Today’s post kicks off a series of at least two installments on the topics of weight, body image, shopping, and personal style. These subjects have been at the top of my mind lately, as I’ve experienced some weight fluctuations resulting from health challenges and hormonal changes. This has been going on for months now, but sometimes things feel too emotionally raw for me to post about. However, since I realize that I’m not alone in these struggles, I’ve broached the subject in my private Facebook group and will do so here as well.
As someone with a long history of eating disorders (which I wrote about here) and negative body image (I even used to have a blog about that topic – you can now find those posts HERE), it’s very challenging for me to deal with what I’ve been going through lately. What makes it even more problematic is that I don’t really understand the reasons for my body shifts or what to do about them (I’m not overeating and I continue to exercise regularly). It’s often difficult for me to get dressed and I sometimes don’t feel good about how I look at all. I experienced similar issues in the early days of the blog, which I wrote about in this April 2013 post. Interestingly, I could basically write the same words again today, except I also have the specter of turning 50 hanging over my head (just over a month now…).
Back in March, I shared my body image concerns with the group and invited others to express their thoughts on the subject. In today’s post, I feature some of the responses I received. Later this week, I’ll offer some tips from the group on how to dress for weight fluctuations.
How Body Image Impacts My Shopping and Style
Here’s what I posted in the Facebook group in late March:
How does your weight and body image affect your shopping and style? I have a tendency to shop more both when I lose and gain weight. When I lose weight, I feel excited to dress a body that I feel better about. When I gain weight, I search frantically for something to wear that will help me to stop vehemently hating my body. I have struggled with body image issues for most of my life, beginning in my teenage years. I had eating disorders for about 20 years (anorexia and bulimia) and my weight has spanned almost 100 pounds. At one point, I weighed about 40 pounds less than I do now and I have also weighed at least 40 pounds more than this (I don’t know the exact numbers, as I have been scale-phobic for a long time). I continue to have issues with my body that affect my style in many ways. I have a “complex” about my lower half being large and I know that I see myself as being heavier than I am. My body image issues may be more extreme than most, but I know that many women have parts of their bodies that they feel self-conscious about. This may lead them to want to cover up and not wear certain styles. I invite you to share your thoughts on this topic.”
Group Members Who Resonated with Me
Many group members resonated with my body image issues. Here’s what a few of them had to say about how their weight and the way they feel about their bodies impacts their shopping and what they wear:
- This is HUGE for me! My weight fluctuates about 10- 15 pounds over the course of a year. When I am on the low side, I feel fabulous and feel like everything looks fabulous. When I’m heavier, nothing fits right, everything is tight, and I just feel But I refuse to purchase any clothing. That’s when I start with shoes and bags – extra expensive territory! Like you, when I look in the mirror, I am sure that the person that I see is MUCH larger than what everyone else does, but that doesn’t assuage the thought process.
- Another former bulimic with unrealistic body image here! Like you, being at a “good” weight tends to make me want to shop, but so does being overweight and legitimately having nothing that fits. My weight has been pretty stable for about 10 years now (no more than a 10 pound variance, or one clothing size) so I’m trying to find and maintain that balance. Finding something that makes my thighs look thinner is a surefire shopping trigger for me, regardless of cost.
- While my weight doesn’t necessarily fluctuate, I have gained 10-12 pounds that I should lose. As a result, I have moved up a size and have spent money buying clothes to fit. And just like you, I shop to make myself look slimmer and feel better about gaining weight. I never appreciated my figure when I was younger…always thinking I was too heavy (at 115 pounds even) and now at 150, I’m full of self-loathing most of the time. And yet apparently not enough to lose the weight. So I look more for shoes and tights and lots of spandex…
- I went from being very thin up until my late twenties, then put on about 20+ kilograms in my early thirties. Now in my forties, I’m a “normal” weight for my height. What I didn’t appreciate until I put on weight was that when I was thin, I could just put on a pair of jeans and a top and look good. When I was larger, not only was it hard to find things that fit, the clothes had to be really special in and of themselves to make me look good: interesting features, tailored designs, nice fabrics, etc. The clothes had to pull more weight, so to speak, and even though I came to loathe looking for clothes, I was constantly shopping for those “magic” pieces.
- Ugh, weight is pretty much the #1 determinant for how I feel about my appearance. I can’t remember ever being happy with my body; I actually have a really clear memory of being in second or third grade, looking down at my thighs and “realizing” they were “fat.” From age 11 until maybe my mid-twenties, I suffered from both binge-eating disorder and anorexia, so my weight fluctuated a lot. I, too, only approached being happy with my body when I was too thin in others’ eyes. Recently I gained about 25 pounds, after being at one of lowest weights, due to starting a desk job and going off a restrictive gluten/dairy-free diet. I totally get the feeling of wanting to cry every time I look in the mirror. I still bought plenty of clothes, although I didn’t like how I looked in them, and I have very specific rules I follow to minimize my “problem” areas. I notice that I’m far more willing to shop for bottoms when I feel thinner, otherwise it’s just depressing. Even so, I pretty much shop the same amount and for the same styles regardless of weight. I think that my issues with shopping have more to do with trying to get self-worth through the right brand/look rather than with my body type.
