When I was growing up, I had what I fondly refer to as the metabolism of a rabbit on crack. I ate whatever I wanted, in whatever quantity I wanted, whenever I wanted and never really gained much weight. I didn’t need to exercise (though our public schools had terrific physical education programs that included PE five days a week in high school).
When I got married at 23, I was the heaviest I’d ever been at 108 pounds.
That did not last.
After my first daughter was born, my thyroid decided it had had enough. It did all its work in the first 28 years of life, and now it was clocking out and calling it quits. I’ve been on thyroid medication ever since then, and after my younger daughter was born, my bad eating habits (combined with my nonexistent exercise habits) caught up with me, and I hit a high weight of 181 pounds.
I was really unhappy. I felt tired all the time, I felt bad about the way I looked, and I determined to do something about it. So I joined Weight Watchers, and by strictly following their points plan, I got back down to my pre-baby weight of a shade under 120. I started exercising more, eating better, and kept the weight off for years.
But bad habits not only die hard, they have an extraordinary way of resurrecting themselves. Family activities tend to keep you too busy to make lots of time to go to the gym for workout classes, and eventually I wound up heavier than I wanted to be. I know that to some people, I’m not really heavy. Simcha wrote about a woman who sees herself as fat even though to most people, she isn’t so. She struggles with the idea of putting on a bathing suit to play in the water with her kids. It’s all relative, folks. If I struggled to get to a weight where I could donate blood at one point in my life, being this heavy now means my self-image takes a pretty good hit.
Now I’m trying to lose weight by eating right and exercising – mostly in the form of running which (much to my surprise) I am starting to enjoy. And it’s going to go slowly. Let’s face it, 32 year-old me loses weight easier than 44 year-old me.
In the meantime, though, my husband has been sneaking video clips of me and making a music video with “What Makes You Beautiful” in the background. Lavishing me with compliments and love and affection. And yet…I still struggle with the idea that I’m beautiful. I tease him that he’s contractually obliged to say those things. But I saw something last week that changed me a bit.
I can’t remember where I first saw it, though I’m sure it was on Elizabeth Scalia’s Twitter feed, but this article from about two years ago was shared. It discusses how Italian artist Anna Utopia Giordano took classic art depicting beauty (much of it Venus, who has always been shown as the epitome of beauty) and used Photoshop to bring the women into line with current standards of beauty that we see in the media. We hear all the time about how the standards are ever-pushing towards thinner bodies (and yet larger breasts). How our standards seem to have evolved into “you must look like a porn star.” But I hadn’t really seen anything – ever – that truly demonstrated it like this project.
What really makes the impact is that the art and the Photoshop are shown side-by-side.
If you only saw the image on the right, you might not think about how thin she is. After all, this is what we see all day, every day, in every magazine and catalog in America. My Old Navy emails are filled with stick-thin girls who look like they haven’t eaten in a week. Their website had this little piece of information in with the measurements for a dress I was buying:
You see that? 5’9″, wears a size 4. My 15 year-old daughter, who is 5’2″, wears a size 4. And yet this has been the standard of beauty my entire life! It’s the kind of thing you don’t even realize that you’ve absorbed at all.
And yet, at the same time, I never would look at the woman on the left here…
…and think she was fat. I just wouldn’t.
But you know what? The women on the left – the original women in all of those beautiful Venus paintings – look like me.
That was a revelation to me. Something inside me shifted when I realized that. When I looked at these women who were held up as the pinnacle of loveliness, and then I look at myself, I suddenly understand that I am not fat. My husband is not saying I’m beautiful because he’s contractually obliged or because he has no choice.
He doesn’t see me as needing to lose weight to be pretty, but as someone who looks this way because I carried our babies. He sees me as me, not as a fat girl. He sees my extra curves and rolls as symbols of the sacrifices I make for our family, for going to the gym costs time and money, which are usually in shorter supply than we’d like.
And maybe — just maybe — I might start being able to see that, too.