On a friend's FaceBook wall, the discussion is all about how much better it is NOT to peak in high school --- not to be the most popular, or the prettiest, or what have you. This was never a problem for me. I enjoyed high school, and I was not popular --- in fact, I was teased and hassled pretty regularly by certain girls, some of whom were the "pretty" ones and the "popular" ones, mainly because I was fat. But I had my own group of friends and was successful in lots of activities, so they didn't bother me much. Half of them were poppin' out the babies before they graduated, and the ones that did go to college ... well, I ran into one of the snottier ones about seven or eight years after graduation. She was managing a retail store at the mall, I was in the cast of Phantom of the Opera in LA. She was still skinny, I was still fat, but guess who had the cool factor now? Not that I brought it up, of course.
(For the record, there were pretty, popular girls who were perfectly lovely to me, and to everyone else, for that matter. I took one of 'em on a backstage tour of Phantom just because she had always been nice to me in high school. So there.)
I wish I could have thought less, back then, about being pretty, and Lord knows I wish I could now, too. I'm fairly presentable, and certainly enjoy dressing up and putting on makeup. I spend way too much money on my hair. But when it really comes down to it, some of that is not about enjoyment. It's about fear.
Fear of not being pretty or pretty enough. Because that, after all, is the cardinal sin for any woman. If you don't believe that society as a whole thinks any female's first and primary responsibility is to be decorative , look at any comments section of any article about any woman in the public eye. You will inevitably find, among her critics, someone whose argument for disliking her includes her appearance. They will call her ugly, fat, and lesbian (because the second greatest sin a woman can commit is not being sexually available to men). They will criticize her hair, her clothing, her figure, her face. It's not about her accomplishments, her policies, her personality (although if they dislike her, she is also usually a bitch) --- the ultimate put-down, the ultimate negation of all that she is, that these morons can come up with is that she is ugly.
How do you get rid of that? How does any woman? Because even if you ARE a great beauty, you have to worry about what happens when it starts to fade.
And pretty enough for who, exactly? I'm married to a wonderful man who thinks I'm hot no matter what weight I happen to be, whether or not I have makeup on, and whether I'm in sweats or a lowcut dress (although, to be honest, he prefers the lowcut dress). Point is, why am I --- and so many of my sisters --- so insecure about how I look?
Women really, really let this affect them. It's almost impossible not to, thanks to our upbringing and the constant bombardment of fake images of perfection and eternal youth in the media. And to the aforementioned morons, whose thoughtless and idiotic comments somehow have power to hurt us even though we know they are, for the most part, mouth-breathing mental midgets who live in their mothers' basements, figuratively if not literally.
Some of us let it affect us to the point that we won't allow our pictures to be taken. Some of us decide to believe that we're worthless. Some of us have a bad day if we can't get our hair to look right or we don't like what's in our closets on that particular morning. (Can I get an amen? Yeah, I thought so). Some of us get militant, or go on endless (expensive) quests to perfect ourselves, or just get progressively sadder and more stressed out about it.
That last one, that's me. I've come to realize that even though I really truly seriously don't regret a second of the years I spent working my way through The Beck Diet Solution, working out two or more hours a day, learning all I could about fitness and nutrition, and losing a lot of weight, that I also put a tremendous amount of stress on myself during that time. And now I'm fat again, and I hate that, and I hate that it takes up so much real estate in my daily thinking. It's much more upsetting to me now than before I lost weight. I am much harder on myself now.
This, by the way, is all stuff you're NOT SUPPOSED TO SAY OUT LOUD if you're a woman, if you're a woman over 25, if you're a woman who is any way in the public eye. We all know it's true, but you're not supposed to admit it. Unwritten code.
My quest is to be as healthy and fit as I can be, but I now realize that finding balance and self-acceptance in that quest is truly central. For me, that means finding a way to look in the mirror every single day and not see faults the very first thing --- or continuing to brood about them throughout the day. I'll let you know when I figure that out.