Does anyone else think that it is incredibly hypocritical that the media has vilified Lindsay Lohan for being too skinny, then expressed relief that she admits to having an eating disorder in a magazine article... all while simultaneously having pictures of her half naked and in her underwear on the pages of the magazine? What is the message that is being sent to us as women, and what about our daughters?
I am 36 years old and I still feel an incredible self-loathing about how I look. It hasn't lessened over time, though the power that it holds over me is less severe now. I can't go for days without eating any longer, though that makes me feel like a failure rather than feel like I have overcome the negative self-talk. It is difficult to talk or write about, because people who are truly overweight don't get it. They laugh and roll their eyes and think that you are just being overly dramatic about what they perceive as a pound or two that you want to lose.
This past weekend, I walked into a store and picked up clothes that fit me. A size 2. But I felt sick to my stomach holding the skirt. I felt like the sales people in the store were all looking at me, snickering to themselves, about how someone who is my size shouldn't be wearing that particular item of clothing.
I put the skirt back on the rack and wondered why can't I be a size 0 like I used to be. A zero. A nothing. On the verge of disappearing. I think that is what people who don't have a distorted body image don't understand. Those of us who do have it, well, we secretly wish to disappear, to not be noticed.
I don't notice the weight of anyone else. I think all my friends look perfectly fine at the weight they are, though many say they want to lose 10, 20, even 30 pounds or more. Yet when I look in the mirror I see myself as twice as big as all of them put together. I had a friend once threaten to push me down on the ground and draw an outline around my body so I could see how much space I actually took up. It seemed sadly appropriate at the time to have a chalk outline of my body on the ground.
The only times in my life that I felt comfortable with my body were when I was pregnant. I felt the freedom to eat. It was OK to gain weight and have a plumper body. With my last pregnancy, though, I began to realize that the clothing manufacturers were doing to maternity clothes what had previously been reserved for regular clothing. The styles were form fitting, belly baring. They were things that really only look good on a tall skinny person with a small pillow under her shirt. I was left feeling that nothing is sacred.
And now I have a daughter. One beautiful, smart, strong daughter in a house filled with sons. I watch her twirling around and dancing, full of life and love. My hope for her beyond all else is that she loves herself enough. I hope that she is able to shrug off the distorted images in the media. I want her to think of her body as the outer packaging of herself and not allow it to be a defining term of her self-worth.
I suppose this says as much about me and my place of privilege in the world that I don't worry about my daughter enduring a famine, being killed in a war zone, or being abused in some way. It is a luxury to worry about self-esteem and self-image while mothers in different places in the world can only worry about keeping their daughters alive. A luxury, how is that for the proverbial slap in the face? Women who are just trying to eek out an existence for their family don't have the time to worry about whether their ankles are too thick, their butt too large, or their teeth too yellow.
And so it is for my daughter that I try to love myself. It is for her that I try to project a healthy attitude about my body. It is for her that I try to focus on what my body can do, its strength, to embrace it, flaws and all, and yes, even to appreciate its beauty. For 35 years I was not able to do this for myself, but my love for my daughter is so much greater than my love for myself. For her I can do anything.
Chris is a writer, artist, wife and the mother of seven children. She lives in an historic old house in New England that is perpetually under renovations.