Yesterday afternoon, an older-man-acquaintance-of-mine told me I looked like someone who is currently on a reality TV show where they showcase some impressive talent.
He was real excited to share this observation with me. Maybe a little too excited. “My wife loves the show and watches it all the time after her nightly walk,” this man rambled with a gleam in his eye. “I always tell her, ‘Linda, you’ve never met her before, but Miss Amy looks just like her (insert name of reality star). They’re like twins.’” We continued to talk for a bit and I was dying to know who I looked like. I didn’t watch the show and didn’t know the girl he was talking about, but I let my imagination run wild. She’s probably sexy looking, I thought.Maybe she looks like a supermodel. Does she have big lips?
I couldn’t wait to get back to my laptop and Google my twin. But when I did, my bubble of enthusiasm burst like a teenage pimple (sorry, that’s kinda gross). I found a picture of the chick I apparently look like. And I almost fell out of my chair.
This girl was so plain. Sloppy looking. Her eyes were like slits. And, to top it off, she had some extra pounds on her. Okay, more like a lot. So my initial response to this comparison wasn’t very…inspiring. Actually I thought, I look like her? Really? Since when? Since you took your last hit on the crack pipe, old man? Since you last popped a colorful pill from the medicine cart in the geriatric clinic? And then I shifted gears. I went from being on the defensive to acting like an unsure teenager with a bobbling sense of self.
I started thinking, Do I really look like her? Is this how people really see me? But I’m in pretty good shape. Right? I mean, hello?? I work out a lot. I have muscles. And I love to dress up and wear high heels. Maybe my self-image is way off course? There were so many question marks clouding my head, I couldn’t see straight. And I couldn’t find an ounce of confidence to bully my way into a good place.
After a few minutes of allowing myself to seep in a pot of melodramatic and irrational fears of turning old, ugly, and fat as I creep into my mid-thirties, I stopped myself. My self-diatribe was annoying. Who cares? I mean, really, who cares? Who cares if someone says I look like Brittany Spears or Ted Kennedy. More importantly, ‘who cares’ what I look like. Beautiful. Ugly. Big. Small. Tall. Short. Glossy. Drab. Purple. Red. Yellow. Who gives a flying flounder? Seriously.
I’m not a little girl anymore who needs someone else or something to make me feel good, worth it, or beautiful. Guess what people? I don’t look like a high school cheerleader. I don’t look like I belong on a photo set for Playboy. I don’t have silky, shiny, perfect hair. I’m not a pre-cougar. And that’s fine. I own it. So what? Big deal! I don’t let it burn with rage inside of me anymore. I don’t let it affect my mood for the rest of the day. I don’t let it stop me from engaging in life or even looking into a mirror. I used to, though. The self-obsession was ridiculous.
Do you know that I don’t remember a summer where I wore a tank-top or any shirt that showed my bare arms? Yup, that’s right. I didn’t care how hot it was or how uncomfortable I felt, you couldn’t have paid me enough money (or given me a free-for-all afternoon at Sephora) to reveal to the public how not-skinny my arms are. When I looked at my arms in the mirror, I gulped. In shame. I saw a linebacker. Or a WWF wrestler. Or my alter ego Helga (doesn’t that name alone conjure up some colorful images in your head). What a waste, right?
I’m getting married in August. When I started thinking about bridal gowns, my sister-in-law called me to offer some great fashion advice to adorn my Achilles’ heel. “There are some beautiful dresses out there that cover your arms. How about a shawl? Or some lace sleeves?” Um. No. What am I, a freak from Marvel Comics? Do I have some gross deformity where the sight of my arms will cause someone to throw up or turn to stone?
My wedding is in the dead of summer. It’s going to be hot. And humid. I will be walking around a lot, maybe dancing (with enough sangria), and wearing a dress that weighs a zillion pounds. So let’s nix the idea of covering my upper extremity bits. I’m going strapless. And I’m happy. I’ll be honest. I still wish my arms were a little thinner. I don’t have the typical woman pear shape with a small upper body and a curvy booty, but damnit, I’m strong and I’ve got better things to obsess about.
I love what Anne Lamott wrote about her Club Med vacation inTraveling Mercies. She talked about the obsession she had comparing her butt with others. She called it “Butt-Mind.”
“I broke through Butt-Mind; or at any rate, have only had the mildest case of Butt-Mind ever since. In earlier incarnations I’ve spent days and entire weeks comparing my butt to everyone else’s butt. Sometimes my butt was better-than, although it is definitely the butt of a mother who keeps forgetting to work out. Mostly it was worse-than. Mostly at Club Med it was much worse-than…
Until recently, I was afraid to say it out loud, that I am beautiful, for fear that people would look at each other with amusement, think to themselves, Well, isn’t that nice: I wonder if she thinks she has a weenie, too… I was afraid they would see the spidery veins on my legs, and that my bottom appears to be making a break for freedom from the confines of the rear end of my swimsuit; afraid that they would notice all the parts of me that really need to have the fat vacuumed out, or at least carpet-swept. But somehow I was not afraid to say it anymore…”
I love how she ended this chapter. She beautifully wrote about her (in her eyes) uncomely body parts and finally being able to publicize them with pride. Amen sister.
Lamott writes, “I was not wearing a cover-up, not even a T-shirt. I had decided I was going to take my thighs and butt with me proudly wherever I went. I decided to treat them as if they were beloved elderly aunties, who did embarrassing things like roll their stockings into tubes around their ankles at the beach, but who I was proud of because they were so great in every important way. We walked along, the aunties and me, to meet Sam and our friends on the beach. I could feel the aunties beaming. They had been in the dark too long. It did not trouble me that parts of my body — the auntie parts — kept moving even after I had come to a full halt. Who cares? People just need to be soft and clean.”
Who cares? I know that I do less and less. It’s liberating being okay with the parts of you (inside and out) that once served as thorns in your side and maybe even still do to a certain degree. I prefer being proud of myself to beating myself up. I prefer living to hiding. I prefer to not let what is essentially petty stuff rule my emotional forecast and focus on things that really matter.
Sigh. I don’t have a name for my arms, yet. But I’m taking them proudly wherever I go.