- I find it affects my satisfaction with my clothes. I had a very well-defined style pre-weight gain, and I’m still trying to buy the clothes that fit within that style. However, they don’t look very good on me right now. I’m having a really hard time letting go of my style aesthetic, which results in my buying clothes that don’t look good on my body, with the weird expectation that they maybe might start miraculously looking good on me… Does that make sense? But of course they look just as awful as all the other pieces I purchased that also looked awful. So I get rid of them and buy new pieces that also look awful, with the end result being a whole lot of closet churn. Sometimes I wonder if maybe things don’t look so bad on me, but because they don’t look like how they used to on my thinner body, I assume they look bad.
- Weight has been an issue for me since I was 12, so that’s 40 years of struggling with body image and self-esteem. Weight is why I love to shop for scarves, bags, jewelry, and why I often purchase them when clothes won’t fit right, or fit at all. Earrings always fit!
- I am much the same in my feelings about my body. My primary disorder, PCOS, started manifesting in pre-adolescence. I went from a skinny kid to one with a permanent weight problem. It turned, as it always seems to, into an eating disorder in my teenage I agonized over not being able to fit into the trendy juniors clothing my size 2 friends were wearing. I was embarrassed and hated my body. I exercised five hours a day and ate 500 calories a day, and I still gained weight. I was teased and criticized. I was too tall, too, and I had gigantic breasts and, at that time, thick glasses. I did realize early on thought that if I was going to be big and different, I would be noticed, so I decided to be worthy of notice. Thus started my fixation on shopping for the perfect things – the ones that would make me look thinner, shapelier, smaller-busted, etc. I never doubted my prettiness, but my body seemed like the thing that was holding me back from success in life. I always wanted what I couldn’t have. I too developed an addiction to accessories. And when I could find things that fit, or even vaguely resembled the clothes “normal” women got to wear, I bought them all! My weight has gone as high as 268, and never below 170 as an adult. I typically fluctuate within a 15 – 30 pound range (15 pounds is a size for me). I hang on to the “thin clothes” for dear life. I grudgingly hang on to the fat clothes as well. I have spent a great deal of life at war with my body and the fashion industry. It’s something I think about every single day, for sure.
- I’ve gained 15 pounds progressively over the past 6 years and I’ve been feeling very uncomfortable with my appearance. My frame can easily carry an extra 10-15 pounds, so I haven’t changed my style that much, but I rarely feel amazing. I hate to say it, but for me, being thin is a very luxurious feeling. It just feels great to throw on whatever you want and never feel insecure. Of course at the time when I was thinner, I never appreciated it!
- When my weight is up, I shop more in an attempt to cover my flaws. There’s a lot of “closet churn” as I buy and return, never satisfied with the way I look. When my weight is down, I initially shop for my newfound body. But because I’m comfortable with the way I look, I’m satisfied with my clothes and I shop much less. Why can’t I keep the weight off? Ha! That’s the million dollar question…
Finding Body Acceptance
Some of the group members have discovered a way to find acceptance with their bodies and gain peace, which was inspiring to read. Regular exercise, learning to dress for their current bodies, and just simply getting older were often behind their positive changes. Here are the comments of several women who have managed to overcome their weight and body image obsessions over the years:
- I have struggled with weight/body image issues most of my life, including binging, food deprivation, purging, crazy-ass diets, hiding my eating, hating my body. But unlike many who complain about the physical changes post-menopause, I have become much more comfortable with my body in my 50’s and 60’s. I do ‘think fat’ fairly often, but it’s no longer an obsession. I exercise pretty much every day – that has made a huge difference, as I now view my body more as a “machine” than a statement of my worth. There have been two pivotal events in my 60’s – I ran a half-marathon and I took up swimming. Both made me appreciate my body’s ability to rise to new physical challenges as never before, and I began to acknowledge what my body was capable of doing. Yes, I still anguish over the 10 pounds I’d like to shed, the thighs and hips that are too wide, and I still sometimes struggle with feeling unattractive and overweight in clothing, which can certainly lead to shopping for comfort clothes and clothes to hide my body. But those worries aren’t as overwhelming as they once were. It may be part of getting older and the fact that I’ve lost close friends and a brother-in-law to illness in recent years. I’m so damn grateful for good health that perhaps I’m evolving toward caring as much about feeling good as looking good, at least sometimes…
- I have been every size from a 4 to a 14. I quit smoking and it really changed my body and also made me really depressed. I bought lots of clothes thinking they would magically make me look how I wished I did and then spent hours getting ready when I went out because I didn’t like how my tummy stuck out in my jeans. I learned to dress for my body and not try to hide it. I saw a fashion blogger tuck her tops into her skirts and I thought she looked great! I started doing the same thing, and gained confidence because even when I was bigger, I still felt I looked good. Most importantly, I bought clothes that actually fit and I stopped paying attention to sizes. Getting tattoos on my arms has helped me feel less self-conscious because I want to show them off. What has helped me the most is exercise. With a decrease in anxiety, it’s easier to get dressed every day. I no longer spend lots of time at home trying on lots of stuff and getting down about how I look. It’s also nice to feel some muscles building and a healthier heart growing, so I’m more comfortable in my body. As I’ve gotten healthier and increased my self-esteem, I definitely shop less and have less in my closet. I don’t buy anything that I know isn’t going to look good on me, as I now know that no item of clothing is going to fix my body image.
