I had a woman come into the store today who was beautiful but gaunt. She was very thin, exquisitely dressed, and fretted over everything on the menu. She ended up ordering half a pound of crab legs, no butter, and a side of steamed broccoli, no seasoning, butter or oil. She refused the broccoli when I didn't bring it out on the tray together with the crab legs. She had a lovely smile with sad eyes and her skin was fairly screaming for an ounce of anything to lubricate it. Screaming from the inside out. I recognized her in me. I used to be obsessed with my weight too.
I don't do that to myself any more. For so many years, all I saw when I looked in the mirror was an overweight, bad-skinned mess who didn't try hard enough to look good. Who didn't have what it took to look good. Who was too lazy and too gluttonous, with too weak a will, to resist food or exercise enough. Even when I was one hundred and twelve pounds at five foot ten, I still thought I was a fat pig who needed to do more sit ups and definitely run a few more miles. I surrounded myself with people who thought the same thing, obsessed the same way, including my husband. His mother and aunts once bought me a book about food addictions because they thought I needed to be a size two. It wasn't done cruelly. They were legitimately trying to help me. Thus lies the definition of killing with cruelty.
I read an article about how often high schools have to change their plumbing nowadays because so many kids, boys and girls, are bulimic. All that stomach acid from all that vomiting eats the pipes and they have to be replaced, sometimes as often as every five years. It's not something many outgrow, either. I've seen many anorexic people in their forties but not many in their fifties. They don't last that long because their bodies eat themselves. All from being teased one too many times about not being a certain weight, often by family members as well as peers.
I know quite a few models and aspiring models who are hardcore cocaine addicts and even more who do heroin, all to be thin enough for the cameras. It's like the encouragement of crystal meth use in third world countries so employees can work twenty hour days. Some sweat shops give seminars on it and pass out free samples like donuts. All to be beautiful, all to be "better."
Having studied art history, I am so thankful to have stumbled on a way to see myself not as an aging, sloppy old broad but as a masterpiece. Go to any museum and you'll see every conceivable body type, male and female, depicted in timeless masterpieces. Go and find yourself in those hallowed halls, go and see how beautiful you really are. Your mirror will lie because its your own blighted sight eyeballing the image. But a painting, a sculpture...there's no lie there. The artist created that because it touched them in some way.
I was at a dinner party a while back where a woman in her fifties was coaching a girl in her early twenties about will power concerning food. The girl was gorgeous and curvy, a graceful Vermeer, and the older woman was in the role of tutor. The girl listened avidly to instructions regarding her fat hips, her bulging stomach, her overlarge breasts. There was even gratitude in her earnest face as she drank in everything the tutor said. But the words were vicious stings. Dipped in syrup, sure, but stings nonetheless. Again, I don't think the older woman meant to be cruel. It was just what she'd been brought up to believe in, a popular philosophy of self-hatred and self denial. "If you want to look like a super model, you have to do this and this and this." As the grandmother mermaid in Hans Christian Anderson said, "One must suffer for beauty."
I used to believe that horseshit too. I don't anymore. Why? Because I'm a masterpiece now. It wasn't exercise, although I do that in moderation, it wasn't diet, although I try to eat healthy in between bouts of chocolate consumption. It's simply a new set of eyeballs. I don't see myself the same way I did when I was fucked up. I don't harm myself with the old eternal disapproval I did for the majority of my life. I like myself. I think I'm beautiful. Yeah, sometimes I wish I had the body I did when I was twenty-three again but mostly, I'm happy with what I am. All my life, I've been a masterpiece. I just didn't know it.
For example, when I was in my teens, I was a Modigliani. When I was in my twenties, I was a Botticelli. Thirties, a Rembrandt, Reuben, Rembrandt, Reuben...I fluctuated a lot. Early forties, a big Reuben bordering on the Venus of Willendorf. Big but still beautiful. Now in my late forties, I'm a Botticelli again.
Sitting at that table with the young girl and her tutor, I intervened and told them my philosophy on self image. I told the girl she was a Vermeer and quite breathtaking, and she was. I then went on to name each and every person at the table as the masterpiece I saw them as: Gauguin, Beardsley, Klimt, Botticelli, Raphael, Dulac, Rockwell. And Vermeer. A beautiful, sunlit Vermeer, sitting across from me, breathing, breathtaking and alive. Remember, you're all masterpieces too. Get out there, look it up and find yourself in the pages of history's great beauties. You're there, I promise you. Open you eyes and see, my dear friends. Look at how stunning you all are.
And rewire those over critical eyeballs.