Author of Breasts Don't Lie

Archive for the ‘body image’ Category

An Imperfect Mother

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Most of my readers know about my ambivalent relationship with my mother. She was so many things – ill, sad, and abusive, but also independent, feisty, and in her very peculiar way – loving.

When the memories of her other characteristics threaten to make her unredeemable, I remember this story.

She could see things that other people couldn’t or refused to see. When I was struggling with my weight as a teenager who desperately wanted to be a ballet dancer, she took me to the perfect meal. Weird, huh? A meal.

I had spent my fifteenth summer at a dance camp, and I came home freaked out. A couple of months before going to the dance camp, I had gained the necessary ten pounds to jumpstart a late-onset puberty. Literally, before the weight gain, my body fat was too low to provide the necessary materials for a teenage body and brain. Pleased with my new curves, I went with another girl to our yearly dance intensive.

But throughout the camp, my dancing teachers had complained about my weight gain.

After the first few days, they would take me aside and say things.

“Your dancing weight is 98 to 103 pounds. Do you weigh that now?”

I let the ice cream drip down my hand, onto my toe shoes.

“105 is too much for your height.”

I was 5’6” tall.

“How much do you want to dance professionally? Really? That much. Well, you can’t be a dancer at that weight.”

In an audition, before my fellow dancers and competition, my teacher said, “If you lost some weight, you could make the company.”

When I fell out of a double pirouette, the ballet mistress said, “Maybe you could bind your chest. And your hips.”

I slept the whole way home from camp, too exhausted from writing down every little thing I ate, trying to find my balance (no one explained the needed rebuilding to suit my no longer androgynous body), while every second blocking out the faculty’s hurtful comments. Mom met me at the door, and I burst into tears. All week, I would catch her watching me.

On that next weekend, Mom said she was going to the mall and did I want to come? I must have muttered something because we ended up wandering around until we were standing in the doorway of the mall’s cafeteria. Over my objections, Mom pulled me in. She giggled. I had heard her laugh before, but giggling was new. She tucked my arm under hers. Like girlfriends.

“Let’s have dessert for dinner,” she said. “Pick two.”

She slid me a tray, smiled at me, and went off to pick her desserts. Lost before a line of forbidden desserts, I looked back at her. She was bright enough to keep her overt focus on her choices. Time to choose. Anorexia or dessert. I picked the chocolate cake and Jell-O. She didn’t say anything about my choices. Just paid. It was not a big moment but a decisive one.

I guard that memory. Mom could be so many things, lots of them ugly and painful but every once in a while, she was perfect.

Happy Mother’s Day. Share one precious memory, and we’ll guard them together.

(Image used with permission. By Andrew Giovinazzo.)

Words for Int’l Women’s Day

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I didn’t know what the term meant – I don’t say things like that.

As most of my friends and colleagues and a few attorneys know, I have been stalked, my car and home vandalized, and my professional reputation threatened for a year by a mentally unhinged person. During that time, I walked a tightrope between creating more distress for the person’s family on one side and ignoring my safety on the other side. With this current act of name-calling, I am done being quiet.

There is something horrific about a woman commenting on another woman’s appearance in a way to shame her or cause her pain.

I’ll be sixty in a couple of years and with it has come some hard knocks leading to episodic wisdom.

I’ve lived through ballet auditions where I didn’t make it through the first rounds because they were ‘looking for a particular body type.’ Balanchine wanted his dancers to be ‘like racehorses, rail thin, beautiful, and not bright.’ No one cared how I danced.

Nevertheless, I modeled my way through college being a consistent size 8. Patterns were cut to this size in the 70s and 80s. I can’t take kudos for the size 8 body; it’s the family bone structure and genetics.

My first husband made comments about my looks, my weight, and my height. You can’t change some of these characteristics. They are genetic, predetermined, or out of your control. I will never forget the day I said to that husband, “I’m a size 8. Get over it. Not a size 4. Not going to happen.” And I returned to my graduate school studies. He remarried and described his wife as “young, beautiful, and stylish.” Good grief. She can’t stay that way forever. He can’t either.

