Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Book 34 of 52: You'd Be So Pretty If...

I almost skipped a meeting yesterday -- an important one that I didn't necessarily have to go to, but would be something I could write about, and was a chance to see professional contacts that I hadn't seen face to face in years. But I almost didn't go. Why?

Because my pants were too tight.

Ridiculous, yes? But it's the truth. My bed was strewn with outfits I'd taken off in disgust, clothes that didn't fit right, were too tight or made me look flawed. I settled on one pants/shirt combination, but after walking my dog in it, decided it made me look hideous. So I stripped it off when I got back inside and almost reached for the sweats, embarrassed that on that one day, I fit into the outfit I'd planned to wear, but it felt tight.

Sound out of the ordinary? Ladies, I don't think so. I think weight and body issues is something that is brought up a lot, but not dealt with in the right way -- and by the "right way," I don't mean in women's magazines that tell you in every issue that you are too fat, don't please your man, and will die of breast cancer.

Enter You'd Be So Pretty If . . .: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies--Even When We Don't Love Our Own by Dara Chadwick. Chadwick was Shape's Weight-Loss Diary columnist for 2008. I let my Shape subscription lapse. I think it sells its product by making women feel bad, even if they're healthy. But while I still had the subscription, I read Chadwick's column every month (full disclosure: I've met her and knew when she signed the contract).

I wasn't sure what I'd feel when reading her book. She is up front about the Shape project, but she doesn't wallop the magazine with praise, and even writes about what she abandoned once the column was over.

That out of the way: It's an important book for mothers and even fathers. It explores how the way the mother deals about body image affects the daughter, and how mom making negative comments about her own body can set up the daughter for a life of disappointment in how she looks.

I wracked my brain to think about examples of this from my own life. The most glaring was from my father, not my mom. When I was a teenager, he overhead me say my weight. "Five pounds lighter and you're the perfect woman," he said. That number has stuck and still sticks in my head of the ideal (the fact that his new wife is probably that weight is a reminder that he still feels that way and makes me wonder if he thinks I'm heavy in comparison). But my mom was pretty good about things. I do remember when she lost a lot of weight on Weight Watchers and put it back on. She also told me I have "birthing hips" when I complained that a dress made me look like a bowling pin (this was in high school when my body was just developing). I think I get more disparaging comments now at 28 -- reminders that someday I'll look like her, a comment often said in front of other people. I think that's unfair to both of us because it's said in such a negative way.

Those parts in the book about the mother/daughter relationship are important to read, as are the areas dealing with how girls naturally have to put on pounds to go from girls to women. I wish someone had told me that in college. I was a bit of a late bloomer, going from an A to a C cup my first two years of college. I despaired that I no longer looked like the freshman waltzing through the door of the University of Tampa in their booty shorts with their flat chests and stick legs. "Why would you want to look like that?" someone asked me when I made an offhand comment about it. I didn't know -- I thought that's what boys wanted.

This came up again this weekend as I watched the Miss USA competition. I didn't put it on but was at a bar watching the 76ers game, and the contest was on the other TV. All of those girls are what magazines want you to feel is the idea -- tall, skinny and with oversized boobs. I know better. I've worked with models and styled photo shoots and know what they do to stay that thin (coke in the bathroom, anyone? for a fashion shoot for a regional magazine? and I am NOT talking about a soda...) I then saw how computers change those images to make those models look skinnier, bustier, and more perfect. I consider myself a rational person, but there I was yesterday, almost skipping a meeting because I felt fat.

I almost didn't write this review here. The book was upsetting in that it made me think about myself and my relationship with body image. I'm a healthy weight (the too-tight pants are a size 2), and very athletic. While I was reading yesterday, I worked on stretching my legs at the same time. While on my back with my legs out at a 90 degree angle, I wondered if they were actually mine -- tanned and toned from running. I've had someone giving me a pedicure shocked by the strength of my legs before. They are strong, as am I. But, as Chadwick writes, we still struggle.

I don't have children, but I will keep this book in mind if I do have a daughter, and it's made me re-think how I talk to my younger cousins. No way do I want to set a young woman down the wrong path with a simple statement about my body. I know I can't stop every other outside factor, but I can at least control what I say.

Oh, and that meeting? I went -- after pairing a bright pink dress with black tights and black cardigan. A lot of those business acquaintances mentioned how great I looked, and I wrote an important story based on the meeting. How horrible it would have been if I'd listened to the inner critic and hid at home instead of going.

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4 comments:

Joy said...

Well said, Jen. Thanks for the commentary and the book rec. You know I'll pick it up. I firmly believe the more we as woman talk and write about it, the easier it is for everyone.

t.wood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
t.wood said...

Jen,

a nice commentary on the way parents deal with their children's issues of weight. Mothers don't realize they lead by example... and fathers don't realize that what they say is internalized as what all men might say. I haven't read the book, but yout personal response and review certainly hits home. Seems like a good read.

Laura said...

Mothers also don't realize that when they don't discuss their own body and how they feel about it, but criticize their daughter's body, that it creates a scenario where the daughter assumes that she is the flawed one & her mother must be perfect. That can wreak havoc on your self-image.