Once upon a time I was at a large social gathering and a middle-aged woman was getting someone to take pictures of her and her granddaughter. This was before cell phones, and this person in the room had a “real” camera and so this grandmother said, “Do you mind taking some pictures with me and my granddaughter?” She held the 3yo girl in the air and they played and laughed and the pictures were BEAUTIFUL. I was just looking and thinking, “Oh, man. I wish I had pictures like that with either of my grandmothers. I would have cherished them so much.”
But the woman looked at them and HATED THEM. Every profile showed her “old lady chin” and she was HURT by the pictures. They UPSET her. And she said, “Don’t worry about it, thanks anyway,” as the photographer asked for an email or something to send the pictures to. I felt bad for EVERYONE involved. I felt bad for the photographer who was just a person attending the same event who happened to have her nice camera with her…and now had a beautiful ego blow to leave with. I felt bad for the granddaughter who would never see the beautiful pictures I saw that day. But mostly I felt bad for the grandmother who was barely in her 50s and young and beautiful and HAD NO IDEA.
I’ve been thinking about this woman a lot lately as I reflect on my own self-image after gaining 50lbs VERY quickly. My excuse for struggling to love this body (besides the fact that I’ve struggled to love ANY body) is that 1) I didn’t have any clothes to fit this new body and 2) It was a constant reminder of lost fitness, bad habits, and my terrible relationship with food.
So, while memories of that grandmother are what make me INSIST on people taking my pictures with my kids no matter how ugly I feel – I also hear her critical voice in my head whenever I see a picture of myself. I hear her hating the wrinkles and the weight gain and the blotched skin and while I use her voice to shutter my own, and I tell everyone that I love all pictures of me with my kids, her voice is always telling me that I hate the pictures too. I still know how important it is to have pictures of yourself, I made a book of my Dad’s selfies after he died. But that’s often what I restrict myself to…selfies. It’s easier to ignore the things I hate about weight gain if all I take are selfies.
But you know what? Those excuses I had to struggle with loving this body? Are fading. I have a few staple items I like now so I can feel like I look nice when I need to. I’m walking almost every day and not drinking every night anymore. I’m also under a lot of stress with traveling every week for 3 days to Tennessee to help my Mom and so the fact that I’m able to refrain from secret donuts and drive-thru french fries 3 meals a day is something I am REALLY proud of. The excuses I had to allow myself to be disappointed with this body, are gone. I told myself I’d learn to love this body if I could clothe it and if I could feel good about it’s health. And you know what? We are there now. Time to start loving.
It all came to a head yesterday when I forced the kids to do some photo recreations on the mountain with me. The first one was just them:
No big deal. Adorable. But then the second one…
Comparing this body to one of yesteryear dumped me into a huge crisis of self-hatred. That Grandma’s voice popped into my head criticizing myself in the pictures and reminding me of the decline in running and the increase in binge eating that lead me to this much heavier body. That Grandmother from that day hated that picture and didn’t want anything to do with it.
But then MY voice from the SAME day popped up. I was the woman who saw the disappointment in everyone’s eyes when that Grandma hated that picture. And I looked at the picture of me and E like I looked at the picture of that woman and her grandchild. And I saw the MOMENT and the PEOPLE behind the picture and I saw the beauty of being able to revisit moments from our past and I saw the laughter we had when making fun of my vest of yesteryear and suddenly…I loved the picture. And I loved the woman in it.
We took tons more pictures throughout the day and I made myself love the woman in all of them. She was having a great time with her wonderful family. E brought me a diet coke from McDonald’s and a movie theater gift card because he knows how much I was missing out on Mother’s Day Movie Extravaganza. The kids humored me with pictures and we laughed when an older gentleman offered to take a picture of all of us…and the pictures prominently featured his fingers.
(He also did two huge bursts of photos which we all heard snapping and were CRACKING UP on the inside because he didn’t hear the noise and it was adorable.)
We took SO MANY PICTURES and yeah – I still see the vein in my forehead that a wonderful ex of mine described as looking like, “Someone stepped on your head as a baby.” I still think my hair looks nicer dry than wet. I still hate when my jewelry is crooked. I mean, it’s not like I’m looking at the photos and screaming: PERFECTION! But I’m seeing the strong woman in them differently. She’s working on her relationship with food and alcohol. She’s walking a lot with friends and family. She’s making good food choices some days and some days she’s eating something unhealthy because it’s delicious and she REFUSES TO HATE HERSELF FOR THAT.
I always tell the kids when they’re working on large tasks, “Progress, not Perfection.” But maybe in this case, progress IS perfection.
Several pictures of my full body and I love the woman in all of them. NO SELFIES! That is the body of a woman that walked 5 miles with her daughter on Saturday. That is the body of a woman in the sandwich generation…caring for her kids AND her parent and she’s doing it pretty amazingly. That is the body of a woman who taught her youngest kid how to floss and allowed her oldest kid to video her doing it because she knew it would crack him up.
(No. You are not seeing that video. I did not even see that video. Flossing is hilarious and it makes me laugh and if I have a mental image of what it looks like when I do it I will never do it again.)
That woman is beautiful and I’m trying to be kinder to her and love her more. It’s the least I can do.