Thursday, June 15, 2006

Mirrors: A Weighty Issue

“The best thing about my divorce,” a good friend tells me, “is all the weight I lost.” Then she pauses a second, before adding, “But you can’t afford to lose.”

Hey, I’m not worried. I’ve a strong sweet-tooth. I can’t imagine a world without ice cream. I’ve spent significant quality time with Ben and Jerry. Just add a puff of whipped cream, and for a brief, blissful moment in this mortal realm, I believe I’m in paradise.

Sure, food hasn’t always been an easy friend.

When I was young, my mom (who was never content with my weight) added guilt to the taste of food.

“I think you’ve had enough,” she’d say, taking a cookie away from me, and for a while, as a child, eating became a clandestine act, creeping downstairs to the kitchen in the middle of the night.

But I’m an adult now. I live in my own house and buy my own groceries. I don’t have to make forbidden or furtive rendezvous with sweets in the darkest of hours.

And I’ve long stopped heeding unsolicited remarks about my weight. You see, the petite, just like the obese, are subject to commentary by strangers. Boys used to call me Strawberry Shortcake and swing me in their arms, like a doll. (Don’t worry, dear readers, I quickly learned to give a kick where it counts.) And dieting women would look me over and tell me how lucky I was.

But why should my body size be a topic for conversation (unless I initiate it)?

“You don’t need to drink diet coke,” a stocky man in the grocery store winks at me in the soda aisle.

Isn't it strange that strangers speak more about my body than I do?

Like many women, I have a love/hate relationship with mirrors. I often rush past them, hoping to avoid any unkind reflections, and lately, I’ve been so distracted I’ve had little respite for mirror-gazing. In fact, these past few weeks have been so erratic that I’ve found it hard to focus on writing, reading, and yes, even eating.

But I’m not worried. I’m fond of food. Maybe I’ve ignored it a bit lately, but food is very forgiving, and when my appetite returns, food will be there for me, ready and reliable. So I wasn’t worried. Not at all.

Then, the other day, my doctor weighed me in at 81. How could this happen? Why didn’t I notice I had lost nearly fifteen pounds and landed myself in a danger zone?

Maybe I should spend more time with my mirror. Maybe it’s time for my body* and I to become better friends.

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This post is dedicated to Charlie.

-----

* Edited based on an insightful comment by JLB.

32 repartee:

Blogger JLB wrote...

Hello FrankenGirl,

I’d be happy to own a home without a single mirror. In fact, the only reason we keep one in the bathroom is so that my partner can safely shave. It’s a little one, and I generally ignore it.

Side note: I just remembered that in my dream last night, I was looking at myself in a full-length mirror, discontentedly-so... tripout.

Back to the topic at hand, I’ve had similar experiences as you, the most frustrating of which come from close friends who will compare their bodies to mine. No matter what I say, some of them seem unable to avoid it. Personally, I think that every one of my girl friends has not one but two legs up on me in the attractiveness department – I don’t care what their weight is.

I deeply and truly seek out and am attracted to inner beauty over outer beauty in all people. Plenty of folks think I’m full of shit on that point, and that’s there prerogative – when you seek out the good in people, you find it, and it has nothing to do with how they’re physically put together.

There’s a great appetite inducer out there, and it’s green (if you’re up for that sort of thing). But even with that on-hand, I too will go through definite periods where I withdraw from food, especially when I am unhappy or simply preoccupied. During my lonelier and unhappier days, I would invite people over just so I would eat – I have found that having someone else in my company improves my likelihood of eating 100%, regardless of how inclined I am to prefer my solitude over companionship.

My two cents: friendship with the mirror is less important than friendship with yourself and your own happiness. And don't worry about the writing... it'll cycle back. It always does. :)

Sending you good, hungry thoughts, (seriously, I’m totally craving a burrito),
JLB

6/15/2006 1:38 PM  
Blogger JLB wrote...

curses! there instead of their? hangs head in shame

6/15/2006 1:40 PM  
Blogger Tai wrote...

Isn't that odd how people comment on such a personal thing "I don't think you need to drink diet-coke."
tsk tsk!
Makes you (me!) want to turn and say, "Perhaps not, but you could really stand to."
Wonder how THAT would go over!

6/15/2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, JLB!

I’m beginning to believe you live in a mini-utopia without bras and full-length mirrors! And I’m definitely tripping-out over your dream - ;)

“I’ve had similar experiences as you, the most frustrating of which come from close friends who will compare their bodies to mine.”

Yes! So many women do this. So many of us rate ourselves against each other. Beauty contests, among other things, encourage this way of thinking.

