31 July 2006

Woman In the Mirror

I’ve been thinking about body image a lot in the past few weeks. It seems to be a recurring theme in my life right now. I used to convince myself that I didn’t care, that I was who I was and I couldn’t change genetics, that there were so many better things to do with my time I didn’t want to spend it obsessing about myself. The truth is, I very much cared then and care now and spent a large part of my time mentally running away from my body.

Genetics did play a huge part. I weighed 180+ lbs, was 5’8”, had a 38D chest, and wore a women’s 12-14 the fall I started 6th grade. I looked like a full-grown woman before most of my friends had started puberty. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn't look like anyone I knew and definitely not like anyone in Seventeen. I was so Other that I ignored it. I had always been good at academics, been amongst the top in every test and could do quite well with relatively little effort, but this year was the first I remembered actually focusing on it. I would obviously never be successful in any attempt at popularity because a) Esprit didn’t make anything in my size and b) I stood out in all the wrong ways. Also, my brief foray into acting didn’t turn out so well. So I focused on the one thing I could be successful at. It is the first year I remember being referred to as The Walking Encyclopedia, a title I sardonically embraced.

It really didn’t get much better in junior high or high school. I did very well in school, I had friends, my parents were loving and supportive, but my body didn’t change and my refusal to deal with it didn’t help. Food was a consolation and I steadily gained weight. I still remember the ugly reality of surreptitiously standing on the scale in the girl’s locker room in 9th grade and watching the dial climb to 198. I was almost 200lbs. That was how much my 6'0" father weighed. I couldn't deal with that kind of information, so I retreated further into my mental world where it was more important that I was number 1 in my history class than what I looked like in the mirror.

College was a little better. I actually lost weight because of all the walking and for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like bursting into tears after shopping for clothes. I still remember justifying over-spending at Old Navy because I could actually wear their size 16 jeans. I went on a study abroad to London my Junior year and between my room at the top of 6 flights of stairs, the walking, my preferring to spend money on things rather than food, and an upper respiratory infection that lasted for two weeks, I shrunk to a size 12. It was elating. I was giving away clothes to girls who were larger than I was. That had never happened to me before.

I had thought, being in my late 20s, that I would be through with all this heartache over size. I have been eating better, healthier. I occasionally go to the gym. I’m slowly moving toward my goal weight. But this weekend the angst of the past 15 years came to a head, I went to see my roommate in a fashion show. And paraded before me, in one of the largest disconnects of modern American society, was a stream of size 2-6 models wearing the latest in adolescent fashion. In one of the write-ups the shops had provided as a running commentary, it boasted that it carried sizes 0-18 and XS to XXL. Considering that the majority of Americans range in the L-XL categories, it is no wonder so many girls have eating disorders. This size is still the exception to the fashion rule. Fashion needs to catch up.

Shopping after the show wasn’t fun. Shopping is still a prickly experience for me. Most of the time I can do it without recalling the tears and the panic and the desperation of those adolescent afternoons spent in a Maurices dressing room. Saturday was different. In most stores I went into, I felt vaguely claustrophobic. Even chains I usually have no problem with, like GAP didn’t feel comfortable. And there are stores I just don’t venture into, mostly because they don’t fit my aesthetic, but also because I just don’t feel like I belong in them. And sadly, just walking into Buckle with Miss Parker, so she could find a pair of jeans that fit, made me want to burst into tears. I had to get out. I couldn’t spend time in a store that didn’t even carry my size. So I wandered around the Provo Towne Center until I could control it. My question is, does this ever end? Will there ever be a time when I’m completely comfortable in my own skin, when the pain of the past doesn’t overthrow the present? Will I ever not be discouraged by the fact I am not and never will be a size 6? Will I ever be able to stop holding myself to a false idea of perfection? And is the fact that I'm actually recognizing and confronting this issue a positive step?


aquamarine said...
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aquamarine said...

I swear Scully we are twins in more ways than one!

I too, have been obsessed with my preoccupation of size and weight. Like you I was never the size to walk in and find what ever struck my fancy, except for a brief time the year everyone started college. That time tortures me, because I know what it is like to be over the stereotype and at the perfect size six. Now I am ashamed at what I am now, but things have become out of hand, food is my comfort, and my choices show. It is hard to wear one's weakness literaly on thier skin. I look in the mirror and feel so diconnected from my body at times, that I wonder how in the world that reflection represent the person I am inside. I feel buried beneath layers of fat. I am worried how everyone will take it when we meet together, but it is a slight comfort to know that I have someone who understands the agony of not fitting in, because of dress size.

(((hugs))) We are in this together. :)

(I had to delete my previous post cause I used your real name on accident.)

Scully said...

Don't worry about seeing everyone! I don't remember us being a particularly judgemental group to begine with, and teime mellows, right? In one of my favorite books, Possession, by AS Byatt, there is a passage about they way women look in the mirror and react to what they see. And no matter what they see, it is not who they feel they are. This passage always struck me as the frightening truth surrounding women and beauty.

t said...

I do the same thing Scully. I never used to worry about my weight or anything, never thought I was fat. I was always the smallest kid in school. If anything, I was underweight. Then puberty hit and I got my curves and I was still ok with everything. Once I left college though, I started to gain so much weight. I think because I didn't have the regular exercise anymore. So now I look at myself and think, gosh what a pig. I went up about 6 pants sizes in a matter of months. I can't find much in my size because I'm between juniors and women's. I mostly end up wearing plus size juniors clothes. And the shirts they make these days are so small. Even with XXL, they are still too tight. I don't need to flaunt my chest around like that. Anyway, I think that we as women will always look in the mirror and see themselves as either too fat or too skinny. We will never be satisfied with our bodies. I still have high hopes that I will lose the weight, so I eat less and am trying to work out. And sometimes our body types are hereditary. We just have to make the best of what we've got.
By the way, I always thought you had a nice figure. And I always wondered why boys never liked us, you, me and Parker, since we are all pretty cute. It must have been our strong personalities that kept them away.
We are all in this together.

oldladyme said...

Nope the it never ends. You just have to put that burned in image into a slot for bad CDs.
Body image whether genetic or an experince life has given you makes little difference when you have great gifts and talents. Which I might add at this point we should not deny because they are God given.
I hate the stares I still get with my patchwork quilt body but if that is what people like to see more power to them. Cute is as Cute does!!!!!!