11 November 2010


I've been struggling lately with my body. I wish I could be liberated and emancipated and unconcerned about my weight and shape; I with that it were enough for me to eat well and exercise and accept what my body looks like when I take care of it in that way. Because I do eat well (with some indulgences) and I do exercise (regularly, although sometimes more regularly than others), and I'm healthy and strong and fit. Shouldn't that be enough? I want it to be enough.

It's not enough, however, for the perfectionist in me. I could be eating even better! I could be exercising even more! I could be stronger and faster! I could be cleansing! For the perfectionist, it's never enough. I've gotten at lot better at ignoring the perfectionist about some things. I've stopped timing myself when I go running, for example, and I actually haven't stepped on a scale outside a doctor's office in months. Sure, the perfectionist has a figure in mind that she'd like to see on the scale—a perfectly unrealistic one, at that—but I generally don't worry a bit about The Number.

Or do I? Rather than worry about The Number, I worry about how my clothes fit. When John and I were dating, my clothes didn't fit very well at all. There was lots of eating out, not a lot of routine. Things got dire enough that I joined Weight Watchers, which I quite enjoyed in the sense that it really pushed me to eat consciously and to change some bad habits. Consequently, I lost a lot of weight. When my clothes got too big, I bought a new Tiny Person wardrobe. Then I had the twins. Post-twins, I transitioned fairly quickly back into my Tiny Person clothes . . . sort of. They never fit the way they had pre-twins; my weight was back down to the previous Number, but the distribution and density were different enough that things just didn't fit the way they used to. Being too cheap to buy new clothes again, I stuffed myself into the Tiny Person outfits, which made me feel gross and probably didn't look great and was a complete affront to my perfectionism.

In the four years since the twins were born, I have kept some of the Tiny Person clothes, augmented with some Medium Person clothes, gotten back into regular exercising, and come to recognize that the only way to really get the Tiny Person back would be to spend way more time than I want to spend monitoring how much I eat and work out. I may have recognized that fact, but I have not really accepted it. Well, I've accepted it insomuch as I have done nothing to change it, but I can tell you right now that I'm not at peace with it, and internally, I beat myself up about it.

I'm not overweight. I'm also not thin. Part of me wants to be thin. I want to be that Tiny Person again without having to work as hard as I did in those days to maintain that shape. This make me an unrealistic perfectionist, which is, in fact, redundant.

Being a Tiny Person again is just a part of the overall issue. My body in my late thirties, after a twin pregnancy and the emotional repercussions of watching my spouse die, is just not what it was back in my twenties. Like many people, I look back on how I treated my body in my twenties—I never exercised, I didn't eat that well, I never got enough sleep—with some sense of regret. Even treating myself like that, back in the day, I still looked . . . youthful, at the very least. Firmer. With more glow. Now I make a point to eat well and work out and sleep when I can and I'm still rounder, looser, droopier. I'm older, and sometimes that's hard for me to accept. The size, the age, their relationship, I grapple with this.

I clearly remember the first time I saw a photo of myself in which I looked, well, if not OLD, than like a real grown up as opposed to a young adult. The picture was taken shortly after we got John's cancer diagnosis. I don't think he'd even started treatment yet. We were headed out to dinner, in an attempt to take our minds off things [insert maniacal laughter here]. It's a closeup of our faces, and I easily look ten years older than I had the week before. It ages you, an emotional experience like that. At that point, I was as Tiny as I ever got, but in some ways I looked older than I do now. Tiny and young are not synonymous; neither are fat and old. Yet tiny and young are the more desirable, or so I have been taught, and so I seem to believe, despite desires not to.

My body can't do what it used to, at least not as easily. Being Tiny is harder. Running fast is harder. Getting more fit takes more effort. Maintaining the level of fitness I have requires more commitment. Those last five—who are we kidding, TEN—pounds might be a permanent part of my body unless I'm willing to live on lettuce and broth. Some days, I'm gentle with myself about this. Some days, I'm not.

