Betcha knew this was coming. (Settle in with a drink honey, this’ll take a while.) Body image – it’s a bugaboo for all of us female types, and for a significant number of the males too – more now, I think than ever before. It’s a biological sizing-up process that unfortunately has been seized upon by Madison Ave., the fashion industry, and our ever increasing ADD/ADHD length of focus of society. Originally, it was the ratio of hip to waist, relative symmetry of features, clear skin, bright eyes and shiny hair of good health that signaled we were a good breeding partner. Oh, and something else – wide, well-padded hips and bigger boobies. You know, wide birth canal and the evil *gasp* fat that would ensure that you could 1. conceive (drop your body fat below ~20% and fertility and periods, um get really spotty :)) and 2. feed said offspring. That is where the oh so wonderful, float-on-clouds, rip-each-others-clothes-off-at-every-opportunity hormones are leading, you know that, right?
Speaking of hormones – those lovely things that make us feel so good (or the sudden lack of that makes us homicidal at certain times.) We all have all of them – just in varying amounts. Men have estrogen, just not as much as us. We have testosterone, just not as much as men (though high testosterone women are lots of fun *EG*). Estrogen, oxytocin, prolactin, progesterone (to a lesser extent) are the biggies for us. They cause lactation, ovulation, menstruation, maintain pregnancies, protect our hearts, our bones, our brains, and a whole host of things that we are just figuring out.
They also are responsible for your body holding on to fat like Jack Dawson holding onto a floating board after the Titanic belly-up’d.
Those super-models who look like refugees from Dachau? They don’t have those hormones working in their bodies. Bring your body fat too low, and they shut off faster than a speeding car in front of a state trooper. They are genetically female, but not biochemically. This is the ideal in our society? Maybe for Foley and Haggard, but jeez.
Consider our societal ideas of maternal or grandmotherly – warm, soft, comforting, enveloping, caring, cushioning, and comfort food (which is either sweet and fat, or starch and fat) – when was the last time you visualized running to have your boo-boo kissed and made all better by a dessicated skeleton?
So what happened? If you look at societal standards, zaftig women historically have been the “It” girl for several thousands of years. Pre-Industrial Period, it especially made sense. Having enough food – and enough leisure to acquire padding was to be desired (fair skin too btw – it meant you didn’t have to spend all your time out in field and forest, schleping it to hold body and soul together.) But after the mechanization and the move of the populace to the city, the distribution of food, and its effects on society changed.
Super-farms began emerging which produced high yields by automated farm equipment. So the populace, no longer working on the farm expending 6,000-7,000 cal/day to bring home the bacon, expended a few hundred at an office desk and at the grocery store for the same bacon. And a new paradigm emerged. Actually, it was the mirror image of an old one, if you could forgive the irony.
Prior to the Industrial Revolution, only the upper classes had the resources to increase their caloric intake to the “prosperous plump,” based of course on the labor of their farmers on the land that they owned. This indeed was the basis of the feudalism that reigned in Europe in the Dark and Middle Ages. Once food began to become plentiful, either by better farming or industrial farming, all the classes had access to more calories, and thus could become curvy and stout.
This provided the upper classes with a dilemma. They could no longer differentiate with just a glance who was of their social class, and who was not (since with wealth increasing too, the commoners could afford better dress as well). So since the lower classes were gaining weight, the upper classes began to lose weight, and to put much, much more importance on appearance. Upper-middle and higher classes work out more, spend a much higher percentage of their income on diet products, grooming products and clothes. After all, “You can never be too rich or too thin.” If you don’t believe me, go to your closest yuppie, I mean country club. Count how many overweight people you see (that aren’t staff.)
You won’t need all of one hand.