“My two cents: friendship with the mirror is less important than friendship with yourself and your own happiness.”

Yes, I agree. I think I’m partly equating the “mirror” here with facing the body I’ve been ignoring. Yet, a mirror stirs up so many associations, and avoiding it, as you suggest, can be a way of liberating ourselves; not defining or confining ourselves by an “image.” It would be a cool experiment to live without a mirror for a month. I wonder if I could!

“Sending you good, hungry thoughts, (seriously, I’m totally craving a burrito)”

Hehe! Thanks! I love what you write about inner beauty and seeking what’s good inside, and you’re so right about eating alone vs. eating socially. It’s a totally different experience. My dog waits for me before he eats.

I appreciate your fabulous comment and good thoughts!

6/15/2006 8:20 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Tai!

“Isn't that odd how people comment on such a personal thing "I don't think you need to drink diet-coke."

Yes, it completely crosses a boundary!!! And yet, some think they’re being friendly or even helpful?!

But you tell ‘em! (Wish I had!) - ;)

6/15/2006 8:20 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

Hi Frankengirl!
What an insightful post once again :)
I think I have grown to avoid people who are obsessed with outer appearance, but I admit there are moments when I get pulled into the game..:x

Speaking of mirrors, I wonder how much a mirror reflects. Because, in scientific terms, the image is not real, how much can we trust the image in the mirror? The mirror can show truths as well as untruths. So I suppose the image we see is what we make of it?

6/16/2006 9:41 AM  
Blogger Bored Dominatrix wrote...

Hi Frankengirl--

have you read Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy? As a child, Grealy lost a third of her jaw to cancer. As an adult, she dealt with the pain of ugliness, so much so that she stopped looking in mirrors altogether:

"I'd never suspected just how omnipresent our own images are. I became an expert on the reflected image, its numerous tricks and wiles, how it can spring up at you any moment from a glass tabletop, a well-polished door handle, a darkened window, a pair of sunglasses, a restaurant's otherwise magnificent brass-plated coffee machine sitting innocently by the cash register. [What a great sentence!] I perfected the technique of brushing my teeth without a mirror, grew my hair in such a way that it would require only a quick, simple brush, and wore clothes that were easily put on, with no complex layers or lines that might require even a minor visual adjustment. I did this for almost a year."

Seriously, though, no matter how you read or don't read the mirror, I hope you've got a healthy appetite and are taking care of yourself.

Holly

6/16/2006 10:21 AM  
Blogger Cristina wrote...

Great post, FrankenGirl!

I belong in a large family that tends to celebrate events by getting together and eating. Not only that - in my family large quantities of food are always served but there are usually more desserts than anything else. We all have a sweet tooth and everyone who joins the family ends up being a convert, "sweet-tooth-less" as they might have been at first.

That said, we all have normal weighs - ones leaning to one side, others to the opposite.

I can confidently say I have never been on a diet. I simply try no to eat in between meals and to exercise a bit just to keep things under control, but that's about it. If I feel like eating a doughnut, then I eat it. If I feel like having just corn for dinner, then I do it.

Unless your own happiness is at stake (then one that comes from the inside, not that one that comes from what people says, I mean) or your health, then I say everyone should be entitled to eat what they like and look like they look.

6/16/2006 2:06 PM  
Blogger Charlie wrote...

Dearest Doriana,

I have made a horrible, horrible mistake, totally due to my persistent stupidity. I wrote to you not long ago, expressing my alarm that your beautiful portrait is not ageing properly. I realize this is hardly a lady-like statement, but what an ignorant boob I was!

I believed, wrongly of course, that your portrait should be ageing like that of your brother, Dorian. Little did I know, because of the stupidity thing, that his image was the fulfillment of a wish born of vanity, that the portrait ages because of a life of hedonism, debauchery, and yes, even murder.

I will not resist if you give me a good tongue-lashing because I fully deserve one. But you will not do it, I know you too well after ninety days, and so I will have C. do it as soon as I rid myself of this abominable headache.

No, dearest Doriana, you are hardly vain, and in fact you shun anything that reflects your image. You dislike what you see because, unlike your brother, it is you who is changing instead of a silly picture. Yours is a natural process, an ageing caused by time and events. A process, I believe, that all women deplore because we are judged not by our mind, or by what is in our heart, but by our package. Never fear, though; our mind and heart remain intact.