- My entire adult life, I have been a pretty solid gal. I have come to terms with it; I am never going to be skinny. But I often think I look pretty darn good and then catch myself in a window or mirror somewhere – or God forbid a photograph someone has posted on Facebook, and I’m like, “Who the heck is that? That can’t be me! I looked way better than that when I left the house!” Certainly it seems like I’m always trying to lose 20 pounds or so. I know there are people who think it’s just not healthy to be overweight, but mostly I feel pretty good about myself. I definitely know that my shopping is impacted by where I am on the scale. I am either trying to buy things to hide and camouflage that extra 20 pounds or I’m trying to buy things that can now highlight how slim I feel. Purses, scarves, jewelry and shoes are my fall back if nothing fits or looks good. I chuckled when I saw how many of us do that. Every now and then, I fantasize about being a size 10, but 14/16 isn’t so bad. I love my clothing options and I think I know what works for me.
- I try to focus on the following… Life is too short to measure my worth by my level of thinness (hard to do in today’s society). I’m grateful for my good health and I’ve always heard that women with a little extra padding don’t show their age as quickly as others because facial wrinkles aren’t as obvious on plumper skin. I will never ‘diet’ again. If I want to lose weight, I will have to exercise more. I will likely try to lose weight at some point again (by exercising) because despite what I say, vanity is sure to kick in again. As the mother of a beautiful 20 year-old daughter who obsesses about her weight, I find it very sad that society is so judgmental of weight. I’m not sure what I could/should have done to raise a woman who didn’t focus on her weight and shape, but I guess the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. My mother was constantly trying different diets when I was growing up, too. I followed in her footsteps, and now my daughter has her own body image issues. Hopefully she will end the trend.
- Like some others who have commented here, I have yo-yo’ed my way through adulthood. I don’t have any medical reason, other than an incredibly low metabolism, made worse by the yo-yo deprivation diets and periodic depression. I have gone from 270 pounds to 150 pounds and back again many times as an adult. My self-esteem was very much tied to my weight in those years. I bought and got rid of countless clothing during that time, while accumulating piles of shoes to go with it all. Interestingly, I came to like clothing and bought it no matter my size. The stuff I bought when I was thinnest was frequently scandalous, short, and tight. When I was at my largest, it was on-trend but oversized to hide my shape. I have maintained my weight within 5 pounds for 5 years now. I am so much happier not obsessing over every calorie coming in and out. I generally eat what I want and use exercise to work off any excesses. I am at peace with my weight and appearance today. I’m not thin, but I don’t care. I am healthy and strong. And I dress in a way that feels very genuine and authentic to my personality. By letting go of my weight obsession, I feel so much freer to enjoy everything more.
Some Powerful Words of Wisdom
While I enjoyed reading the comments from all those who have managed to make peace with their bodies somehow, two were especially poignant for me and put everything into better perspective. I will leave you with these two passages today as food for thought.
- When one has a life threatening condition, such as my heart trouble, it gives you a nasty wakeup call about what really matters… that how my body looks is no longer quite so important. Instead, I need to focus on keeping myself as healthy as I can so I can have many more years of life to enjoy (I hope).
- I had weight and body image sadness that ruled my life in the past. I’m a short, average weight person who tends to gain weight in my stomach. As a teenager in Southern California, in order to be as bikini perfect as possible, I engaged in extreme dieting that dipped dangerously into anorexia. Living in the same town as Karen Carpenter and watching her become deathly thin knocked sense into me and I began eating normally again, but still dieting. In my late 40’s through my mid-50’s, I began to put on weight even though my eating and exercise patterns remained the same. My middle-aged stomach became very bloated and made me look like I was pregnant, so I took to wearing baggy shirts. Then I happened across a passage in one of Anne Lamott’s books that saved me. Anne wrote about going shopping with her friend Pammy who was dying from cancer, sitting in a wheel chair, in good spirits, but fast fading. Anne was trying on dresses and she asked Pammy, “Does this dress make my hips and thighs look wide?” And Pammy said, “Annie, I don’t think you have that kind of time.” Holy words that we all need to live by. I began loving and accepting my body in its new middle age spread. Then when I turned 60, I got hit with health problems that require me to follow the diet recommended by the American Diabetic Association, along with a very low sodium diet and a regular sensible exercise routine. Following a low sugar, low sodium, low carb, healthy diet makes it impossible for me to gain weight or get bloated. Ironically I’m now bone thin and in good health, but I’m thinner than I’d like to be and it makes me feel uncomfortable about my weight. AND YET, it brings me right back to what Pammy said, “I don’t think we have that kind of time.” Words to live by. We don’t have enough time on earth to waste our time worrying about weight and body image.
