If I could harness all of the wasted energy I’ve spent dieting/regaining/agonizing about my weight over most of my five decades of life, it could probably light up Times Square for a year. A few days ago, Duchesse
linked to an article from Harpers in 1993
, The Weight That Women Carry
. In it, the author, Sallie Tisdale
says “What I liked in myself seemed to shrivel and disappear when I dieted.” That one sentence sums up why I’ll never darken the door of Weight Watchers again, or sign up for the “Lifestyle Change*” du jour
. Ultimately, I don’t like the person I’d have to be to look how I’d like to look. (That person is obsessive, self-involved, self-righteous, anxious.) I’ve been down that path so many times, I know the period of elation after achieving the goal eventually fades, and facing an eternity of measuring out half cups of cottage cheese starts to feel like a prison sentence. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t mostly eat healthfully and in moderation; I do. My mind and body certainly feel better when I do. I get regular exercise, too. But that doesn’t seem to be enough any more.
Until the last few decades, it wasn’t as much of a stigma for women to get a bit stouter once they were beyond their menarche years, and in some cultures, it still isn’t. They certainly weren’t expected to look and dress like teenagers, and if you check out vintage clothing websites, you’ll see there was a lot of elegant, stylish and well-made clothing available up to a modern size 16 or so. These days the word “matronly” is practically an epithet, and even great-grandmothers are trying to squeeze into Rock & Republic jeans. A failure to maintain the body we had in our twenties is now seen as letting oneself go, and dressing to accommodate our bodies and age, a sign we’ve given up.
When it comes to aging, weight is only one of a myriad of ways that we fight the advance of years. Creams, injections, cosmetic procedures, hair dye, teeth bleaching and veneers…there’s always another frontier on which the battle is waged to maintain a more youthful appearance. (My hair stylist even told me that one can get hair implants to augment thinning eyebrows! o_O Thanks, think I’ll pass.) There’s a lot of money to be made in selling us what we think will hold time itself at bay.
At some point, don’t we start to get the message from those wrinkles and grey hairs and sagging bits that Life Is Short, and that we need to think more carefully how we want to spend our finite time, energy and money? So much of what happens when we age is dependent on our genes, and often all but the most extreme efforts yield minimal results. Three hundred dollars can get us some super-duper magic face cream, or three singing lessons. Ten thousand dollars can buy a brow lift or a month travelling in Italy. Five hours a week on the treadmill or volunteering at the food bank? Which supports and sustains us more? That’s a question each woman has to answer for herself.
I still wrestle with this. On the one hand, I know diets are a recipe for failure, yet on the other I know that feeling frumpy detracts from the quality of my life. (Yes, I am that shallow.) I know the power that confidence can bring, and it eats away a bit at my confidence when my clothes no longer fit. To fight that feeling, I need to focus, to fine tune, to remember to eat some protein with each meal or snack, to grocery shop, to cook, to listen to my body, do what it takes to feel my best, which may or may not result in a return to last year’s size. Perhaps I also need to start revamping my wardrobe. Life is short, after all.
Would you kindly make this available poster-size for framing? A friend’s DH recently referred to me as “queenly” and she told me. A decade ago I’d have been mortified. But now am fine with it. Just watched the animated film “Persepolis” and was struck by the heroine’s grandmother, who was still elegant and feminine, still put jasmine petals into her bra every day for scent. I want to be like that, not desperately packing into skinny jeans with my grand-daughters.
Also think that desperation to be youthfully thin is a fear of losing attractiveness to men (or women, depending). It’s a form of bullying to say (as I have heard but NOT from my husband) “If she gets fat, I’ll divorce her.”
Great job, Pseu! Look forward to the lively discourse your thoughts and experiences will generate.
