‘Look at my legs Mummy, I have cellulite!’ Matilda cried out as she pinched her legs!
Now before you bring out the pitchforks and storm my front door, this complaint isn’t mirroring my talk. In fact, I have no idea if I have cellulite or not! I assume I do, after all I’ve delivered two healthy girls into this world and that was not via a journey of salads and mung beans.
I have a new approach to my cellulite – I don’t look at my legs! That is one part of my body ‘fixed’, but there are many other areas that still need addressing. This is not so much a lesson as a rant. I have been doing my best to improve my body image talk and be a good role model, but as you will read, these efforts are overshadowed by a family tradition of obsessing over your faults, and how we are all drowning in our contradictions.
Getting back to Matilda, and her ‘fat’ legs. I was having coffee with an (extremely lean) girlfriend the other day who was complaining to me about her cellulite while the girls were playing nearby, listening and playing.
My Miss Tilda, three and a half, is a magnet. She is very clever at collating the language and information around her – ready to pour forth later. She can multi-task –tuning in to the conversations as she quietly amuses herself nearby (I have this talent too).
I am doing my best Mumma duty to keep my body criticisms to myself and have been practising killing off my critical inner voice since Tilda was born. It’s hard. I probably used to hear a minimum of ten things a day in my head, but now I don’t notice so much. The girls keep me busy and most days I don’t have time to check in a mirror. That helps.
I have awful eating habits. I have got into the terrible habit of grazing throughout the day and not really eating lunch but having a huge dinner. I live off museli bars and yoghurts and have done this for years (except when breastfeeding, hold the lambasting)! It’s not that I’m consciously dieting, it’s just that I have this habit of having small meals as I don’t get particularly hungry at a set time and have to remind myself to eat. At the end of the day I do enjoy a small square of chocolate with my book and won’t have it if I’ve had ‘the wrong’ type of foods in the day. Does that mean I’m dieting? I’m not sure.
But yes, I am aware of the calories I intake, but it passes through my mind as naturally as water from the tap.
I try not to worry about them and I do love to indulge! I love my Smiths originals and Tim Tams when I am lazily enjoying a movie on the couch.
When I indulge, I have no regrets. I savour every mouthful and enjoy the pleasure; otherwise it is just a waste!
I do still struggle with getting dressed into a new outfit, as you don’t know which ‘part’ is going to stick out. Sometimes my inner voice is bursting with criticisms and I might change half a dozen times before going out for a special occasion. My inner voice is punishing – ‘Oh my God, look at you! Oh your flabby arms, oh no your Mummy tummy is showing!’ Sometimes I am in tears before I can leave the house. I need someone to reassure me, to comfort me.
I can’t do it myself.
When I was in high school all we cared about was the Formal. I was so obsessed and excited that I chose my dress when I was in year 9, and treasured it in my wardrobe for the year before it was needed. I punished myself in the lead up to my year ten formal. The event that I saw would be the absolute pinnacle of my high school experience. I remember flicking through the Rosemary Conley ‘Hips and Thighs’ diet before realising it all looked too hard. Plus my Mum wisely refused to let me diet.
I heard girls talking about laxatives, and I tried that for a few days but was racked with pain and couldn’t sleep due to the discomfort. I have never admitted that. It was very stupid.
There was an adorable girl in my year who had that girl next door quality. She used to eat all the time and was quite happy and confident about it. She wisely suggested to me that exercise was the key, not food. So I started running more and walking the dog on longer routes, and decided that would be my focus. I think I looked quite cute for my formal. I was very pretty in pink. I enjoyed being pretty when I was fifteen. Many years later, I dyed my hair black and tried to shake the prettiness off me. My hair looked like a wig. It wasn’t me.
I was obsessed with presenting the best me, and often felt what I wore failed me. Almost all of the women in my family also suffer with this cringing obsession about how we look, or more accurately, how terrible we look. When we take family photos all you hear is:
‘Oh my god, I look terrible!’
’Oh look at my chins (me)!’
‘God I look fat, I shouldn’t have worn that!’
In my family, skinniness is revered – whether through genetics, ill health or fitness – you are automatically adored and placed on a pedestal. It doesn’t matter what you wear…you will always be mentioned and discussed as looking ‘gorgeous’ and ‘divine’.