I’ve had dates where I knew the men were not into my appearance. “But that body,” they would say. Yeah, I’m a little more than that. We are entitled to preferences but beyond 30, people, this life, my body comes with an expiration date. Go away and grow up.

I’ve lost jobs or not received a second interview because I look too old – employers can’t ask your age, but they figure it out. Ageism. Or maybe I did not fulfill their appearance requirement. Still illegal and still hard to prove but you know it when you are on the receiving end.

My wrinkles and the knowledge in my eyes are hard won – living, loving, making mistakes, grieving, being a friend – it is all there on my face and body. I don’t look, act, sound, think, or believe in the same ways of earlier decades. To do so would be a nullification of who I am, my genetics, my values, and every experience that I have lived through. I will not do that to myself. Or to another female. Or male.

So, to the woman who calls me BUTTERFACE, I am sorry for the time, and it will happen, when someone makes a derogatory remark about your appearance. By then, I hope you will have learned the self-acceptance to shrug it off.

Half Waxed

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Over a decade ago, swayed by peer pressure, I tried bikini waxing for the first time. My friend warned me to go to a salon for the service. Being cheap and overestimating my smarts, I thought I would try it at home.

“Do you think that’s wise?” she said.

“Can’t be that difficult. They sell kits at the drug store,” I said blithely.

Bad, very bad idea. The drug store and their waxing kits lied.  I have managed to give myself a concussion and melt my underwear to the left side of my crotch. Here’s my story:

After perusing the personal products aisle of the drug store for an hour, I went to the counter for some help.  “What product would you suggest for home waxing?”

The woman’s penciled eyebrows lifted three inches.  “How much pain can you endure?”  That’s such a bad question.

“Uh, I’m not a total wimp”.  Then a client beeped me.  So I may have missed some vital information.  The phone call took some time and when it was finished, the woman was helping other customers – customers who were buying gum, newspapers, and magazines.  No waxing products.  So off to the personal products aisle again.  I picked up the most expensive waxing kit thinking this is no time to skimp.

Following the kit’s instructions, I laid out a brownie pan, plastic gloves, the block of wax, scissors, a wooden spoon, two ice packs and my contribution to the process, a small glass of Scotch for the pain.  Some of the instructions were baffling.  I put on a favorite pair of green bikinis because I wanted a clean line for the finished product.  (Note to anyone — never wear polyester undies while waxing – the reason will become apparent later).  As directed, I melted the wax in the brownie pan using the wooden spoon.  The dogs laid their heads to one side before starting a low baying sound.  I poured some wax on the right side of my crotch and then on the left side before the pain registered.  I screamed.  The animals jumped back barking.  (Another note to anyone — always test the temperature of the wax before applying.)

From pubic bone to mid thigh was bright red. There was an interesting smell.  My skin was disintegrating.  One layer of skin, maybe two.  Definitely first degree burns.  Hoping to avoid the second degree blistering, I quickly yanked off the wax from the right side.  Immediately I passed out from the pain.  The best I can tell, I hit my head on the counter on the way down.  I woke into painful consciousness, stars buzzing around my head like in a Looney Tunes Cartoon, lying curled in the fetal position on the kitchen floor.  The two dogs and the cat were looking at me with these quizzical expressions of “should we eat her now?”

By that time, the underwear on my left side had melted to my crotch.  (Polyester melts in hot wax — very important note.)  Holding the counter for support, I got myself upright and chugged the glass of Scotch with two aspirin from the junk drawer. I corralled the animals, shoved them into the utility room, and closed the door.  Taking a deep breath, I yanked at the strip of wax on my left side of my crotch.  Off came a good inch of skin and melted undies.  I quickly found the ice pack and applied it while jumping around the kitchen.  The room was dark and hopefully the neighbors had not seen my personal auto-da-fe.  Now, what do I do?  The choices were dire.

First, I assessed the situation.  The right side of my crotch was a bright red field of blisters with small patches of scorched earth.  The left side looked worse.  One inch was oozing blood like partially defrosted hamburger.  A good four inches was covered with hard wax and melted spring green undies.

