You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Weight and body image’ category.

 

A few months ago I glanced up at one of the many TV sets scattered around my gym to see a woman on QVC selling a line of “fashion clothing.” The pants on offer were an elastic waist, large pocketed polyester blend model that came in a rainbow of lively colors, as well as faux dungaree material, and whose length allowed for possible oncoming floods and insured the wearer need never worry about tripping on them. And, of course, there were also an array of loose flowered tunics and complimentary vests for mixing and matching on offer.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the memory of cleaning out my mother’s closet after she died last year. I found myself crying, right there on my yoga mat in the health club, recalling bagging up her countless pairs of ankle length, elastic waisted pants. I felt such grief in that moment, thinking of my Mom and her later in life wardrobe. When exactly had she made the shift from stylish, well-tailored outfits to what I could only think of as Old Lady Clothes? And why?

In that moment, I swore to myself that I would never ever dress that way. I would wear pants with a real waist band, zippers and buttons until they were patting dirt on my face. I would be the fashion forward forever woman who ages with grace and beauty, holding on to my personal style of the perfect balance of form, function, and comfort. My daughters would never feel the sadness of carting off bags of my old lady duds to the Goodwill, I vowed. In fact, they’ll want my clothes for themselves when I’m gone.

The next weekend I went to visit my in-laws in Rochster, NY. I don’t go with my husband all that often but my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s; I know that there is a limit to the time when she will still know who I am so I suffered the 6-hour car ride. There is still a brilliant, highly social, intensely judgmental person somewhere behind her ever more confused eyes but she can no longer place herself in time or keep a thread of conversation on a straight seam. A published author, she has heartbreakingly lost the ability to read, although she carries a book and an old New Yorker magazine with her at all times.

I spent a lot of our visit helping her in the bathroom. She has mostly forgotten how to use the toilet (thank heavens for Depends!) and she is befuddled by buttons and zippers. Once fit and trim, most of her clothes are uncomfortably tight on her widening frame. To avoid her confusion, we discovered that she often sleeps in her clothes and wears the same outfit until her 3-day-a-week aide arrives to give her a shower and help her change. Over the weekend, I dressed and undressed her just as I did for my little girls thirty years ago. “Arms up!” as I lifted her shirt over her head and grabbing hold of a foot or a hand to guide it through the appropriate sleeve.

It was clear, at the very least, she needed new clothes; ones that fit comfortably and were simpler for her to navigate. That QVC line flashed in my head and suddenly I understood my own mother’s choice of apparel. While her dementia was mild, her arthritis and degenerative disc disease was not. Of course at some point she would choose clothing that saved her aching fingers from the intricate work of buttons and zippers and felt comfortable on her pain ridden body. What hubris for me to imagine that I could somehow choose to avoid the need for ease in my own fashion choices if I’m lucky enough to reach my elder years!

Growing old is no picnic although it usually beats the alternative. It’s especially arduous in the youth and beauty obsessed culture we live in. It’s hard enough to manage the increasing aches and pains and the decline of sharp sight and wit as the years wear and tear at our bodies. Add in the insult that gravity takes on the flesh and the extra pounds that tend to accumulate as time passes and it’s a painful equation. I’ve decided that the best formula for my own fortunate advance towards old age is a combination of regular exercise, a healthy diet, and a large dose of acceptance, even if it eventually means accepting a closet full of Old Lady Clothes for me.

Old-lady-with-cigar-in-weird-clothes1

Gray January skies can be depressing!

As I look out at the cold gray skies of early January I’m thinking about all the people beginning 2011 with a renewed resolve to lose weight, eat less fat and sugar, and exercise more and I’m feeling a deep sadness. I know from my work as a therapist and also from personal experience, how unlikely most people are to follow through on New Year’s resolutions about food and weight, particularly people who live in colder climates.

It wasn’t so long ago that extra weight at this time of year was desirable and helped us to survive the winters when fresh produce was less plentiful. It was natural to eat the starchy foods of the late autumn harvests and to hunker down in front of the fire for the duration. But that was before electricity created the availability of 24 hours of simulated daylight and before our local grocery stores carried organic lettuce and fresh lemons 365 days a year. Even if we still feel the ancient pull to hibernate with our bellies full of carbs, there’s no excuse not to get to the gym after work and have a salad for dinner. In other words, no excuse for not being thin.

Almost every woman I know has been battling with food since they were teenaged girls. Most women are not naturally skinny and while not fat by any means, they don’t have the wispy-willow, blown away by a puff of wind, kind of bodies that we have been brainwashed by the media to believe are most attractive. Many women’s natural bodies always want to be at least a few pounds heavier than they want them to be and they valiantly fight skirmish after skirmish with anywhere from 2-25 lbs. And as we age, it becomes harder and harder to win these battles but most of us can’t seem to just give up the fight and accept ourselves the way we naturally are and simply enjoy eating good food.

I often wonder what life would be like if our culture didn’t value thinness so highly. If we could be considered lovely in all the various sizes and shapes our bodies naturally are as opposed to being programmed to believe that only wafer thin is truly beautiful. We all know that obesity is a growing problem in the US and I’m certainly not advocating ignoring the health risks of a serious weight issue, but there’s a wide gap between a size 0 and a health risking weight problem. And I’m not talking about people with serious food addiction, eating disorders, or survivors of sexual trauma who gain weight trying become invisible. Those are different categories and I know these are difficult issues to untangle, but here I’m talking about folks who simply enjoy delicious food but feel constantly tortured by culturally skewed body image issues.

The average woman (or man) does not even come near to today’s standard of beauty naturally. We diet and exercise, and torture ourselves trying to come as close as we can to what we’ve all been brainwashed into thinking is valued and attractive. For many, when failure to achieve the standard norm is inevitable, surrender seems the only choice and then the fat wins. But most of us fight the good fight, at least to some degree, never willing to wave the white flag but also never winning the war. When New Years rolls around (or Monday, or a significant birthday, etc.) we take up the banner again and vow to attack the fat with a vengeance, mostly to be defeated by the first offer of something scrumptious to eat.

This year, I invite you to join me in saying NO to an unreasonable resolution to be thin. Let’s support each other in accepting our bodies’ natural beauty in all the various shapes and sizes that are healthy. Let’s say NO to buying into the Western culture’s distorted message about the value of extreme thinness and YES to good health and a deep appreciation for the rich bounty that is available to us. Let’s surrender and finally win this thing!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 33 other followers

%d bloggers like this: