This is a guest post I wrote for Notes from the Grove several weeks ago. I had originally planned to post it here before having second thoughts. That is, second thoughts about how it might be interpreted.
Intent is so often misconstrued by the the content police (i.e. judgies who like to finger wag and meanies who like to spew venom in comments). But now that it’s “out there” and I survived without any one taking it the wrong way – I thought I’d put it here as well.
I would hate to think that anyone really believed I was posting pictures of myself out of any narcissistic leanings.
Let’s be clear. I am not in the least bit narcissistic about my body. Sparkling personality, sharp wit and killer good looks – of course! But body image? Not so much…
Seriously – look at that. I was a totally normal looking teenage girl. I was not fat. And more importantly, I was unpuckered, unwrinkled and unmarked by that wily crone, Old Age. The now very real threat that only the hubris of youth could so coolly dismiss. Just that imaginary “something” that goes bump in the night for them. An urban legend.
Spider veins had of yet to stake their flag in my thighs and start mapping out their descent toward my ankles. Cellulite was strictly imaginary. And crows feet were something that only old people needed to worry about.
Why did I waste so much time worrying about looking fat?
Well – partly because at that age, I could have passed for a woman in her twenties while so many other girls still retained those boyish figures that the world at large applauds. That ideal that will never go out of fashion no matter how many Kim Kardashians or J Los celebrate the curvier side of physical beauty.
Also because I had entirely too much time on my hands. But that’s getting into a whole other youth wasted on the young diatribe. I just think it’s a shame that I didn’t appreciate everything that was lovely about my youth while I was in it.
And of course, the boys never help. I mean, how many teenage boys daydream about a really nice girl who likes to read and has zero talent for keg-side small talk?
It would be incredibly short sighted to place 100% of the blame for self esteem issues in young girls on men. But they do play their part.
Women have been known to laugh about how predictable men can be with their priorities. Not all men of course – but lets be honest: most men do go for looks first. At least until they mature and start to realize how boring women who never felt the need to have a personality can be.
I once (when I was young and had a little too much time on my hands) came up with a series of questions that perfectly illustrated this point. I would ask guys I knew what “the typical man’s” response would be. Not the really great guy inside them who we all hope will come through in the end – but that gut reaction guy. The one who is at best, programmed by society and at worst, a true pig at heart.
The reaction I was looking for was the one not always verbalized. It was the first thought that came to mind. And I have to say, for the most part, they all gave the exact same answer:
Me: Hey – there’s a girl I want you to meet!
Guy: Really? What’s she like?
Me: She has an amazing personality.
Guy: What does she look like? (but really thinking: “amazing personality…girls always say that when they mean ugly.”)
Me: Okay…DO OVER! There’s a girl I want you to meet! She has an amazing personality AND the most beautiful face.
Guy: That sounds good…what else? (but really thinking: “Beautiful face! The kiss of death – that means she’s fat.”)
Me: Right. I see where this is going… Let’s try it this way. There’s a girl I want you to meet! She has an amazing body.
Guy: Really? What’s her name?
Disclaimer: I KNOW that most men grow out of this (point in fact – the responses became much more cautious as my “subjects” and I got older). And truly, everyone has a different idea of what “an amazing body” means.
But my point is that there is so much focus on whether women’s bodies are meeting mass media standards (something that is impossible for most of us) that we all fall into that same priority trap. And the horny teenage boys are the worst.
At least in my experience growing up on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, that is. If you come from an area or culture where this is not the case, please consider yourself excluded from my sweeping generalizations.
So yeah – the insecurities of young girls are subject to some tie in with the expectations of the boys whom they wish to impress. That’s not news to anyone. But it’s not something you really acknowledge when you’re a young girl. And I was no exception.
But why even go there? Why the nostalgic melancholy? Why bother to even think about this now that I’m older, wiser and far too busy to care about whether I can still pull off a mini skirt?
Because all of this lamenting for not appreciating what I had when I had it makes me consider what I have now.
Do I currently look like the teenager in the picture above? Not exactly – I mean, a lot has changed. But what about the pictures of me from right now?
In 2029 will I look back and say, “why did I worry about looking wrinkled. I had such lovely thirty-seven year old skin. What a waste of time and energy…” or “why did I think my legs were so bad? With all of that running around after small children, I was in great shape.“
Who knows what I’ll lament in the future. But I’m thinking I may just cut that off at the pass.
I’m going to think more about what looks good than what looks bad. About what makes me more attractive all around, not just physically. And I’m going to make my fifty-seven year old self feel that I made the most of what I had when I had it. Then I’ll do the same thing again when I’m fifty-seven.
So first step. Accept that I do not have a Hollywood-approved ass. BUT be happy that I have a husband-approved ass.
He even took a picture at the beach when I wasn’t looking.
The lighting is good, my “problem areas” are somewhat hidden and something about the way I’m standing seems to be stretching out those dimples and puckers (I won’t even go into the hereditary knee pudge that’s all but invisible). But it’s still a picture of me. Me after thirty days of shredding and dieting in anticipation of a week at the beach. But still me. Me before two vacations, one Halloween and uncounted “I’ll just eat what I want today and then start the diet tomorrow” weight gain. But still me. Me at thirty-seven.
This is as good as it gets for me at thirty-seven. So I’m going to save that picture and say “damn I look good” now. Not “damn, I looked good” later.
Want some more? It’s even better when surrounded by sparkling waves (and that grainy chiaroscuro effect on my thighs doesn’t hurt!)
No way. All of that “it’s a flattering picture” talk while true, fronts for a universally pervasive flaw focus.
Give me a break – it’s been thirty-seven years. I can’t turn that around in a day.
But girl’s got to start somewhere. And posting a picture of my ass on the Internet is as good a place as any. So there you have it. My personal best for age thirty-seven. I’m so framing that in twenty years…