Like you, I share a physique that many consider an anomaly. I am tall and thin to the point of skinny, which many people feel an inexplicable compulsion to point out to me. If, in fact, I ate as much food as they counsel, I fear that I would look . . . fat . . . like some of those very same counselors. My body and my eating habits belong to me alone, and judging by what I see in public, I am very often glad that I keep and heed my own counsel.

Your friend &c,

Eunice

6/16/2006 2:41 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, MysticGypsy! Glad to have you back with us!

“I admit there are moments when I get pulled into the game”

Yes, ‘tis hard, when so many expect you to play along with them :(

“Speaking of mirrors, I wonder how much a mirror reflects. Because, in scientific terms, the image is not real, how much can we trust the image in the mirror?”

What an interesting (please pardon the pun) reflection! I love how you question our mirror-image; suggesting that a mirror may project as many untruths as truths. And what we see, of course, is subject to our own subjectivity! And so I think you are right-on when you propose: “So I suppose the image we see is what we make of it?”

And falling into a bizarre tangent here, I’m suddenly struck by Bram Stoker and his character, Dracula, whose image cannot be reflected in a mirror. Stoker was an invalid until he was seven - so I don’t know how often he saw himself in a mirror. And I wonder: Does our mirror image give us a sense of validity?

And now, more questions arise! What are we looking for in the mirror? What are we hoping to find there? What do we focus on? What do we overlook? And why?

MysticGypsy, your questions inspire questions! - :)

6/16/2006 4:14 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Holly!

Yes, I’ve read Grealy’s powerful and stunning Autobiography of a Face. The tragedy about her, though, is that after she wrote such an incredible and inspiring memoir, she became overly obsessed with surgery (and subsequently, addicted to painkillers), which suggests she had started peeking into the mirror and hoped to change what she saw there. So sad!

Welcome “home”, btw! And thanks for the kind thoughts!

At the present, I’m happy to note that I’m eating a healthy pile of nuts and cheese before supper. - ;)

6/16/2006 4:15 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Cristina!

“We all have a sweet tooth and everyone who joins the family ends up being a convert, ‘sweet-tooth-less’ as they might have been at first.”

Hehe! You are the Sweet-Tooth Fairies! Families and food is a fascinating subject in itself. Like yours, so many families come together “for food,” and sometimes food is part of the joy or part of the comfort, depending on the occasion. And how families eat tells you so much about them! If they dig right in or wait to be served…

“If I feel like eating a doughnut, then I eat it. If I feel like having just corn for dinner, then I do it.”

I really like how you state this. It suggests that you’re paying attention to your body and your body is balanced in telling you what it needs. You’re not trying to deny or deprive (which usually backfires anyway!). Listening to our bodies (rather than the noise of the world around us) seems so essential.

“I say everyone should be entitled to eat what they like and look like they look.”

Yes, bravo! As long (as you clearly state) it’s not a matter of health - :)

6/16/2006 4:50 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

My Sweet Eunice,

How beautifully you write, my dear, and truly, you are a most beloved ignorant boob.

Yes, my evil and treacherous (or “maladjusted,” as the therapist calls him) brother and I have parted ways, but I do still sometimes feel his influence upon me, and thus, perhaps, my portrait flickers before your eyes at these grave times of uncertainty…

Ah, Eunice, you show true compassion and offer such comfort when you write:

“Yours is a natural process, an ageing caused by time and events. A process, I believe, that all women deplore because we are judged not by our mind, or by what is in our heart, but by our package. Never fear, though; our mind and heart remain intact.”

I will hold onto this, as I do so hope to hold onto my mind and heart - ;)

“Like you, I share a physique that many consider an anomaly. I am tall and thin to the point of skinny, which many people feel an inexplicable compulsion to point out to me.”

Oh, why is it that people “play the mirror” for us?! And as you say, want us to “mirror” them - even their unhealthy habits?!

“My body and my eating habits belong to me alone”

How relieved I am to hear that you stick to your own counsel, my dear! Otherwise, I might not recognize you. And you are quite beautiful as you are.

Sincerely yours,
Doriana

6/16/2006 4:53 PM  
Blogger Rhonda wrote...

I lost a lot of weight upon my divorce: 200 pounds of man-baggage and 40 pounds of me.

Never fear, Frankengirl, only the weighty man baggage stays out of your life. The weight returns, in all the places it was before.

Your post is brilliant - and an eye opener. I can compare it with being pregnant; a time when perfect strangers, male and female, feel free to touch your body and ask personal questions one would never dream of asking a non-pregnant stranger - or tell you you've obviously gained too much, or too little weight.

To have that experience all the time, as a petite person, would be infuriating.

