The bodies that rule the world

I’m 37 years old.  I have had two children.  I am a fair-skinned redhead who used to spend a lot of time in the sun.  My body is different now than it was ten years ago, even five years ago.  I have new wrinkles, new eczema, new pockets that are softer than I’d like.  There are many, many things I must accept as I grow into adulthood (which is, incidentally, taking longer than I ever imagined).  My physical self is certainly one of them.

I read Kristin Nilsen’s article about the hit show Up All Night and its two lead actresses with humor and identification, with a pit in my stomach and tears in my eyes.  She writes of Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph – both mothers – noting both their beauty and the way that their bodies are “substantial and meaningful.”  These women’s beauty is not in spite of their midlife roundness but rather because of it.  Nilsen asserts that Applegate and Rudolph represent fully the “bodies that rule the world.”  I love this language.

Up All Night is one of the few shows that I do occasionally watch.  The realistic, powerful depiction of female friendship and the hilariously on-point capturing of a marriage turned upside down by a baby are the reason I like it.  I had never specifically noticed what Nilsen describes, but now that I’ve read her thoughtful words I can’t stop thinking about Applegate and Rudolph as exemplars of womanhood in its full flower, of the ways motherhood augments and enriches us, even as it forces us to accept things we don’t like at all.

I’m fortunate never to have struggled with any substantive eating disorder; I know many who have and I know the terrifying and fierce grip those illnesses can have.  As I watch my daughter turn onto the runway that leads to adolescence, however, I find myself newly aware of the fraught minefield that body image can be.  I’m not sure precisely how to navigate these waters that I’ve only traveled through once before, and that time I was coming from a different perspective.  I know I need to avoid derogatory comments about myself (check) and model healthy and genuine eating (check).

The place I trip up is in actively demonstrating self-love.  That remains very hard for me.  As I thought about my midlife body, however, I realized with surprise and joy that I worry a lot less about it now.  Though I still have a long way to go before I am one of those women who is described as being “comfortable in her skin,” I definitely inhabit it more fully and assuredly than before.  Of course I am not the beauty that either Christina Applegate or Maya Rudolph is, but I do appreciate instinctively and thoroughly the powerful gorgeousness they display.  There is a lot more to do, both for me personally and for society at large, but I’m grateful for the smallest steps in the right direction.

What do you consider the most important things to model for and teach our children?  How is your body image, at whatever life stage you find yourself?


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  1. Posted March 7, 2012 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    You are right on. My daughter, after 13 years of indifference and acceptance of her own body, is now starting to care. The only protection she has from self-doubt and culturally induced doubt is the 13 years she spent with parents who were resolute in our commitment to be supportive of healthy bodies of all shapes and sizes: hers, our own, and everybody else’s. (That last one is a doozy, but written into the family rules.) It takes all kinds of self-control on our parts. Where food is concerned, we all try to eat when we are hungry, and stop when we are full.

    Another tip, while she is still (relatively) little? Throw out the scale.

    admin Reply:

    I haven’t weighed myself in literally years (was weighed during pregnancy but not at home) so that one is covered!!

  2. Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I have more questions than answers about this one. I weigh more than I would like, but have never, never said bad things about my body , which is very difficult, in front of my kids.

    I think some kids are predisposed to noticing bodies….etc. Since my daughter was five, in pre K, she thought she was fat and has always been self conscious about it.

    We always talk about eating healthy and taking care of our bodies. She is 11 now, and now it’s not cool to eat lunch. So she is starving when she comes home. I continue to remind her to take care of her body, but often try to have a healthy meal or heavy snack ready when they get home.

    I remain vigilant about watching out for any signs of eating disorder, although admittedly I’m not sure what I’m looking out for.

  3. Vanessa
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Why aren’t you the beauty that Maya Rudolph and Christina Applegate are? 🙂 When I think of myself poorly, I often remember your post about the glittering inside of everyone, (sorry I’m not quoting exactly), it’s something that’s stayed with me, your words are powerful, and they carry deep meaning for me 🙂 I think the ability to perceive beauty comes from a detached perspective, seeing the seams that tie it to everything else, and I think if we can view ourselves this way, we view with compassion and new eyes.