As I read the words above while putting together this post, they brought tears to my eyes. I have wasted far too much time, energy, and life force worrying about my body shape and size – and my appearance in general (read more of my thoughts on this here). I’m not going to say that those things aren’t important because they are, but just not nearly as important as I’ve made them. The numbers on the scale or on the tags on our clothes don’t indicate our worth as human beings. There are many model-slim and drop dead gorgeous women out there who are horrible people, just as there are countless others who are either overweight or plain-looking (or both) yet are the most amazing people we could ever meet.
What we look like is only one small facet of who we are. I know that and I don’t waste a lot of energy focusing on other people’s appearances. Yet when it comes to my own, I raise it to such a high level of importance that I am devastated when I gain a few pounds and don’t look the way I want to look. As I approach the half-century mark and struggle with sub-standard health, I am acutely aware that I don’t have enough time left on earth to intensely fret over my appearance the way I do. I want to change and I need to change, yet I know there isn’t a magic wand I can wave to erase the preoccupation that has been my constant companion for as long as I can remember.
If you have any tips or suggestions as to how those of us who are struggling with negative body image can turn things around, please share them here. I will share the best comments from readers and group members in an upcoming post. Stay tuned for the next installment of this series on dressing for weight fluctuations. I believe that if we can dress in a way that is both physically comfortable and emotionally pleasing, it will go a long way toward helping us to feel better about our bodies.
I have always been at a healthy weight, not that that stopped me from going through an anorexic phase in my early adolescence when I was desperately unhappy and felt my life was out of control. But now at 50 I don’t stress out as much if the numbers on the scale are a little higher than I’d like. I know that as we get older a couple extra pounds are good insurance in case of a health crisis and since I exercise most days, I feel like I’m healthy. Since I stopped working I care so much less about dressing to other peoples’ expectations. I realized that most people are so focused on themselves they hardly notice what others are wearing anyway. So I wear things I feel comfortable and happy in and no longer obsess over labels and fashion. It is a bit of a relief actually to be over that phase in my life. I like how I look and so does my husband, so that’s good enough for me. Some middle aged women complain about becoming invisible but after a period of adjustment I find that I like it. I feel incognito and free to just be me.
You seem to have really blossomed since you retired, Tara, which is so wonderful. You are inspiring to me, both in terms of transitioning to gray hair and in how you are caring less about dressing to impress anyone else. I remember reading an article about how women become invisible when they turn 50. I thought that sounded absurd, but your perspective on it is refreshing. The idea of being incognito and free to just be myself is very appealing. That’s how I feel when I go on my walks wearing a t-shirt, yoga pants, and a baseball cap. It’s very freeing. I also feel free not dyeing my hair anymore, but my transition will be long unless I get really brave like you did. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts from “the other side of 50” with me!
Debbie, another insightful, helpful, thought-provoking blogpost! Thank you for your honesty and for sharing the candor of the other writers. Also, I totally agree with Tara C’s comments. As I near 56 I care a bit less about my weight and wardrobe, which has helped me stop shopping as much. Win-win! Life really does get better with age and I hope that you will find that to be true as you reach 50!
I really appreciate the encouragement, N. This upcoming birthday has been the hardest for me. I’m not totally sure why that has been the case, but it’s helpful to get perspective from you, Tara, and others. It’s great that you aren’t as preoccupied with weight and wardrobe, are shopping less, and feel that life gets better with age. I hope the same will be true for me, too.
My 86 year old mother and I were discussing weight the other day. She dieted all the time I was growing up and well beyond. She always remained pleasantly plump. She has lost a lot of weight lately due to poor health. She told me if she had it to over again, she would just have eaten what she wanted and not worried about it. She regrets all the wasted time spent on worrying about her weight.
I am trying to learn from her. I am trying to eat to live by eating nutritious food with occasional treats. I am trying to move more and worry less. Watching her deteriorate has made me more conscious that life is fragile. We need to spend our precious time on what is important, not on a number on a scale or on a pant label.
Thank you for addressing this issues. I hope we can encourage each other to a more accepting way of relating to our bodies.
Thank you for sharing this, Anne. I regret the time I’ve wasted up until this point and fear that I will have even more regrets if I’m unable to relax more about my appearance and my weight. The ups and downs in weight I have are not all that extreme, but I get really upset about them. This isn’t how I want to be, as I agree with you that life is fragile and our time is precious. We can learn a lot from our elders. I’m glad your mom has shared her wisdom with you and that you shared it with me and others. Body acceptance isn’t easy, but it’s worth striving for and I’m not giving up on coming to love my body, even after all these years of railing against it.
Debbie, another great and timely post.