6/16/2006 5:47 PM  
Blogger Kyahgirl wrote...

Hi Frankengirl. Your posts are always so interesting.

I'm not to go on about the weight, or the eating...your other friends have said some fabulous things.
I just want to send some warm cyber hugs and tell you to go easy on yourself. Your body is resilient and strong. Thankfully you may be a bit more conscious now about fueling it more. But its normal to expect some kind of physical manifestation of the loss you have recently being going through.

Big warm hugs under the Mother Hen's wing for you...*cluck, cluck, cluck*

6/16/2006 11:55 PM  
Blogger mysticgypsy wrote...

"And I wonder: Does our mirror image give us a sense of validity?"
Interesting question Frankengirl!
I think "validity" is a relative term. Someone might feel validated if their physical presence is noticed, but someone else might want more in order to feel validated, for example recognition on a deeper level. A mirror can help them "see" themselves, just as much as it can provoke them, reminding them of their "invisible" state.

"What are we looking for in the mirror? What are we hoping to find there? What do we focus on? What do we overlook? And why?"
I think it depends on the person. One can find faults just as much as one can find comfort, in a mirror.
I think it would help to think of the meaning of a "mirror", and of how many different mirrors we encounter. Even a person can become a mirror, reflecting your faults or your success, basically what you want to see (or not :/) Personally, I haven't found a traditional mirror (as in the shiny glassy slab) as helpful as the "inner, introspective" mirror, one that exists in the deeper recesses of my mind.

6/17/2006 12:14 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Rhonda!

“200 pounds of man-baggage”

Ha! Thanks for the laugh as well as the reassurance!

“I can compare it with being pregnant; a time when perfect strangers, male and female, feel free to touch your body and ask personal questions one would never dream of asking a non-pregnant stranger - or tell you you've obviously gained too much, or too little weight.”

Yes! What a great comparison.

I also wonder if this behavior toward pregnant women has more ancient roots? Procreation as a religious and community duty? A baby as communal or familial property?

Or is it that pregnant women appear more “vulnerable” and some assume they are being helpful and caring – when, in fact, they are crossing boundaries?

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

6/18/2006 11:06 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Kyahgirl!

“But its normal to expect some kind of physical manifestation of the loss you have recently being going through.”

Yes, our bodies and minds are so intricately connected that it’s only natural, as you say, that one would affect or even “mirror” the other.

Thank you for the wonderfully warm cyber hugs!!! Much appreciated, Mother Hen! - :)

6/18/2006 11:07 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, MysticGypsy!

I really like what you write about turning to an "inner, introspective" mirror, rather than tangible or worldly mirrors.

“A mirror can help them ‘see’ themselves, just as much as it can provoke them, reminding them of their ‘invisible’ state.”

This is so intriguing! It reminds me of a Buffy episode in which a high school student feels so ignored by her peers that she actually becomes invisible. She believes no one sees her, and thus, she becomes what she believes herself to be.

“Even a person can become a mirror, reflecting your faults or your success, basically what you want to see (or not :/)”

Another interesting angle. We often look to others’ faces, expressions, body language for feedback on something that’s been said or done. (Of course, children do this as part of socialization.) But if we continually adopt another’s “expression” as our own (they frown over xyz and so we frown over xyz), then are we becoming mirrors? Are we allowing another to influence how we see the world and ourselves by what they reflect back at us?

Hmm… the word “mirror” has taken on many different meanings here - :)

6/18/2006 11:08 AM  
Blogger Janet wrote...

81 pounds!? That's just crazy. Forget calling you Strawberry Shortcake. Let's get you some, stat!

6/18/2006 8:50 PM  
Blogger Sven wrote...

FrankenGirl-

I was particularly struck by your comments on the influence your mother had on your eating habits. That is a battle I am CONSTANTLY fearful of with regards to my daughter. I know the full well the damage that a parent (particularly fathers) can inflict on their daughters when it comes to issues of food, weight and body image. I'm really afraid of how I may consciously or unconsciously contribute to that.

Like AP, I have always teetered on the edge of skinny. When I trained for a marathon a few years ago I lost 10 pounds and came close to returning to my high school weight. (I've since gained some of that back.) My 8 year old daughter seems to have inherited by body structure. Not only do I have to be cautious of my own comments but I find myself having to defend her in front of other parents who freely comment on her size.

It's a never ending battle.

6/19/2006 11:03 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Janet!
Make it Chocolate Shortcake and I’ll take it - :)

Hi, Sven!

You raise a really important issue about parents, children and food. How do we monitor our children’s eating habits and guide them to make healthy choices without becoming an overactive (and/or adverse) voice inside their head?

