Everyone’s got some sort of laminated badge hanging from a chain or a ribbon or clipped to their belt.
As a self-employed writer, my business cards, in two styles, and my website (which I had professionally designed for me) help to identify me to potential coaching students and clients.
But, as 19th-century American poet Walt Whitman wrote, I — like all of us — contain multitudes.
I’m a wife
I’m an immigrant/expatriate
I’m an athlete
I’m a collector of antique and vintage objects
I’m a photographer
I’m an obsessive listener of radio
I’m nominally Episcopalian/Anglican, although I haven’t attended church regularly now for almost two years
I’m a feminist
I’m socially liberal
I’m a Francophile
I’m a traveler
I’m a mentor
I’m a teacher/coach
I didn’t even think (?!) to include my race (Caucasian) or gender (cis-female) because, to me, they’re not worth mentioning….which in itself is a sign of privilege.
I get it!
Nor do I mention my age because it’s a quick and unpleasant way to pigeonhole and minimize me and my value in a culture that fetishizes and rewards youth. I don’t identify with my age group at all, even if perhaps I should.
My husband, American-born, is Hispanic and, while he speaks no Spanish — nor, as friends once asked me, does he wear a guayabera or dance salsa (!) — he likely identifies most as a photographer and photo editor.
We have no children, so the default roles of parents/grandparents are not ours.
I’m endlessly fascinated by how people identify themselves, and which identities they choose to foreground and which they choose to hide or deemphasize.
We live in a time of competing and loudly shouted identities, when intersectional feminism often gets angry and frustrating, as women try (and often fail) to comprehend one another’s challenges.
We live in a time of extraordinary income inequality, where identifying with a particular socioeconomic class can be relatively meaningless when there are millionaires who consider themselves “poor” in comparison to those with billions. Those who who fly only first class looking longingly at those who only fly private.
We live in a time of deep political division, where civil conversations stop dead, or never even start, so identifying yourself with one camp or another can be dangerous.
There’s a woman in my spin class — our spin class — who rarely smiles. Her face is usually set in a mien of unsettling intensity, her eyes always agog at..something.
She is as lean as a whippet, her muscles shorn of all excess fat, all softening curves. She carries a large bottle water with ice cubes in it.
She’s in her 50s, maybe retired or self-employed or doesn’t have to work. She appears to live at the gym, working out for hours.
Culturally, as someone who needs to shed at least 30 pounds, if not more, I should envy her, despising my own excess adipose tissue — a tummy whose additional flesh I can still grab (OMG!), despite three months now of two-day-a-week calorie restriction (750 per day), no alcohol until Friday evening and two to three spin classes a week plus lifting weights.
(I do see a difference in my shape and size now, as do my husband and friends. It’s just sloooooow. This morning in the mirror I saw…shadows in my cheeks. Definition?!)
I’m working it.
She’s working it.
The day after my left hip replacement….Feb. 2012
Another friend of the blog, a fellow journalist named Caitlin, writes Fit and Feminist — and is now doing (gulp) triathlons.
We’re all headed to the same place eventually, some much faster and more heart-breakingly so, than others.
I live in an apartment building where we own our homes, so I’ve stayed for decades and have gotten to know our neighbors.
It’s also a building with many — most — residents in their 70s, 80s and 90s.
Death stalks our hallways.
But in the past decade, we’ve also lost two lovely men, both mid-life, to brain tumors. One man on our floor died of cancer, at least three women in our building, (those that I know personally), are dealing with it.
It’s deeply sobering — (a fact I spend a lot of time denying!) — to stop and realize how fragile our bodies are, prey to genetic shit-shows we didn’t choose and must face nonetheless; my mother has survived at least four forms of cancer so I’m hyper-vigilant with mammograms, skin checks, Pap smears. I smoked once, for about four months, when I was 14 and am very careful about much alcohol I consume.
The weight I’m working so hard to shed is less for cosmetic reasons than for health.
And yet, life also offers tremendous sensual, shared pleasure in the form of delicious foods and drinks, which (yes, I admit) also include alcohol and sweets.
Some people dismiss this idea — sucking back juice or Soylent — treating food as mere fuel.
Not I. Not ever.
I was in great shape in fall 2014…then spent three weeks in Paris. Ooooohlala.
I look at young women, and men, in shorts and tank tops on the summer streets, carelessly luxuriating in their unlined, unscathed beauty, and wonder if they’ll look back in a few decades with rue or remorse, or happy memories of having savored it all while it was theirs to savor.
