I’ve got about four pounds to go until I’m back down to my fighting weight. I made a decision a few months ago to leave the weight creep gang and get back down to a healthy weight. Yes, I had become a stereotype – the woman over 40 who had gradually let those 25 pounds creep onto her body over a few years. I didn’t like falling into a stereotype – it’s boring and unoriginal.
This was new territory. I’d never had a weight problem. I hated myself at that weight. I was reluctant to have sex. I was in double-digit clothing sizes for the first time in my life (not counting when I was pregnant). I weighed only five pounds less than I did when I was pregnant. The unkindest cut of all occurred during a particularly childish e-mail argument I was having with my first husband (the father of my child) when he wrote, “If I met you now, I wouldn’t even ask you out.” Ouch!
I lost the weight at a healthy 1 – 1 1/2 pounds per week so it is staying off. I’m thinking the quitting drinking helped a lot too. I lost the weight because I wanted to be healthy. I didn’t lose the weight so I would look like one of those fembots in the women’s magazines who have been airbrushed into dwellers on some fantasy planet the rest of us don’t inhabit. And, I wanted to look good naked again.
Now that I’m getting okay with the lights being back on in the bedroom (ahem), I’ve been pondering how to look good naked. Just because my hourglass figure is back doesn’t mean I think I look good naked. I can stand in front of a mirror and harshly judge myself for a slight tummy pooch after eating a perfectly healthy meal, or curse gravity as I look at my not so perky anymore breasts. Plastic surgery is not an option. I don’t think it’s authentic. To me it’s cheating. It’s self-centered. I think wanting to look one’s best is healthy, but for me, it’s working with what I’ve got, not going under the knife.
So, here I am, staring at myself naked, and that critical voice is still there. What’s up with that? What does a healthy woman look like? I conducted my own historical study of women’s bodies and arrived at my own conclusion about how to look good naked.
A Peter Paul Rubens Woman
Perhaps you’ve heard the term Rubenesque? Here is what looked good in the 1600′s:
In 1693, the first specialized magazine for women, Ladies’ Mercury appeared in London.
A William-Adolphe Bouguereau Woman
By the late 1800′s the ideal woman was illustrated in Bouguereau’s famous Birth of Venus.
Today, the tabloids would be a twitter with baby bump speculation should this picture appear.
In 1830, the first women’s fashion magazine, Lady’s Book, was published in the United States.
By 1852, Parisian shopgirl, Marie Vernet Worth became the first fashion model as she displayed her fashion designer husband Charles Frederick Worth’s designs, like the one below.
The Gibson Girl
The 1900′s saw Charles Dana Gibson’s pen-and-ink illustrations introduce what is widely believed to be the first national standard for feminine beauty in the United States – “tall and slender yet with ample bosom, hips and bottom.” Actress Camille Clifford was the quintessential Gibson girl.
A Pablo Picasso Woman
By the late 1960′s, Picasso weighed in on the woman’s body.
A Hugh Hefner Woman
But by then, Hugh Hefner had begun to define what the perfect woman should look like objectify women. He debuted Playboy magazine in 1953 with major sex symbol Marilyn Monroe (who was likely a size 10 or 12 in today’s sizes – today’s size 10 is smaller than a size 10 was in Marilyn’s day because the evil garmentos keep messing with women’s clothing sizes) on the cover.
But apparently Marilyn Monroe’s figure doesn’t cut it by today’s standards. Estee Lauder model and sometimes actress Elizabeth Hurley notoriously declared to Allure magazine, “I’ve always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I’d kill myself if I was that fat…I went to see her clothes in the exhibition, and I wanted to take a tape measure and measure what her hips were. (laughter) She was very big.” Women being snarky to other women is, alas, nothing new.
But, it’s hard to gauge what an acceptable female body is if “they” keep moving the target.
A Moving Target
In 1986, the average model was a size 6
By 2006 she was a size 0.
In 2006 Madrid banned models under a certain weight from their fashion shows.
In July 2011, the UK banned two cosmetics ads (Lancôme and Maybelline) for being misleading. Perhaps folks are finally catching on that most of the photographs we see in magazines showcase the work of unseen Photoshop gurus rather than the items being advertised.
What 48 Looks Like
While I’m tempted to wait until I’ve lost those last four pounds, I’m gonna post my no makeup on swimsuit photo right now since I’m off to the river to swim anyway.
