How Do I Look?

I have very ambivalent views about my appearance. The reasonable, mature, wise part of me feels VERY strongly that appearance is of no importance compared to what is inside a person, and is not a measure of personal worth. The immature, shallow, media-conditioned part of me says yes, yes, that’s all very well, but people will value me more if I have cute hair and can fit into a size 12 dress. The part of me that has fought and endured years of depression advises me that happiness is not dependent on my weight, that how I look has less relevance than the kind of person I am, how I treat others, how I feel about life, what I can give to the world. The part of me that used to work in fashion, that cannot resist looking at Fashion Police, tells me that I need new shoes, and better make them 4″ heels because they will make my chubby legs look better. And wouldn’t it be an idea to go on a diet soon, since swimsuit season is nearly here?

With all of this conflict going on inside me, it’s not surprising that for the whole of my adult life I haven’t had a 12 month period at a constant weight. I’ve gained, and lost, hundreds of pounds. I’ve tried every diet. I’ve read every book, both pro-diet, and anti-diet. I’ve cheered for both sides. I’ve fought and then defected. I have always sympathised with Kirstie Alley, who allegedly insisted on her TV wardrobe being stocked in several dress sizes, so that she never had to worry about what size she was. If I didn’t have limited wardrobe space, mine would be the same. I have ranged far and wide, between a size 10 and a size 18. I have been so thin that people accused me of anorexia (in fact, I was just a naturally skinny teenager). I have been heavy enough for a doctor to delicately hint that weight loss might be desirable. And of course, every time I have lost weight, the idea that only then do I look okay has been reinforced by the flurry of compliments from other people, based solely on the weight loss.

One of the symptoms of a depressive episode for me is weight gain. It’s part of the problem, and then it becomes part of the solution too, as my antidepressant is notorious for increasing appetite and weight gain. Factor in the exhaustion that makes even the thought of exercise a joke, and you’re looking at a couple of dress sizes in a matter of months. Then the period of remission starts, and I try to work on losing the weight again. It’s exhausting, and I’m tired of it.

I hate the fact that I am 35 years old, and beginning to get some wisdom and maturity and life experience about most things, even if that has been dearly bought, but I seem unable to make the mental shift from a teenage perspective when it comes to something like this. I hate the fact that I cannot stop myself from evaluating (not judging, but definitely noticing) other women’s body size and appearance, even though I have tried really, really hard to stop.

If my heartfelt belief is that appearance does not mean anything at all, why do I find it so hard to live by that? If I detest the fact that in today’s world you have to fit a certain narrow criteria in order to be considered acceptable, then why do I still feel compelled to try to meet those criteria? When my husband assures meand I know that he is sincere, that he loves me, and values me, and thinks I’m beautiful inside and out, no matter how I look, then why do I still feel under pressure to change?

And more to the point, what on earth can I do about it? I stopped buying women’s magazines years ago, mainly for this very reason. I stopped watching makeover programmes, shows about potential models, shows about diet and weight loss. I stopped commenting when women around me made derogatory comments about their size or shape, or paying them compliments when they lost weight (ie. “wow, you’ve lost so much weight, you look fantastic!“). I started trying to notice beautiful things about everyone, regardless of age, shape, glossiness or lack thereof. It has worked, to some extent, with regard to my attitude to others. But not towards myself. Not for long enough, anyway.

I would love your thoughts and feedback and suggestions on this issue, whether that comes in the form of your own experiences, what you’ve learned, book recommendations, or anything else. If you don’t want to comment, send me an email!

5 thoughts on “How Do I Look?

  1. Oh, Dee, I sympathise so much with this ongoing struggle. And the way it relates to your depression makes it even more difficult to control.

    I wonder if part of the problem is that society has created this very strong dichotomy – either we have to say that appearance does not matter at all, or we have to say that appearance is all important and we must strive to conform to whatever is the current ideal.

    I can’t believe that appearance does not matter at all. Beauty is one of the things that gives me greatest pleasure. I care about the appearance of my house, my garden, my website – why wouldn’t I care about my own appearance? I like to choose pretty clothes and shoes and wear them in ways that make me happy.

    What I don’t much care about is what the fashion industry tries to tell me is beautiful. I find beauty in people of all shapes and sizes. I don’t think that fat people are disgusting and should be hidden under shapeless tents. I don’t think that skinny people are necessarily unhealthy. I think that there is beauty in everyone’s smile.

    You love beautiful things, Dee. You work with beautiful yarn, you admire beautiful clothes and shoes and the world around you. I don’t think that pretending appearance doesn’t matter to you will help. But learning to love the way you look, whatever size you are, and to enjoy your wardrobe, your hair, your makeup, whatever size you are – that would be wonderful!

