Body Image Blindness

I don’t know exactly, objectively, what I look like; mostly I don’t care. My not caring is powerful, an inverse version of the well-known thinness obsessions. Everyone knows some skinny woman who thinks she’s too fat. She diets constantly. Sometimes these stick girls die of dieting, never knowing how sick they look. It’s hard to understand the anorexic or bulimic mind. How can a 100 pound woman can be so blindly convinced that she’s huge, bloated, and ugly, dripping with extra flesh, when we don’t see anything but a starving skeleton? The picture in her mind trumps our reality, any photo, any objective numeric truth.

In much the same not easily understandable mindset, I’m larger than I can subjectively grasp. I can read the scale, see the numbers. I can look up my height on a body mass chart and find myself solidly in the sector labeled “obese.” That can’t be right! I am, after all, exactly the same person I’ve always been; in the sweet photo I carry of myself in mind, I’ve never been fat. This picture must come from when I was in my thirties. I was strong then. Skinny, sexy, hunky-bodied. When I look at new photos of myself, some auto-correct feature in my brain shows me only my smiling face, my wardrobe, my surroundings. I think, damn, I still look good (atop that lawnmower, for example!)

tess van 011I’m sure the numbers lie. I’m convinced that I’m more “heavy” than “fat.” I have dense muscles and thick weighty bones. A friend learns we’re the same weight; she’s happily surprised. I’m surprised, not happily; she’s much larger than me, I think. Another woman, who was previously crippled with obesity, loses a lot of weight and offers me her no longer fitting elegant fat clothes; I’m shocked. That’s not my size! She thinks she’s smaller than me now; in my mind, we’re currently the same size. I know I can’t trust my thinking on this subject. When I hug a roly-poly friend, I know in that moment that we’re the same perfect size and shape, and I feel no shame. We big girls stick together. We love us. At this point in our culture, with foundations of feminism and body image work all decades old, why should size matter? Fat bigotry aside; fat shame, boo! So, bottom line: Am I fat? Honest answer: It doesn’t matter. I just don’t fucking care.

My docs say losing weight would be healthy, and yet, they’re surprised at my plump flexibility, my strong heart and lungs, my relaxed yoga life. I can bend over and put my hands flat on the floor, no problem. I lose and gain the same ten pounds over and over, seasonally, without paying attention to the scale. I have zero fat anxiety; that glossy slim laminated picture I have of myself seems to trump any annoying math facts. What’s interesting to me is how humans can stick to objectively “wrong” ideas, about ourselves or anything else, against all evidence.



Body Image Blindness — 3 Comments

  1. You have a great picture and it works well. We should all be so healthy of mind.
    I have the problem with age; I think of myself as that 30 ish year old, then I look in the mirror and almost have a heart attack!! Who is that? I had no idea this would ever happen!!
    It frightens me. I’m not ready.
    Someday we’ll talk about the seniors I cared for…..before I was a senior.

  2. Body self-image is something very strange, when you think about it. In nature, most beings rarely get even a glimpse of what their own face looks like, and only a limited view of the rest of them. There’s a strange self-objectification that’s possible with mirrors. We all know the surprise we feel at seeing a candid photo, when we haven’t had time to arrange our face into a familiar “look.” I love that. I also love going to the Olympus Spa in Lynnwood, an all-women’s spa. Everyone is wandering around naked and beautiful: old, young and in between; fat and skinny; bulgy hips and smooth muscles; smile lines and worry lines; all the same, all different, all beautiful. Me? I don’t know what I look like there! I’m basking in us-ness!

  3. You are beautiful. I have thought about getting a camera disk just for the purpose of photographing myself in different outfits. I’m always surprised at how much better/worse I look in different outfits. I haven’t done it, partly because I’m not quite there when it comes to acceptance.

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