We Are Beautiful

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Instead of my usual love-lorn rantings, I want to take on another subject today: body image. Specifically mine.

I spent four days with my mother last weekend on a road trip to Bloomington, MN to shop at the Mall of America. I learned a few things on that trip:

1) The Mall of America is just a mall with some rides and the same stores I have in my own, fabulous city (no offense to Bloomington. The people in Minnesota are incredibly friendly.)

2) I can handle that much time with my mother much better than I thought I could.

3) My size 4 mother has some very serious body dysmorphia.

I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life. I wore a 34C bra by the 4th grade and had very muscular legs thus earning me the title, “Chubby Cheerleader” due to my wearing of over-sized jeans and sweatshirts trying to camouflage a body that was winning the developmental race in my class. In the height of my depression a few years ago, I weighed 180 pounds and wore a size 14. I’m 5’2″ and currently weigh 140 pounds. My body type is hourglass – my friend calls me “BTSW” (Big Tits Small Waist). I have heavy, muscular legs (thanks, Dad!) and have to go up several sizes in skinny jeans just to get them over my thighs. My bra size is now 34DD and I’m usually between a size 6 and a size 8. My closet includes everything between size 4 and size 10, extra smalls to extra larges. I have one sweater that’s a plus size 1, whatever that means. I don’t care because it’s comfy as hell. I’ve learned to try things on in several sizes to find the one that flatters my shape the best. If it doesn’t flatter me I leave it behind. There is no sense in owning an article of clothing that makes me feel insecure.

As I shopped that first day, I picked up items and held them up to judge if I thought they would fit. I wasn’t really paying any attention to the size on the tag. However, my mom would pick up a shirt, look at the size tag and say, “oh, it’s a medium. It’ll be way too big for me.” A few times I noticed the thing she put back was an exact match of what I was holding. I have learned over the years to ignore these comments. Mom has always been in constant competition with me for everything. She can’t stand that I wear size 7 shoe when she needs 7.5 because you can’t really go down in shoe size without some marked discomfort. She used to race me on the stationary bikes at the gym: “I’m going faster than you.” “I’ve gone farther than you.” All the while, I rolled my eyes and concentrated on not passing out from the stank of sour sweat and horrible body odor that haunted our gym.

The shopping comments weren’t the thing that bothered me the most. It was the constant chatter about what I was wearing. When we met at her house, I was wearing yoga leggings, a fitted t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie. Mom looked me up and down then said, “Oh, you’re wearing leggings? I could never wear those because my butt is too lumpy. I guess I could, but I’d need a tunic. No one wants to see my lumpy butt.” Did I mention my mom is 5’6″ and a size 4? She has long, thin legs and a thigh gap that I will never have without some kind of dramatic plastic surgery (which will NEVER happen). She’s kind of pear-shaped, but her boobs have gotten bigger as she has aged. After her lumpy butt comment, she went on that she “can’t find leggings that fit her legs as tight as my leggings fit mine.” My ego was already bruised and we hadn’t even gotten in the car to leave. It reminded me of the time I gave her a pair of capri jeans that had become too tight for me. Instead of “thank you,” she said, “I wish these pants were as tight on my legs as they are on yours. It’s so hard for me to find skinny pants that fit like skinny pants.”

I grew up with a mother and brother who constantly told me I was fat. My brother’s name for me was Miss Piggy and, to this day, he still brings up the blue sailor dress I wore in the 5th grade that was so tight you could see my belly button. My dad never spoke directly to me about my weight, but would instead say things like, “should you be eating that?” The worst part was that they kept soda, chocolate, and candy in the house at all times but I wasn’t allowed to have them. My brother was naturally skinny, like my mom, so he could have whatever he wanted. To this day, I have trouble with self-control around sweets because I was constantly told ‘no’ as a child. One can’t learn self-control when denied something over and over. These days, I can’t have sweets easily accessible or I will take down an entire package of [insert any junk food here].

I couldn’t help that I had cleavage in every slightly V-necked top I owned, and my mother told me they made me look slutty. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that I started showing some shadow between the girls. I finally realized I have a great rack and it was going to waste! I was taught by my mother that I should hide my body and feel ashamed of my curves. My mother is trapped by her self-image and focuses so much of her self-worth on her appearance, so she judges mine as well. Her motto is, “What Would Barbie Do?” I’m pretty sure Barbie would tell her to love herself, no matter what she looks like. Mom makes comments about what other people are wearing all of the time. She isn’t a mean person, but she has some real issues. Her mother judged her very harshly and so she judges the rest of the world and, unfortunately, me.

