This One is for the Ladies (but for Some of the Guys too)

From the time of adolescence to now, there has never been a point in my life that I have not wanted to change my physical appearance in some way. From the age of 12 to forty, it mostly has been my body fat percentage. Although I didn’t think of it in those terms in the early years. I was a normal sized adolescent. Of course like so many of us young ladies, as a 12-17-year-old I identified as fat. I saw my thin sisters, the models and actresses my schoolmates loved, the magazine covers at the grocery stores. I wanted to be that. Thinness was what would make me valuable as a human. I went to bed many nights visualizing myself as a little bitty thing with a 6-pack. In my dreams, there was a procedure that could suck out all the extra fat that was making me unlovable and unattractive (I had no idea liposuction was a real thing). It was going to happen. Someday I was going to be “heroin chic”. I wanted it desperately. Thinness was my destiny.

To achieve this, I went on a myriad of diet and exercise programs over the first years of my adolescent to adult life. In junior high and high school, it was all about the low-fat. Low-fat cookies, pudding, granola bars, yogurt (all of which just made my waistline thicker). I was a senior in high school the first time I heard of Keto. The Keto diet had been around for years as a method of keeping epileptic children from having chronic seizures. But it was brand new as a weight-loss diet. I tried it for two weeks. I lost a few pounds but I was so miserable I gave up. I gained everything back and then some.

As a young adult I did find a program that kept the pounds off. And it was a relatively healthy one as far as diet programs go. The deal was to eat six small meals a day, each one with a protein and a carbohydrate. No sugar. No junk food. Once a week you got a whole day to eat whatever you wanted. Physically It worked. It seemed like a dream. I was everything I had dreamt to be. Nearly heroin chic! The problem was, the psychology of it made me think about food ALL THE TIME. Because the meals were small, I never actually felt full until meal four or five. In my college lectures, I would count down the minutes to my next Luna bar. Or I’d spend my lecture time planning out what I would eat on my next “cheat day”. The cheat days themselves were a nightmare. I ate so compulsively all day that by the time I went to bed I was sick. Inevitably, the next day I was so “food hungover” that I couldn’t face putting a bite of anything in my body for hours. Sure, I didn’t touch dessert all week, but on my cheat day, I ate seven. It was a little miserable. And not entirely healthy.

This is only a small snapshot of the myriad of exercise and diet “philosophies” I have tried over the years.

Over the past few months, I have come to the realization that I have been dealing with a low-key eating disorder most of my life. If we are being honest, I think many of us women (and some men) have dealt with eating disorders on some scale. I won’t go into details on mine. I am not proud of this part of my life, and I still have a small amount of dignity to protect. Suffice it to say, I have had many many ugly food moments in my life.

I care less about my body fat percentage at this point in my life. Maybe it’s because I am tired. Maybe it’s because I have bigger things to worry about. Maybe it’s because my body is doing a good job of maintaining. Maybe it’s because I finally recognize that for women, having a six-pack is not only extremely difficult, but for most of us, pretty unhealthy.

There are still days I wake up feeling a little bloated. There are days my jeans fit a little tighter. A few years ago, feeling bloated would have ruined my week. I would have made a plan to get back on track. I would have scolded myself for eating too much at dinner. I would have skipped breakfast, or worked out extra hard or even twice in a day. My body fat obsession is a little embarrassing considering what a luxury too much food is to most of the world. Now I shrug those bloated days off. But not because I am enlightened. Not because I am a better woman.

I have a belief in the marrow of my bones. I believe it with every ounce of my being. I believe it so passionately that it makes me weepy. I am going to say it in all caps. That’s how strongly I believe it… YOUR SELF-WORTH IS NOT DICTATED BY YOUR PHYSICAL APPEARANCE. Or your age, or your socioeconomic status. It isn’t now, and it never has been. Sure, society acts like it values youth and beauty and money above all else. But society is dumb. And subjective. You are just as valuable as a human being whether you are 100 pounds or 500. 75 or 25. Caviar or ramen. Whether you have a fat giant chunky nose, and a face full of zits. Or whether you could be on the cover of Vogue. It has nothing to do with your value as a person. I absolutely definitely truly believe this about every single person in my world… except myself.

Yeah, I don’t worry much about my waistline at this point. But I am old, folks. I don’t need Barbie’s body when I am dealing with Golden Girls wrinkles. And what my hairdresser likes to call my “strands of wisdom”. Gravity is taking its toll. I am ever so aware that it is only downhill from here. I find myself debating as to where to put my limited extra money. Buy a hot tub, repaint the exterior of the house, invest in regular botox treatments, or have some elective surgery. What is an old lady to do? Because when it comes right down to it, deep inside I still equate my physical appearance with my value as a person. On the surface, I dismiss this vehemently. I don’t dress fancy, I don’t wear a lot of makeup. I am grounded. I am earthy. But deep inside, I worry that losing my looks and my youth means losing my value as a person.

There are so many beautiful humans in my world. My beautiful sister Sarah, who competes in Crossfit competitions and cleans up at the age of 43. My beautiful sister Summer, who teaches English to refugees because she has a passion for helping a vulnerable population. My beautiful friend Sheila, who works so hard at her job, but also, as a totally single mom of four, makes sure her kids’ needs and wants are met, even if it means sacrificing her own needs. My beautiful co-worker Meekyung who came to this country speaking absolutely no English, but can read anyone under the table in English AND in Korean. My beautiful parents, who despite having no formal education and a limited start in life have become successful in every sense of the word. I admire all of these people and many many more. And their physical appearance, their age, their income, has nothing to do with my admiration.

So why can’t I give myself the same grace? Why can’t we all give ourselves that grace?

I have tried to instill the idea of appearance not equating to value with my kids. And I know I have definitely messed up. Yes, I try to tell them they are beautiful whether they are in their sweaty pajamas or ready to go out for the night. I have not pushed clothes, or makeup, or thinness. But I am sure they have picked up on things. Which is such a bummer. Because they are innately beautiful. Physical appearance aside.

A couple years back, my girls and I were talking about noses. Rachel said something to the affect of “I have a perfect nose”. Little 8 or 9 year-old Emmy piped up and said, “not me, I don’t have a perfect nose”. What the heck? Her nose is adorable. I asked her what she meant and she said, “Every night I go to bed with no boogers, and every morning I wake up with boogers… like so many boogers!” My dream for my kids, and for all of you out there is that you view the worst of your physical imperfections as too many boogers in the morning.

2 responses to “This One is for the Ladies (but for Some of the Guys too)”

  1. I also pray that my daughter only worries about her boogers when it comes to her self imposed judgements.

    I pray for no judgements at all.

    Your writing ability and authentic ability to share your truest feelings through the written word is absolutely incredible.

    If you have anything published, please let me know!

    Your gift of written is better than all the chocolates in the store…… and those chocolates are damn good!!



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