Thursday, April 16, 2009

Try this on for size

Hi. My name is Mimi. I'm 5'7" tall and I weigh 128 pounds. My problem, my problem for what feels like my whole life, is this: I distrust my body. I am not sure how it looks, if it works right, if it is normal. If it is right. If I can even see it right.

I know my mind pretty well. My consciousness and I have spent a lot of time together, and, frankly, not much that it does surprises me.

My body surprises me all the time. How can it be that I see a pudgy, lumpy wrinkly Mom when I look in the mirror, but most snapshots show me to be willowy, dramatic, and even sometimes chic? I can't square that circle. If you tell my I'm smart, funny, a good writer, I will blush a little but probably assent to the compliment. If you tell me I'm pretty, or sexy, or thin, I will honestly argue you out of it.

How do we come to this funhouse mirror effect? It's like my body is a problem I simply cannot make sense of. I've been thinking a lot lately about the usual suspects--the beauty and fashion industries, insanely thin Hollywood standards, etc.--but I wonder if my dysmorphia has other roots as well. Roots in my closet.

Try this on for size:

I have to buy specialty bras, because my rib cage takes a 30" band. This is probably why the fitted dresses I buy are often size 2. However, all my t-shirts are size Large, or else they're too narrow across the shoulders. Invariably, they're too short in the waist. Also, I wear size Large maternity tank tops nearly every day. So: you guess. On top, am I small or am I big?

All my pants are too long: I have short legs. I have to get everything hemmed up. My pants are all size 4 or size 6. But my underwear are invariably purchased in size Large, because anything smaller cuts into my legs and my belly. And Large is none too large, believe me. I buy Medium pajama bottoms, and they're usually too short but they're plenty baggy. And another complication--the size 8 jeans I wore in high school, and my more recent size 4 pair, when laid one atop the other, show themselves to be exactly the same size. So: on bottom, am I small or am I big? Stumpy or leggy?

Sweaters? Most mediums have arms and bodies that are too short. Coats? My best fitting one is a size 4 from the petite section.

The BMI charts put me a the low end of healthy; but everything on me jiggles and wobbles when I move. I can't square the circle. I have no idea what I look like, no idea at all.

I'm a thinker. I've tried and tried and tried to think my way out of this blindness, this unknowing. I guess I "know", objectively, that I'm a thin person, but to know something objectively is not to know it in your gut--in your body. In my body. And, other than pregnancy and childbirth and breastfeeding, my body is where I don't feel like I know much at all, and that makes me feel like a failure on a number of fronts.

I don't want you, Interverse, to tell me I'm pretty or that I'm thin. I want to know how--if--you have come into a sense of yourselves as whole, as knowable. How you can see yourselves as you are, without a shimmer of distortion blurring you right out of the picture.


Omaha Mama said...

You're gorgeous (I know you don't want to hear that). And maybe the answer stop thinking about it??? It may never come to you, so maybe turn your thinking to a letter writing campaign to the twits who make clothing. Can't they come together and stop making things so screwy?! I'm in a different boat, but similar. If the girls in my h.s. classes are wearing size L and XL tshirts, where does that leave a large mama like me? And how about this - when I try on the plus size things, since the little high schoolers are wearing the top end of "regular" clothing, the smallest plus size is too baggy. I'm in size Neverland. Though I've just resolved to lose some friggin' weight. Sigh.

Good luck. :0)

Kyla said...

I do think you are quite chic!

I feel the same! Though, I am heavier than my ideal weight, I'm not heavy...but my perception of my body isn't accurate, I know. It is a quandary. It also drives Josh crazy. LOL. He wants to compliment me and doesn't care for the qualifications I add to them.

Magpie said...

i think i have precisely the opposite problem - i think of myself as willowy and chic, and i see myself in mirrors and i cringe.

Bekah said...

This is weighty, no pun intended.

I look in the mirror and see what I am. I wear a size 26/28 and I shop at plus sized stores. I have been around this weight for the bulk of my adult life but I've spent a lot of time fighting it. Or not fighting the weight or the mirror but fighting the labels. When I'm on the edge of a size, buying down. Buying the 22/24 not because it fits or because I think I'm going to magically lose some weight but because buying a smaller size makes me feel smaller.