But you know what? I’m beautiful. I have an amazing body. I love to dress up in pin-up style dresses and when I go out, I turn heads. I have cellulite. I have stretch marks. My arms jiggle and my belly bulges when I sit. But I am strong. I can punch a bag like I’m going to knock it off the chains. I can leg press 200 pounds. I can bench press 70 pounds. I know that’s not an insane amount of weight, but it’s nothing to scoff about. I have learned how to wear clothes that make me look good and feel good. I don’t worry that someone might see the size on the tag. If they did, so what? It’s a number or a word. It doesn’t represent my accomplishments or my failures.

I’m beautiful and so are you. If more of us would stop worrying how we are perceived by others, we would be so much happier. Focus on the things that make you happy. If you are uncomfortable with yourself, make a change, but learn to love yourself, imperfections and all. In the words of one of my heroes, the great RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the Hell are you going to love somebody else?”

Lessons

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I’ve learned some valuable lessons these past two years:

1) How to take care of myself. Before my divorce, I had never lived alone. There was always someone to lean on if I couldn’t pay the rent or I didn’t have enough money for groceries. Living alone taught me how to manage my finances. My name is the only one on the lease, and I’m 100% responsible if I can’t pay. I can now cook for one and I discovered I don’t need a ton of space. I also don’t NEED those $200 boots.

2) How to be alone. Not just sans romantic relationship. I mean hanging out by myself and not worrying about why no one is calling me, inviting me to do something. I discovered there are a number of things I enjoy doing by myself. I took a ten day road trip across the country by myself. I picked the music, how often to stop, where to stop, etc. and there was no one to argue with me. I plan trips to see my friends in other places of the country, and flying alone is great. I chat with my seat-mates or I read a good book, depending on my mood. If I want to see a movie that no one else wants to see, I’m no longer afraid to go alone. Shopping by myself is fantastic. Going to the gym has to be the best: I can go at 4:00 pm on a Saturday and the place is empty. Crap, I just gave away my secret…

3) How to have friends and keep the right ones. Friendships are relationships that must be maintained by all parties involved. I used to think that I needed to be everyone’s friend but now I realize that I don’t need one hundred friends, or even twenty. A handful of solid friends who will be there for me through thick and thin are all I need. I now have that group, and I make sure they all know I’m as solid for them as they are for me. Toxic friendships aren’t worth the heartache. I don’t regret those relationships, as they taught me some of the greatest lessons. I understand now that friendships, like romantic relationships, are two-way. Either party can initiate at any time. No more of this “well, I asked last time. It’s their turn.” That’s bullshit. Call them.

4) It’s okay to ask for help. There are days when I’m not okay. It’s perfectly fine to tell my friends and family that I need their love and support. No one is going to look down on me or consider me weak. It takes true strength to admit you need help and it’s something with which I’ll always struggle, but I grow stronger every time I reach out.

5) Love from another isn’t the be all, end all: I need to love myself. When my marriage collapsed, I was empty. I needed men whether they needed me or not. This was the hardest lesson. I didn’t ask the questions I had floating in my head, so I did not get answers. I was happy to live in the ambiguity of “are we dating, are you my boyfriend, are we just friends with benefits?” Men would drift in and out of my life. I always had a replacement shortly after each departure. Weekends were failures if I ended up in my own bed, alone. I worked so hard for relationships that would never be. The more a man rejected me, the harder I fought to understand why. I needed to know what was wrong with me so that I could correct myself for the next fellow that came along. Then one day, I realized that it’s not me: I’m perfectly fine. The right person will love me, imperfections and all. Love is great, but only if you love yourself first. Self-love was a long journey that started while I was married. I will always struggle to stay on that path and I know at times I will stray and end up in the brush. As long as I find my way back, everything will be alright.

It’s amazing how my life seems to be falling into place now that I have accepted myself. Things I thought would ruin the magic have actually made it stronger. Positive energy breeds positive energy, and I’m letting mine shine into the Universe. I’ll love me, you love you and we’ll all be okay.