Ultimately, we want our kids to listen to their own voices/bodies, but kids are so in-the-moment that they don’t think of the consequences down-the-road, etc. Emphasizing health instead of appearance strikes me as important, but I certainly don’t envy you this dilemma.

“I'm really afraid of how I may consciously or unconsciously contribute to that.”

The very fact that you think about this means you are far, far ahead of many parents. Your daughter is lucky you’re pondering these issues out of concern for her - :)

“Not only do I have to be cautious of my own comments but I find myself having to defend her in front of other parents who freely comment on her size.”

Wow. That is truly a never-ending battle. I can’t believe other parents comment – okay, yes, I can believe it – but it’s unbelievable!!! Argh.

Thank you for your thought-provoking comment.

6/19/2006 3:57 PM  
Blogger niTin wrote...

Hi this is Nitin.
Um just noticed your comment on what used to be my blog.
Yeah, I deleted the blog- in a moment of passion and anger against everybody.
Two days later, in a bid to salvage my blog I found that it had already been taken by someone else. Yonkers dog day care?
Well I deserved it. I miss blogging. It feels like one morning I woke up and found myself struck dumb.
I might start blogging again later. Maybe.

And well just so that this doesn't look incongruous on the post... I've never had any weight-body issues, except when I was in a relationship with a person who was very athletic.

6/20/2006 12:15 PM  
Blogger Janet wrote...

I never heard of a Chocolate Shortcake, but I did just have a piece of Napoleon that was to die for (and I don't die for sweets easily at ALL!):)

6/20/2006 10:14 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, niTin! So good to hear from you! You have been missed (and your blog, too).

“It feels like one morning I woke up and found myself struck dumb.”

I expect you’re not alone in feeling this way. Sometimes, words, speech, coherency are just not at our beck-and-call, especially when we’re overcome by emotions/passions.

Oh, and I’m glad to hear you haven’t started a doggy day care and that you haven’t had any body-weight issues (nice tie-in, hehe!).

Please let us know if your spirit stirs you to blog again! If it does, I’ll want to visit when I can - :)

6/21/2006 9:52 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Janet! Yes, you're quite right, I don’t think “chocolate shortcake” exists. But there’s Devil’s Food Cake to make up for this great tragedy - ;)

6/21/2006 9:53 AM  
Blogger Marti wrote...

Very thoughtful post. Women struggle so much with body image.

Now that I am a fossil *giggle* I don't worry so much about it. I realize that when I was younger and obsessed about my thighs being too big, or my breasts being too small, that I actually looked pretty danged good! LOL

I struggle to raise my teenage daughter to be clean and neat, but not obsessive about how she looks. If I see her eating too many sweets, I may say, "Can you find something healthier? Your bones and brain would appreciate some vitamins and minerals."

Always a delight to read your thoughts!

6/22/2006 5:04 PM  
Blogger actonbell wrote...

Baklova. Milk shakes. Potato chips. Nuts, any kind you want:)

But seriously, take care of yourself! 81 pounds does sound a bit alarming, though I agree with Kyahgirl that it's a part of experiencing loss.

Excellent post, as usual! And I believe that all diets do is make people obsessed with food. It's much better to think about health issues, such as getting enough exercise, sleep, and GOOD food than counting calories. Of course, the best thing is to be occupied with happy thoughts and activities--so, happy vibes and hugs to you<<<<<<<<<<<

6/23/2006 10:41 PM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, Marti! You are my favorite “fossil” – ;)

“I realize that when I was younger and obsessed about my thighs being too big, or my breasts being too small, that I actually looked pretty danged good!”

Yes! Isn’t is amazing how we cannot see our “beauty” – our own bodies clearly at times?! Sometimes, there seems to be a haze (of insecurity?) that blinds us.

I love how you emphasize health (over appearance) with your daughter! Very cool.

Thank you for sharing!

6/27/2006 9:45 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Hi, ActonBell!

Thank you for the happy vibes and cyber-hugs! Much appreciated - :)

“it's a part of experiencing loss.”

Yes! It almost seems acutely symbolic, doesn’t it?!

“I believe that all diets do is make people obsessed with food.”

I agree, and you’re so right about focusing on health and happiness!

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

6/27/2006 9:45 AM  
Blogger SlayGirl wrote...

I really needed to read this today. Thanks so much.

7/09/2006 4:25 AM  
Blogger frankengirl wrote...

Thank you, slaygirl, for reading - :)

7/10/2006 11:55 AM  

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