But it doesn't- it makes me feel bigger. Because I bring my new garment home and put it on and I can see that it fits badly and I look like an elephant or at least a dolphin. Buying that few moments of size conscious happiness at the store costs me more mirror frustration over the next year or so that I wear the garment.

I've been thin. 145 on me put me in size 6's. I've been heavy- I am now. What I'm going to tell you is the honest to god truth. Women jiggle at every weight. The curves I had at a size 6 weren't firm and sexy. My ass remains about the same size relative to my general body mass no matter how thin I am. It wiggles and it jiggles. That skin under my chin? It never, ever, stops doubling up- even when my cheeks are hollow. The size of the double changes but it's always there.

Do I like my current weight? Not especially. It's especially hard because I'm pretty sure it's negatively impacting my ability to have a child. I could (and will) lose weight but it's not going to change the wiggly jiggly parts of me. Even if I got down to a size two and firmed my skin up properly- I'm never going to have an air bushed toned body. My butts going to be medium sized, my tummy's always going to have flab, and I'm always going to have saggy breasts because guess what? They were saggy when I was 15 and skinny and doubling my age isn't going to miraculously turn them into movie material.

Looking in the mirror and seeing what's there is more a matter of accepting the faults and being willing to look at them anyway and accentuate the positives. I have beautiful waist length hair, my lips are fantastically shaped and one of my favorite colors is an excellent accent with my coloring. Nothing I put on is going to make me look like less of a small whale- but some things that I wear draw the eye to my best features instead and when my best features are accented I feel beautiful and attractive anyway. So I wear flashy jewelry on a neutral palate of clothing with excellent makeup and I smile and people may notice that I'm fat (because honestly it's not had to see) but it's not necessarily what they focus on when they talk to me. It's not necessarily the first thing that people describe when they talk about me. That's actually my hair because waist length hair seems to be more unusual than being the size of a small comet. =)

Sorry about the virtual book, just hit a topic that ersonated.

Bea said...

My mental image of myself is thinner than the reality, and this is pretty much something I cultivate: I don't have very many mirrors in my house, and the ones I have I approach standing up, head-on, with my shirt untucked. Every once in awhile I accidentally glimpse myself in a mirror or a picture from the back, or the side, and I'm shocked - but I seem to be able to dispel that image and go back to a state where I look pretty much the same as I looked six years and 15 pounds ago.

So what is with that? Why does my psychology give me unwarranted compliments on my looks while yours offers up unwarranted insults?

Beck said...

I have some awesome reverse anorexia going on, where I think that I'm still a curvaceous and yet willowy girl and then I walk by a mirror and wonder who that full figured matron is? WHY, IT'S ME! HOW JOLLY!

Honestly, though - I don't think about my weight all that much. I'm not actually FAT (5'7", 158 pounds, gallingly enough.) although I'd love to lose 20 pounds and be slim enough for other women to comment on and/or hate. Effortlessly. And without exercising or eating less. And not helping my listless weight loss efforts one bit is my husband's uxorious ardour - he literally does not CARE what I weigh, apparently.

I don't think that body issues are all political or whatever - as a formerly thin person (sob), I do know that it's entirely possible to be thin and out of shape. But every picture I've ever seen of you has shown you to be chic and slim and pretty, and it's a shame that you're not enjoying it more.

(as for the funky shirt sizes: OH, I HEAR YOU. One thing you can do is to buy shirts that fit in the boobs and shoulders and then get your local tailor to dart them in for the rest of you.)

Mandy said...

I suffered mildly from anorexia in the last few years of university. A really interesting study of people (men or women) with eating disorders showed that they could accurately draw other people's figures, but their own were grossly disfigured.

Although I came to peace with my body by my late 20s, and 30s, even though it was often hard to find clothes that fit just right, having multiple pregnancies has resurfaced all those old doubts. I'm thin, but jiggle, I have more fat than muscle and seemingly no energy to exercise. And all the extra stomach skin? Don't get me started. Yet many of my friends protest that they wish they looked like me after kids.

