Body image is a more daunting and divisive topic now than it ever was when I was in my formative years.
Back when I was a tween and teen, yes, I was less sure about who I was and what I believed, but my body was healthy and I didn’t think twice about body image. Puberty was awkward for everyone and I was just introduced to this new part of myself. I was active in sports, could eat anything I wanted, thanks to that youthful metabolism, and had a very healthy routine that led to me worrying about other things and not my body image. I slept enough, had structure to my days, was involved in church, community service and didn’t drink or smoke. I was constantly challenged in scholarly pursuits and had lots of social interaction. I can’t say the same for me now, as a 31-year old. I go through periods where I don’t want to work out and putting one foot in front of the other is all I can handle. I don’t meet a lot of new people and instead of having lots of friends and peers, I have a much smaller group. I work long hours and often times I prioritize dinner and Netflix over a long run. And I think my quality of life has affcted my body image a lot more than I realized.
I had this horrendous moment a month ago that made my brain snap to attention from the fog I didn’t know I was in. I was shopping with my soon-to-be sister-in-law for her wedding dress. As she was changing and her family and friends were outside eagerly awaiting our gal in white, I caught a glimpse of myself in the wall of mirrors. A snarl crept over my face in the reflection, and I thought to myself, “Oh, God, is that what I look like?”
I mean, David’s Bridal isn’t exactly the ideal place to have an epiphany, but then, what place is? As ta eta, satin and sequins brushed by me like an ’80s movie montage, I wondered how I could feel so disconnected with myself where I didn’t recognize the person staring back.
Ever since, I have made health a priority. Nothing drastic, but I wanted to shake off the cobwebs I’ve allowed to collect. I pushed myself to be more aware of what I’m eating, pick up some fitness classes I had let fall by the wayside and be more conscious so I don’t feel that disconnected with my body again. But my story isn’t unique.
Thirtysomething women are in an interesting place when it comes
to their relationship with their bodies. Some are like me: single, working gals, just drifting along. Some are married. Others feel they need to get married and have kids. Maybe they travel a lot for work and experience many new places and cultures. Or maybe they are burned out at their job and feeling lost as a new decade begins. Maybe they’re struggling with friendships, family or coworker relationships as they fizzle out and change. Others have had a child, or multiple children. There are so many experiences that shape how we feel about our bodies.
While we’re united by our experience as females, I know, too, that it can feel pretty isolating given the different places we’re in at the same age. But even more than ourselves, we also must deal with the body image of the young women many of us are raising. We hold in our hands words and actions that will shape the next generation of Maine women.
I talked to a friend with two young girls. She said how hard it is to constantly maintain a positive body image as a good example for her children. Children’s honesty points out flaws as observations, they ask inappropriate questions out of genuine curiosity or repeat mean words they’ve heard to describe their body or others. She was explaining her vigilance with trying to be neutral on body image and not project her issues on them, while also being honest about the struggle with body image, too.
I strive not to call my friends’ daughters beautiful, which I know is something we’ve all read about or seen on social media lately. While complimenting beauty is not meant to harm, it brings up a great point about raising girls who strive to measure success through physical beauty and starts making them acutely aware of negative body image so early in life. Instead, the goal is to raise children without gender bias and treating boys and girls the same and nurturing their interests.
It’s not easy.