Wow, I can relate to this on so many levels. Having just turned 50 this year I noticed I have put on about 15 lbs since my early 40’s. I struggle too with the dieting (a whole group of us at work recently joined Weight Watchers, I lasted for about 5 weeks!) I have friends who are extremely focused on remaining thin in their late 50’s and are very judgmental towards those who are not as obsessive about it. One thing I have noticed about myself when I am thinner that I too tend to become more judgmental towards other women who carry more weight (sort of suble thoughts of “well, you just are too weak, why can’t you lose the weight, I did..”) and I don’t like it when I become that way. Having a bit more cushion makes me feel a lot more loving and accepting, if that makes sense. However, when I see my late 50’s thin friend in her size six jeans, I am jealous, I must admit. I wish thin was not such a pressure point for women of all ages in our society!
Hi Again Pseu- Tomorrow (Dec 2) my post is on WW as I’ve too much to say to post in your comments! The question before assessing WW is “Lose weight for what reason?”
I also work not to compare myself to women blessed by their DNA. No I’m not as slender as my friend Diane. And I’m not four inches taller like her either. Still struggling to fit into my own skin, and I appreciate the good advice this morning!
I’m 38 and am feeling as though I’m finally getting respectable! LOL I work in a male-dominated field, and women don’t dress at all.
I have gained and lost weight over the years, and right now am on a “gain” cycle. While I am not thrilled with it, I just buy bigger sizes and am determined to look put-together and classy no matter what size I am.
I’ve got 2 kids, a full time job, a husband, a 2 hr commute and a household to manage. These days, I feel like that is enough to manage!
So well said and true, Deja Pseu. Like you, if Miss J had a dollar for all her obsessive thouights about food, dieting, and exercise, she’d be a rich woman. What a WASTE of energy & talent & time.
I don’t know…giving into Father Time doesn’t exactly make me go “Yay.” Everyone always says they’d have so much more time if they didn’t worry/do things about weight, gray hair, wrinkles etc, but really what are you going to do? I feel like I’m doing plenty. I’m not going to turn into Mother Teresa and start working lepers just because I stop plucking my eyebrows and exercising.
Duchesse – thanks! Re: the “I’ll divorce her,” guys, thankfully I’m not married to one of those, but I always wonder if they think it would also be OK for their wife to divorce them if they went bald or developed a beer belly??
TessaScoffs – thank you, and graceful, gracious, well-dressed and made up are admirable achievements on a daily basis!
Kelly – there’s an old quote from Sally Kempton, “it’s hard to fight an enemy with outposts in your own head.” It’s been my experience that the pressure from outside is magnified by our degree of agreement with it. Trying to let go of that agreement/collusion is what I struggle with daily.
Duchesse – looking forward to reading it!
cybill – I hear ya! Finding that balance or compromise is tough.
see you there – thanks so much for reading and for joining the discussion! I have a major closet-clearing planned for next weekend when the rest of the family will be out of town. Stay tuned… 😉
Linn – comparing ourselves to others is really so counterproductive, isn’t it? I try to remind myself that even the most genetically blessed people have issues they struggle with (sometimes including crappy self-esteem).
nina – thanks for your comment. That feeling of tightness is so rarely a motivator; for me it just reinforces the negative feelings.
Sal – “tail chasing” is a great analogy!
LBR – I can relate to that feeling that acceptance comes and goes. Send some of those dietetic macarons my way, eh?
spacegeek – one of my favorite bits of wisdom from Manolo the Shoeblogger is this: Dress well, live well, treat others well, and do all you can with joyful confidence and others will invariably come to love your flaws as you yourself cannot. Your comment reminded me of that; we have to do the best we are able and then let go.
Miss Janey – and now I’m going to quote Naomi Wolf, “Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.” Girlfried had that right!
metscan – yes, it seems that we no sooner get comfortable with ourselves that something changes!
Wendyb – that’s why I said every women has to make those choices for themselves. It’s not about giving up and moving to a leper colony, (and that’s not the dichotomy I was setting up, either) it’s about deciding consciously which of these support and sustain us. I may learn to live with these ten pounds, but by Gawd I’m not giving up my colorist or my thrice-yearly hydroxy peel facials!
