Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Chasing Lovely

"Oh my god, did you see that woman in the gingham swimsuit?" My friend and I are sitting in the kiddie pool at the water park watching our little ones. What started out as a conversation about suits we like has become a critique of the bodies filling the swimsuits and I am becoming uncomfortable. She is three months pregnant and looks more svelte than I. I suck in my stomach a little to try to shrink the roll around my middle and simply say, "Yeah, I don't really like that suit." A woman in what looks like a knee-length sundress made of Lycra swimsuit fabric crosses our line of vision. "Now that I like," I quip, pointing her direction. "Lots of coverage. I wonder if it comes in floor length...with long sleeves...and a turtle neck." She laughs at my obvious self-deprecating joke and the conversation takes a turn elsewhere.

I am not a small girl. In fact, one could argue that, on the cusp of my 35th birthday, I am not a girl at all. But since I am being frank about the matter of size, I should be allowed the kindness of lying to myself about my age. So, let's pretend I am a "girl". The truth is, I have never been small. Not even at my smallest have I been considered small by our freakishly waif-obsessed society. And now, let's just say I am not at my smallest. I spent the first seven years of motherhood hiding somewhere on the fringe of the confident-in-a-swimsuit crowd, never getting in the pool, sometimes donning shorts and a T-shirt if necessity required. I mean, I didn't even think about a swimsuit. But somewhere along the way, I grew some wisdom with my gray hairs and I finally decided I wasn't going to let my insecurities ruin the fun I could be having, especially with my children. So when it came time to suit up last year, I actually shopped for a swimsuit. I bought the cutest suit I could find - sort of conservative with a little bit of sexy - and jumped in. This year, I didn't even flinch. At times I've even felt myself feeling - dare I say it? - confident. Dimply thighs and all. After all, who is anyone else to tell me I can't be beautiful the way I am? For crying out loud, it's the kiddie pool, not Miss America.

So, back to the kiddie pool. My friend begins telling me about a conversation between her and a mutual acquaintance. This particular acquaintance - I will call her Marni - has been divorced for several years and was sharing with my friend about how much she would love to be married again. "Of course I didn't say this to her," she says, "but I was thinking that if she really wanted to, she could do something to make herself more...well, you know...fix herself up a little."

I feel a hot flash completely unrelated to the summer heat rise up the base of my neck to my ears and pound inside my head. I hold back the anger that is my initial response. I am pretty sure I know what she means, but I ask anyway, innocuously. "What do you mean?"

"Well, she just dresses so old and looks much older than she really is. She could change some of that if she really wanted to meet someone."

I ponder for a split second that perhaps I should just sit in silence or make a joke that might distract her again, but the words are coming out of my mouth before I can even think about what I really want to say. "Well, that's where I just feel like she should probably wait for someone who loves her the way she is."

"Yeah, but even you fix your hair and makeup before you go out with your husband."

Then my little one needed a minor rescue and the conversation was left dangling. But it ate at me the rest of the day and into the next. She was right. I do spend extra time on my appearance when I go out with my husband. But that somehow seemed unrelated to undergoing a makeover to land a man.

And I left there feeling as if there were whispering going on behind my back. You know, that Supermom would be so pretty if she just lost some weight. Look at her thighs!

Why this preoccupation with appearance?

I want to say that any effort I put into the way I look is just for my own sense of self esteem and has nothing to do with anyone else.

But I can't.

Ultimately, I want to be admired, by my husband and yes, by others.

I'm not saying that is necessarily bad. I believe we were created to work that way. It is called Survival of the Species.

But why is there still this association that beautiful equals good? I read an article once that went so far as to say pretty babies get better care from their mothers. I have no personal experience on which to base this because all my babies were heart-stoppingly, breathtakingly beautiful, therefore I cannot compare. But isn't that what every mother thinks? Don't all moms think their babies are the most beautiful creatures to grace the planet? What happened to beauty being in the eye of the beholder? Are pretty babies easier to love?

We want to see beauty that holds no weakness or flaws. We would rather look upon the taut mom in the bikini rather than the soft, bulging stomach in the gingham swimsuit. Why? Because that woman has a weakness she cannot hide, a struggle manifested in her ample body. And her weakness makes her bad. I actually heard a preacher from the pulpit talk about keeping your weight down so as not to be a stumbling block to others. Of course, I am paraphrasing here, but he said if you were overweight, everyone could tell you obviously wrestled with the sin of gluttony. At the time - fifteen plus years ago - it made perfect sense to me. But then again, I also believed the whole premise of Christianity was to make myself as sinless as possible.