Second, I outlined my three options.  I could continue to self-mutilate my crotch by tearing off the fricassee of wax, undies, skin, and connective tissue.  I’m not sure I had the fortitude for such an option.  I could call Barbara and after she stopped laughing, she could help we with the left side.  This could be embarrassing as I conjured up the image of us tugging at my crotch.  That left option number three.  I could cut off as much of the melted wax – undies – skin – connective tissue combo as possible with my old dissecting scissors, apply burn balm, and cover the wound with a dressing then go to bed.

I picked option number three, bandaged myself, and phoned my friend.

“My crotch is toast.”

“We must have a bad connection. You’re eating toast? What about your crotch?”

“No. No. In the process of home waxing I learned some important life lessons.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. What did you learn?”

“Waxing is rocket science and should be left to the professionals. And. One should never wax with animals nearby.”

“Did they bite?”

“No but I think they were trying to decide if I was dead. Oh and never, ever overheat your polyester undies.  They will melt.”

“Should I call the paramedics?”

“Nah. Off to apply more ice. Stop laughing.  It’s not funny.”

“You’re a mess.” My friend hung up. I hear her laughter every time I shudder past the personal products aisle in a drug store.

 

Weird Times

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I’m at this really weird time in my life – mid 50s where I am working as hard as possible but seeing opportunities land elsewhere. In younger people’s laps.

My friends are talking about retiring, counting down the days, and planning their last great adventure. About five years ago, I realized I would be working until I died. Through a couple of lousy turns of the luck and some bad planning on my part, I will never be able to retire. Not ever.

Being unable to see a retirement in my future has impacted most areas of my life freaking me out. How did this happen? How did I not notice? Maybe it is a combination of my friends being 5 to 10 years older and in the last of the pensioned jobs. Maybe it has to do with being single or the two major downturns, more like plummets, of the stock market. Maybe it is a realization of the probability of being single when I die. Most likely the realization became embedded with fright after last year’s string of surgeries.

My friends are settling into their last homes and having what they consider safe adventures – cruises. Paying deposits for communities that allow you to move through ever increasing levels of care. I look at my townhouse and wonder how I will get up those steps in 15 years when my knees and hips give out. But who will give a mortgage to some one nearing retirement … So I have been told to plan for my infirmity. Like a good old codger, I have. Replacing the HVAC system. Replumbing. Changing out appliances. Getting stuff out of the attic and into easily accessible storage. Definitely must upgrade my refrigerator.

My 30-year yoga practice has changed. I said good-bye to the Level 2/3 classes, taking and teaching them. In class, it seems quite pig-headed to keep attempting something apt to hurt myself to appease my ego. But on interviews for yoga teaching jobs, employers do one of two things. They assume I want the gentle and restorative classes or I get pressured into those jobs.

I’m having to hunt down new doctors – my current doctors are retiring. I understand that my new doctors will be younger than me with little empathy for aging’s undeniable march. For example, my forty-year old orthopedist said, “You will never dance again.” I will dance tango again, even Lindy. Just watch me. “Wear sneakers 24/7.” Not bloody likely. I may lower my shoes’ heels from a 4” to 3” height but I will wear the handmade leather shoes from Italy with a tight skirt and fishnets.

I am the patient doctors keep badgering to schedule a colonoscopy, a skin cancer exam, but no one asks me about birth control or safe sex anymore. Maybe they think I’m too old to still be having sex.

Then there’s the men and dating.

No, I don’t want to go antiquing – never liked it so why should I like it now?

Yes, I do want to go for a hike at a decent pace.

No, I don’t want to have dinner at 5pm and go to sleep at 8pm.

Yes, I like to nap but I have liked to nap since I was 4.

No, I don’t want a sexless relationship. Sometimes it feels as if I have aged out of the sexually active category. I could stand naked by a motel with a sign reading, “The room is already paid for” and no one would take me up on the proposition.

