My friend Maggie wrote a post about body image during her round-the-world travels. She beautifully expresses the discomfort of being noticed to be different in appearance in some way, and how adept people are at touching upon the very things we’re sensitive about in ourselves. (Check out Maggie’s post at GirlVentures | Travel and body image)
Appropriate for this topic, Maggie is a friend from middle school, which is about the time in my life when I began to notice things I disliked about my appearance. I’ve written about being uncomfortable with my post-pregnancies body, but Maggie’s post reminds me that it wasn’t like I loved my body before my kids were born. There were all kinds of things I found unsatisfactory about my physical appearance. I was short (that’s my obvious thing that everyone points out, but then I’ve never been in Southeast Asia). My face was too long. My hair was frizzy. My belly was round rather than flat. My butt stuck out. My skin was pocked by acne.
And all of this is still true, some of it even more true than it was back before kids. I’m no shorter and my face hasn’t grown any longer, but my belly and rear are rounder and my skin is worse than it was before the changes of pregnancy. I look back at pictures of myself and think how slender I was, how clear my skin, how shiny my hair. I couldn’t notice these things back then. I just saw the imperfections. Just like now when I look in the mirror, I only see the things I don’t like.
Just as Maggie travels all over the world and still sees the same image in the mirror, I travel through my life and never stop seeing the flaws. It’s not that the “flaws” don’t exist. It’s more that when we—or at least I (I suppose I ought not to speak for Maggie) see particular qualities in myself and focus on them, I blow them out of proportion. Then I end up with a self-image that’s a caricature of what I truly look like. I have the idea that my face is long and then when I see myself in pictures, it’s as though half of my total body is made up of face. Or when I see pictures of my bad acne times, the person behind the skin is subsumed by the acne itself. “I” disappear.
I’m guessing that’s what happens when other people see me, too. They glom onto one characteristic or another and that characteristic becomes, for them, what defines me. I’m the short woman, or the one who looks pregnant, or the one with Michael Bolton hair, or something else I’ve not even thought of to criticize about myself. Maggie becomes Italian or Jewish or whatever the observer has decided about her.
I can’t control how others see me, but I would like to find a way to see myself realistically and lovingly all of the time, not just in retrospect. Then, I suspect, the things about me others glom onto will lose their sting.