). Consider the difference between “attractive” (something you are drawn towards) and beautiful perfection (something to be admired and not touch). Why is that so? Why and when does “Barbie” not matter?

    The Why is because he wants something that is uniquely his, that he can quickly identify, that he is attracted toward (again this may have some basis in evolutionary survival traits). Oh and for the feminists “his” is generic and does not to define “ownership.”

    Enter stage right in your minds again, Love! Through time we all change moving further away from “Barbie” and yet thankfully for those with the strongest relationships, the attraction between you and your mate remains and grows stronger. No ladies, when he glances at the young woman passing with her new hooters, heels and perfect skin, it does not mean he is no longer attracted to you or does not love you. It’s more like when you pass by Tiffany’s, Oooo Pretty! He can’t help it, it’s in his DNA.

    Ask your mate what he finds most attractive about you and if he answers honestly it won’t be anything “Barbie” like. If he could snap his fingers and turn you into the perfect (defined by the media) woman, he would not. This may also explain his love for a 57 Chevy over a 2014 SLK550.

    Now please, this is no excuse to stop trying to stay in shape, look attractive, dress to fit your personality, put makeup on when you’re going out or more. Trust me every man does appreciate those efforts and every woman should feel good about her “beauty mark.”

    Now forgive me… fishin, huntin, football, hockey, dig, chop, grill, babes. I’m getting back to my roots again.

  3. I am extremely grateful to live in a place where I get to choose what I eat and put in my mouth, along with the ability to physically move anywhere, anyhow. Being a high school swimmer and skiier, I always fought my larger thighs and overbearing chest. Now almost 46, I accept my muscular thighs, have lost most of my chest (thanks to nursing 4 kids) and love being in the smallest clothing size ever. But I have experienced the size 10 and 14, but now working hard to keep my 6. I have taken total control, to the best of my ability, of the aging process. I am what I eat and drink. Looking at a recent picture of my mom at 78- she is more active today than she was 40 years ago with 2 kids. So with age, yes knowledge is key but keep moving the body, resistance train and eat foods in a rainbow of colors daily. I have accepted my body!

  4. Love this post, Erris. And the “handles” reference! He he. The pic got me in. I was confronted with all you talked about here whilst taking on paddle boarding in Maui last year. Didn’t wanna seem like a blight on the otherwise perfect horizon and all that, you know? :)) Feel the dread and do it anyway, I say! Action is eloquence, and good for the core, too! Lol.

  5. Love this article Erris. Can relate. As i’m getting older i am really learning to accept the changes and don’t ever want a dreaded illness to teach me to appreciate my body. I accept, although am not thrilled with, the aging process, and am doing my best, without killing myself, to work against aging.

  6. I have a theory. Our bodies don’t change at all as we age. It’s our eyesight that changes. As older human beings, we see things differently. Don’t you remember being a child and thinking that your mother and father were so big, so enormous? Now as adults, we see younger people as being smaller, more beautiful than we see ourselves. Our eyesight changes as we age. The moral of this is if you don’t like what you see in the mirror = don’t look in the mirror!

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