A poem and prose for Poetry Thursday 's prompt "the body knows." Writing this piece was very upsetting and I hesitate to unleash these raw emotions on an unsuspecting public:
If you love me
you will think I am beautiful
whether or not I am thin
comes from within
and is not related to size
The scope of my heart and intellect
is what matters
any day of the week
So why do I frown
when I look in the mirror;
don't I love myself?
I'm going to tell you a secret. For all my myriad accomplishments, to this day body image is a tortuous psychological issue for me. Thinking about weight - and I think about it every single day - has the ability to bring me to tears more than anything else in my life. Since I was a teenager this subject has made me uncomfortable and self-conscious. Even when men were oohing and aahing, I thought I was too curvy, too busty.
People have always talked about my pretty face, big eyes and high cheekbones, but rarely commented about my body - at least not in a good way. When men said I was "stacked like a brick house," I didn't feel flattered.
One day my friend said with concern, "You're looking very thin and peaked." After leaving a bad relationship, I'd lost weight in a short space of time. Later that day I had a phone conversation with my ex and told him I'd lost 20 pounds, in the grief of our break-up. His response? "That's good," as though I'd achieved something positive. I'd been the perfect size ten the entire time he knew me, so why did he think I needed to lose 20 pounds?
Recently I watched Kate Winslet diving into a pool* and realised the last time I felt comfortable doing that, I was 24 years old. All these years, I've worried my body isn't good enough, that I can't measure up - to what? A model-thin figure from the editorial pages of Vogue? How much time and energy have I spent worrying about what others think and projecting their concerns onto my own fragile self-image?
Last year a relative looked at some photos taken not that long ago and said, "Look at how thin you were then," implying of course, that I'm not now. Whenever I lived or traveled in the Middle East, people would say to me, "You're so thin! You need to eat more rice, more potatoes. We need to put some meat on your bones."
Why do people seem to think they have the right to comment/pass judgement on people's size? All my life I've been told by well-meaning or perhaps not-so-well-meaning friends or relatives that I'm either too thin or too chubby - rarely has anyone said, "You're beautiful exactly the way you are." My beloved grandmother spent her adult life battling weight gain and diabetes. Some people made her feel ashamed, as though she'd done something wrong, but it was a matter of genetics. I worry that I'll have a similar fate.
I have a favourite taupe silk shantung jacket and slacks that no longer fit properly and my jeans are too tight. After 40, one's metabolism slows and your body begins subtle (or not-so-subtle) changes. Without realising it, I've gained weight, almost in the blink of an eye. How did it happen?
I've thought about it and think it started when we moved to Paris. Maybe it was drinking more red wine, eating French baguettes, but I think I've slowly added pounds as a perverse form of "protection." Because never in my life have I felt more emotionally vulnerable than in Paris - surrounded by impossibly chic, stick-insect French women - like those pages of the fashion magazines come to life. These women can be very judgmental if you don't conform to their standards of dress/appearance.
In Paris, my identity and credence as a journalist, traveling in certain circles went out the window. In this city one is judged very much by appearance. The French respect a fine mind, but they'll never notice if they don't notice you - because you're not thin enough. So often I wish I could be invisible here.
The funny thing is, I eat less than anyone I know. I walk for miles and miles all over Paris, but my metabolism has slowed and my waist has disappeared. Besides getting more exercise, the only solution - short of bust-reduction surgery - seems to be to cut out the red wine (which is good for your heart and I have a minor heart problem).
My body is changing and could there be any worse place in the world for this to happen than Paris? If I traveled anywhere else, people might think I could stand to lose a few pounds, but they wouldn't consider me fat. In Paris, if you're not a size two, there's something wrong with you. And this is not just my experience. A very svelte American woman who lived here for years talked about the same issues. When she went to the US, her size 8-10 figure was envied. In Paris, she was viewed as a "big girl." (Her words, not mine).
Meanwhile, I've put off a hair appointment, because is there anything more disheartening than being in a salon surrounded by skinny French women, all wearing black (as though they need to look thinner)??!! It's no wonder that even after six years, Paris doesn't feel like home.
*scene from the movie "The Holiday"