During a recent acting class, I had a revelation. My body doesn’t have to look sexy or cover-girl perfect or fit to run a marathon. It doesn’t have to meet anyone else’s approval or conform to current trends or some arbitrary ideal dress size. The physical image I project needs only to agree with my beliefs and priorities.
Here’s how my “ah-ha moment” happened. My classmates and I were told to imagine a mirror before us. In this mirror we were to see ourselves, first, and then to visualize that image morphing into the role character we were about to perform. Being of a certain age, mirrors have not been my friend for years. I’ve struggled with the loss of my youthful figure, the gain of an extra 30 pounds, and a what-the-hell-happened-to-me mentality. At thirty-five, I was a size 4. Today, however, I’m pushing the limits of my size 12 “mature fit” jeans.
Walking us through this exercise, our instructor said, “How is your character perceived by others? What are his or her physical attributes? Does she have big breasts? Does he have . . . ? It’s your character. What do you see?”
My character was a mother and a wife, the center and pillar of her family and neighborhood, a friend to all, a kind and respectable woman in her mid-fifties. What I envisioned was an ample-bodied, fleshy, average-looking female (as opposed to a Desperate Housewives waif). She had wide hips, a round tummy, billowy breasts, and a soft expression. And that’s when it hit me! All of the personality traits that I admire are somehow rooted in my subconscious to a visual image—one that isn’t a Victoria Secret model!
So thinking about this further, I asked myself what I want to project to others and, perhaps more importantly, why. Commercials and magazine covers and television programs have been shouting their beliefs at me for so long that it’s easy to think these ideas align with my own. But do they really?
How sexy do I need to be?
I’m a contented married woman and a grandmother of four. My spouse has loved me through all sizes and shapes. He’s attracted to the whole me—not just my figure. And he still thinks I’m pretty great. I’m not in the market for anyone else. So why should it matter if I’ve lost my sex appeal to someone I’m not sexually interested in?
How perfect do I need to look?
I’m not trying to get a Hollywood leading role or my photo on the cover of Cosmopolitan. Even Angelina Jolie had to have her picture airbrushed for People. Horrors! The veins in her arms were showing. Real veins, the kind that pump honest-to-God human blood through her clinically average (though atypically beautiful) body.
How physically toned must I be?
The Olympics are likely out of question for me. I’ve no desire to ever climb Mt. Everest or even to win a marathon. I’d like to remain healthy and maintain bone density. But I don’t need to subsist on yogurt and “protein power bars” or spend 10+ hours a week at the gym to do that. I can find my way to the sidewalk without a personal trainer.
Why should I care about my BMI?
BMI is based on height, with no regard to age or bone structure or the fact that my thyroid gland has been destroyed (due to an autoimmune disease). Who can tell me what that magic number should be? My grandmother lived to be 96 without ever once knowing her BMI. She ate unlimited servings of real sugar, never cooked meat without a skillet, and drank Dr Pepper well into her nineties. She remained active and healthy until long after all her friends and siblings (who were all skinnier than her) had died.
What I’m saying is simply this: Let your body reflect your life values. That’s a goal worthy of pursuit. And when you know you’ve achieved this, be happy with how you look. That’s my new mantra.