I have gained about 25 pounds over the last 4-5 years due to perimenopause and my hormones going haywire. I also stopped coloring my hair. It’s been quite a change for me and it still feels quite new and foreign. Actually, most days I feel like my body has been taken over by some evil spirit or by aliens 🙂 Menopause reminds me in a lot of respects of going through puberty – my body is changing drastically, my hormones are all over the place and I have no control over any of it…
I haven’t gotten used to my new body yet and I’m still catching myself trying to dress like I’m 10 years younger and 2 dress sizes smaller. It’s hard to figure out what works and is appropriate for my age and my new looks, and what I feel comfortable in. Most fashion bloggers and posters on Pinterest, etc. are much younger. So I am struggling to find my own place of comfort and feeling good about myself.
I like Tara’s thoughts on this topic. I also hope to get to the point of enjoying the invisibility that middle age offers. But I’m not quite there yet.
I can really relate to your feeling that aliens or evil spirits have taken over your body, Izeve. I feel the same way with all of my symptoms, some of which are related to perimenopause and crazy hormones. This actually seems a lot worse than puberty, or maybe I just have a sort of amnesia about that 🙂 It’s definitely a struggle getting used to changing bodies, both emotionally and in terms of how we dress (not to mention the many physical symptoms). We do need more role models online to help us navigate our way. I feel the same way as you do about the “invisibility” issue. I still want to be visible, but I also want to feel free.
Tara’s remarks really resonated with me. I just turned 60 and was diagnosed with a chronic, probably life-shortening condition that brought home to me that my time is finite. I have gained about 10 lbs over the past decade and have the typical menopausal complaints of a noticeably thicker middle, etc. I am of average height and now wear a size 14; I have gone up a size every decade since my 20s (probably more if you factor in vanity sizing). Strangely enough the health diagnosis has put my previous focus on my appearance into perspective. I’d love to drop the 10 lbs but I’m not going to “work” at it–if it happens, fine, if not, I am still alive. Now retired, I have become more involved in volunteer work this past year and working with people who lack the income to put food on the table for themselves and their children makes me acutely conscious of the time I have wasted on superficial things. I still love clothing and style, but I know that my appearance does not define my worth as human being.
Thank you for your comment, Dianne. I’m very sorry to hear about your chronic condition and I hope it won’t be too life-shortening. Yes, our time is finite and getting older and having health problems really brings that home for us. I’m glad you have come to a more peaceful place about your appearance now. You’re so right that how we look does not define our worth. I know that logically, yet I still beat myself up when my body doesn’t look the way I want it to. I’m really trying to do that less and to embrace aging more. Transitioning to gray hair is a big step for me, but it’s actually much less scary than gaining any weight. I have to accept that my body is going to change. If I resist it too much, I will miss out on life and I don’t want to do that.
Turning 50 did not bother me in the least. I am now 54. Going grey(at 32) and nearly buzzing my head didn’t bother me either. However, gaining 4 pounds since entering this menopausal state I am in right now DOES bother me. I lost 28 pounds nearly 20 years ago and maintained my weight that whole time. The last three years has seen me put this weight on and I cannot seem to get rid of it. All the clothes I have don’t fit as well and I really regret not wearing all of them while I had the chance. (I still have FAR too many clothes) I am a bit at sea about what to do now. How do I dress this new me? I am not going to put too much more effort into losing this weight. I exercise 5 days a week and cut back my portion sizes, but I have come to realize that this is just how I am now and I am just not willing to spend the time to get sinewy again. Four pounds may not seem like a lot, but on my small frame it is. Of course it is all centrally located, too!! Life really is too short to worry about such things. I suppose I will try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and have fun discovering new silhouettes that will work now. BTW, I have decided to step on the scale only two times per month instead of every day like I used to. I think it may be freeing.
I really appreciate your honesty, Lori. Gaining a small amount of weight is hard for me, too, and I feel like it makes a big difference in how I look and feel. But like you, I’m only willing to do so much to keep my weight low. I already wasted so much of my life having eating disorders and I don’t want to obsess so much now that it drives me crazy. It seems like you have a good perspective now and I applaud you for that. It’s good that you don’t weigh yourself all the time, too. I have a scale phobia actually and that’s not really healthy, either. It’s all about balance – again back to my theme for the year. Best wishes to you!
Debbie–I am nearly 70 and feel the same in my head as I did at about 40. I am unaware of aging till I look in the mirror and see wrinkles except for being more tired. To me you are quite young and vibrant. Just as you and I would not judge someone who is a different weight than perfect, we should feel others who are sensitive and sensible would not judge us on that basis.
Continue to care that you look bright, happy and yourself. Remember that lots of us of all ages and weights love to read your soothing, provocative and honestly human words. You are making a big contribution. Love, Helen
I really appreciate your kind words on this post, Helen. It’s good to hear that I look young and vibrant and that people enjoy my words and feel I’m making a big contribution. I think it’s great that you feel the same in your head as you did 30 years ago and don’t notice much of a difference in the way you feel physically, too. I hope it stays that way for you!
