“You look like your pre-pregnancy self. Your midriff is absolutely gone!” A friend complimented me recently as our kids (quite oblivious to the gravity of our discussion), played in her living room.
“I, on the other hand..” She sighed sadly and continued “…am just expanding like a balloon. What’s your secret?”
I felt embarrassed. A part of me wanted to point out to her that I am still 9-10 pounds more than I was before pregnancy, not to mention that I still have to suck in my stomach for photographs 😉 (though I am not sure I can still blame baby weight for it, considering my “baby” is almost 4.5 years old now!). A part of me wanted to show her some of the old clothes I still have tucked in at the back of my closet from the days gone by in the hopes that someday I will be able to wear them again.
Instead, I just accepted the compliment and mumbled something about green tea and no sugar, knowing very well in my mind that it’s all BS (I am more of a coffee drinker and I just had consumed three cloyingly sweet “raskadam” minutes before stopping by her place).
But this is not an isolated discussion. In fact, I am sure somewhere in the world a group of women is discussing the exact same thing as we speak.
In the last decade or so, I have been part of this discussion leading the conversation from either side of the table a countless number of times. I can’t remember the last time I spoke to a woman and it had not somehow, magically, turned into a discussion about body image at some point. Sometimes, I have been “the skinny one” and sometimes I have been “the fat one”. But in both cases, I have been anxious and self-derogatory, dissecting every single flaw of my body over and over again, trying to nip, tuck and fit into some imaginary ideal simply by the power of my critique.
But my last discussion was different. That part of me which wanted to go on a rampage insulting how I looked was weak. It was a tiny whisper, easily neglected. Somehow, my mind and heart were only a third party to that conversation.
Why? Because after a decade of struggling to look “slim and trim”, I have attained body-image nirvana and I absolutely don’t care what a scale tells me about who I am. Because it simply can’t. It has no idea! It just gives me a statistic about my body just like a thermometer tells me my temperature or a blood pressure/pulse monitor tells me my pressure/pulse. The number it shows is not important as long as it is within my normal range. And my normal range can very well be a tad different from your normal range too (Don’t believe me? Ask a doctor who will tell you that not necessarily everyone conforms to the same range with respect to their body stats; professional sportspeople being an example of that phenomenon).
Will I ever go into a tizzy if one day my pulse read 72, the next day 76 and the next 70? Then why should my body weight be so damn different?
Anyway, I came home that day with a feeling of detachment and it led me to do a little experiment of my own. I charted my entire adult body weight over time and the healthy BMI range too. Turns out (if data is to be believed!) I have been “within range” all my life (the only deviation you see in the graph is when I was expecting sonny, which of course, is as expected).
And when I had detached my feelings connected with that absolute number on the scale, I could clearly see the following:
- My body weight had nothing to do with how happy/sad, content/restless I was during any particular period of my life.
- At some of my lowest weights, when I felt like my body was just perfect, I was not necessarily healthy. For example, a year before I was pregnant, my scale read 51 kgs and I thought I had hit the jackpot of body-weight perfection. But in reality, I was absolutely stressed out, working more than 14 hours a day, sleeping less than 6 hours, surviving on loads of tea and coffee and barely eating one healthy meal a day, just because, well, duh, how else will I maintain the perfection?
- We are our own worst critics. It kind of reminded me of one of the old Dove ads I had seen a couple of years back.
So yeah, the next time you feel that tiny whisper growing louder in your head criticizing your looks and your weight, just remember, it’s just a freakin’ number. Don’t be tempted to give it more meaning and substance than it deserves. It took me a decade of learning and unlearning to understand that but now that I am in body-image nirvana, I am not letting it go, ever. And I hope you attain it soon, too (if you are already not there, that is)!
And yes, the next time we meet, by all means, talk about body image and compliment me on my svelte figure or criticize me for my extra pounds, but know that when the discussion turns to self-bashing and self-denigration, only the auto-pilot part of my brain will be there listening and the rest of it will just wander off because frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn! 😉