With this new series, my intention is to help foster and nurture an open and profound bond between father and daughter, one that transcends the awkwardness of puberty. (I wrote about it in more detail here.)
And in that spirit, I’ve agreed that once a week I will answer – honestly – any question my husband puts to me.
So, question four, here’s what hubby has come up with for me this week…
Hubby: I’m taking the bait because none of your readers have helped me out yet… Go on then – what’s with this skinny = perfect nonsense? (Although, Babe, have you noticed that strong is becoming more desirable?! A good thing, I’m sure you’ll agree.)
Me: I definitely agree, I think most women will too. Confused? Okay, here goes…
Why are women body dysmorphic? There has been an obvious trend for decades (since Twiggy probably) – emaciated equals fashionable. And, as with all things heavily portrayed and perpetually reinforced by the media, we have become indoctrinated to subscribe to the same ideology. (At this stage, I’m not giving my personal views, I’m simply stating facts.) Of course there are some exceptions, but generally that has been the case.
But yes, the magazine covers have started to listen to what we’ve been saying since we found our voices, and things are gradually beginning to change for the better.
Now I’m going to talk a bit about my own thoughts, because this very issue has concerned me since we discovered the little toadstool growing in my belly was a girl… (Disclaimer: I’m aware men can also experience body dysmorphia, but I think girls are more at risk, if not more susceptible.)
I’ve been too fat; I’ve been too thin; I’ve been everything in between. And that is my undoing. Far from making me accepting of all body types, it has made me anxious and critical of myself no matter my size. It’s made me sometimes obsessive, and always cautious/paranoid. (Besides which, though it may be an unpopular opinion, I think it’s important to educate about the health implications of being under or overweight, rather than making the priority the preservation of feelings.)
Prior to being big, I never gave too much thought to my size. I was a slim and healthy teenager, though I always felt invisible – until suddenly boys started paying me attention. At that point, I realised I was not unattractive, and had a reasonably good relationship with my body. Unfortunately, teenagers are very impressionable, and it took only a few immature remarks from silly boys for my self-esteem to falter: I became far more aware of my appearance and imperfections.
Fast forward a decade or so…
Ironically, despite making peace with the idea of giving my body up to motherhood, I’m about the thinnest I’ve ever been. I was very surprised that I snapped back so quickly after delivering our daughter; but I like to think I put the hard work in to make that happen. (Alas, since becoming a mum, I’ve been unable to find the time to continue the same level of training.)
Before (and during) my pregnancy, I was the healthiest I’ve ever been: I was lean, fit, and strong. Now, I’ve lost most of my fitness and muscle (apart from my guns, they’re still there thanks to Princess Pixie who demands to be cuddled and carried a lot). I would struggle to run any distance now, whereas I would once do ten miles before work. I can’t believe that either, I must have been quite awesome one upon another lifetime.
So despite not being ‘big’, I have my flaws. I’m not exactly comfortable with being unfit; but I’m accepting of it. (That said, I still swim when I can, and I walk. A. LOT.) I’m ashamed to know I’d be less accepting if it were outwardly obvious. This is my legacy of having been overweight.
Yet those things I consider weaknesses in myself, I know I’d encourage others to embrace as personal quirks in themselves (subject to health).
Since gaining and then losing an extra two stones or so in my early twenties, I have never stopped feeling overweight, irrespective of my size. Although I’m relieved to say that has eased since I became a mummy. I have a rather strange relationship with my body these days…
In contrast to my self-criticism, I have a new-found awe and respect for the female body, including – and specifically – my own:
Because I created the best thing on this earth: I grew another human being. I delivered her and continue to nourish her from my body. How can I fail to be moved by that when she is the reason for everything?
Basically, the relationship I have with my body is complicated, contradictory, and hypocritical. And I am fearful that from my vantage point, I will fail in teaching our daughter to have a healthier relationship with her own body. But I know I want to, and I know I’ll need your help – which starts with explaining my foibles (as best I’m able to explain something that’s based on distorted logic).
So now that’s clear as mud, see if you can’t come up with a more challenging question for next week… *smiles wryly*
Addendum: Fast forward a few weeks and I had an epiphany! Read about how I inadvertently began the process of fostering positive body image in Pixie.
Like this? You can check out more of my hubby’s ponderings (and my attempts to answer them) here.