Ah, the accursed full-length mirror. It’s like a bad relationship; it crushes your self-esteem, but you can’t seem to stay away from it. It’s the time of year when thoughts of vacations to warmer climes or optimism for an early spring lure women of all shapes and ages before this “teller of hard truths” where they stare, horrified to imagine themselves donning the most revealing of apparel…the bathing suit. Whether you’re trying to fit into that new string bikini, or trying to cover as much of yourself as possible, chances are you are feeling self-conscious.
In every woman I see one of two scenarios; either she picks out every perceived flaw in that reflection or what she observes in the mirror is of little importance to her. If you are in the latter category, I am sad to say that you are in the minority. Most women have at least one part of their body that, given the chance, they would change. Unfortunately, once the alteration has taken place, often, a new flaw suddenly emerges, and before you know it, you’re looking like one of those aging Hollywood stars who don’t know when to say “Uncle”. So, before you start down that slippery slope, ask yourself, “Do I really want that loathsome butt fat injected into my lips?” It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “Kiss my….”well, you know the rest.
There is no doubt in my mind that poor body image is an epidemic among woman. A boom in the plastic surgery and fitness training fields are evidence. I have nothing against these occupations and realize that there is a need for them. Many burn victims and cancer patients are indebted to the plastic surgeon. And physical fitness is important and it certainly makes you feel strong and healthy. But being fit and having a supermodel’s body are not interchangeable. I know many fit people who will never strut the runways of Paris and who will cringe at the sight of a bathing suit. How can anyone be expected to feel good about their body, wearing nothing but lycra, when Heidi Klum or Kate Moss - or whomever the “it” girl of the day - is splashed all over the covers of magazines with articles announcing “You, Too Can Have The Perfect Body In Time For Summer.” Excuse me for being presumptuous, but “No, you can’t!” There is no such thing as perfection. Even supermodels have their pictures airbrushed, so the rest of us haven’t got a chance.
You would think that as a forty-something woman, with years of life experience, that I would be immune to the propaganda perpetuated by the media, and be comfortable in my own skin, but even armed with the knowledge that I can only do so much with what nature and time have dropped in my lap, I still can’t help but beat myself up for not looking like one of those twenty-year-old hard-bellies.
The scary side of this quest for imagined perfection is the toll it takes on young girls. Our daughters have become brainwashed. They are continually bombarded with images of exceptionally well proportioned, sculpted bodies in music videos, magazines and on film, that their receptive young minds have concluded – ignoring their own genetics and the variety of female shapes in their own environment – that this look is the norm. Any psychologist can confirm that if something is pounded into your brain long enough, you will believe it. It’s horrifying to think that the media’s view of perfection is directing our daughters’ perception of normalcy, stunting the growth of a whole generation of young women, wrought with anorexia, bulimia and body dysmorphic disorder. No one wants this, so it is our job to accept ourselves and teach by example.
Now I could say, “No matter how hard I try, I will never look like Heidi Klum.” And that would be the truth. But what if I flipped that around and said, “No matter how her she tries, Heidi Klum will never look like me.” After all, it’s just as true. If girls - and in some cases boys - realized that we aren’t supposed to be cookies cutter clones, and that individuality is what should be valued, perhaps they wouldn’t feel as pressured to try to live up to something that is impossible to attain.
As I look at my old bathing suit hanging next to the mirror, I wonder. “When I’m a hundred, will I be lamenting my inability to keep off those extra pounds? Will it matter that I wasn’t able to fit back into outdated swimwear?” I doubt that will be my biggest regret. I will be sensible in my quest to become healthy so as to reach that centenarian benchmark, but I will not spend the spring starving myself into a bad mood, I’ll convince myself that “real women” have curves and I’m just a whole lot of woman! So, as scary as it might seem, once again this beach season, my belly will bulge and my thighs will jiggle. More importantly, my daughter will see no shame in my eyes as I walk down the beach. Besides, I’m certain I won’t be the only “real woman” on the beach, and there is strength - or solace - in numbers. And if I start to doubt my resolve, instead of covering my body, I’ll just cover the mirror.