In my memory, I began my struggle with body image at about the age of eight and it is something that has lurked in the back of my mind ever since. I have had moments, maybe even a few months at a stretch, when I have been happy with my appearance. But, for the most part, my life has been a litany of "if only's". If only I were 4, 7, 12 pounds lighter. If only I were a little stronger or faster. If only I had smaller hips, a perkier butt, bigger boobs. What's odd is I am not sure I could accurately complete that thought. If only A, B, or C - I would be what? Happier? More successful? Sexier? All of the above? Finally, at the age of 42, I have had an epiphany. It is one thing to be goal driven. It is quite another to let it rob you of the joy of being happy in the present.
One of the tough things about writing a column is that sometimes you put a lot of your personal life out there for the world to see. My husband occasionally cringes a bit when he discovers his name or persona in my monthly tales. But it has to be personal. If I just write about perfect diet and perfect exercise the impersonal nature makes it impossible to relate to. This, to me, is a sensitive but important topic. And it is DEFINITELY personal.
When I quit smoking I gained weight. I expected to, and it wasn't much, but now some of my clothes don't fit and I have some cellulite where I never had it before. I have been talking about and working on losing about 14 pounds for a good ten months now. I fixate a lot on how I looked when I fit in my skinny jeans and I have hated shopping because I refuse to buy any clothing size larger than the size I have worn most of my life since high school. I haven't felt sexy and can get in a pretty cranky mood when I am having what we women so lovingly term as "a fat day".
I woke up one Sunday morning and pulled on a pair of shorts and a tank top and headed out of the bedroom to begin the morning routine of feeding the dog, cats, bird, etc. My husband was already up and engrossed in one of his video games. He looked up to say good morning and made a remark about how cute my butt looked or something. I caught myself mid sneer and realized that his comment was genuine and I was in the process of shooting him down for telling me I was sexy. That was my wake up call. I needed to quit wishing I was in someone else's body and embrace me for who I am now - a healthy, smoke-free, fit woman who's husband thinks she has a cute butt. Not a bad place to be even if I don't fit into my skinny jeans right now.
I know for a fact that I am not the only woman who struggles with this issue of skewed body image. I have many girlfriends who are absolutely beautiful and unique, yet can do no more than focus on their so called shortcomings. I blame some of this on inappropriate goal setting.
I am by no means saying we shouldn't set goals. I am simply saying we should not define our lives by the success or failure in attaining those goals. Not long ago I wrote about a bunch of my personal goals. One of these goals had to do with becoming a better tennis player. I have been training hard and playing hard and yes, I have been getting better. I also have had to battle with a sudden shift in my attitude on the court. Suddenly tennis became about winning. It was a good day when I won and a crap day when I didn't. My goal of becoming a better player was getting in the way of the whole reason I play; for the joy of it. I love being on the tennis court and running around like a crazy woman and making that great shot and playing out a long, exciting point. In reminding myself of this core truth, instead of optically focusing on my goal, I rediscovered the thrill of simply playing my best and having fun whether I won or lost. It doesn't mean I've lost sight of my goal, it just means it isn't the be all and end all of my tennis game.
I was over at my friend Carol's house the other day, and I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror in her bedroom. This mirror made me look fabulous. I saw long shapely legs, and a slim fit body. "Whoa!" I exclaimed. "I want one of these mirrors in my house. It makes me look so skinny!" She looked at me kind of funny and said, "Maybe the mirrors in your house make you look fat." She makes a great point. What is the truthful image? What we see of ourselves in reflections are just that. Reflections. They are distorted by light and angles and, let's face it, emotional perspective. Setting goals based on these reflections is asking for trouble. It is like trying to build a house on quicksand. There is no true foundation for success. Instead of setting your goals based on "if only's" take a look first at what is right in this particular moment. Celebrate what you have already achieved. Only then can you look to the future and your goals with happy anticipation.