Recently, because of all the extra time on my hands, I have been in the process of reviewing, cataloging, and preparing mountains of 8mm, Super8, VHS celluloid strips and photo albums. All of this, digging through storage boxes, buying hard to find bulbs for a long extinct film reel viewer; taping white paper to wall to use as a viewing screen; trying to capture past moments on my smartphone…all in a monumental attempt of getting 60+years of family memories digitised.
This task has been filled with joy and melancholy as I see memories come to life, and images of people loved and lost. But I have also been aware of some odd, uncomfortable feelings. These feelings occur when I see pictures of myself as an adult – in my 20s pre-children stage, in my 30s early professional moments, in my 40s family stress time, my 50s, and now 60s – a time of reflection. This is the inner dialogue that occurs at these odd moments:
Wow, I looked good then! Wish I could have THAT body back! I was skiiinnnyyyy!!
A sad realisation
It is at this moment that the uncomfortable feelings come through. No, it is not because I mourn the days of having a hot body…it is because I remember how I felt at the exact moments those pictures were taken…I felt I was fat.
I remember the moment when I first became aware that someone was judging me solely on my weight. A girlfriend was telling me that a mutual acquaintance…lets call her “mean gal”…said that I had put on a lot of weight (duh, just gave birth!). Now all you Judge Judy fans may commence with shouting derisively “Don’t tell me what someone said, that is hearsay and inadmissible, tell me what happened!” This is what happened…
I was out to lunch with a girlfriend in a rare moment when I had secured an available and qualified babysitter to watch after my recently-discharged-from-the-preemie-nursery son. It was nice to get a few moments away from the stress and constancy that is caring for an infant – and even more so, a very small one. I do not recall why the subject came up – maybe we were discussing the fact that I was finding it hard to lose the “baby weight” (6 weeks post birth – the pressure we put on ourselves is unbelievable!), but that one inadmissible comment, even though attributed to someone I did not much trust or respect, has stayed with me my entire adult life. From that moment I began a lifetime of feeling ‘less than’ because I was being perceived as ‘more than’.
Recently, in a conversation with my sister, reference was made to a formal picture I had taken as a present for my husband, early on in our marriage. This picture depicts a woman in her early 30s with glow-in-the-dark platinum blond hair (unfortunate), who is skinny as a rail. By all accounts, it is a beautiful picture of me. However, every time I look at it, I remember what I thought the time I first saw it, “Take THAT, mean gal!” This one beautiful (platinum-hair mistake aside) picture of me has always reminded me that I was less.
But less what? Less attractive? Less worthy? Less human? Was I less of a nurse, less of a mother, or less of a wife? I look back at these pictures now and quiet sadness envelopes me. Why do we, as women, do this to ourselves?
I cannot believe that this has only occurred with me. In fact, I believe that other women have experienced, and can vividly remember, a moment when an unsolicited, and sometimes unintentional judgment ensued. And this moment can lead to a life of yo-yo weights and constant feelings of being valued less.
Checking out the check-out lane
It is no wonder that women judge themselves harshly. Subtle and contradicting messages abound.
Embark with me on an imaginary trip to the grocery store. As you are there, look at the magazine rack strategically placed at the grocery checkout.
There are typically three predominant styles of covers – one that depict a beautiful woman, often with a measuring tape around her waist next to a headline like LOSE 110 POUNDS JUST BY WALKING 10 MINUTES A DAY. Did you find one? Now look at what other headlines included on that cover…something to the tune of CHECK OUT THESE WONDERFUL DECADENT CHOCOLATE RECIPES JUST IN TIME FOR VALENTINE’S DAY. Do you see any problem with this? Weigh LESS…Eat MORE!
The second style is the one that depicts the beautiful six layer chocolate cake with mounds of peanut butter cups and snicker minis adorning the top. Okay, do you see one like that? Now check the headlines – I bet you find a reference to a new diet plan. Eat MORE…Weigh LESS.
The third style is typical of the entertainment industry rags. These often show celebrities showing off their 3 month-old babies while wearing body clinging jumpsuits.
“What’s wrong honey, why can’t you look like Selena Celebrity, I mean our baby is already 9 months old”
“Well, gee HON, could it be that I do not have a personal trainer and chef; nor can I afford the expensive SPANX that is obviously ironing out every bump or roll; and note that she is being pictured looking over her shoulder while holding her obviously photo-shopped enhanced-blue-eyed baby so we do not see the breast milk stains on the bodice of her designer outfit! THAT’S WHY, HON!”
Side note: To my loving husband and all the other men out there who are thinking – “I never said that!” You are right, you never did. We, your women, believe you said that…without REALLY saying it, because that is what we are thinking/saying to ourselves when we read about Selena Celebrity. And if WE are thinking it…then by association, YOU must be too. It is just one more moment when women feel “less than”.
I’m talking to the woman in the mirror
It saddens me that I have spent so much time hating pictures of me, finding fault in every pose. My son knows that he is not allowed to keep photographs that I disapprove of. He shows me every digital picture so that I can nix or approve. I’ve laughed it off as “I don’t look good in 2D, I am much better 3 dimensional.” I’ve begged to have a second or third go at the passport picture. One exasperated passport clerk said, “I don’t know what is wrong, it looks just like you.” Then in my absolute horror I cried “You mean I really look like that?”
Now, in my sixties, I am kinder to the woman in the mirror. I see a woman that I like. A woman with her own style of beauty; incorporating the facial lines from the frowns and smiles that life has afforded, while embracing the abdominal folds from years of enjoying holiday meals, time with family, and dinners with husband.
I hope to instill this new-found inward-directed kindness in my daughter, daughter-in-law, and my grandgirls. My wish is that they, too, do not go through life judging themselves so harshly..to see the minimal flaws less and the inner beauty more. I hope that they see themselves honestly, as the beautiful goddesses that they are.
Experts say that some people with psychological disorders look in the mirror and see something ugly. I now look in the mirror and say “Oooh, I look fabulous!” Well…more or less.
I would enjoy your take on all of this. Please share your stories of self-discovery of embracing your inner goddess.
Originally published here