My little Maltese Sparkle wanted in on the picture.
The actress and author Jamie Lee Curtis gave me the courage to post this photo, when she posed, unretouched, for More magazine in 2002.
“There’s a reality to the way I look without my clothes on,” she says. “I don’t have great thighs. I have very big breasts and a soft, fatty little tummy. And I’ve got back fat. People assume that I’m walking around in little spaghetti-strap dresses. It’s insidious—Glam Jamie, the Perfect Jamie, the great figure, blah, blah, blah. And I don’t want the unsuspecting forty-year-old women of the world to think that I’ve got it going on. It’s such a fraud. And I’m the one perpetuating it.”
I’m not holding myself up as the poster child for a person who looks good – clothed or naked. I’m posting the photo because to not include it doesn’t seem authentic. If I’ve gotten okay with my body image, you should see what it is, right? I’m a regular, size 6, 5′ 6 1/2″, 149 (goal is 145) pound, 48-year-old woman, who does yoga twice a week (okay, sometimes I skip a class), walks regularly, does not have a personal trainer or the willingness to spend hours at a gym (I’ve got a life), got her father’s legs instead of her mother’s, eats a pretty healthy portion-controlled diet (while refusing to go on any “diet” ) and doesn’t deny herself the occasional treat ‘cuz life’s too short and I like chocolate cake. A lot.
Here is how I look (feel) good naked (and, no, I’m not posting a picture of that).
- make sure I am at a healthy weight (BMI) for my height
- don’t compare myself to other people. I don’t tell myself I’m glad I’m not fat like her, and I don’t tell myself I wish I were thinner like her.
- tell my women friends how great they look.
- work on my insides – inner beauty shines through. There are some pretty ugly beautiful women in the world if you know what I mean.
- watch what I eat, get some exercise, and drink plenty of water.
- quit self-medicating and completed a year of therapy to get my shit together.
- see myself through my husband’s eyes.
- don’t read fashion magazines – ever.
- reevaluate my idea of beauty
What is Beautiful?
Have you ever seen a woman and thought, “She’s so beautiful in the face?” I’ll bet you thought her body was too big, right?
Leonard Nimoy, in addition to bringing the iconic character of Mr. Spock to life, is a brilliant photographer. His Full Body Project shows women “proudly wearing their own skin.”
About the women in his book, Nimoy says, “Their self-esteem is strong. One of them has a degree in anthropology and will tell you that ideas of beauty and sexuality are ‘culture bound’—that these ideas are not universal or fixed, and that they vary and fluctuate depending on place and time. They will tell you that too many people suffer because the body they live in is not the body you find in the fashion magazines.”
We are spiritual beings inhabiting physical bodies. We place far too much emphasis on the external while not enriching our inner selves one bit. Our bodies will stay here. I’m not sure what happens when we die, but if we continue as some form of energy, oughtn’t that bit be the most authentic it can be?
I’ll close with one Amazon.com reviewer’s insightful comments about Nimoy’s book.
“This is a celebration of beauty. If it bothers you, take a look at your presumptions and prejudices. I am tired of seeing skinny, fake, bulb-boobed addicts constantly paraded on my television screen as something desirable. Women who throw up after eating, exercise to the point of exhaustion, or surrender to drugs in order to stay rail-thin are not interesting and not my ideal of beauty. There is certainly nothing healthy about that kind of life. Unfortunately our psyches are shaped by the daily images we are being fed by industries who rake in millions due to our guilibility: those who push diets, drugs, nip-and-tuck surgeries, etc. Follow the money. Allowing people to look natural, whatever that may be, does not fill the beauty industry coffers. If you think we’re being sold this Wallstreet/Hollywood image of beauty for our own health and welfare, think again. Thank you, Leonard, for giving us powerful images of beautiful women.”
- Art work and history – Wikipedia, confirmed by Brittanica.com, Wikimedia Commons
- Marilyn Monroe’s Dress Size – Snopes.com
- UK Bans Two Makeup Ads for Being “Misleading” – Time magazine newsfeed
- Skinny Models Banned from Catwalk – CNN
- Skeletal Models and Supersized Hypocrisy – The Daily Mail – UK
- Jamie Lee Curtis: True Thighs – More magazine
- The Full Body Project
- Nimoy, Leonard. The Full Body Project – Amazon.com