Body image. It’s been a lifelong struggle for me.
And, yes, I know I look good! Thank you for saying so, but my body image issues have weathered a rather large range of actual sizes, so your words help, but apparently don’t make much of a dent. Lately (as I sneak up on menopause), this incongruity has caused me to wonder how the barrage of negativity I heap on myself impacts my life? My confidence as a professional woman?
For me, it all started moments after birth when I motioned to the baby next to me in the nursery, ‘hey- you! In the pink- yes, YOU! Do I look fat in this scratchy swaddling blanket?’ As a child, I watched my mother battle her J. Lo rear before it was popular, and my sister eat green beans and mustard for breakfast, and try every other fad diet possible. Even my brother went to extreme lengths to maintain a wrestling weight class that was pounds below what was healthy for his size and constitution. 40 something years later, I am the ONLY sibling in my family with extra fat stores in case of an apocalyptic event. What can I say, I’m a planner.
My sister, Renee, is a perpetual size 0 who mistakenly thinks she inherited our ‘mom’s butt,’ and she ‘lives the Weight Watcher’s lifestyle,’ a phrase which annoys me enough to eat a ladle of buttercream frosting. She easily eats one warm chocolate chip cookie (ONE!), and none of the batter goes into her mouth while she’s making them (NONE!). As if this is not enough to go rifling through your purse for that aging Reese’s cup, she’s brilliant, successful, funny, beautiful and only eats when she’s hungry. Yes, friends, you heard me right.
Meanwhile, my brother, Paul, gets up at 4:00 am and does C3PO-90 (or whatever it’s called) eats mostly cow, and he’s lean and wears smaller jeans than he did when he was in high school 35 years ago. Blecchh. Please pass the tater tots.
In comparison, I pretty much eat whenever any member of my zipcode is hungry, for emotional reasons, or because food exists and I like the way it tastes in my mouth. I jog 3.2 miles (and not a step more) three times a week, do zumba with my friend Chrissy twice a week and practice yoga at home when I have the sense to do it. I walk 40 miles for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer every year without much sweat, and can lift, move and muscle through any household chore that’s needed. I’m strong, powerful and fit, just a few sizes bigger than where I am content.
I’ve tried Weight Watchers and was so hungry that I started catching myself eyeing the neighbor dog. I’ve tried low carb diets, but only really like carbs. Some of my best friends are proteins, but mostly, you’ll find me eating cereal and cooking different things that taste great on pasta. Before I was the Chicken Lady, I was the Cookie Lady, and now I’m just well… spending a lot of time chewing. I am past the point of being willing to give up cookies, and red wine, and a few handfuls of Doritos are a real treat. Please don’t say “everything in moderation,” because I have seven kids, three dogs, 18 chickens, a full time job, a part time internship, a dissertation to write and a slew of Board memberships and volunteer roles. So, obviously, moderation is not my strong suit. As a colleague and friend, Charlie Seashore, used to say, “anything worth doing is worth over-doing.” Apparently, I have taken that to heart.
I’ve come to terms with a lifestyle I am choosing, but not with how it manifests in my corporeal being. Something has to give. At a recent session with the miraculous cranio-sacral massage therapist/healer Diane Simpson, it occurred to me that if I could harness and transform the negative messaging with which I am constantly plaguing my beautifully healthy body, and turn it into the kind of loving, supportive messages I would give my daughters, or even a little girl version of me, then maybe I could accept myself more fully, more kindly, and with more grace?
So I asked some friends (around my age of 48 years) for their perspective on body image, and this is what they told me:
My curvaceously confident high school friend Sheila says, “I am strong and healthy, and I feel awesome and flat out gorgeous! I compliment my children on their fitness and running speed and what their bodies can do, not what they look like. They see me focused on good health and the fun things a strong body can do!”
My strong, supple marathoner friend Andrea, says, “Thin and healthy are not the same thing. I know heavy runners and skinny couch potatoes. Being active has made me more confident in all parts of my life.”
My new gifted artist friend, Darcy, brought me to tears when she shared this, “I remind myself what my body CAN DO! I can run for miles, swim like my lifeguard days, move furniture, digs holes to plant more beauty and give great back rubs. I can use my body to stand up for people and my fingers to write beautiful love stories and funny jokes. I can hold someone’s hand, create and repair things- and none of this has anything to do with the circumference of my hips.”
And there’s Clevelette, who’s had curvy curves for longer than the near 30 years we’ve been friends. She’s striking, smart, an experienced professional, and takes crap from no one. Ever. Until now, I’ve never heard Cle express self-doubt about her voluptuousness, “People always tell me how smart, competent and confident I am, but no matter what they say, I have insecurities that hold me back from traveling, applying for jobs, from a lot of things.” She continues, “Now that I’m older, I work to internalize the positive things people say, and that helps.”
And, may it be so, Clevelette, that we internalize the positive things others say, and that we can and will say to ourselves- that I will say to myself starting today.
After all, how can it not help my work life to become accepting and congruent with the human being that I am?
I’ll keep you posted on the results, and I would love to hear from you about your experiences with body image, and your thoughts about how it relates to your work performance?
And, please comment here- and connect with us on Twitter @CRWomenAtWork, @debmbest and @CoreyJamisonLLC
Join the LinkedIn Group: Capital Region Women@Work
Remember: Lower the bar, and drop the guilt (today).
This blog has been published by the Times Union and can be accessed here.