Others, the medium sized, averaged among us, fail a mention. Those who have medical issues that prevent exercise, or are taking despised but necessary medication that make your weight balloon – give up at the sheer unfairness of it all and decide to enjoy their wine and not give a f*k. That is until we are all gathered at big family parties. Then, almost all of the women in my family imprison themselves in their bedrooms not wanting to come out. We all hate what we are wearing.
My Mum, who would probably consider herself body conscious, and is often nervous in other areas of her life – shines at parties. She puts together the perfect outfit accessorized with headwear and jewellery. Her hair is freshly done and her nails bright and she is resplendent in her ensemble. She bursts with confidence and never hesitates or changes what she has. She is always ready first. I’m proud of my Mum and the way she does this. I am saddened when she criticises the photos later.
Compliments don’t come our way very often. We hurl insults at ourselves though, and are very good at refuting the comments we hear others say about themselves:
‘No, you are gorgeous.’
‘Your eyes look amazing with that dress.’
‘Stop, you always say that about yourself, it isn’t true.’
We have all learnt to curb our swearing or cursing around our children, as we don’t want them running about spouting these words all over the playground. We haven’t learnt to keep our negative words to ourselves.
I’m fat…my legs are fat, my tummy sticks out.’
These are probably some of the regular sentences and discussions that swirl above my daughter’s playland.
What are the things that you say aloud when you are complaining about yourself?
Is there any purpose in this? Are we seeking reassurance or confirmation from our confidantes?
We all know we shouldn’t say these things, yet we all do. We have heard them our entire lives from our mums, aunts and grandmas. My sister is very good at silencing my inner critic, but if she isn’t around – the words spill forth and tumble like a fountain around me. They remain etched in the tableau.
The spiteful words imprison me and I can’t disagree with myself. I need someone else to do it. That power does not live within me and rather than becoming strong enough to refute myself, I am learning NOT TO SAY ANYTHING when I look at a picture. I am trying to enjoy the memory of the moment. Live in the moment. Be kinder to your self.
It took a long time to find me. I had to reach inside and travel alone a lot. Being a Mum has helped me identify me. I have a label. I am a category. This is who I have become, who I am.
These contradictions and criticisms are of course, common. I’m writing about it for the first time, others shout their disgust loudly. This student did an inspiring (I don’t use this word lightly, she did inspire this post) job of drawing attention to the gender issues of body image and the impact on children. See her roar at:
There are some great groups that are attempting to address the cultural and media forces that affect body images. The people over at http://www.about-face.org have listed ways that we can take action to improve our body image. Listed on http://www.about-face.org/take-action is five ways to ‘make change’.
My favourite is:
Practice looking at yourself in the mirror and finding 5 things you like, and not saying/thinking about what you don’t like. Repeat each of the positive attributes 5 times to yourself, out loud.
Some of my personal tips are:
* Stand back from a photo and look at the entire image
– if you see a play and sit close to the stage you will see all the make up on the performers. The illusion is thwarted, as you can’t see the character but the person. Bring your focus back to look at the mise en scene and the magic is there waiting for you. It is not a young man with lines drawn on his face, but an old man, weary and tired.
– when someone takes a photo of you – look at the overall image. Look at the person standing next to you. Try and find their faults. Can’t? They look good don’t they, as do you. Don’t look at your frown lines or double chin – look at the smile and the memories connected with it and savour that moment. That irreplaceable moment in time when you smiled and were truly happy and the camera snapped that moment.
Photos are supposed to help re-connect us with our happy moments. Not a showdown with our faults. Try it.
This new years, I’m not going to make a silly resolution to myself about dieting or getting fit. I enjoy walking and getting out and about, and do so when I’m well enough. I don’t need to make a pledge to myself that I will often be unable to keep, resulting in feelings of failure! Being a Mum is already tough enough without that extra strain!
Resolutions invariably lead to disappointment, and the year is too fresh and too new for those.
I’m going to relax, smile and stand back and look at the whole picture. And curb that fat talk! My three year old daughter does not have cellulite (and my baby isn’t fat, she is adorably chubby)!