I pretty much gave Writing Brain the weekend off and fed Reading Brain rather a lot. When I had brain cells left over from the coughing, etc. Feeling much better today, though — still coughing occasionally, but not as often and not the “coughing until unconscious” thing, so that’s good. Meaning it’s time to get back in the blogging saddle.
When I posted on Friday, I said I’d been hit between the eyes, metaphorically speaking, by three separate items on the Book of Face: a one-panel cartoon, a blog post, and another TEDxUNR video. I started out thinking I’d do one big post on all of them, but I’ve decided to give each thing its own post. Therefore, for what should have been posted on Day 79, a.k.a., 2/13/16, I give you…the Meaningful Cartoon.
And here it is!
Answer: oh, hell, yes.
It’s nothing new, this idea of having certain standards of beauty to which everyone should aspire. That there’s a certain point at which a woman’s physicality is deemed acceptable, but outside that narrow range, she just doesn’t measure up (you should pardon the expression). And that standard has changed throughout history, for all kinds of reasons.
Sometimes, a woman abundantly fleshed was considered the embodiment of the nurturing goddess, or was seen to have the physical resources to successfully bear and raise children in a hostile world. At other times, slim to the point of boyishness was the goal — think the flapper era, and the opening scene of Thoroughly Modern Millie when Julie Andrew as the titular Millie transforms herself from an old-fashioned girl into a “modern”…including buying a bra that looks more like a girdle so her beads will hang straight instead of being displaced by her bosom.
And everything in between, at one time or another, to the point of body schizophrenia, which I personally would define as the “requirement” to have 40DD tits, a 22-inch waist, and either no hips to speak of or the “Baby Got Back” variety.
I’m sure there are women whose biology/physiology have provided them with such figures naturally, and I am in no way intending to criticize any woman for her body. Rather, I’m criticizing the society that says “THIS is the only acceptable way to be! Now, you need to try harder! Follow this diet plan! No, that diet plan! No, THIS diet plan! Do these exercises to increase your bust size! Get a flat belly! No, flat isn’t good enough anymore: sixpack abs! Get yourself a thigh gap! Get the junk out of your trunk! No, leave the junk in the trunk, just tighten up the trunk! Do this! Do that! And THEN YOU’LL BE PERFECT! Nope, too late, THIS is the New Beauty!”
Talk about moving the goalposts. Talk about setting yourself up to fail. Talk about not being good enough, at least according to the media, to be considered sexually desirable. Unless, of course, you’re past 35, in which case it’s hopeless, go crawl under a rock because no matter how good you look, the packaging is too old to bother with.
Mom always told me I was overweight. Even when I wasn’t, really. What I was — and it may sound like a cop-out but stick with me for a bit — what I was, was yes, a little chubby, and big-boned. As in not far off my current height when I graduated from 6th grade, at which time I also had a size 8 ring finger (found that out when Mom and I took a ring I’d been given as a graduation present to be sized because it was too small) and was wearing 8-1/2 D in women’s shoes.
Here’s the thing, though. Mom also considered herself overweight. But really, when I was growing up, not so much. Yes, she became overweight, in an unhealthy way, and it contributed to her heart attack. It would have been so easy to deal with then, if she’d worked some shorter hours so we could go for walks, and if she could have brought herself not to cook for a party of twenty all the time. Not how she was wired, though, so I grew up hearing her complain about her weight, and about mine, at least by implication.
We did our fare share of fad diets (that didn’t work) and “healthy eating plans” (that also didn’t work), the occasional weird-ass exercise aid (look up the “Slim-Gym”), although not as many of those due to the expense. I tended toward the sedentary due to my love of reading, but I’d have been perfectly happy to play. If I’d had anyone to play with, both in the sense of not having many friends in the various rental places we lived in and having almost no friends at school — brainy, introverted and chubby was pretty much the kiss of death in grade school.
In high school, of course, I was introduced to the concept of PE. Which I hated because sports of any sort seemed mostly pointless, I never felt very coordinated (which no doubt was a self-fulfilling prophecy), and I was extremely body-shy, so changing clothes in front of a roomful of other girls was utter torture.
On the other hand, I got my last two inches of height in high school, and I did have to take PE. I had one good day of softball, and one good day of basketball; nearly drowned myself proving I didn’t know how to swim but eventually learned to do a creditable backstroke, ditto sidestroke; and was surprisingly good at gymnastics, especially the balance beam, with occasional bright spots in floor exercises and the uneven parallel bars.
When I look now at photos of myself then…couldn’t have been a model, didn’t want to be one, but I had a perfectly normal teenage body. In fact, I looked good. No, let me give myself full credit: I looked damned good.
According to my mom, however, I was still just a bit too chubby.
There is a certain irony in the fact that I was in the best physical shape of my life when I was walking 5 miles every other day to visit my mom in the hospital after her heart attack. And I still wouldn’t have passed muster with the beauty standards of the day.
I’d say long story short, but it’s too late for that. 😉 However, eventually sedentary caught up with me. As a present one year, Steve’s folks paid for my membership in a diet program (weekly meetings, buy mostly their prepackaged/frozen food, maybe 800 calories a day). I did it. I stuck with it despite feeling starved all the time. I even took the frozen turkey dinner to eat while the rest of the office enjoyed a real meal the day before Thanksgiving.
Yes, I lost weight. I lost a lot of weight. And because I wasn’t exercising, I lost a little too much weight — somewhere in storage, there’s a photo of me happily posing in my slim new physique, but my collarbones were too prominent (y’all remember my being big-boned?). Between the not exercising and the not learning how to deal with real food in a realistic way, I gained it all back as soon as I “graduated” from the program. And, as is often the case, more besides.
I neither gained nor lost a noticeable amount of weight during my homeless stint, but after I got the job, I dropped about 10 pounds without even trying. It’s amazing what knocking down those cortisol levels will do.
Which pretty much brings us to now, with me not meeting any of the current beauty standards. Shopping is usually a case of, what I’d love to wear either doesn’t come in my size or is sold out of my size by the time I see the style, or the “misses” sizes have all the awesome patterns and colors and the “women’s” sizes have far fewer, and often far more boring, choices.
I’m not happy. I know being slimmer, to whatever extent, isn’t going to be a cure-all for anything, and it absolutely won’t guarantee a wonderful relationship with a terrific guy. And there’s a part of me that says if I can’t accept myself right now, right this instant, exactly as I am, then there’s no guarantee I’ll be any happier with myself if I lose weight.
The body I have right now, though, is strong, and capable, and it does what I need it to do. And for that I’m incredibly grateful.