Sunday, October 10, 2010

Epic Self Involvement

Shopping for fancy clothes if very loaded for me.  Perhaps I should back up.  Writing about my body image is very loaded for me.  I’m not asking for affirmation about my physical appearance.  In fact, I’d prefer not to hear it.  Compliments make me uncomfortable, especially when I don’t believe them.  During the worst of my mental illness Z stopped complimenting me altogether.  He got tired of my fighting with him every time he said something nice to me.  I really shot myself in the foot with that one.  Now if I buy and new piece of clothing and ask him what he things he usually won’t say anything.  He feels like it is a trap of some sort. 

Z is a real character with a lot of style.  He wears fedoras or newsboy caps every time he takes a step outside.  On Labor Day he puts away his straw hats and pulls out the felts.  The process is reversed on Memorial Day.  He usually wears Carhartts to work, but with a dress shirt and tie.  And he loves to wear suits.  It would make him really happy if I took some care with the way I present myself to the world.  But I do not like for the way I look, in fact I am embarrassed by myself.  When I am around other women I spend a lot of time thinking about what part of their physicality I wish I possessed.  I really don’t want to look like me, to the point where I rarely make an effort to look nice.  What is the point?  I dress in sweats, although I’ll put on jeans if I’m leaving the house.  I don’t wear makeup.  I don’t do more than comb my hair.  I don’t even own a brush.  And the only comb I own was given to me by a cousin circa 1994 (Thanks Lori!).

Back when I met Z, when I was 125 lbs soaking wet I had already begun to hate the way I looked.  A few years later one of the many drugs I was on during my fancy mental breakdown was Zoloft.  It ended up helping me a lot, but one of the side effects is weight gain, the chances of which increase when a high does is used.  The highest recommended dose is 200 mg, I was on 250 for a long time.  I blew up like a Thanksgiving turkey.  By the time I went off the meds I was nearly 190lbs.  I mean, I saw a fat person in the mirror back when I was actually skinny.  At 190 I saw a morbidly obese person looking back at me.  During the year that I went off the meds I dropped about 30 lbs.  I also turned 30 and my metabolism had changed big time.  To drop the rest of the weight I would have had to do something.  Like actually exercise or modify my diet.  Yeah, my apathy won out big time and I did nothing.  Except continue to hate the way I looked. 

There was a bar and restaurant near the top of the World Trade Center called Windows on the World.  In the late 90s it hosted swing dance nights, and I remember an evening back when I was still in college we went to dance and laugh at the horrible décor in the bar.  A young woman was there in a very figure hugging dress.  She wasn’t stick thin and her belly was round, but she was sexy as hell.  I pointed her out to Z.  This was back at the time when he was still investing a lot of energy in trying to convince me he found me attractive.  He very excitedly pointed out she wasn’t a waif, yet she was smoking hot.  He brought her up for years when I complained about getting bigger. 

The funny thing is even at my biggest my stomach was relatively flat.  It’s just the way I carry weight, I’m a stereotypical “pear”.  But naturally after a pregnancy my stomach didn’t go back to the way that it was.  Physically I’ve been cool with few things about myself, but the flat belly was one of them.  It really sucks to have that taken away.  Trying on dresses is another reminder that my body keeps on changing, and not for the better.  Dressing up is the only occasion when I really want to wear something Z will like.  I do it so rarely, and it makes him so happy that I might as well make an effort and pick something we both like.  We have a wedding to attend in two weeks and I needed to find a dress.  So on Friday I went Lord and Taylor, swallowed my pride, and gravitated towards the 50s inspired dresses I knew he would love.   Z is an ass man; I came home with a dress that clings to my ample bottom and also to my round belly.  I will be uncomfortable as hell; sure people at the wedding will be wondering if I am pregnant or just tubby.  Which is crazy.  People at the wedding will be looking at the bride and groom, not at a random guest.  It’s funny how self hatred and self involvement go hand in hand. 

