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.

And yet.

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.

12 Comments on Style Confessions, vol. 3

  1. Great post and a great attitude. I’m trying to be more satisfied with my body as I’m heading further into my 40s, but it’s kind of a struggle.

    • If I were to compare myself with my celebrity counterparts (agewise) then, heck yeah, it would be hard. But I try to think of it this way: I wouldn’t compare my IQ with Einstein’s, so why would I compare my body to Gwyneth’s or Cameron’s?
      But, again, I do come from a place of relative privilege: I still have the option off buying all kinds of cute clothes in my size, no one gives me the side-eye simply because of my weight/appearance, etc. As much as I might occasionally wish for that damn thigh gap, as long as I have pretty clothes and I’m healthy … I’m relatively content.

  2. i’m so glad (and thankful) you wrote this post. you wrote a lot of the things i try to articulate, but you also gave me new perspective on some things i can look forward to as i get older (older, not old, because you’re the former and not the latter!). i think it’s important for women of all ages to talk about body image because it is so different at different life-points. it’s nice to have the solidarity of common feelings, even if those feelings aren’t always so nice. i’m also really glad you talked about privilege. i just think it’s an important thing to keep in check always, so i appreciate seeing it in the blogosphere.

    sidebar: i never noticed how much you look like Bryce Dallas Howard but holy cow girl she stole your look!

    xo nicole

  3. Thanks for posting Adina! You have a refreshing attitude towards this issue. I like to think that I’m happy with me and my shape, and in general I think I usually am. I try to focus on what my body can do (wow – I just walked for 90 minutes, partially up a hill – way to go feet!) and less about the fact that I have more of a tummy than I’d like. I’m with you on the laziness though – I feel like I could do something about the tummy if I really tried and the facts that I like eating and an activity has to be pretty darn good to tear me away from my book are what are keeping me away from a smaller tummy.

    • You and I are on the same page. Which reminds me … I haven’t done my daily workout in about a week. Oops. I can’t even blame it on a book, I just done forgot.
      P.S. got a good book recc? I’m in dire need of one. Just finished a book on Marlow/Shakespeare, and I’m in an Elizabethan/Tudor mood.

      • Well, I just finished reading through a compilation of Austen’s early work and unfinished pieces. It was pretty good! There are some excellent pieces in there. A good non-fiction book about Elizabethan England is “The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England” by Ian Mortimer which is an amazing look at the society of Elizabethan England – like a travel guide, almost. The author also has great books on Henry IV and Roger Mortimer.

        • OMG, that Time Traveler’s Guide sounds amazing! Going straight on my list.
          (I finished that Vanished Kingdoms book not that long ago … thank you for the recc, it was a fantastic read!)

  4. I spent my teens and twenties positively *fixated* on whether I may body, clothing, and behavior were “right” (almost never meeting my own impossible expectations). The increasing sense of not-caring-what-anyone-thinks is hands-down my favorite part of growing older.

    Anyway, I enjoyed this post.

  5. I experienced the same as you after my first pregnancy 3 years ago and was not remotely unhappy with my body. Although most of it went away this time after having Felix I’ve started to feel a bit wobbly & uncomfortable with that the last few weeks. They say that breastfeeding makes you hold on to a few lbs & I haven’t actually weighed myself, I just feel like a jelly belly. Easy to hide with clothes though so you can project a confident image around friends / family but at night changing into my pjs I do cast a critical eye over things 🙁

    • You look amazing, seriously. And besides, you’re already back to running 100x longer distances than I can even muster now. Your body can do such amazing things, that’s the important thing to remember. Clothes will take care of everything else 😉