“themselves” should be “herself” in my response to Wendyb. Gah, I hate it when I have a grammatical hiccup!
Thank you, thank you. While I lost weight very successfully on WW about 8 years ago, I really was obsessed with food and portion sizes to do it, and feared and loathed food. That wasn’t a “me” I liked a lot. I’m on a loss cycle now because I’m dealing with my stress and exhaustion better (so eating less and better quality foods, not drinking much) but I’m still chunky – and very muscular and strong underneath it. I’ll take pudgy and strong over obsessed any day.
About 7 years ago husband and I went out to eat and were seated on the patio next to another couple. He ate a reasonable but “normal” meal (protein and sides) and had a glass of wine and she had a small salad, no dressing, and a diet coke. I remembered then thinking that if that was how I had to go through life, dry, fake and starved, then it just wasn’t worth it to me.
Lots to think about in your very timely essay, Pseu. If the proverbial shark fin isn’t completely above the water 24/7, it certainly surfaces during the holiday season; that is, the ongoing discussion in our heads about where we are in relation to our wardrobes, where we think we should be in relation to our idealized selves,where we are in relation to photoshopped fashion images, where we are in relation to the meal with too much salt, yedda.
And, at year’s end we have to contend with the RTFTM, the resolutions that failed to materialize, due to our weaknesses, failure of will, whatever.
It seems as tho’ the noise gets louder or softer dependent upon how “firm” our metaphorical centers are. If we’re feelin a grundy above OKAY, we rock: otherwise, well, you know. . . .
This was a great post to read first thing in the morning. I agree with you (and have experienced): the difficult and monumental effort it takes to lose just a few pounds. I’m still shuttling around in my “Mom’s taxi” and volunteering my days/weeks away so it is hard for me to fit in walks, etc. I’m just trying to be graceful, gracious, dress well and make up every day. I feel pretty-ish, if not thin.
I cannot reconcile living life fully and food deprivation, unfortunately I also cannot reconcile my self-esteem to my weight.
I’ve been reading your great blog for a few weeks and this is the post that brought me to comment. I have a decade or more of years on you and truly, the only time I think of weight these days is in relation to my health (cholesterol down? knees ok?, that sort of thing). I settled into a reasonable (but not thin) weight in my early 60’s.
I say take the too small things to a consignment shop and buy what you want that fits.
Smile a lot!
Thank you! what a great post, une femme. At least half of my clothes are too tight, which I have never encountered before in my life. Your post was great timing for me.
Ahhh, the endless tail-chasing game of weight-loss. It’s so hard to remember that some gain is natural when we look in the mirror and feel like crap. And yet, you’re completely right: Time spent obsessing, suffering, and depriving is time wasted. And time is finite. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights on this, lady. It helps us all to be reminded that we are not alone when we chase our tails … especially by someone as wise and well-spoken as yourself.
I just had a macaron with my coffee—during the holidays that meal is considered to be dietetic and restrictive and a much better choice than a bowl of cereal.
This week I have decided to go with self-acceptance, the smartest food choices I can make without deprivation, moderate exercise and fantasies of liposuction. Next week I might be in a different place.
I find it depressing how angry some women look whilst working out. I fear for the future.
Thanks Deja for your post. I have read the comments too and I´m a bit ashamed to admit that although I´m tall and slender, I´d like to get rid of my 2,5 kg tummy rolls! And suddenly just now it is terribly difficult. I hate these two extra kilos on me. Probably most of you must think I´m nuts, maybe so, but I´m small boned and used to be skinny,so the two extra kilos disturb me. Food is not my obsession, but I should leave the sweets out,I know,I know. I have not ever been on a diet and I believe that they don´t do the trick. It needs a permanent change in eating habits. I believe everyone has a certain weight they feel comfortable in. At this certain age, it is just so difficult to hold on to it.