Hi Debbie. This was a really interesting post. As you know I’m also 50 next month. I had an awful time turning 40, so I think my midlife crisis happened then! Im not concerned at all about being 50 next month. After a lifetime of self esteem issues I’ve learnt just to accept what you can’t change and just embrace life as it is. Of course personal life events have put the whole aging issue into perspective added to which my dear friend has just passed away in the last few days aged 51. If & when this new resolve fades and I begin again to obsess on aging etc I will remember she would have loved the chance to experience menopause and a few wrinkles
I’m glad you got your midlife crisis out of the way ten years ago, Sharon. I feel like mine has been going on for far longer than usual! It’s so wonderful that you don’t dread turning 50 at all. I’m so sorry about the loss of your dear friend at such a young age. What a horrible tragedy. I can see how something like this, coupled with the challenges you’re already dealing with would put things in perspective. Yes, I’m sure your friend would have loved the chance to experience “the change” and all that goes with it. Your story gives me pause and I thank you for sharing it.
Hey Debbie. Wonderful and thought-provoking post.
I don’t go on the scales; “scale-phobic”, as you say. As a 19 year old, I don’t want to acknowledge that I’m definitely over 60kg (132 pounds), too big in the stomach and have too thick thighs. I’m one of those kids who used to be thin (not unhealthily, mind you (sorry, I tried to think of another way to say it but I couldn’t think of it)) up until some time in high school, then got wider and heavier after I stopped dancing, comfort ate and did no exercise to compensate (school and uni has a way of BECOMING your life rather than simply being part of it, therefore exercise slips easily from the mind). My style hasn’t changed over the years all that much (t-shirt and skirt/shorts/pants/leggings) but I know I try to cover up my stomach with baggy-ish t-shirts and “thin” my legs with black leggings. Those are the first things I notice when I take then look at the rare “outfit” photos I take of myself in the mirror, which doesn’t help matters at all. Bad lifelong eczema all over my body doesn’t help either. It’s something I always try to cover up (long sleeved shirts at the moment because it’s bad on my arms right now) and part of why I’m never wearing sleeveless tops again.
Everything about this article really resonated with me, but what resonated with me the most was when you said, “There are many model-slim and drop dead gorgeous women out there who are horrible people, just as there are countless others who are either overweight or plain-looking (or both) yet are the most amazing people we could ever meet.” That to me said that if someone doesn’t like you just because of the way you look, they’re not worth your time because they don’t want to or aren’t willing to take the time to get to know you and appreciate who YOU are as a person. As someone who also finds it difficult to make friends, it does feel horrible being picky and choosy about friends sometimes because there’s the fear that we won’t bond with other people who could potentially be our friends; perhaps the friend version of “FOMO” (fear of missing out). But why should you give your valuable time and loving energy to people who don’t really appreciate you for you? I’d rather have no friends at all than be surrounded by a whole bunch of toxic ones. Especially for two reasons:
1. These toxic friends might find some other (to them, even though objectively it’s not) “defect” with you, something other than your clothes, and then abandon you regardless.
2. These toxic friends could potentially exacerbate bad shopping/eating habits due to an increased feeling of needing to impress them, be good enough for them, or otherwise “dress for them”.
At some point, you’ll be stuck alone all again, with the same feelings of loneliness and discontent as before. Except worse, because I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m at fault for things going wrong in relationships regardless of whether I’m at fault or not. And the cycle starts again.
I constantly have to remind myself that everyone around me dresses super casually, that people will still talk to me and my friends will still like me even if I look like a slob; they wouldn’t have stayed friends with me if they hated my humor or overall personality. That I am more than just my clothes, and my body, and more than just the sum of all my mistakes and failures. That I’m not comfortable physically (itchy fabrics or bad, revealing cuts) or emotionally (feel self-conscious due to physical discomfort) if I “look” good but don’t feel good. And if I’m not going to look completely good physically, I can at least be comfortable while doing it.
I would love to have that magic wand and just wave all my problems away. But it just doesn’t work like that. I’m just taking it one day at a time, one thing at a time. Not pushing myself more than my (easily overwhelmed) mind can handle and celebrating the small victories. Not healthily, necessarily (back to comfort eating), but I’m working on it. And while I can’t relate to not having much time on earth, I can still relate to Pammy’s words of, “I don’t think you have that much time” because you don’t have that time to fret about things other than actually enjoying yourself; because otherwise you’ll go into a downward spiral of thoughts and I don’t want to spend MORE time on that than I have already. Of course, there’s guilt within me about self-care and actually prioritising myself over other people, but you know what? Self-care is needed sometimes, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about it. You’re worth it. I’m worth it. We’re all worth it. We’re all human beings trying to make it through this world. We give so much to others to help them through life and make things better, which makes us feel good, right? Because we’re helping others? Well, maybe our own lives would be even better if we gave some of that to ourselves.
