Tuesday, February 26, 2008

How to Look Good: Ignoring the Voices in Your Head

One of my favorite shows this year is How to Look Good Naked on Lifetime. I think Carson Kressley is a HOOT, and the show really brings an honest look at body image, and how women truly do not see themselves the way others see them. This has really struck home with me, in a pretty personal way.

All my life, I have struggled with my weight. When I was a kid, I was the "skinny" one. My mother used to make me chocolate milk every night before I went to bed, and she would stir about a half cup of Nestles Quik into the milk (I know this because I used to eat the undissolved Quik from the bottom of the glass), and she'd also stir an egg in there. A. Raw. Egg.

Because I was, you know, too skinny. And apparently, also resistant to salmonella.

But the thing was, I loved vegetables. And salad. When Daddy was sent to Miami to work, in late 1962, Mama and I went to stay with him for a little while. Long story, involving the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that's a story for another day. ANYWAY, Daddy had found this restaurant he knew I'd just love, because it had the first salad bar we'd ever seen. And he was right- I did love that place. It had lettuce and carrots and cucumbers and celery and radishes, all in huge silver bowls that YOU COULD GO BACK AND GET MORE FROM! AS MUCH AS YOU WANTED! ANYTIME YOU WANTED! FOR AS LONG AS YOUR PARENTS WOULD LET YOU STAY! I was in heaven.

And I was a pretty active kid. Those were the days when you'd ride your bike home from school, change clothes and go directly outside, where you stayed until somebody called you in for supper. In the summertime, Mama would send me outside after breakfast, and that would be about it until suppertime. There were always neighbor kids around, and nobody's mother would let us come in the house. I mean, we must have been FILTHY, and all the mothers had Just mopped the floor! Don't you dare come in this house!

Want a drink of water? There's the hose. A snack? Here's a sandwich - eat at the picnic table. Bathroom? Is it an emergency? Put on these flipflops and don't touch anything! I just mopped the floor!

When we moved to Naples, it was pretty much the same. We all walked to school, and after school, we'd play in the stairwells in our building all afternoon, until one of our mothers would open their door and yell (in English or Italian, depending on whose mother) at us to Be quiet, for crying out loud! Ai-yi-yi, la mia testa facente male! My aching head! Still, I was the skinny one.

Then came my sixth grade year, and I went to live with my aunts. Another long story, for another time. They were determined to put some weight on me, and boy, did they work hard at it. After school snacks of whole milk or Coca-Cola or both, with fig newtons toasted in a skillet with butter all over them. Cream cheese sandwiches. The vegetables I still loved, only cooked with bacon grease or butter, or salads drenched in mayonnaise-y dressings. And playing outside was a no-no, because young ladies don't get dirty. Sure enough, I pudged right on up, and they thought I was adorable.

Then that year of hog heaven ended, and Mama and Daddy and I moved to Enterprise and the farm. And I was active again, on the farm, and at school. I jogged regularly. I helped on the farm. I went back to eating raw vegetables. I was a healthy girl. But my mother, for various reasons, most of which (I know now) had nothing at all to do with me, but mostly to do with her own unhappiness, devoted a good bit of time to telling me how fat I was. And how she'd love me more if I'd just lose some of that weight. And wouldn't it be nice if I was thin like her friend's daughters - their mothers were so proud of them, and she'd love to be proud of me like that.

All through high school, that's the message I heard more than any other. That I wasn't...enough, somehow. That the good grades, or the stuff I did at church, or anything else that I did, just wasn't enough for my mother. And I believed it. I wondered how in the world would I ever find somebody to love me when I looked like I did. I'd end up an old maid schoolteacher, dried up and hopeless, and all because I was so fat.

Stay with me here...I know this is depressing, but I'm getting to my point. I was going through some old picture albums last weekend, and I found some pictures that I probably haven't looked at since before Randy and I married. I found one that just floored me. This picture was taken at Christmas during my senior year - 1972.

I know - some of you have never seen me with hair that dark!

But here's my point: I weighed 125 pounds. All through high school. And I wonder how much of my weight struggle - the blimping up and the thinning down I have done through the years - could have been avoided if I'd had a mental picture then of what I actually looked liked, rather than what my mother's voice in my head was telling me.

I wish I'd been able to watch Carson Kressley back then.


Dee said...

holy crow.
I was 125 pounds when I got married. For years everyone would push food at me - eat, you're too thin. Then suddenly - I mean in one day!!! Someone would look at my plate and the comment would be "are you going to eat ALL of that?"

Apparently there was one short moment in time when I was the perfect weight and I somehow missed it. Now I only want to be healthy. Why do we do it to ourselves?

Denise said...

Wow! What a memory. I too was always the skinny one. I mean I might have weighed 100 pounds dripping wet when Chris and I married. I remember in 6th grade our science teacher actually brought scales into the classroom and weighed us in front of everyone. I weighed less than everyone in the room. I was humiliated.

And then...I got married and had kids and suddenly my normal weight contains numbers that I never dreamed I'd weigh. But...my recent visit to the hospital put it all into perspective. I will eat a healthy diet...not some fad diet...and hopefully keep my weight where it is. I never want to go through that experience again. We have got to learn to accept ourselves as we are and strive to be healthy regardless of the numbers in our weight.