  4. Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    I had to hop over to respond to this one, because I am on the opposite side of the more mediagenic eating disorders: I am an emotional eater, who can take to bouts of binge eating when I’m under terrific stress. My weight has rarely been stable for more than two years at a time, and I marvel at the many women for whom this is not true, for whom there is a 5 to 7 pound range of fluctuation and that’s it. But even when I’m heaviest, I know how to dress to flatter and conceal, and people are often amazed when I say I’ve gained 60 pounds. Granted, I’m “big”, meaning tall and broad of shoulder, but still. Could you imagine what you would look like with 60 pounds on your fair frame, Lindsey? No. No, way.

    So slowly, over time and years and triumphs and tragedies in my life, I’ve had to accept a simple truth: When I am afraid, I gain weight. When I am free and secure, I lose it. I wish this weren’t true, but accepting the truth of it is simplicity at its core: this is what I was given, and my mother did the same. I’ve removed (much) of the negative self-talk surrounding it, and I am better at being patient and waiting for my mind to change so my body can follow. I was in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life in 2009-2010, and I am just now starting that long, slow climb up the hill that will change how connected I am to myself every day. The dark is pulling back, my life is slowly coming back to center after two years of terrible turmoil. And I am feeling the beginnings of rebirth in my sense of security in the world, after having so much taken away from me (read my blog if you want details: I have been up every day early in the morning the last two weeks, for long, energetic walks. And when I see the sun and feel the breath in my lungs, I almost cry for the joy of starting to break free from the fear—and from the weight I add for comfort, the weight I add to hide, the weight I add to make myself invisible, the weight I add to heighten my sense of failure (because if I’m hurting it must be my fault, right?), the weight I add to tell the world I am hurting, to ask for help, because I can’t ask for help. I’m too strong and too weak for that.

    It’s true that images of beauty and body in the world have some influence in how we think we “should” be, but for must of us women, weight and image are an internal battle we fight, through life’s thick and thin. Weight is more often about fear and control than it is about how we look, and I think that’s the conversation we should be having with our daughters, to encourage them to express their vulnerability, fear, doubts, failures and welcome those things in their lives, and show them they are our teachers, rather than to leave them to turn inward and find the answers on the scale, whatever the direction.

  5. Posted March 7, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Hey friend. First of all – Stacy’s comment is amazing, and literally took my breath away. It is so spot on to how I feel right now, with 20lbs covering up a lot of fear & pain & stress.

    For me, with my 2 teens, I try very hard to walk the talk. I stopped saying that I was going to talk to my kids about eating healthy and just started doing it. I don’t buy junk “for the kids,” and I hold firm to my convictions about what food is in our house.

    This might strike some as extreme, but I’ve always required that my kids be involved in a sport. They can certainly choose which sport, but they have to pick something. I never had that opportunity, and I think it contributed to my struggle to make exercise a part of my life.

    I try to monitor my negative self-talk, but I’m also brutally honest about when I’m not happy. My kids are much older than yours, so the words can be a bit more frank. They know, for instance, that I’m not happy with my weight right now, and know that I am actively looking for solutions to my back issues so that I can get back to the gym.

    Sorry so long!!

  6. Posted March 7, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    You are on the right track already. And all the other comments are good. One of the other things you can do is to start or keep talking to her about the UNREALISTIC images that most of media portrays. These two stars are great role models and there are others, but even so, most of us cannot even begin to dream of looking like either of them. And the images on TV and in magazines and movies and all of it are so unattainable, but so ever present, that young girls tend to internalize a model for physical beauty without any conscious thought. So it helps to point out how what we see on the screen or on the page has been tweaked and modified. And how the supermodel build is not the norm, or necessarily even healthy. Dove has some wonderful videos that show some of this stuff in a powerful way. Jean Killbourne’s Killing Us Softly is also pretty powerful. This is important stuff. Keep moving.

