Pat the body. I never eat butter without thinking of my friend Annette. She’s half French and wholly sexy. Brunette, like Bridget Bardot with brown hair, Annette is petite and voluptuous, the possessor of a lacy voice and impeccable diction. She has a wicked laugh, great posture, and an aura of understated class and savoir faire.
Men drop their forks in restaurants when she walks by, prompting kicks under the table from unattended dinner dates. Believe me, Annette is the last gal you want as your wing man in a bar, I learned that in the most humbling of ways. Here’s a pic of her I snapped for a book promotion a while back.
Of all the female friends I have ever had, Annette is the only one I’ve ever considered asking: “Hey, can I see you naked?”
I don’t want to touch her body; I’d just be curious to see how good a woman of a certain age (okay, over 50) can look with no clothes on. I imagine she looks pretty darn good, because for years, French blood notwithstanding, Annette has laughed at the mere suggestion of eating butter, pushing away the pale yellow seductress, dismissively, “Are you kidding? At my height? With my thighs? Who eats butter?”
Uh, I do. Butter on bread, butter on crackers, butter on popcorn, butter on butter. Consequently, I cringe at my reflection in the 3-way mirrors at Macy’s. (If retailers had a lick of sense, they would install track lighting and a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio in every dressing room.) I dread swimsuit season. Tunics and boots are my friend. I look forward to the day when caftans are fashionable again and increasingly, I hate to have my picture taken. This is just sad.
I opened a DropBox full of family photographs recently. We had all gone to California for Christmas. First time my four kids and I had been together for nearly a year. The reunion was glorious. We ate and drank and laughed late into the night. It made me so happy to see the pictures of all of us together, except for one thing: me.
“Jesus H. Christ, who snuck in here in the middle of the night and made me so fat?” I grimaced. “And why did I buy that blouse? OMG, I look so old! And what’s up with that hair?”
Let’s be honest. How many of us do this? I’ll bet you dollars to the donuts that pad our asses that most women criticize what they see in the mirror. And for those who’ve conquered this poor self-image thing, would one of you please move in with me and be my life coach? Most of us could use one.
There are more studies than there are peanut M&Ms in the Economy Size bag that point to this astounding statistic: more than 80% of women who are surveyed about their body image say that they HATE their bodies. Hate!
And it starts at about the age of 10. In a report published by the NYC Girls Project, the same percentage, 80% of ten-year-olds said they’re afraid of being fat. The NYC Girls project works to help girls believe that their value comes from their character, skills and attributes – not their appearance.
Hard to fight social media though. A 2014 Glamour Magazine survey of 1,000 women revealed that 64% of them said that looking at pictures on Facebook or Instagram made them feel bad about their bodies. Further, 60% said they crop photos to cut out the bad stuff. Come on, I’ve zoomed in past my butt a number of times, haven’t you? This isn’t hitting below the belt, this is survival!
It’s not like we’re not trying to do it the legit way. We sign up for Weight Watchers every January. We back time from Memorial Day when the pool opens. We go to the gym, with one accusing eye in the mirror and a stink eye on the lithesome blonde with the Michelle Obama pecs. Hence the perpetuation of this never-ending cycle of self-criticism over these vessels we call our bodies, ourselves.
But herein lies what’s important: these bodies, they’re all we’ve got. This bundle of flesh and bones carries around our silly egos, our hearts and minds and souls and our family history. There is not a single, solitary ‘nother one like it. So here’s what I’d like to say:
Stop. Just stop. Stop being so self-critical. I’m telling you like I’m telling myself.
I’ll give you a good reason why: my friend Annette has breast cancer. So far, so good on her treatment regime, which has included surgery, now chemo and she still faces radiation. Her prognosis is good. She is going about this frightening turn of events with dignity, determination and characteristic aplomb. While I stress over which shirt to wear to mask my muffin top she’s covering her bald head and wishing any food tasted good.
Grounding, isn’t it? Similar to a comment my friend Lynn made. Lynn, who is also a physical specimen in her own right, lowered the boom one day when I told her I look like Homer Simpson in my underwear. After she stopped laughing she said, “Jean, stop! You shouldn’t say stuff like that about yourself.”
That same day Lynn sent me a story written in poignant detail by a hospice nurse, who said that time and again, people said one of the things they regretted the most was having wasted so much of their lives hating their own bodies. Too often, the writer said, it’s only as a patient realizes that they will soon lose their body that they finally appreciate how truly wonderful it is. Reading this story has had a resounding and lasting effect on me.
In an attempt to pay this forward, last week I complimented a woman I work with. This is a gal who goes to the gym every morning at 5:00.
“But I still need to lose ten pounds,” she said after I mentioned that she looks great.
I said, “Stop. I mean, really.” She looked a little taken aback but I continued. “You don’t need to lose 10 pounds. You have the loveliest skin I’ve ever seen. You’re cute. You’re smart. You’re capable and kind. You’ve been married to the same guy for more than 20 years and he clearly adores you. You’re a great wife and mother. Just stop.”
We acknowledged how ridiculous this preoccupation with body image really is and we admitted we’d been doing it for decades.
“I look at pictures of myself when I was younger and I think, why was I so down on myself? I looked great!” she said.
“And why are we so down on ourselves now?” I added.
So let’s stop. Instead of hating our bodies, let’s pat the body. Seriously. The next time you grimace at your reflection, the next time you start to spiral into self-loathing, just stop for one second: wrap your arms around your shoulders and hold yourself tight, those shoulders have carried many burdens. Cup your hands around your pretty face, you’ve earned the laugh lines and the worry crease across your forehead. Place a loving hand over your heart and feel it beating.
Honor the vessel to which you’ve been assigned. Treat it with the kindness and reverence it deserves. Pat the body. I will if you will.
If you know someone who might need a little love pat, send this along. Reach out to me with a jab or a pat at Info@JeanEllenWhatley.com.
Time for some butter,