If I dig one layer deeper into this complex relationship of young/old, fat/thin, I find that it's all wrapped up into being single. If I were an (assumedly) happy married woman, if I had someone there day after day, in the most intimate relationship in my life, either telling me that I'm aging gracefully or cheering me on to be Tiny again if there were my choice, I think I'd feel more relaxed. Instead, I sometimes feel like dating, sometimes don't, but know that whether I like it or not, how I look and how I feel about how I look are a part of dating. Inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, for sure, but I would expect a partner to be respectful of his body, to take care of it, and I expect the same of myself. And I do take care of it. I just want better results for what I'm putting in. At the end of the day, I worry that my body is not attractive enough, fit enough, strong enough, for myself and my own ideals, for those of a partner.

It's hard to admit that I care so much, both about my own appearance and what others think about it. I just need to keep my focus in the right place: I care about being healthy. I care about eating food that is good for me. I care about exercising. I care about sleeping well. I want to model these behaviors for my children. I want them to be comfortable in their skins, to take care of themselves and love the results, even if the results are not what is reflected back to them in magazines and on TV. I'm doing these things. I want them to be enough to quiet the inner perfectionist.


liz said...


Wishing the road to body acceptance were an easy one.

Anonymous said...

Dear Snick,
I am 53 years old and married, but feel exactly as you do, so age and marital status are not the whole of what you are feeling. Even married people feel strongly that they want to look good for their partners, and want their partners to care of themselves as well. I think part of the problem is that we feel like we are the same person we were when we were say, 25, in terms of how we perceive ourselves as 'us' (e.g., maturity, likes and dislikes, approaches to problems, etc). And yet our bodies are NOT the way they were when we were 25. I have struggled mightily with this. The phrase 'older and fatter' comes to mind. So I have adjusted my goal - I really have. Now I accept that I will be older every day (don't laugh, I don't mean that as something that had to be true), but I also strive to weigh less than I once did. In other words, older but not on a trajectory of fatter and fatter. As I age, this becomes more and more difficult. What is working for me at the moment is a combination of yoga, running, and cybek machines, in combination with limiting my wine consumption. I read that if a person were to simply consume 100 fewer calories a day for a year, that would amount to a loss of 10 pounds. That might sound slow, but it is something I can do, and I'm doing it by cutting back on the wine (except for Friday and Saturday). It works for me because if I focus on cutting back on food I get nowhere - I don't eat that much in any case, and focusing on it just makes me crazy, and makes my body hold on for dear life. So, in summary, consider taking on the attitude of "I may be older, but I'm not as fat as I once was" as something not too far from perfection (in the real world).

Gillian said...

When I was young and that I would be forever young, I always presumed that after I had kids, I'd be happily married and wouldn't care anymore. "Old" people don't need to care as much.

Interject SIGH for my stupidity.

Anyway, two kids later (two single births, and boy is the body not nearly as nice looking after #2 as it was after #1), and I'm still within striking distance of my youthful weight, but this saggy belly bag on the front of my body, the one that housed two babies, one after another - this bag o' skin has got me down. I feel guilty for wanting a tummy tuck, but feel disgusting when I see myself in the mirror. It's a difficult game - balancing the pushing-yourself-to-be-better with the forgiving-yourself-for-doing-great.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way you do Snick and I also second what Anonymous said. I'm 39 and married and working on being more fit, which to me means losing a bit of weight and being stronger. Daily situps and pushups have been worth the minimal time it takes me to do them (while a hot bath is being drawn :) ) and running helps, but the big key has been cutting back on wine. It's not that I overindulged, just overindulged for someone who does not want to keep adding a pound or two every year for the rest of her life. I'll continue to enjoy it in moderation but keep in mind how much running it will take to work off a glass.

All that said, I can see how of course the body issues would tie into the dating scene. I wish you (and all of us) all the best in finding what works for you and finding that elusive body acceptance, as Liz said.