What has this to do with female insecurities? Well, a lot. Madison Ave., The Garment District, Hollywood – you name it, they sell it. And what they’re selling is – illusion of course. If you’re thin – you’re rich. If you’re thin – you’ll have Mr. Perfect. Your house will clean itself, you’ll have a perfect life, yada, yada. Everyone loves the skinny kid. Except not. The reason we like people, or don’t, doesn’t have to do with clothing size or shoe size, or their address, or if Saturn was in Opposition to Pluto while Mercury was having lattes with Venus while Mars wasn’t looking (and if you were that kind of person, we wouldn’t be on our mutual friends lists.) A bunch of sharks in expensive Italian suits are using the measuring sticks of small, self-important snobs (they have to be self-important; they surely aren’t important otherwise) to sell people like your mother her dream, one product at a time, all the while moving the goalpost every play, and laughing themselves silly all the way to the bank with her hard earned money. And I speak from experience; I was married to someone from this class for 20 years – and I saw it all.
Is this what you want goading you for the rest of your life? Did it make your Mom happy?
Now we get down to the nitty-gritty. Honey, I’ve been you. I was a curvaceous, wide-hipped, big- well, you get it – as a teen (I started wearing a bra in 4th grade.) I added weight during times of stress. I blew out my knee on a nautilus machine. I exercised myself silly, ate 600 cal a day and starved myself down to an “acceptable” size. And promptly gained back, and then some. I lost weight in pregnancy (I’m 5’1″ with a 31 in inseam – long legs – I joked about carrying kids in my larynx!) but gained back. I have cortisol issues that affect my weight distribution, as well as a couple of arthritises, hip and spine damage, etc, asthma, you get the picture. Not a lot that I can do – but I can empathize about the body betraying you. As for the scars – I had 5 abdominal surgeries in 5 years. Vertical incisions, horizontal incisions, not only does it look like a road map, it has created hernias that cause weird bulges everywhere. Once again – I understand.
But- and this is a big one – I do have one advantage over you. Time. Yes, my breasts are sagging now – but I know its because I fed my children from there. When I see it, I remember their tiny mouths, their perfect hands, the feel of their bodies snuggled next to mine, their bright eyes watching me as their hand grasped my finger. Those stretch marks? Lying in bed, in the darkness, feeling the flutter of my children underneath my heart. I always have believed that mothers are so lucky – we get to know our children from the inside of us for 9 months.
There are other things that I can read in my body, not so pleasant, yet are part of my story as well. My skull fracture, from being backhanded into a washing machine by my father, swells and aches during a migraine. My spine twists and causes pain because of repeated beatings, once again by my father, over many years. Yet I have survived. I ended the cycle of abuse. I raised wonderful, sane, children. And I am building my life with the man I love. And who loves me and every part of my body; for my body tells my story, both within and without.
I have read your beautiful Irish Boy’s journal, and he seems to be strong, loving and deep. Do you truly believe so little in him, that he would not honor and love the body that holds you? Or do you believe that maybe he will look too deep, and love too little, and run away?
I tried for many years to run away from myself, and from my body. Yet, in the mirror of my love’s eyes, I saw, not what I feared, but what I never expected. Do not throw the baby out with the bathwater my dear. You are thoughtful, caring, committed, loving, intelligent and beautiful – those things lie within that same body.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” The converse is also true – If it were me, or another hating their body, what would you counsel? Same applies to you.
“A new commandment I give unto you – that you Love one another as I have Loved you.” What would He say?
Response from the young woman
Good god. This entire thing was incredible. I…don’t know what to say. Except to say thank you. And that I wish you were my mom.
Everything that you said was very valid and very correct. And right. By which I mean it jived with me. It wasn’t the whole mystical, “Love your body! Whee!” stuff that I seemed to encounter in the college years. It was sound, practical advice, which is what I needed.
You have, quite possibly, the luckiest children on the planet.
I talked to my Boy tonight, and as I did, I kept all of this (and what everyone else told me) in mind. And you were right. He loves me for me, and I love him for him. All of him – body, mind and spirit. And not only does he respect me, but he makes me feel treasured. What the hell was I so worried about?
I think I’m going to be ok. And I think I know what they mean about loving your body now. I feel at peace for the first time in a long time. Possibly ever.
I don’t know how I can pay you back, but say the word and I’m there. It’s the very least I can do.