It’s a fine balance, this, between the mortification of the flesh, the discipline and self-denial to keep (or regain) a lean physique — and the slothful joys of long naps, a slice of chocolate cake or pie, hours on the sofa watching terrible television or playing video games instead of lifting weights or running or yoga.
Having worked non-stop to meet a magazine deadline, (the story for Chatelaine, a major Canadian magazine, which I’m really proud of, a medical one of course, is here), I ended up in the hospital, in March 2007, with pneumonia, and spent three days there on an IV, coughing so hard I could barely sleep. Drenched with fever sweat, I staggered into the ward shower, and — out loud, alone — apologized to my poor, aching, weary, worn-out body.
It was not, I finally and belatedly realized, a machine to be run until it smoked for lack of grease in the wheels.
Our bodies are the greatest of gifts, to be cherished and held and adored.
We live in a culture obsessed with being perfect and efficient and productive.
And a culture based on an industrial production model, aka laissez-faire capitalism, doesn’t really allow for much humanity, the times we’re slowed by grief or panic or confusion.
We can’t all operate at 100 percent all the time, even if some people expect it.
We get sick, with an acute illness, or a chronic illness or, worst, a terminal illness.
We nurse loved ones with these afflictions.
I see so many people flagellating themselves for not producing more (why not producing better?) or not meeting others’ (unreasonable) expectations or failing to keep up with others who may have the advantage of tremendous tailwinds we’ll never see or know exist.
We could all use a little break, no?
A common phrase among fiction writers is their WIP, their work in progress, i.e. a book or poem or essay they’re plugging away on, whether with a contract and a publisher or just a lot of hope and faith.
We’re all a work in progress, really.
Getting older (I have a birthday soon!) is a great way to slow down long enough to reflect on the progress we’ve already made, not just scrambling every single day to do it all faster and better.
It’s so easy to feel inadequate when deluged daily by a Niagara of shiny, happy, successful images on social media.
As if those were the (full) true story.
But everyone has a wound and a dark place and a weak spot, likely several, and they often remain well hidden, sometimes from ourselves and sometimes for decades.
“There’s a tendency to seek and seek and seek and never find,” said Kristen Moeller, creator of the Web site selfhelpjunkie.com. (The motto? “Stop Waiting. Start Living.”) “It becomes one more addiction.”
It’s not that trying to find ways to improve ourselves is a bad thing — not at all. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp,” the poet Robert Browning wrote. But when we’re constantly reaching rather than occasionally being satisfied with what we have in front of us, that’s a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction.
“We grew up with the idea that we can do anything,” said Hollee Schwartz Temple, a professor of law at West Virginia University and co-author of “Good Enough Is the New Perfect” (Harlequin, 2011). “But we took that to mean that we have to do everything. And many women took it as you have to do everything perfectly.”
I admit it, I’ve read some self-help books I’ve found useful, from Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit to an oldie-but-goodie, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I’m OK with this, because, especially as a self-employed person, I have no boss to guide or mentor me and only online colleagues, often very far away, to give me advice or feedback.
But there’s a limit to how “perfect” anyone can — or should try to — be. And “perfect” in whose eyes? I know there are many ways I could improve myself: lose weight (20 to 30 pounds, ugh); be much more tidy (papers and magazines everywhere); manage my investments better (a 15 percent drop this summer. Ugh indeed!)
But you know, we’re all works in progress. I keep a clean, organized home with fresh food in the fridge. I organized Jose’s closet the other day (feeling a little guilty for being so invasive). I write real thank-you notes on carefully-chosen stationery.
I’m reading, very slowly, a great biography of Elizabeth I — I think my life is complicated? Between wars and treaties and endless suitors and a bossy Cabinet and gossipy court and religious battles and the challenge of maintaining order — she had two men’s right hands cut off once to prove her point — my 21st century life is a bloody picnic, even without castles or a crown.
I went out and spent a gobsmacking amount of money last weekend buying new clothes.
It was not quick, simple or fun — at several junctures, like an infant needing a nap, I found myself trying not to cry with total frustration. Everything was ugly: too tight, too expensive, too baggy, too bright…
The poor sales associate, Frances, fearing my imminent meltdown, found the department manager, a lovely, calm, reassuring man named Dallas. He offered the necessary sangfroid of my admired sartorial tutors — Clinton and Stacy on my favorite television show, What Not To Wear.