Thank you so much for your long and heartfelt comment, Vivien. It’s nice to have a younger reader of my blog (I’m sure you’re not the ONLY one…)! You sound very self-aware and quite wise for your years. What you wrote made such great sense. I won’t comment on it all, but I do appreciate everything you wrote. I really resonated with what you wrote about having no friends being better than having toxic friends. That’s actually a big part of why I’m so lonely now. Actually, I have lots of friends, but almost all of them are in other cities, states, and countries. I would love to have more friends nearby, but only if they will be positive influences in my life (and I in theirs). You’re also so right that we should never feel guilty about self-care. In fact, it’s critical that we put ourselves first, as if we don’t give to ourselves, we won’t have anything to give to others. This doesn’t make us selfish jerks at all. We still give to others and probably even too much at times. Many women are like that. But you are right on the money when you said our lives would be better if we gave some of our caring to ourselves. I wish you all the best and hope that both your body image and your relationships will improve and flourish!
I cringe when I hear anyone say, “when I lose___ pounds, I will ____.”
When in our society did weight become the most-important measure of a woman’s worth? Why is “you look so thin” such a huge compliment? Why does 5 or 10 pounds suddenly and magically make such a huge difference?
We cannot change the opinion of an entire culture about weight and/or size, but we can change our own attitude about ourselves.
Instead of picking apart physical attributes, look inward. Who are you? How do you make a difference? Do you strive to make every encounter you have meaningful? Do you try to leave every space you enter, then leave a better one? Do you give compliments freely? Do you seek to help whenever you can?
Be beautiful on the inside and the outer shell won’t matter as much.
I’m so glad you commented here, Barb, and I really like what you had to say. I cringe when I hear people putting their lives on hold until they lose a certain amount of weight, too, but I have to admit that I have held myself back from doing things when I have been at a higher weight. I try not to ever do that anymore, as I know my weight is only one very small facet of who I am. Sometimes my emotions don’t catch up to my intellect, though. I believe that I am beautiful on the inside and I can answer yes to the questions you asked. I can be a bit too self-absorbed at times, but I think that can happen when one spends so much time alone. I do know that in the final analysis, what I look like isn’t all that important. When I’m on my deathbed, I won’t lament a few extra p0unds, but I would regret the things I didn’t dare to do in my life. Thanks for sharing your important insights here.
A compelling post Debbie. Brave, beautiful, deeply moving and very necessary. Thank you for including a variety of voices and experiences.
You know, back when I was growing up with Karen Carpenter I don’t remember her as ever having a weight problem. What I remember is Karen, the girl in the high school band, who had the most beautiful voice…
I’m glad you liked this post, Terra. I didn’t know that you grew up with Karen Carpenter. I actually became anorexic not long before she died and was very saddened by her death. She did have the most beautiful voice and she lives on in her music. I was lucky not to have suffered the same tragic fate as she did, but I lost many years of my life to eating disorders and my continued body image woes rob my joy in many ways. I know this is true for all too many women and that breaks my heart.
Hi Debbie- Body dysmorphia is such a peculiar thing isn’t it? When I see the photos you post in your blog, I actually think you are ‘hiding your light under a bushel’, as my grandmother would say. I see a person who dresses much too ‘church lady’ for her shape and age. If I were your personal shopper you would be in much more form fitting clothing/shorter skirts, dramatic details, etc!
We all need to be gentle with ourselves- and rejoice in being able to express ourselves in our choices of dress/hair/life. I love fashion but I am also ok if in hindsight I look at the outfit I wore that day and realize it really isn’t the most flattering for me. I make a note and move on.
Also, on the whole going grey thing- I can’t believe I didn’t do it earlier. My real haircolor is 10 times more flattering on me that whatever I was trying to do with dye. For the first time ever in my life strangers come up to me and gush over my fabulous hair 🙂 Who knew?
Yes, body dysmorphia is an awful thing, Elizabeth, and something I have struggled with for many years. But I think even if I could see my body the way others do, I wouldn’t dress all that dramatically different from how I do now. Maybe a bit more form-fitting and shorter skirts, but not much more than that. There are all different types of styles and a lot of how we dress has to do with our personalities. I’m an introvert who is also conservative in many ways, but I do like bold colors and some bold styles and accessories. After many years, I’m now pretty happy with how I dress. I realize it may not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s true for all of us.
I agree that we need to be more gentle with ourselves. So many of us beat ourselves up far more than is necessary. Good for you for going gray! I’m glad you are happy with it. I hope I will feel the same. I’m in a few Facebook groups related to gray hair transition and a lot of before and after photos are shared. I almost always think the women look better with their natural silver hair. Plus I’m sure it’s nice not to be “chasing roots” all the time. I look forward to that for sure!
I always thought that women who griped about menopausal weight gain were not honest with themselves about what they were eating and blaming menopause.
I had a late menopause, but now that I’m there I’m much more sympathetic.
It’s not just a slower metabolism, it’s the lack of energy to do every single thing that pops into my head, and the lack of energy to not eat that tasty snack and a lack of energy to bounce out of bed every morning at 5 a.m. to go workout before work.
I’m not really any different, I still love clothes and enjoying shopping and putting together outfits, it’s just that some of my signature styles have changed. I’ve found some brands that cut their pants in a good way for me and I stick with those. Thank goodness those low-rise pants are fading from the fashion scene. I prefer my muffin top encased.