The end result, I am again fighting with my body image. I look forward to that day when there is again no distortion.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I know what my body looks like. I don't think about it very much, maybe because I work from home (ie no co-workers) & have been married forever -- but I know what it looks like. My face sometimes surprises me, though. So wrinkled!

I think more often about what my body can do. Whenever I'm feeling depressed or sad I do yoga stretches, which give me this feeling of fully inhabiting my body, knowing where each finger and toe is.

SecondSight said...

I know exactly what you mean! I've come to terms by just dealing with the fact that people look at things differently- After all, what makes someone else's perception of your body more honest or accurate than your own? If five people called me stupid, I wouldn't believe them- so does five different people calling me attractive make me so, just that I can't see it?
So I accept, with a smile and a little confusion, that sometimes, some people think I look good. Period.
As for clothing manufacturers- SOMEONE needs to come up with SI units for those people. Argh.

Mad said...

It's the clothes and the aging creaks that snap me into an awareness of my body. Right now I own zero spring tops b/c in order to cover my belly and hips, the top is so blousey that the boobs pop out. I think I need to learn to sew better than I am currently able b/c off the rack fits 1 woman in 500.

Christine said...

i have no real clear picture of myself in my own head. it is all distorted. one minute i think i'm just fine then see a mirror and sob. other times i feel fat and gross and.. bleh.

No Mother Earth said...

I read this a while ago, and have had so many body image issues my whole life that I didn't know how to respond in comment-sized format.

I came back to say that I have curious issues with age distortion. I keep pointing to people on TV (say, like Christina Applegate) and say to my husband: "Do I look that old?" and am surprised when he not only says that I do, but that I am actually older than this person. I seem to think that I stopped ageing around about 27.

I am NOT 27. Sigh.

Kate said...

This is big. I had to go away and think for a bit before responding. I have struggled with weight gain in a vicious cycle: depression->weight gain->body image issues->depression...

When I have the best handle on it, I think I separate out the different ways of thinking about it. My body is right in that it is mine. Workouts, especially yoga, help with this and give me a sense of inhabiting my body fully. Like Bekah, I try to focus on those aspects of myself that I know to be most attractive in how I dress myself. I used to beat myself up about not being able to find clothing that fit me properly off-the-rack (especially dresses which either didn't allow for my copious butt or sadly sagged off my less copious bust). Now I think of it as a deficiency of the clothing industry - one I'm glad I can work around with a quick trip to the tailor and modest outlay for alterations.

I also have to let go of some of these questions. Am I normal? Am I attractive to others? I am attractive to my partner, I find value in myself and what I can, and I present myself such that my appearance doesn't hurt my career or friendships. How much does the rest matter?

P.S. Sorry 'bout the essay.

ML said...

Oh, thank you for bringing this up!! I'm 5'10" 172. Yes, 172 pounds!!! OK, I'm also 39 & the mother of 2...but 4 years ago, between #1 & #2 I was 142. Despite considerable effort, I have been unable to lose a single pound. Trying desperately to make peace with my new body, but it's icky and not who I was and doesn't seem reflective of my real self. Having a hard time looking in the mirror for the first time in my life (for the last 3-1/2 years!!) and refuse to have my picture taken. Wish I could see the real picture instead of through the fun house effect of used-to-be/want.

I won't even get started talking about fitting into clothes!!

kittenpie said...

My body i snot such a mystery to me, but I understand this because I am baffled by the assessment of my own face. All those descriptors they use to talk about faces and features baffle me. If they are meant to be a map to identifying a face, the street names may as well be a sanskrit, becuase I don't know what almond eyes look like, what a heart-shaped versus oval face looks like, whether eyes are close- or wide-set. It just all looks... regular.

(As to you, though, if you are curious, you come across to me as slim, slightly angular in a way that suggests you may have had times of awkwardness or klutziness as your limbs grew but now work it for a goofy effect when you want to. And, with your cute and funky style, you put a hip and urbane edge over it that still leaves room for being silly, which is, to me, important to keep one from being too busy being hip or smart or what-have-you.)