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 me, and 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!