(If you’ve never watched, and need female fashion help, WNTW is your new best friend, the kind whose style and panache are matched with compassion and kindness for your freakouts over body issues. We all have them!)
Only with the help of three gently-encouraging people, including my sweetie who — being a photo editor and a man who’s been my partner for 11 years has both a great eye and knows my taste — could I even find enough clothes to feel that, yes, I now have assembled the start of a stylish and professional wardrobe.
Big deal, right? Isn’t this pretty basic stuff?
You make a lot of money, so spending it doesn’t freak you out and make you fear a penniless old age in a cardboard box
You work in an office surrounded by other people whose clothing and style help you figure out what to wear so you’ll fit in
You wear clothing in a one-digit size
Your mom/sister/best friend/auntie/Granny/gay male friend with fab taste took you shopping and helped you develop a clear idea what’s flattering on you. Which, of course, must change as you age. But how?! (My poor Mom and stepmom fled in fear after a few teenaged trips with me in search of a winter coat and a prom dress. I finally found both but not, literally, without visiting dozens of shops. I haven’t shopped with anyone female and stylish since then.)
You’re blessed with total confidence about the shape and size of your body and which colors and shapes you’ll rock. (My late step-mother, 13 years my senior, had exquisite clothing and a teeny tiny body and made me feel like a heffalump. My mom, a former model living far away, saw me in March: “You’re fat!” she said. Accurate, perhaps, but not confidence building.)
You don’t live in a city where many women and/or their husbands are very high earners, work out daily and stride the streets with terrifying hauteur In New York, (as in some other punitively stylish spots), looking successful on a budget isn’t easy. And if you’re ambitious and don’t look the part, you’re toast.
I find buying clothes so overwhelming I avoid it and then — boom! — I really need to look great right now and what the hell am I going to wear?
In 2009, I appeared on CNN on two days’ notice, in 2010 on BBC within hours of getting an email from England and, quite likely, will be doing some television appearances when my new book is out in two weeks. Right now I have 12 public appearances scheduled, from a closing conference keynote in Minneapolis in August to a local library reading in two weeks.
So I need clothes that are: flattering, comfortable, stylish, age-appropriate, forgiving of the weight I haven’t lost yet and chic.
And what do people expect an author to look like?
Luckily, I finally found some great things, including two Tahari dresses, a strong sea-blue cotton shift and another in black; a gray print sheath dress that works with my curves, and three pairs of trousers. That’s a ton for me to buy at once and everyone was worn out, hungry and cranky by the time we got out of the store.
But working alone at home, year after year on a tight budget, has meant I’ve slid by on a snoozy, safe, comfy diet of leggings and Ts , flats and cardigans. Time to up my game!
Do you enjoy shopping for clothes?
What are your favorite places to find great things?
This morning I got out of the shower, walked to my room naked and stood for a solid 15 minutes looking in my long mirror at my naked body. It’s really amazing what I noticed. I have kinda flabby arms, I never noticed that I had some muscle in there. I found a big freckle on my right breast and a birth mark on my left thigh, things I never knew I had.
Why did I never know? I’ve never really stared at my body before. I don’t have terrible self-esteem, but I don’t have great self-esteem either, so why have I never done this before?
While looking at myself, completely exposed I thought “I love my body.” I really do. Yeah, I have a stomach, bigger thighs, my legs aren’t shaved and always have some sort of bruise or scratch on them and my arms are big and my nails are bitten, and I could think of many other things that are wrong with me but so what? By thinking of all these things am I really helping myself? Is my image really that important?
So then I just had this extreme loving thought towards myself. That I love my body, I DO love my curves and my back spots and my bigger arms and my freckles. This was then slammed down a second later by another voice in my head asking why? Why should I love this? There was so much disgust in this voice, I was shocked. How could I have such a loving moment to myself then followed immediately asking myself why I should ever feel such love towards myself when I look this way?
I make it a point to look at myself in a full-length mirror in broad daylight every day. Like millions of others, I’m trying to lose weight so it’s not pure vanity, but necessity. But unless you have a “perfect” body — and even models think they’re flawed — it’s often not amusing. No one wants to face “failure” head-on, but if you’re otherwise healthy yet have let your body turn to flab and jiggle, you’ve got some thinking to do.