When I tried the dress on for Z I found a “foundation garment” in my underwear drawer.   I actually don’t know where it came from, but there it was, basically a girdle.  I thought it would help flatten that pesky stomach.  After Z told me he liked the dress I showed him what was underneath.  He totally freaked out.  He said he didn’t want me to keep the dress if it made me feel so unattractive I needed to wear a “fucking girdle”.  He told me to return the dress and get something I could be comfortable in.   I panicked and took off the girdle.  The last thing I wanted to do was draw the dress hunting out further.  He said I looked exactly the same, which I know wasn’t true, but I’m going to be uncomfortable no matter what I’m wearing.  I’m keeping the damn dress.   

Whenever I am faced with trying to make myself presentable for an event these old self image issues bubble up from just below the surface where they usually hang out.  For a while I convince myself I will diet, I’ll exercise, I’ll change.  But then it seems too hard, I remember I don’t care for my face either and having a skinny body won’t change that.  The mole on my left cheek will still be there.  My first boyfriend in college had a thing where he confused being honest with being hurtful.  Several months into our relationship he told me he noticed the mole the first time he saw me and really had to consider whether he could date me or not.  I think I was supposed to feel good that he consented to be involved with me.  Up until that point I didn’t think the mole was a big deal, but ever since I’ve felt  I have something on my face I should be really ashamed of. 

Shame.  Self loathing.  Narcissism.   It’s all so damn frustrating and boring.  Why can’t I just stop?  I want to see my friends get married.  I want to enjoy their day, and not make it about me yet again.  At the same time I want you all to hate me for my self indulgence and agree that I am worthless and physically repulsive.  That would make me feel much better than compliments or contradictions.  I’ve put nearly 20 years into feeling this way, which is a lot of time invested that I don’t want to go to waste.

Z made this awesome rocking goat/desk/high chair for T.  As you flip it around it becomes different things.  T is really digging it.


  1. I went from 125lbs to 190lbs in my sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence. My body has never recovered, and I really wish I hadn't seen such a fat person in the mirror when I was skinny. Seems such a shame. I still yo-yo, depending on depression, but I have learned to hate myself less for the body that I have. I am not sure how I got here from what you are describing, which is very familiar to me. I think at some point I started appreciating other aspects of myself as I succeeded in various, surprising ways, and decided that wishing I had something that I can't ever have is a waste of energy.

  2. When I was in my late teens, early 20s, my mom used to bug me to buy a bikini for our vacations on the beach, and tighter jeans or whatever the rest of the time. I was waaaay too self-conscious and would never consider such garments. I used to wrap myself in full-piece bathing suits in the summer, and giant floppy shirts and sweaters the rest of the time. Finally she gave up bugging me about it, which was kind of a blessing...but damn was she right. Now? If I magically got back the body I had when I was 22, I would put on a bikini and NEVER take it off--grocery store, trip to the bank, playground, you name it. Bikini, bikini, bikini, that's all I would wear, when I wasn't naked, which would be the other 50% of the time. You Are Not Alone.

    And BTW? Tell Z that the 1940s/1950s gals he thinks are so hot? Girdles, girdles, and more girdles. Post-WWII was the fucking ERA of the Girdle. Quite frankly it is not fair for him to idolize a certain female form on the one hand, and then get all up in your grill about the architecture required to achieve said form. You are not the only one who needs to get over some shit. :)

    Wear the girdle (or SPANXs, I believe nowadays they are called spanxs) and lindy your ass off. And that night he can pay you back with a hot bath and a back rub!

  3. Thanks H.

    In all fairness, Z doesn't want me do make myself uncomfortable in order to look a certain way. He knows if I wear the girdle I will suffer through the wedding with an upset stomach, and probably an anxiety attack. He does appreciate the aesthetic, but he doesn't expect me to torture myself to achieve it. One of the many reasons I love him.

    And I hear you about your 22 year old self. God, I hear you.

    Hope you had the most spectacular birthday ever, by the way.