Anon – true, fear and loathing of food is no way to live. Dry, fake and starved, indeed. I’m reminded of an episode of the Bill Cosby show, where his wife is trying to get him to eat rice cakes because they’re “healthy.” He bits into one and says, “the air in my mouth has more flavor than this!”
Laurel – I love the shark analogy! Dangeous and mindless, that’s a weight/diet obsession alright. There was a great article in the New England Journal of Medicine probably about ten years ago explaining why weight loss is such a futile resolution. I’ll try to find it and post a link.
Karen – “radiant health and humor,” yes!! What a great way to approach life.
Thomas – I find a lot of people (men and women) look angry while working out. Especially weight lifters. I think for some people, the unabashed grimacing is part of the appeal.
Oh, and I want to go on that Martini Diet.
No one wants to hear when a thin person gains five pounds, but like Metscan, put that on a tiny frame and that’s enough to make your clothes tight enough to donate. I have dealt with “Your sooooo thin” and “Have you been ill?” for the better part of my adult life. A small frame, chasing little kids and neglecting my own nutrition made me into a little sparrow for over a decade of childrearing. As I age, I could give a rats arse about my thickening middle. I know as time passes I will be less vain; the women in my family grow old without surgeries. They get fat tummies. They still dress well and make up each day and wear jewels. They still are loved.
Boobs will sag, stomachs will pooch, faces will slide, and this discourse will go on. I’ve decided in advance to dump excessive vanity in favor of radiant health and humor. I want to be strong enough and energetic enough to be an active grandmother. That is my goal, to have the health to participate in the joys of the next generation…
Thank you for the gift of this post Pseu!
What a wonderful post. An issue that most struggle with. I had always been fairly thin until 30 or so. I am only willing to do so much sacrifice. Cooking and creating good food is a hobby to me. I do try to eat mostly seasonally and I rarely eat processed food. I could up my activity level a bit. But I am not going to structure my life around trying to be thin.
Belle – I tend to take Michael Kors with a grain of salt. He always looks orange from too much bronzer, and his designs don’t often speak to me. I think at some point we have to stop comparing ourselves to other women, (after all there will always be someone prettier, younger, thinner, firmer, with better hair) and just start trying to be our best selves. If that means the good highlights, so be it.
Julianne – thanks! I’ll bet you’re a marvelous cook. Can I come to dinner? 😉
THis was a really great post and some pretty interesting responses too. I struggle with this same thing. Once thin, no longer, I am not convinced that having to make the sacrifices to remain “chic” are truly worth it. It seems that many women (not all of course) give up that part of themselves that make them funny, wise, savvy and smart to be a shell of a person. I did lose 20 pounds this year. I need to lose more (20 to 30 pounds) but I am in no hurry and if it happens while I lead a healthy and enjoyable life, that would be ideal. But you know at 5’9″ and a size 14 it is far easier to find clothes that fit me now than ever fit when when I was a skinny size 6, and I honestly don’t believe I was happier in that body. It seems that accepting and making the most of oneself, with humor, is a recipe for a far happier life. Life is short enough and stressful enough without making it harder. Of course we are all different, with different skins, hair, shapes, and personalities and I think there is room for all of us.
I find it hard to imagine enjoying a world where all the women look 30 and all the men look like Michael Kors. People used to say that youth was wasted on the young. I chose to believe that the ephemera of youth is not nearly as interesting as what one accumulates in life. I’d hate to see age, beauty, and wisdom wasted on trying to regain youth. Pass the scotch and the chocolate cake.
Late to the party, but I really enjoyed this post. I revamped most of my wardrobe two years ago because, after I got married, 10 pounds somehow creeped into my life. It bothered me to go up a size, but obviously not enough to spend half my free time at the gym and live on salads for the rest of my days. Now I’m concentrating on getting a bit of exercise everyday, but I still can’t put down those cookies. It really is true that priorties simply change as we get older, and being a size 2 usually isn’t one of them.