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Monday, June 1, 2015

The Uninvited Guest & Pressure to Look Good

Nothing to do with this post, except that I picked this up at a tag sale
and the husband doesn't really like it. So it's an uninvited guest, I guess
The other day at the Y, I ran into a woman I've seen practically every time I've been there over the past five years. I've never met her, though. She's about my age and she exercises strenuously. She was talking to another woman and I couldn’t help overhearing her complaining that no matter what she did she couldn’t get rid of “this.” (She slapped her midsection, which, yes, was a little bulgy. Like mine.) And for some reason, I barged in on their conversation.

“Oh, I hear you! Nothing works,” I said. (Although, it's possible eating less might help.)

She turned to me and said, “I call it my ‘uninvited guest.’” She slapped her midsection again. “And nothing works. And it doesn’t help that I can’t eat just one handful of nuts.”

Well, I was startled by her vehement slapping, but then again, I wasn't. I have vehemently slapped my midsection from time to time. I did it just the other day in Pilates, in fact, and my teacher said, "Yes, I know that workout." 

Anyway, my uninvited guest. I love the phrase. I could parse it. In fact, let’s. The use of the words “guest” and "it" suggest that this flesh doesn’t actually belong where it is, and that it’s not a part of you, normally. Both of which things I feel about my midsection bulge. 

Looking at my body that way is not healthy. After all, as my annoyingly tall and skinny therapist says, shouldn’t my focus be on how grateful I am for everything my body does for me? All parts of it? And not so critical of individual aspects of it? Ideally, yes. After all, my rational self knows that "me" and "my body" are not exactly two separate entities. Without my body, there is no me. We haven't achieved "brain-in-a-box" ability yet. 

The nuts comment, by the way, reminded me that I want to know exactly whose hand is measuring that handful of nuts? Because if it’s a male hand, then I can eat a lot more nuts than I think I can. 

Later, a friend was talking about Weight Watchers and said she was thinking of going to a nutritionist.  I told her I’ve made an appointment with a nutritionist, but I’m a little nervous that it might trigger my old eating disorder. I’m going to go anyway, because maybe this nutritionist will help me dislodge my uninvited guest. 

Or maybe she will help me accept that it’s a permanent tenant. 

As I said to my friend, it’s a question of how much deprivation you want to undergo versus how much self-acceptance you need. 

Which brings me to this metaphor of riding the rough edge of the wave. I thought of it while walking the dog today. It just came to me. I love reading about extreme surfing. Which I wasn't. I was walking the dog. But I was thinking about an article I read in the NYTimes Sunday Review by author Jennifer Weiner about the pressure to look good and the image of a surfer came to me. As a woman, I do some extreme surfing here on land when it comes to body image and self-image. Jennifer Weiner’s riding the wave, too. The rough edge of the wave. Talking about being a feminist and yet feeling pressure to get Botox, pressure amplified by social media. All too relatable, I’m afraid. “How do you preach the gospel of body positive when you’re breathless from your Spanx? How can you tell your girls that inner beauty matters when you’re texting them the message from your aesthetician’s chair?” 

Exactly. Do you talk about Jolen cream bleach and facial hair? Or do you just shut up and let them find out about it themselves eventually? 

And then there’s the other side of the pressure to look good: it can be fun to make yourself look good. Legions of style bloggers will swear on their Bobbi Brown makeup books that spending time to make yourself look good on the outside will help you feel good inside. 

Recently, I took advantage of the personal shopping service at Lord & Taylor. It’s complimentary, by the way. I looked into it out of desperation. That uninvited guest had rendered some of my nicer clothes unwearable and I have an event coming up for which I feel some Pressure to Look Good. After shopping on my own in vain, I noticed an office that said “Personal Shopper.” I asked for a card, and I contacted someone called Blair for an appointment. I arrived feeling pretty crappy about my body. 

And I left feeling really great. I had three outfits under my arm. Yes, I only needed one, but I am suggestible, and that service is complimentary for a reason. Anyway, these things looked good. Having someone professional look at clothes on me turned out to be good for my self image. And it wasn’t as if she yessed everything, either. She had assembled six or seven possibilities for me, and she evaluated them all somehow without evaluating me. Imagine. Instead of me looking at something and saying, I'm too matronly to wear this, and falling into a stupor, Blair said, “That dress is not flattering on you. It makes you look matronly. Let’s try something else.” There was no judgement of my body. It wasn’t about whether my body was suitable for the clothes. Instead, the judgement was whether the clothes were suitable for me. 

Interestingly, one of the dresses she picked out for me was one I had tried on by myself. All I saw by myself were lumps, so I had decided it wasn’t the kind of thing I can wear anymore. Stupor followed. But when I put it on this time, Blair and her assistant said it looked great. I mumbled “Spanx” and she said, “Oh, absolutely. Everyone needs Spanx for that.” See, again, no criticism that my body wasn’t perfect. 

So, it’s true that looking good will help you feel good. Yes, Readers, of course I understand that is because women feel better when society thinks they look good. It’s the catch-22.  It’s the rough edge of the wave. Until such era exists where no one is judged on appearance, those who take time to look good will reap some rewards internally as well. When that era of total equality arrives, well then we can all dance with the uninvited guest and sport facial hair, no matter our gender identity. Oh what a glorious and boring era that will be. 

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