Megan said...

I struggle with similar body issues you do. The difference is that I'm still not even taking very good care of my body. I just want it to be as easy as it was in my 20's. Clearly that isn't going to happen. I also think I would be way more obsessed with it if I were single. It's not that I don't want to be attractive to my husband, but it is definitely different when you're in a solid relationship than when you are pre-relationship, regardless of how hard you're looking.

More so than the body issues, I identify with your battle with perfectionism. I have been able to let it go in certain areas in my life, but that tendency still holds a vice-like grip in some areas and I fight it everyday. It's an exhausting battle sometimes.

CV said...

Yes, why can't being a perfectionist result in being perfect? (So far from it, grrrr.) Welcome to my world.

Christine said...

Just sending you good vibes and letting know that you are more than good enough for you, for your kids, and for any future partners, just as you are. xoxo.

Anonymous said...

Do you ever read Anne Lamott? She writes some great essays on this subject(as well as many others!)

Anonymous said...

Up to about the age of 15, I was a Tiny Person. At about 5'1, I weighed 128 and was a size four. At the time, I felt huge at that number, but my bone structure and body mass were just distributed differently, and looking back, I realize I was a beautiful girl.

Then Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome hit me. I gained 90 pounds in four months.

Nintey pounds in four months.

It devastated me.

I spent the remainder of my teenage years and now most of my 20's trying to achieve Tiny Person status again. It just isn't going to happen. I've gotten myself back down to a size ten, after much blood, sweat and tears. But, I still have "apple weight" - very typical of PCOS, and I still weigh (on a good day) 173 pounds. That's hard to swallow at 5'1. Compared to a few years ago, I know I look fantastic, and I know I'm taking excellent care of my body. I eat whole grains, vegetables, only organic foods, virtually no fast food, and so on and so forth. I diligently exercise. I truly look after myself.

But, you know, I still struggle. I look at The Number, and I hate it. Hence why I try to only look at it once every few weeks. I look at my clothing size, and I hate it. Aren't people at 5'1 supposed to weigh 110 and be a size two?

I just have to keep moving forward. I'm never going to be what I used to be, even if I work myself to death. Bodies have their restrictions, and at some point, we just have to accept that we're doing our best - and our best may not be perfection to the outside world, but that doesn't mean it isn't perfection for our own bodies.


eemilla said...

I think it is amazing that you and twins bike around town, making your exercise utilitarian. I hope your gentle days will grow and overtake your not so gentle days.

Anonymous said...

I was glad to see you say that an experience like you've had ages you. In my mid 20s, I went through a horribly traumatic experience with an ill parent. One day in August I looked 19 with no lines on my fast and it seems the next time I really looked at a mirror in January I had all these fine lines around my eyes and mouth. I always felt that the emotional turmoil of that fall was the reason but was dismissed by others.

Martha said...

I am 54, happily married, and I know my husband's support and acceptance has done a lot for my self-image. But....I struggle with the same things you do, in fact am going through a particular struggle with it right now, probably in large part due to stress at work. I feel pretty discouraged, even though I’m not overweight by any standard but my own, I know where I’ve been and where I want to be again. It seems every few years I have to re-evaluate my priorities, balancing between ideal weight / dress size, and wanting to enjoy my food, relaxing and not having to 'think' about what I'm eating – the usual drill.

A friend just posted a link on facebook to this article that speaks to this topic: http://feministing.com/2010/11/11/ideal-perfect-just-what-its-meant-to-be/ It’s a good article, and we can all nod our heads and say “Yes, yes, that’s how it is, that’s how we must look at it.” And it’s helpful to get these perspectives, but it’s always easier said than done. In then end, we’re probably all going to struggle with this to some degree for most of our lives, picking up helpful (and unhelpful) perspectives and diet tips along the way, and drawing encouragement from each other. It’s nice to know we aren’t alone!