After a year or two of supreme laziness I have recommitted to fitness. I’m not rolling out of bed every morning to go work out, but I do make a point to get a walk most days and do some toning and weight lifting. I’m trying, in a gentle sustainable way to change my snacking habits — one good thing about exercise is that you aren’t at the fridge door looking to see what’s there.
I had some of those same thoughts, Ginger, but I’m finding it harder to keep my weight down even with the exact same habits as before. I’m also more tired, but I’m not sure how much of that has to do with menopause and how much with my health challenges (of which, I guess menopause is now one!). I can’t imagine ever bouncing out of bed at 5 am, but I am a night owl anyway.
I’m glad you were able to find some clothing brands that work well for you. I wish that in general, more types of pants would be available, as not all of us want to wear what’s trendy if it doesn’t suit us. I guess that part of being more “mature” (that’s what my mom says about being older) is not being willing to wear things that are uncomfortable just because they are “in.” Good for you for recommitting to your fitness and better eating habits. I hope that will lead to your feeling better overall.
Some years ago, I was out shopping with a friend and she said something that made me realize the lie I’d been telling myself. “I wear black because it makes me look smaller.” Now, I’m fat: I weigh 100 kg (over 220 pounds, Google tells me). Unless Harry Potter decides to sell me that invisibility cloak, there’s no way I’m going to “hide” anything. When I wear black, I don’t look smaller, I look like a fat person wearing black.
So I’m dressing for comfort. Maybe I’m wearing a sack but my sack is beautiful red or green or violet (occasionally black, too!) and feels great. If someone thinks it doesn’t look great, it’s not my problem.
I just turned 46 and I’ve also realized that I don’t have an infinite amount of time left so I’ve decided to focus on my health and general well-being instead of looks. I also used to think what Barb above refers to “when I lose ___ pounds, I will ___.” Because what is it that I can’t do now but must be thinner to do and enjoy? As long as my clothes are clean and have no holes, out I go.
Thank you for sharing your success story, tagathax. I’m glad you are no longer hiding yourself in all black anymore and are embracing colors that make you happy. I think it’s important for us to dress for ourselves, so it’s good that you are doing so now. As I have gotten older, I have become more acutely aware that I don’t have an infinite amount of time life, too. I don’t want to miss out on a lot of life because my weight or clothing size is not what I consider to be ideal. Good for you for getting out and enjoying yourself. Reading your comments made me smile.
I have been through some cataclysmic changes in the past few years. I am finally now post-menopausal and seeking balance in all areas of my life. My energy level is certainly down. I have gained several pounds which on my small frame has caused me to go up a size on the bottom. I shouldn’t be complaining because I haven’t had the struggles with weight that most people have most of their life but for me, it is significant. Still, my parents had specific views on weight and I don’t know if they correlated fat with gluttony and/or sloth but we certainly all got certain messages growing up.
As other readers have said, I am just trying to eat healthier and stay moving. I would like to include a fitness regime at home (I worked out like mad with a personal trainer at a gym two years ago and then hurt my shoulder which took months to get better.)
I recently returned from a family reunion. My sisters were all complaining about their bellies. They are all older than I am and still fabulous looking women among other things. I noticed that when we went out, I was the only one not fussing over my clothes and appearance. Once I was dressed with a little makeup on so I don’t look like death, I was ready for anything. This is the real reason I want my wardrobe to work – to reduce dressing anxiety and feel comfortable in public. Once we were out in public, people around me had a very positive response to my look. I have to admit that I enjoyed the attention although I was dressing to please myself. (My sisters did not like the way I looked but I felt that I was dressing in an authentic manner and my body language showed it.)
I have learned not to be so hard on myself. The voices in my head are unduly critical. I read the book “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach several years ago and the book changed me profoundly. I started going to a 12 steps group for family matters and that was very helpful too.
In the past few weeks, I have been reading more and staring at my computer less. I deliberately am not on Facebook or have a smart phone in my attempt to keep my attachment to electronic devices at bay. I read the Rachel Roy book and the Iris Apfel book. I have been painting one of the bedrooms in the house too. I read “The Cool Factor” a month ago and that was interesting as well. (I am also taking an on-line class this summer so that keeps my brain busy too.)
I found your comment very inspiring, Maggie. I also grew up with the view that any excess weight was a horrible thing. That view came from my father and I internalized it, which led to a many year struggle with eating disorders and continued body image issues. Like you, my main reason I want a workable wardrobe is to feel comfortable with my body and being out in public. I actually want to be able to forget about my clothes after I put them on and instead focus on and enjoy what I’m doing. It sounds like you were able to do just that on your recent family reunion trip, so good for you. How wonderful that you are no longer so hard on yourself (I have heard of “Radical Acceptance,” but it seems like a must-read for me now) and that you have been spending less time on your computer. I’m happier when I read more books and less screen, too. Sounds like you read some great books and have been able to get more done. Best wishes to you for continued happiness!