Aging and bearing multiple children take their toll. But go to the right gym, pool or yoga class and you’ll find women, and men, in their 60s, 70s, 80s, who are still working it. Women are so constantly barraged in the West about the hideousness of wrinkles, sags or loss of muscle tone that a mirror’s judgment can feel frightening.
And women in many cultures are taught our bodies are a source of shame, something to flaunt sexually or cover up, but never acceptable — let alone valuable and worth loving — in all their fleshly corporeality. Men, still, often get a pass.
But the mirror isn’t the best judge of your body. It’s useful if you’re heading out for a professional meeting or date — it will help you catch any stains, tears, a rip in your stockings — but it’s not a place to obsess. Health and strength are key, not being skinny or Botoxed.
Having studied ballet and jazz for decades, I know that a mirror is simply a tool. It offers you information and feedback on your alignment, line, grace, turnout, epaulement.
I think two groups of women are consistently ahead of this curve — moms and athletes. Having used, relished, tested their bodies’ strength and capacity, we know our body is also a determined, sturdy vessel, a smoothly-functioning machine. It can be both a tower of strength and a soft, comforting place of nurture.
Read this and weep — or snicker. But don’t compare your butt, thighs, crow’s feet or cellulite to theirs. They don’t have any!
For any woman, and her daughter(s) or younger female friends, who looks at magazine photos of “perfect” faces and bodies and despairs, buck up. It’s all about the re-touching. Lots of bright lighting and some Botox and great make-up all help, but nothing can beat a techno-fix after the photos have been shot. Any woman who miserably compares her real-life body and skin to the fake flawlessness of the images shoved at her daily in every medium is asking for trouble: plastic surgery, anorexia, bulimia, dieting. Misery.
Trying to attain the literally unattainable means billions in profit for the manufacturers of fake boobs, cosmetic procedures and products, diet companies, gyms. Women trying to look “just like” the women shown to us in ads and editorial images are trying to scale a greasy pole. It simply won’t work.
I attended a social event last night and wondered who the hhhhhottie in the black sequined T-shirt, thigh-high boots and skinny jeans might be. She had honey blond hair and looked stunning. It was a woman I’ve known for many years, but who I met when she weighed — as she told me last night — 90 pounds more. She was always, one could tell, beautiful. Now she’s slim, confident and — as the French say, bien dans sa peau (literally “happy in her skin”) — as much for her pride in beating back her food-related demons as re-discovering the pleasure of easily dressing well and enjoying her corporeal self.
I asked how she did it: a full year of meal replacements (2 shakes, 2 energy bars and 1 meal a day) and re-thinking what food means to her. I need to lose weight and find the endless drama of that tedious, boring, frustrating and sometimes just overwhelming on top of my many other priorities.
Hard work, discipline, self-awareness, she said, without using those words. The basic tools we all know, deep down, rarely change in this regard.
Is this really the place for a scalpel? Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife
British women are lining up to nip and tuck their lady parts, reports the BBC. The surgery, performed to make the labia, the external vaginal lips, more attractive isn’t new, but last year saw a 70 percent jump in its popularity. Labiaplasty (warning, graphic photo attached), is done for a combination of aesthetic and functional reasons, surgeons say. It’s increasingly popular worldwide, sorry to say.
One doctor tells the BBC:
“They’ve gone a bit over the top. Essentially this is just about removing a bit of loose flesh, leaving behind an elegant-looking labia with minimum scarring. The procedure won’t interfere with sexual function.
“Women want this for a number of reasons – some find it uncomfortable to ride a bike for instance, but for the majority it is aesthetic, that’s true.
“Lads’ mags are looked at by girlfriends, and make them think more about the way they look. We live in times where we are much more open about our bodies – and changing them – and labioplasty is simply a part of this.””
“Elegant-looking”? Please, show me (no, not literally, thanks) a chic set of male genitalia — or a bunch of guys lining up surgery to make sure their boy-bits are as attractive as all those in porn magazines, terrified to be considered unattractive by their female (or male) sexual partners.
Any guy who’s wigged out by a woman whose vagina doesn’t match his porn-fueled fantasies is really a very sad little thing and any woman who cuts her flesh to please him and his ilk needs to re-consider.
Want sex, even with your allegedly imperfect labia? Try a little candlelight, a little wine, a little — acceptance?
Do you really — women-only question, for a moment — long to look like the model in this photograph?