  7. Posted March 7, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

    What a terrific post and terrific discussion you’ve invited us into.

    Even though my daughter is just one, I am already conscious of the ways in which I must model for her a healthy attitude toward eating and exercise. I started playing sports when I was in third grade and so saw my body as a vessel of strength from an early age. I didn’t realize until recently how seminal (and lucky!) that experience was for me in establishing a positive relationship with my body. I only hope I can pass that attitude along to all three of my kids.


  8. Posted March 7, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Kristen–a great conversation for sure. One that we’ve started in our home and not finished because as everyone here points out, it is always evolving.

    I see my third grade daughter already asking questions about her body and its size. My husband and I try so hard to emulate a healthy life style (eating, exercise, etc) and don’t talk about our bodies in negative ways; even so, Abby knows words like fat and skinny and uses them in appropriately negative ways. So, even though we try our best to provide the right guidance at home, girls still talk and still receive input from other places (school, sports, friends).

    I guess I will continue to fortify her with wells of internal strength and positive body images.

    ps: You are gorgeous. xo

  9. Posted March 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Permalink

    Oh man. This is a painful discussion for me. Thank goodness I have BOYS but still, I don’t model self-love well. I am REALLY working on this. Today for lunch I ate pita chips and hummus standing over the sink. Yikes.

    Thanks for this. On a positive note, maybe I’ll check that show out. I love Maya Rudolph. Funny, I never thought she was hefty. But I guess she is compared to Angelina.

  10. suzanne
    Posted March 7, 2012 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    you underestimate your beauty.

    great post which sparked really good comments. Stacey’s comment was really insightful. It is not only for our daughters but for our sons too.

  11. Posted March 7, 2012 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

    There must be something in the air because I wrote about this very same thing today and the lengths I’ve gone to be vain. Today is my birthday and if there is any day of the year that you are reminded of the passage of time, it is this day. My daughter is almost three and the way she imitates me is down right scary. I don’t know the answers to this question, but where I have chose to begin is not just with my actions, but my thoughts, too. “So you think, as you become.” That’s what I hope to pass on to my girl.

  12. Posted March 7, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Permalink

    There’s lots of wonderful body-talk here (unlike some of the really hurt and angry comments on the post you reference). I relate strongly to Stacy’s story. As always, your readers bring so much to the table.

    As for me, I watch my beautiful daughter, who is strong, healthy and very much IN her body and at 4.5 still has baby curves and softness where many of her peers are already stick thin, and I’m painfully aware of the images she’ll absorb as she grows. I was the same way and because of it, even when I was 17 and 120 lbs of solid muscle at 5’8″ I thought I was “fat”. After I stopped dancing professionally, I had a hard time fitting exercise into my life and my weight yo-yo’d for almost 20 years. It topped out after Ben’s stillbirth and now, 20 months later, is healthier (and thinner) than it’s ever been. It’s been an amazing journey of love and acceptance and really listening to what my body is telling me.

    We talk a lot about health in our home – healthy foods (or “grow” foods), what exercise is (i.e. play for her!) and how her daddy and I feel mentally, emotionally and physically better when we exercise and eat well. My hope is that she always feels love for the miracle that her body is and that her goals are to feel healthy and strong.

    Oh – and you are every bit as beautiful as Christina and Maya – the only difference is their access to the magic of makeup, wardrobe and lighting.

  13. Posted March 8, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it funny how perspective changes over time? If I could have my 17-year-old body and weight back, I would thoroughly embrace the number on the scale, but not the mindset that went along with it. I danced with an eating disorder my senior year of high school and into college. Putting that behind me and choosing health and comfort in my own skin is something I still regard as one of my greatest accomplishments. I alternate between 10 pounds up and 10 pounds down, and while I wish it could be more stable, I’ve come to accept that life and hormones and aging and stress (and lack of activity) all play into my weight, and love myself equally at both ends of my weight spectrum. Helps to have a husband who likes the 10 pounds up, too.

    This is such a pervasive issue for women everywhere. Thanks for bringing it up in such a thoughtful way, and to your commenters for sharing their experiences too.