There’s a photo of me taken on my honeymoon. I’m on a boat off St. Thomas, and I’m wearing a two-piece swimsuit – nothing risque?, but a two-piece nonetheless, a style I haven’t dreamed of getting anywhere near, let alone into, in many years.
I vividly remember thinking then, as my new husband was focusing the camera, “OK, here’s one that certainly won’t go into the album. Fat me? In a swimsuit? Right! But still, flex the thighs, suck in the gut!”
I was 31. I look at that photo of me now, 18 years later, and truly? I would kill to look that way again. My hips weren’t wide, my upper arms weren’t stout, and I had some semblance of a waist. While I was no supermodel, I looked pretty good, thank you very much.
I don’t know one woman, not one, who hasn’t looked at a photo of herself from years past and thought exactly the same way. Self-conscious and embarrassed about their appearance then, they’re now in disbelief that they weren’t flaunting those youthful bodies, no matter how imaginably flawed. And I’m talking about women who for the most part are confident in every other way. We still struggle with negative body image. Heck, even those skinny, gorgeous French women with French diets think they’re fat, according to that recent study that shocked no woman on earth, I’m sure.
I’m right to think I’m fat because, yes, I now I am overweight, but the point is that even when I wasn’t, I thought I was. In my teenage years, I weighed at most 100 pounds. Horrors! Beach days were par for the course back then, and I wore bikinis even though I hated every moment of it. At 17 and 18, I’d put a T-shirt over my bikini just to walk even 10 yards down the beach to cover up my ever-so-slightly protruding tummy. However, I’m so far removed from my teens now, that at the age of 49, I prefer, realistically, to reminisce about the body I had in my not-so-far-removed 30s.
During that decade, I thought, like most women always do in their never-ending bodily discomfort, that I needed to lose 10 pounds or thereabouts. When I’d tell friends that, their response would be, “Oh, stop. You do not.” Of course, this was also the decade when people who didn’t know me would guess that I was in my 20s. Loved that. And, hindsight painstakingly intact, I should have loved it a lot, lot more.
The only time – the single, solitary time – that I can honestly say I have felt comfortable with my own body image was when I was pregnant. Loved it! I was 37. My baby was due in August and I spent a lot of time at Scarborough Beach that summer before his arrival. I’m 5 feet tall and my son was born big, so obviously, I was huge myself those last few months. I loved my comfy maternity swimsuit. With a belly so big, my thighs, butt and everything else looked skinny in comparison. I would strut, and I mean literally strut, up and down Scarborough Beach, with no T-shirt as a cover-up, as was de rigeur two decades before. I felt great.
For the very first time while wearing a swimsuit, I didn’t tell myself, “Suck in your gut! Make sure your cellulite is not showing.” I loved my big body. “Look at me, everyone,” I’d invite. That period of bodily self-acceptance lasted about 21?2 months. I’m thankful for that time. I sincerely loved it.
When I hit the big 4-0 and realized I probably should lose 20 pounds, no one, to my dismay, seemed surprised when I said that. Chats with friends and female co-workers centered much of time on losing weight. BMI indexes were checked and rechecked, for surely there was some mistake. Then came the old denial/justification arguments. Here’s mine: “I had a baby. I’m never going to look as good as I did in my 20s and 30s (even though I didn’t think I looked good then), so why not just accept the fact that I am a middle-aged, somewhat overweight woman and live with it?” My similarly-aged friends and I continue to go agonizingly back and forth on this. Accept our widening, thickening bodies and stop obsessing about our appearances, or fight them? We’ve agreed though, that we’re not conceding defeat just yet.
What I’d like to do is strike a balance – stop obsessing and feel better about my body while indeed making some healthy changes that will improve my appearance. If my not-so-new husband took a photo of me in a two-piece now, will I look back at my 50s and wish I still looked so good? Oh, I hope not. Wish me luck.