While the mom in the bikini could be a raging alcoholic that beats her children, her beauty is hailed as the standard by which we should all be measured. Because if you look good, you obviously have everything else together, too. And God forbid that you not have everything together. If you care enough about yourself to look good, then you must approach everything else in your life with as much attention to detail. After all, you can't love others until you love yourself, right?

At the risk of sounding completely "After School Special", I believe Marni needs something on the inside more than the out, obviously. However, it seems mean and unfeeling to try to tell her she should be okay with being alone because I am not. I cannot even pretend to know what she is going through. But I certainly will not tell her that the secret to having a lasting, lifelong, intimate relationship with someone is all in buying a new wardrobe.

I find myself at a crossroads. I want to rail against this, but at the same time I perpetuate it. I will shop for clothes that camoflauge my hips and thighs, though there is no hiding them. I will color my hair to disguise the premature gray I have been growing for ten years. I will put my best face forward, yes, to please myself, but moreover because it pleases others. After all, were I on a desert island with no one around to admire me, would I take the same pains "just for me"? Maybe I would. But there is something about knowing what others find attractive that drives my idea of beauty and makes me want to strive for that. Why is it important for me to feel attractive? It means acceptance. In the end, it is still more about society than myself.

However, I am going to the water park today. I am wearing my swimsuit. And if you can't stand the sight, too bad. I'm not hiding anymore.


Anne said...

Thank you for posting this today....it has me thinking about so many things.

As an overweight person, it has been exceptionally hard knowing that my struggle is a 'public' struggle. I can't hide it...it's on display for the world to see and make judgments about. That is a HARD place to be.

FYI - I love this post so much that I have linked to it on my blog. I hope that is okay!

PS - For the record, I always enjoy what you have to say, and am thrilled when you are able to post again from time to time! Thanks for understanding the stay-home-mom world!

Happy 2 B Me =o] said...
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Going Goofy said...

Thought provoking. I despise swimsuits and public pools. Great post.

She's So There said...

I think those I most admire in life are the women and men who truly have found that its worth being themselves, as they are, and the very love of self makes them beautiful and able to accept the beauty in its non popular forms in others (inside, heart beauty)

I am one of those girls who enjoys doing things just for me....and while its unconventional...I just enjoy the joy of making myself and things around me pleasing to me!

God Bless You for sharing!

LiteratureLover said...

Just where did you get that cute--sort of conservative with a little bit of sexy--swimsuit? I'm feeling the need to treat myself to a new one after this blog.

As depressing as the "weight" issue can be; I'm inspired by your freeing words. My favorite line is, "For crying out loud, it's the kiddie pool, not Miss America."

not-so-deep Denise said...

Wow. That's alot to take in....

I'm big. I wear a swimsuit. I wanna have fun.

I put on make-up everyday no matter where I'm going. It makes me feel better about me. I know it's a little weird but it helps me make it through the day.

I found that when I was the most unhappy I wore clothes that were hanging on me and didn't have any shape. I had on ugly (pregnancy leftovers) shoes and didn't try at all. I was surprised when I found myself looking nice again.

It was the depression - not the size. The size didn't change.

No answers- but I'm teaching my daughter to love the body that God gave her.

Thanks for writing about such a tough subject.

Rhen @yestheyareallmine said...

Great post!! Makes me think a lot. I have a serious self image issue and this just makes me realize it is something I need to pray about. Thank you.
I am not a big person but that doesn't take away the self image issue.
I know where the issue stems from- the media around us that bombards us each and every day. The same media that tells us that if we want our husbands to stick around, if we want people to admire us, if we want to have a good life and if we want to be considered a good mom we must be a size 0 with no tummy, great boobs and an answer for everything.
Again, thank you for the post.

Billigflüge Bangkok said...

I really love to read your posts. Your writing style is awesome. Thumbs up!

SweetPeaknits said...

Hi, I'm a first time reader. A great post, your my kind of beautiful person. And for the record, I'm an old fashioned beauty is in the eye of the beholder.. and beauty starts within.

C D said...

Yes -- I've *often* thought about how my 'sin' is so obvious, all that extra weight must mean I'm weak, and bad, and have no self-discipline... therefore lets go overboard with pleasing others in a variety of other ways without really understanding what God wants from me, or what I need in order to put God first in my life.

