I just went shopping for a dress for my kids' B'nai Mitzvah. I have been avoiding it - thinking that maybe if I lose 5 pounds (at least) first, I'll be happier with how I look. But I'm kidding myself. I need to shop for the body I have and not the body I want. Because the truth is, I am never going to love my body just the way it is, and I just have to learn to live with that.
I cannot remember a time when I did not have body image issues. Well, maybe that's not completely true - I distinctly remember a time in fourth grade when I was sashaying up the school steps in what I thought was a fashion-model way, when I realized to my horror that I wasn't alone - my teacher, Mrs. Richardson, was there watching. "You are quite the fashion plate!" she said. And while I had no idea what that meant, I knew it was good. And I sashayed even more.
But that was it. The last moment in memory when I wasn't embarrassed by or self-conscious about my body.
Recently, I had breakfast with my high school boyfriend. When I carefully ordered a carb-free breakfast, he asked about it. "I just want to lose 10 pounds." I said.
"Funny," he answered. "I remember having that same conversation with you in 1982. You've got to get over those body image issues."
And that's when it hit me. I am not going to get over my body issues. The last time I felt less awful (not good, mind you) about my body, was after I had swine flu and pneumonia two years ago. I lost eight of the 10 pounds I've been trying to lose for 20 years, and gushed about the silver lining of having a potentially deadly illness.
It's pathetic, I know.
I've tried to love my body the way it is. I've read articles in women's magazines that tout body acceptance on one page and photos of emaciated super-models on the next. I've done that exercise when you look at yourself naked and pick one part of your body you think is beautiful. (I picked my eyes. Not a body part, but it was the best I could do.) I even posed for artsy-fartsy naked photos a few years back in the hopes of feeling empowered and seeing the beauty in my own human form. It didn't quite work out that way. As photographs, they are lovely. As me, not so much. Those expensive pictures are hidden in a drawer somewhere waiting for the day my body is so old and decrepit that in the photos, it looks great by comparison.
So I've decided to try something new. I've decided to accept that I'm never going to accept my body the way it is. Quite frankly, it's a relief. Attempting the impossible has been exhausting.
It's kind of like agreeing to disagree with a friend. You're not going to change your mind and suddenly decide that, why, yes, water-boarding is a great idea after all, but neither are you going to harp on it, or let it ruin your friendship.
The fact is, for more than 30 years I've felt uncomfortable - to varying degrees - with my looks. Why, now that age, gravity, and the inevitable crepe-i-fication of my skin has taken over, do I think that's going to change? It won't. But I can accept that. Take my nose (please!). I don't like my nose. I've never like my nose. But I'm not interested in surgery, and I don't obsess about it. It's my nose. Move on.
I don't see why that same tactic can't work with my body image: I don't like my body, but, 30 + years in, it's clear that I don't dislike it enough to starve myself/exercise hysterically/pay someone to surgically suck out the fat. So...move on.
I won't quit railing against the male dominated media landscape that dictates women strive for an impossible physical ideal. I won't be happy that my daughter is growing up in a world where 11 year olds go on diets. I will try to instill in her a positive self image. But for me - it's just not gonna happen. I'd like it to. But there are a lot of things I'd like. I'd like Sarah Palin to do an Arianna Huffington, become a liberal, and use her inexplicable appeal to the masses for good instead of evil. But that's not going to happen either.
Maybe it's defeatist. Maybe I should figure out a way to love myself for who I am. But,isn't that what I'm doing? Isn't acceptance, after all, love?
I'm hopeful that this new approach to non-body acceptance will make the fact that I'll still be unhappy with my body a non-issue. I'm hoping that it will turn out to be a road to not having that same conversation with my high school boyfriend 20 years hence. Already, it's liberating - like a weight has been lifted, even if no weight has been lost.
And if you don't like my approach. If you still think I should try to love my body, see its beauty, well, I can accept that. And we'll just have to agree to disagree.
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