Several bloggers here at Trueslant have recently focused on how much some girls and women loathe their bodies, starving them through bulimia and anorexia in an effort to mimic the sleek, long-limbed specimens shoved in our faces daily by the media. Yes, we all need to reach and maintain a healthy weight — not sliding into diabetes or obesity. But this absurdly narcissistic focus on the size, shape and allure of our noses, breasts, faces, hips, thighs, bottoms and even our genitals (yes, women are paying surgeons to alter the shape of those, too) has to stop. Why?
Hating the parcel of flesh that is now carrying you through this lifetime — to the movies, to work, to win (or lose) a soccer game, to make love, to produce, nurse and hug your kids, to enjoy a sunset — is madness.
There are six reasons I love my body, with all its spider veins, moles, wrinkles and double digit size. (And, no, that’s no a size 00) You should love yours too.
Maybe one of these will resonate for you:
1)Between 2005 and 2007, we lost 12 friends, colleagues and relatives forever. I felt like a figure in some 15th. century woodcut cringing in a corner as Death swung his scythe hard and fast and furiously all around us. Trish died at 49 of ovarian cancer, “Killing Fields”photographer Dith Pran at 65 of pancreatic cancer, Sandy at 63 of lung cancer, my aunt Barbara, at 82, of cancer, my Daily News boss, Bill Boyle, at 59, dead of melanoma, New York Times editor David Rosenbaum at 63, murdered the day after he retired. What wouldn’t every single one of them have given for another day, week, month in their bodies, in this world?
2) If your life/body has never been threatened, you may not realize its value to you or others. My mom, at 75 still kicking my butt, has survived three kinds of cancer: thyroid, when she was 30; breast cancer, and a brain tumor at 68. A very thin scar circles her throat, as much a part of her as her bright blue eyes and ready laugh, the scar from her first cancer surgery. I grew up knowing cancer, and its shadow. Before her six-hour neurosurgery in 2002, I reassured her she’d be fine — but she doesn’t remember, so badly affected was her cognition at that point. Two days later, with 20+ staples in her scalp, we fell happily back into intellectual argumentation. (There’s a piece about this on my website.) I’m deeply grateful she’s survived what her physician airily called “her malignancies”, and equally grateful having learned, early, how fragile our bodies can be.
3)Millions of people around the globe want nothing more, this second, than reliable access to sufficient, clean, safe food. They are dying of starvation. For a little perspective, consider this map of the world showing countries well-fed as thin and those whose inhabitants are dying of starvation swollen by these deaths. Obsessing over calories when we are drowning in their easy, cheap availability seems a little neurotic to me.
4) My body still allows me to enjoy the life I most value. I’ve had two knee surgeries and a shoulder surgery since the year 2000 and tons of re-hab. After the age of 35, it helped me climb the rigging 100 feet above the deck of an Australian Tall Ship, to compete nationally as a saber fencer, helps me hit to the outfield most Saturdays. I can’t play squash three times a week anymore (my knee cartilage now shot), but I can, and do, walk, ski, skate, run, play softball, dance, travel. Spoiled, demanding, impatient, I used to rage at its deficiencies. Now I thank every ligament, tendon, muscle and bone for its continued service.
5)Love your body, then form a fan club for it. If your partner, whatever their gender and putative desirability, demands you be rail-thin and wrinkle-free to win or keep their love and undivided attention, why are you putting up with this? (Parents, if you’re doing this, shut up!) Yes, we all need to maintain a healthy weight, and it’s nice to take care of your appearance. But spending time with someone, let alone internalizing their hatred of your body as it is, who consistently picks at the psychic scab of your self-loathing and shame, is not a wise choice.
I’m lucky to have found a sweetie, (10 years so far), who loves my curves. The size of my brain and heart matter more to him than the size of my butt. (Tell ’em I love your butt, too, he insists.)
6) If your body is strong and healthy, that is enough. On March 16, 2007 I was admitted to my local hospital with a temperature of almost 104 degrees. In the ER, the doctor read my chest X-ray and closed the curtain around my gurney. That’s never a good sign. “I think you might have lung cancer,” he said. “The spot on your lung is very big.” There are no words for that moment. I did not have lung cancer, only pneumonia. Self-employed, scared to disappoint clients and lose income, I had driven my body like some Dickensian factory owner, working it non-stop through worsening illess. In the hospital shower, drenched with fever sweat, so weak I could barely stand, I apologized aloud to my body. Never again would I — will I — treat it with such dishonor.
The next time you choose to hate your body’s imperfections and weaknesses, please stop.