What you say about the skinny mom who may be a raging alcoholic who beats her children -- just making the point that we all have struggles and some are more apparent (blatantly obvious) than others -- ditto ditto ditto -- I've thought that for years!

And the comment about depression not size that makes all the difference -- so very very true.

Thanks Supermom (you're NOT dead!) ;-)

SuperMom said...

CD - I wholeheartedly agree. I certainly was not sitting in judgement on the skinny mom. You made my point exactly :-) Thanks.

Michelle said...

Thanks for this! I am a big girl, have been for most of my life. I am getting married in September and am so worried about what people are going to think of me in my dress. It is hard enough to have people look at me, but to be the center of attention is not my favorite thing! My fiance tells me all the time how beautiful I am, so I guess that's all that matters!

Sheena said...

I really enjoy your deep thoughts that you write about on here and have been reading them for almost a few years now. I spend a good portion of life feeling like an odd woman who thinks and feels a lot of things that most women don't...and then I read your blog and feel strengthened in my self and yet feel a little lonely and wish that I could actually have a conversation once in awhile with a person like you...it would be so enriching. Love your thoughts..thanks!

Katie said...

It is too bad that society places such a high standard on appearances. And of course, all those women in magazines are just ridiculously skinny (and kind of gross). At the same time, I see gorgeous women all the time that might be considered overweight. I think the way a person holds them self makes a huge difference in how people see them. And I admit that sometimes I like to try to look nice. It's fun and it makes me feel more confident. But I know my self worth isn't tied to how I look and that's the important part.

Oh, and of course all babies are beautiful! I thought every mom thought their little bundle was gorgeous!

jjofar said...

i have been in a deep depression over not being able to get to your blog...not sure why, but now i can and just in time!! what a great outlook. i never want my own children to know that mommy is uncomfortable in her own skin...so swim i say, like the wind. i knew delivering an almost 10 pounder in march was not going to well prepare me for swimsuit season, but nothing was stopping me this year!!! i am sick of worrying about it. thanks and may marni be blessed with happiness no matter what she is wearing!

jjofar said...
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Katie said...

As a person who was always tiny and is now, not so much, I loved your thoughts and they have ministered to me as I sit in self loathing mode.
I love this post.

Nikki said...

I really enjoyed this post. I too go to some pretty deperate lengths to disguise my "problem areas" especially when it comes to swimsuits. I joke with dh that if 1 miracle suit can make you look 10 lbs thinner, I need to weare 5 or 6 of them.

I was also reminded of a conversation I had about gluttony. We were discussing how I wished I had the time to go to the gym, but I felt it more important to go to daily Mass. In my friend's opinion being overweight was a clear sign of ongoing patterns of sin resolved more by going to the gym. I took a little exception to that. Gluttony is NOT simply overeating. It is giving food and drink an improper priority. In my opinion, in today's society it is more likely that those who are slightly overweight are giving less importance to food. Often the taut mom in the bikini is the one more focused (often to the point of obsession) on food and workouts. While it is not overindulgence in the sense of eating too much food. It is overindulgence in one's appearance. This would be the sin of pride (or vanity) which is widely considered the first and most severe of the deadly sins.

It is important to eat and live in a healthy manner, but it is equally important not to put so much emphasis on a thin physique and/or attractiveness. I've heard that God sometimes allows (not wills) lesser sins to save us from bigger ones. I now view my squishy belly as saving me from the bigger sin of pride or vanity. :)

Ritu said...

I bumped into your blog while researching something on Google (I cant remember what it was)... But Ive been coming back to read and re-read it.

Thought provoking would be an understatement. Even in far off India, we struggle with very much the same insecurities about our bodies, as mothers living inside a long-forgotten girl hood....

I loved your post and i wish you'd write more..and often!!

http://www.bettyconfidential.com/am/erin.html said...

Loved this and it's so true. Who cares what people look like in their bathingsuits.....it's better to be one's true self than hide it and not have any fun! I'm a new reader to your blog and will be back to read more.

Joseph said...

THe whole fat thing is simply people programmed by the media. You know that already. Fat is fucking NATURAL - people HAVE to get over their fear of it. Excuse my french , thanks.

darla said...

great post. i couldnt have said it better myself. my very first blog post was about inner beauty. being alot heavier than i was 20 years ago when i first married, i do struggle with it all. however, i'm a much more beautiful person today than then,on the inside. but so much focus goes on the outer in this world. thanks for sharing.