Ready for another round of ‘fessing up? Pull up a comfy chair.
1. I Still Struggle With Body Image … Sort Of
A friend recently reminded me of a post I wrote almost two years ago on this topic. I went back and re-read it and thought to myself, “damn, why am I not writing like this – and about this – anymore?” And the answer is not straightforward. In part, it’s because it felt superfluous. When you’re writing to a mostly empty room, there isn’t much in the way of discussion happening. Monologues are great and all, but I’m already convinced that I’m right, so there really isn’t any need to write essays to preach to the choir. And then, of course, it’s also because I’m busier now, but also lazier, and my attention span has been whittled to practically nothing.
But let’s talk about body image again, for a moment. I’ve got nothing to add to my earlier post; I fully stand behind it. Still, things have gotten more complicated, again. I’m now two years and one extra kid older than I was then, and these are both, in their own way, things that bear on the discussion.
After I had my son, many things changed, in both small and profound ways. One thing that didn’t really change was my body image. I was relatively fit going into my first pregnancy, and together with my genetics, that ensured that my postpartum body didn’t look all that different from the body I knew as “my self”. What minor changes did occur were mostly of the funny-anecdote variety. (Did you know that your ribcage could permanently expand after pregnancy? No, neither did I. True story.)
That all changed with my second pregnancy. Physically, it was a tougher experience. I was less fit going into it, and became almost entirely sedentary quickly thereafter due to completely normal, albeit inconvenient, pregnancy symptoms. I was also two years older, and though the age difference might seem insignificant, who knows. When it was all over – and my daughter was born – things didn’t really go according to plan. And by that, I mean that my body didn’t “snap back” like it had the first time. My body looks different now that it did 2 years ago, and not only because of extra weight. None of the changes are “good things” by conventional societal standards. I won’t lie: they are things that did – and still do, occasionally – give me pause.
For the most part, I don’t care. I. Have. Zero. F**ks. To Give. I was kind of surprised to realize that, because I still give myself the frowny once-over every now and then (surely a sign that I must care). How do I reconcile that with my complete apathy towards the idea of “improving” my body in any way?
There are many wonderful things about getting older. (Don’t ever let them tell you otherwise.) One of the most wonderful of those things is the freedom to not give a shit; the older I get, the shorter the list of people whom I respect or admire – but, more importantly, the shorter the list of people whose opinion I value on an equal basis with my own. At this point, I can count those people on one hand. One of those people thinks I look beautiful no matter what; as for the others, I’m pretty certain they have no opinion about my appearance, if they ever think about it at all. Which is great, because the only opinion I’m left with is my own. As it should be. (Always.)
This is not to say that other people don’t have opinions. Anybody and everybody who sees me can have an opinion about my body. My not caring doesn’t negate their opinions, nor erase the potential consequences of those opinions. (If only life worked that way … about everything … past the age of 4.) For one thing, I’m becoming more and more aware that I’m inching ever closer towards that slide into social invisibility that claims most women after a certain age if they are no longer playing for the “hot ‘n sexy” sweepstakes. Slight ego bruising aside, I’m fine with that. My livelihood doesn’t depend on being desirable, as judged by the collective social gaze. My concept of self never did, because, since childhood, I have been the “smart one” (not the “pretty one”). So, in a way, I feel a sense of relief. I can just go back to being what I’ve always been, and stop trying to play a game that seemed rigged for all the usual reasons, and then some.
So, then, why do I still frown at my missing thigh gap sometimes? Honestly, I think it’s just a vestigial reflex. Fifteen years of conditioning – to be critical, to pick out and apart flaws, to be permanently dissatisfied – doesn’t disappear overnight. I guess the key might be to remember – in that frowny moment – that it is just that. That I have grown out of it. That it is the memory of a battle I once fought, not a present struggle.
2. But I Realize My Privilege
Listen, I might be 20 lbs fatter now than 2 years ago, but I’m still a relatively thin, not unattractive, 30-something (white) lady. I fit in regular off-the-rack sizes, and people occasionally tell me that I look like her. To say that I don’t struggle with body image issues as much as before, despite being older and heavier than I used to be, isn’t really much of an achievement – it’s not that big of a mountain to climb. More like a hill. A smallish one. Would I be able to be as body positive if I had gained 40 lbs instead of 20? 100? If I started to look older than my age? Wrinklier than a Sharpei? Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t want to know … because I have a feeling I might not like the answer. So, I guess, I still have a lot of work to do – on the inside, if not the outside.