I am learning that my eyes cannot see. I have for so long had one view of how my body should look, that undoing that view requires changing my eyes. They simply cannot see me physically for how I am, or see that how I am is how I should be.
Nearly 13 years ago, after the birth of my first daughter, I gradually realized how much I had wrapped up who I am into how I look. When suddenly I did not look as I had, I had to adapt. I didn’t like it, but I had no choice. I weighed more than I ever had in my life. It was still below average, but I felt huge, and I realized that I had to accept it because no matter what I did, I did not lose those last 15 post-baby pounds. Considering I had always been below-average thin, it wasn’t such a bad thing. Just different.
When my daughter was four, she was in a baby ballet pageant with a bunch of other toddlers and small children. They looked like adorable little sausages in their fluffy costumes and wings. I thought they were precious.
Watching them dance on stage, my mom leaned over and whispered, “I can’t believe they would let all those little fatties dance in those tight outfits.” The words were a slap. I realized in that moment that I had been hearing similar statements my entire life. My looks had been commented on and dissected for as long as I could remember. Still weighing 15 pounds more than I had pre-baby, it was an eye opener, further realization that my eyes had been wearing the wrong glasses for my entire life.
Within another year I was back at pre-baby weight. It took nearly 4 years, and ultimately I shed the final pounds when I stopped breastfeeding my daughter at age four and a half. I was satisfied with this. I figured I had learned the lesson those four plus years of being bigger than I was used to. I also thought my eyes could see, that I had learned with a different prescription. I was learning so much more about life, and unlearning so much other early conditioning, the body image adjustments were simply part of all of it.
Since gradually understanding this, I have noticed that both my parents are still completely fixated on looks and the body. I have wondered what happened to them in their upbringing that this is how they think. They are raising my brother’s daughter. She is nearly 5 and somewhat clumsy. In terms of western ideals of beauty, she is not excessively beautiful or not. She is an average looking little girl, based on this definition. Personally, I think she’s darling. Her impish personality shines through in all she does. However, when my parents visit us, they compare her looks to those of my daughters. “Isabel is so dainty. She has such “feminine” features, just like you had and Milla has. Sara isn’t like that. Sara is a clod. She’s so much like her mother.” Comparisons, comparisons, all based on looks. It’s constant. During an entire visit I will hear how beautiful Isabel is over and over. I notice and it feels strange. I try to direct the conversation elsewhere. I know my parents. If I object, they’ll clam up and not visit for a long time and it will be because I was “too critical.” So to keep the peace, I don’t say anything and remember that their visits are infrequent. They will not have the influence on my children that was had on me. But not poor Sara.
In any case, here I am again, post baby at two and a half years. I have begun working with a personal trainer. I’m struggling to bring my weight back down to that pre-baby level. It’s not working. I’m getting a lot stronger, but I’m not getting thinner. I am still breastfeeding and this may be part of it, but yesterday when working on one of the many moves I struggle through in personal training (oh, it is so much more work at this age than 20), I finally allowed myself to look into the wall of mirrors and see what it is I saw. I have avoided these mirrors. When I’m facing them for whatever reason, I will not look at me. I do not want to see how I look.
Yesterday, I looked. I realized that the looking was completely uncomfortable, but I forced myself to keep looking. I realized that my hips are slightly wider than I want them to be, that my breasts are saggier. I kept looking away, but then told myself, NO. I looked again. I stared. I examined my body completely. I criticized the self there. Too big, too big, too big, I thought.
Last night and since, I have been thinking about that. If I saw a woman with the body that I have, I would not think she was too big. I would think she is fine. Why the double standard for myself? I simply can’t see physical body as it is. I then concluded that my eyes cannot see. They have never been able to see. It’s another layer of early conditioning I will need to undo. Our culture makes it much more difficult. My upbringing makes it more difficult. I’m not sure what the result will be for me, but I want to change my eyes so I no longer believe that someone with my shape who is not overweight, is getting physically stronger all over, and is still actually quite athletic is just fine, and that no matter what I weigh, no matter what I look like, it doesn’t really change who I am.