Then there are the well-meaning people sending me articles to settle, for a man, any man who is breathing. No thank you. I deserve love as much as someone in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

I am under pressure to go on that last great vacation. One doctor told me to do everything on my bucket list before 50 because after that I would need really, really good trip insurance. “All kinds of medical things happen.” Wow, groovy, I still plan to go to Argentina.

Maybe, quite possibly, I should replace the word ‘weird’ with ‘irritable.’ I am at this really irritable time in my life.

Garlands of Daisies (55 word story)

“I made garlands of yellow posies in childhood.

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All too soon, my mother took me to buy my first bra.   Slyly that night, with tiny, skillful stitches, she altered it. The next day, I decorated my sprouting breasts with embroidered daisies.

Nowadays, I grow luscious gardens of multicolored flowers in the loam of my body.”

This is my little 55 word story I wrote in honor of my mom buying my first bra. Celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month – buy flowers, maybe daisies, for the women in your life – mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, coworkers, and anyone else.

Big hug.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

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My body has thrown down the gauntlet. My thighs, hips and tummy are challenging me to grow up. I am fighting it the entire way.

I am pretty lucky. Through my teens and twenties, when I gained weight, the fat cells, like little mounds of dimpled orange skin, distributed themselves evenly over my body. I was pretty happy with my body. Okay dokey.

Hah. Until I hit 30. Then the dimples hit the fan. The fan directed them to my thighs.

“What the hell is this?” I said.

“Ah aging,” said my husband.

“No but it wasn’t there yesterday … “

“Yeah it was. Get over it. Let’s get brunch,” said my good chunk younger husband.

Still my butt was a rounded curve. My tummy was flat and firm – a six-pack when I was working out regularly.

Then I hit 40. My ass fell. Where did it go? It fell downward. Gravity took a bite. I asked an anesthesiologist for plastic surgeons about my flat butt. He looked at me.

“Not too bad. You’ve lost too much fat.”

“Huh?” I said. “I weigh the same as I did in high school.”

“You lost the fat pad at the top of your hips that keeps your butt high,” he said.

Good grief. Now I need a certain amount of fat to keep my butt in place. This is a bad joke.

I made peace with my thighs and butt. I decided ‘body peace’ beat becoming a gym bunny, perpetually obsessed with how I looked and unable to eat a Starbuck’s Morning Bun.

In my 50s, teaching 6 to 12 yoga classes a week kept me too busy to ruminate about my changing body. I would say to myself, “I am strong. My body is strong.” I learned to love my body. There’s nothing quite like wearing yoga clothes four or five times a week to get comfortable, even oblivious, to fat. I learned to love the different body shapes of the women and men in my classes.

Bodies became fantastic objects – I know we hate that word but the changes to my body feel less and more personal now. Bodies are capable of beautiful movements, showing our feelings, receiving information, and exchanging pleasure.

Two surgeries, four debridements, thirteen types of painkillers, and five months of antibiotics later, I am six months into a period of enforced rest with a prescription for minimal movement and medications that trigger sugar cravings. I have gained weight on my thighs, ass, and tummy. I have a fluffy tummy. Not flat. To add insult to injury, I have wavy arms. Ick. I had to reassess my self-concept.

“Crap,” I said to a friend.

“Crap yourself. You’re healing from the surgeries. Make peace with your body,” she said with an “I’m-not-putting-up-with-this” attitude.

We were perusing the Spanx aisle of the department store. “Aren’t these just light weight girdles?”

“Yep. I remember them from my teens,” she said.

“Holy crap. I remember my mom trying to get me to wear one. Fuck. I felt like a sausage with stuffing come out each end.”

“Well that sounds uncomfortable. Don’t buy one,” she said.

She’s so smart.

So I didn’t buy the Spanx girdle and the funny thing is, yesterday I picked up my body’s gauntlet.

As long as I am living, I will need to have a relationship with my tummy, hips, thighs, and arms – my body. In whatever shape they are. With however much I am fat or not fat. Dimpled thighs, flattened butt, fluffy tummy, and wavy arms, my whole body with its increase in fat, fat cells, cellulite, is mine. I own my shape.

You out there – I’m tossing you the gauntlet …

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