Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Bones and skin, worth and weight

Recently, one of my blog crushes posted about her experiences with body image and our society's perception about weight and self worth. It got me thinking about my own issues with this topic, and how different they are from most.

I have always been a thin person. I have never dieted. I have never exercised to lose weight. If I want to eat something, I'll eat it. I don't ever think about calories or fat content, preferring instead to focus on nutritional value and taste. (I know, insert hairy eyeballs and curse words here.)

Lately, my experience with weight and self image is focused on not looking too thin. I find myself explaining my skinny appearance to those around me in order to ward off concerns and accusations of an eating disorder. Since I've returned to work from maternity leave, I have lost about 20 pounds. I know this sometimes makes my naturally thin frame look quite bony. (I think it's my collarbone that makes me look sickly)
I've had my family question me about eating regularly. They are always quick to point out if I've lost weight or look "too skinny."
Because I don't work at looking this way, I sometimes feel that if I don't project an air of near apology for being skinny, others perceive it as arrogance.
Anyone reading this who isn't naturally thin must be wondering what the hell I have to complain about. Let's face it, it's easier in our North American culture to be thin. Consciously and unconsciously, our society believes that being thin = being successful. I've never had to question my worth because of my shape. I have, however, had to explain or defend my natural figure a hundred times over.

While it's socially unacceptable to comment on a person's weight if they are visibly heavier, apparently you're free game if you're thin. I've had people ask me how many calories I consume a day, if I feel guilty that I can eat whatever I want, how much I weigh, what my BMI is, and even how many times I poop a day. Sadly, I find myself answering all of these questions in an attempt to prove that I am this way not through self deprivation or self abuse. When asked what my secret to skinny is, I have no answer. My response that "This is just the way I am" is usually met with open skepticism and sometimes even anger; like I'm hoarding the secret to weight loss and just won't share.
I am comfortable in my own skin. I like the way I look. Frankly, I'm tired of feeling like I should apologize for who and what I am - a skinny girl.

I am not saying that my negative experiences with body image or weight even begin compare with those who struggle with obesity or a distorted self image of being fat. I can't imagine hating what I see in the mirror or having that disgust reflected back at me through others (even if it is just my perceived reflection).
I will never know if I have a positive self image because I fit society's view of what is an ideal weight or if I just love myself for who I am. I like to think that no matter what size I become, I will retain this acceptance of my body. I know that during pregnancy, I reveled in the changes my body underwent. I loved my big, round belly and giant, porno boobs. And after heartsong was born, I didn't worry about the floppy, gelatinous belly that remained. As far as I was concerned, it was beautiful because of the amazing miracle it had housed. I stroked that floppy belly as much as I did the taunt, baby-filled version.
I'm not sure if self image is more powerful than societal pressures, but I like to think so. For too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes. As we raise our daughters, grand daughters and nieces, we need to confront our own stereotypes so that we can encourage and nurture a wider definition of what is beautiful. Whether fat, thin, curvy, bony, lumpy or bumpy, help the women in your life to develop positive self-esteem and confidence. After all, these bodies we obsess over are really just a husk. Simply the packaging that carries us as we develop friendships, gain experiences, build knowledge and make our mark on the world.


cinnamon gurl said...

Great post. I loved my pregnant body too, and also didn't fret the gelatinous belly... It's really only been since coming back to work that I've started to be more aware and sometimes critical of my body. Coincidence?

I believe that the key to overcoming poor body image is not so much viewing our bodies as husks covering what's really important as valuing what our bodies DO (make and nourish babies! have sex! dance! run! walk! draw! flip! whatever) over what they look like. Then we can inhabit our bodies from the inside out, instead of looking from outside in.

The W.O.W. factor said...

That is a wonderful post Wordmama! I'm not as young as you, and I still don't care what others might say or ask. And I face some of the very same questions you are asked. The one I hate the most, is "are you sick"? If I were sick, I wouldn't be able to accomplish and work as hard as I do! Duh!
This was great!!!
remember if you make your salsa Fri, to drain your tomatoes as much and as long as you can...or add more tomato sause. It still won't be quite as 'thick' as you may buy in the store once it's processed, more juice comes out of the tom's. I always flip my jars upside down after they have cooled, for a day, to help with the separation that happens...only for aesthetics purposes on my shelves. Good Luck! Be sure and sample the hot peppers you use to determine how many to use..I make Cowboy be my tester:)

Anonymous said...

You are a beautiful person inside and out, and whatever size are truly loved for who you are. I know as I age I have to work harder to stay slim, and thats not because I particularly worry about what anybody else thinks and how I look, but more my ability to be active and play with my grandchildren, take long walks and try and push old age further away.
Muma Mugs

wordmama said...

Thank you all for your wonderful, thoughtful comments. I was sure that post would result in a flurry of anti-skinny flames. Instead I got exactly what I had hoped for: introspective, supportive, feminist discussions!