Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lasting Impressions IV

Since everyone else has shared, I guess it's only fair that I share things people said to me which left lasting impressions as well.

I was raised by a dad who was as loving as a man can be, but he definitely had a prejudice against fat (probably because he was inordinately skinny himself).  He told me frequently as a child to hold my stomach in or I would end up with an ugly belly.  In high school I got into the routine of doing 100, up to 200, sit ups a night to try to flatten my stomach.  I realize that my stomach will never, ever be flat, no matter what I do.  God did not make me that way, any more than he gave me black hair or purple skin.

My siblings were both very thin by nature and are younger than I am, so to goad me when we were kids, they'd sing to me: "Fatty, fatty, two by four, can't get through the bathroom door."  I had the perception that I was fat even though, from looking at pictures, I can see that I wasn't.  I was a normal sized child with a somewhat protruding belly.  I was flattened by their teasing though.  I wish I'd had the self-assurance to get right back in their faces and tell them to shut up - or whatever other childish epithet might have worked!  Instead, I carried the belief that I was overweight into my 20's or 30's.  The reality was that I was 5'6" and weighed 118 most of that time.
When I was pregnant, I was embarrassed to be seen by my dad because my stomach was so fat.  Somehow I didn't think that he'd know the difference between pregnant and fat.  The first artwork I did was of pregnant women.  I think it was an attempt for me to come to terms with my pregnant body and to claim its beauty and sensuality, to love that overly huge belly with its extraordinary life-giving capability.

Later dad told me that once women have babies, they get fat, so I'd better do whatever I could to not let that happen to me.  I did because his opinion mattered so much to me.  Six weeks after my oldest child was born, I started doing aerobics 3 times/week and continued until 3 days before my second child was born.  A bit immoderate, if I do say so myself.

In high school, one of my friends, a boy, told me, "Martin, [his nickname for me], you sure do have a cute butt!"  Ever since then, I've felt cute and sassy as I walk, knowing my butt is cute!

As a young woman of 23, I was entering into the world of mothering and childbirth as my older women friends became mothers.  The husband of one of them was flirting with me in a way that was uncomfortable to me - I didn't like the way he leered at me - but one thing this man said to me stuck with me in a good way - he told me my hips are perfect for birthing babies.  Before that I had felt a bit uncomfortable with the size of my hips which are womanly, so for him to say that put things into a completely different perspective.  It led me to feel positive and hopeful about giving birth, empowered that I would be great at it.  That expectation and affirmation proved true.  I'm grateful for his comment - that one, at least!

A friend of mine told me she hates big aureoles then pointed out that I have very big ones.  Until that moment I hadn't particularly known what aureoles were or that mine were larger than anyone else's.

Mostly I was raised to be pretty oblivious to things of the flesh - I didn't wear a lot of makeup or worry much about how I looked or obsess about pimples or flat feet or whatever - thunder thighs, a fat ass, tiny breasts, too-long fingers, crooked nose - thankfully I didn't get a lot of messages about things that were wrong - or right - about me.  I felt pretty most of the time and believed that my beauty came from within.  I felt beautiful when I smiled and still believe that's true.

It wasn't until a few years ago that I started thinking much about how I look because I started gaining weight.  I have put on 15 pounds in the last 10 years, and I don't feel good about it.  My doctor told me that "women of a certain age" start putting on weight and there's very little that can be done about it.  I'm not yet willing to accept that, nor the inevitable decline into pudginess and invisibility which seems to happen to many 50+ women.  I've spent a couple of several-month-long stints at the gym and am about to start another one.  I like building up my strength and feeling more muscles, but it doesn't help me lose weight.  My stomach now has a roll of fat above it below my breasts.  I am not impressed.  I don't like it.  I guess I'll see if I can whittle it down a bit again.  (Why?  Because I feel bad about getting "fat", no matter how aware I am, no matter how many affirmations I say, no matter what, I am judging myself for how I look, much to my chagrin!)

Of course all of the above are some of the myriad reasons that I'm passionate about women's body image.  I'm trying to heal the negative messages I've gotten, and I'd love to help people become more aware of what they're saying so other people don't get hurt by insensitive, unconscious statements much less by consciously cruel comments.  I think if I had been more secure about how I looked/look, I would have been impervious to what others said about me (though perhaps not my family's comments - who can be immune to those?)  If I had realized that I am not my appearance, none of it would have mattered anyway.  But those are difficult things to become aware of as a teenager.  Heck, they're hard to realize and KNOW as an adult.  I'm still working hard to stay ahead of my own self-judgments and to feel consistently good about myself.

It's a lifelong journey.  I guess I'll just keep on keeping on til I'm there...  Thanks for joining  me for at least this segment of it.

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