  2. Just read a book called Gender Delusions, and it makes the point that for all our rational choices and ideas, we are still conditioned by society into certain mindsets, that will weasel themselves out, especially when under pressure. From the moment you were born, society started telling you that beauty (the western, white, middle class ideal) equated with good, and ugly (non western etc etc) was bad. Rationally you may be aware of the superficiality of this, but it affects and effects your responses.
    We are all works in progress with regard to how quickly we can over-ride such default positions, the important thing is to be aware of it. And if you struggle with self-worth, that judder between the unconscious and rational reactions to appearance is probably worth measuring on the Richter scale………

  3. hey,
    I have a personal strong belief that I want to feel better and achieve more things physically. This is part of my long term plan to live a long and healthy life. I have joints pains and when training and being toned and stretching I feel better. So I definitely want to be more in shape for the sake of being fit..if the thin look goes with it..then fine. But my very first goal is to be fit. I am currently pregnant and a bit struggling to not loose all of the fitness I gained over the last 10 months, once recovering from maternity, I want to become the best version of myself. That’s my current goal for the next 2 years..when hitting 40, I want to be able to do things I dreamed about. Because already at 30 I had pain and was stiff and felt as if I was in my 80’s…I can’t accept that for myself because I don’t want my body to be the limit.
    Appearance will just go along with it. What’s the point in being skinny if you can’t sprint to catch your bus, if you are too weak to carry your groceries, you can’t enjoy the sunrise on top of a mountain because you are out of breath after 1 mile ? I will never want to be able to run a marathon. Be healthy and happy, just live by your limits whatever the weight you feel good into. If I don’t feel right being overweight, I don’t want others to tell me it’s Ok if I don’t feel OK and being peaceful about it. On the other hand I don’t “bother” people with this either…anyway people just complain but never really are ready to do what it takes. I have found my place for motivation and the lifestyle I like in . This may look extreme, but I love it.

  4. I just had to respond to this post as it’s something I struggle with every day.

    I’ve always been chubby. I was a chubby baby, a chubby kid, a chubby teenager (can’t tell you how much fun _that_ was in a high school full of blonde surfer chicks and rugby players) and now I’m a fat adult. I’ve come to terms with it in that I think I have a nice personality, I’m a good friend (if very selective) and I have a lot to offer in terms of hobbies and help and stuff.

    My mother, on the other hand, could never accept me. Whenever I see her she says something like “you know, you could be so pretty if you just lost a few kgs” or “you should blow dry your hair straight, you could look so nice” or “you should wear some make up, your face could be so pretty”. In other words, I look terrible and could only be pretty if I did the things she suggested.

    I’ve since found a lovely man, also chubby, who loves me exactly as I am. We’ve both started to work towards losing weight but more for health and possible procreating than to fit in with society’s standards. It would also be nice not to have to buy clothes from the “plus size” range. I would also like to get back to horse-riding and I realise that I need to be somewhat lighter to do that. Elephants aren’t great at jumping :). I’m aiming for a weight of between 70 and 80 kg, which sounds like a lot but I’m tall and my family tends to be sturdily built. I still have some ways to go before I reach that goal.

    I too hate the “have you lost weight” question. Often people ask it because I’m wearing tighter jeans or something and it feels horrible to say “no, actually I haven’t”. Also nothing gets the attention of the women in the office like a discussion of weight loss. Surely there are more important things to be talking about that what you’re having for lunch?!

    Alas, I offer no advice, only support. I kinda just got over it, I came to terms with the fact that I was never going to be thin without starving myself and spending all my spare time in the gym. I’m now aiming towards a healthier me, but probably still chubby.

    Yeh, life is hard. One day we will all be brains in cybernetic bodies and all this crap will be easier :).

  5. Hello Dee.
    I’ve just come across your wonderful yarns and then on going through your site felt I had to respond to your ‘weighty’ dilemma. My heart feels for you and I want to send you a big hug. I was prescibed anti-depressants because I haven’t coped well with being sacked after being absent from work for so long with a lower back problem which has wrecked my left leg & lower abdomen. With very little mobility my weight has gone up to 13.5 stone !

    Well, as you know the anti-depressants just seem to compound the issue and like you they make me eat more. . . so, I’ve made some changes . . . There are no mirrors in the house, (apart from small hand held make-up ones), so sod what I look like. It’s really what’s going on inside that’s important, not what shallow-minded people think, (my sister-in-law, recently said, “Oh well, you either keep your face or your figure, and you’ve got lovely skin ! I was furious). I’ve slowly weaned myself off the anti-depressants and although, Dee, I was crying for England again, I’ve slowly changed to a predominantly raw diet. I don’t like the word, ‘diet’, because I’m not on a diet, it is a life-style change. There are loads of sites & YouTubes videos, and plenty of Raw Food suppliers online. Do you know, the crying has stopped, honestly, and I seem to feel lighter emotionally and I wake up thinking I could conker anything. It’s amazing. I’m still just as disabled, but I’m now convinced I can change all that. My clothes aren’t as tight, so perhaps I am naturally, and gradually balancing my weight – (I’m not going to bother to check my weight, that isn’t my problem, it might be a problem for others who look at me, but what do I care! I do acknowledge that being overweight must be putting more of a strain on my poor spine, but I’m not tackling just one issue here).

    Perhaps, Dee, poundage isn’t the issue at all. Forget all the indoctrinations about image, we don’t have to buy into that. You know yourself the Fashion industry is all about generating money. We don’t have to take that path. You’ve already shown that you are changing. You have a gorgeous product which is timeless. Your words show that you are a thoughtful, considerate lady. You are allowed to like yourself for who you are, for how far you’ve come. Start to love your life and love yourself – you really do deserve it. And, if it’s possible, I am sending you a big e-hug. With love: Maureen