Recently I was asked to appear on a local cable show to discuss my books. I’m always thrilled to talk to one of the five people who’ve read my work (hi Mom!), so I gave myself a quick self-five in celebration and said yes.
Normally I’d spend at least five days working myself into an appropriate panic about a public appearance like this, but life has been busy for the last few weeks (writing deadlines, trying to eat all the cheese in Italy), and I wasn’t able to give this TV appearance too much thought until the morning of filming. So this past Friday morning I found myself with a mere seven hours to work up an appropriate panic attack.
I started with the old stand-by, worrying frantically that I wouldn’t know what to say or that I’d say something stupid. This fear didn’t hold as much water as it has in the past. Of course I’d say something stupid; I’m human. But I’ve improved my stupid-to-nonstupid ratio drastically over the past few public appearances I’ve made, so all signs suggested I’d at least be able to nod and say “yes” at the correct times.
I quickly moved on to being worried about what to wear. And this, naturally, led straight to the question that’s been panic-inducing for me since high school: do I look fat in this?
Like most American women born after the popularization of Vitoria’s Secret, I am constantly confused regarding how I am supposed to feel about my body. As near as I can tell, I have three options:
1. Get incredibly thin and then everyone will love me and think I’m pretty.
Yes, this idea has occurred to me before. Frankly, though, my body type doesn’t go for this option this as easily as some others. Also: cookies.
2. Be proud of my body the way it is, eat what I want, and don’t worry about what everyone else thinks.
I want to go for this one. It seems like the healthiest option from a self-confidence perspective. But I’m not sure that eating everything I want to eat is actually going to allow me to live past the end of The Simpsons. And when Amy Schumer tried this, Hollywood basically took away her lunch. (Luckily she’s Amy Schumer. Lunch won.)
3. Worry about getting strong and toned, not thin.
I recognize that this is probably the optimal choice for a variety of reasons. But it also requires me going to the gym every time I say I’m going to, which is hard when you already have two jobs and a cat and a husband and other things. And then there’s the cookie problem. And hubs just perfected his homemade pasta recipe, sooo…yeah.
By the time I’d run through all three options, all while standing in front of the bathroom mirror and examining my thighs to determine if they looked any more cottage-cheesy than the last time I looked, I’d certainly worked up five days’ worth of panic. I couldn’t go film. I couldn’t be on TV, not even local access. People would see that I look like I eat lunch! People would realize I don’t always go to the gym when I’m supposed to! People would realize I don’t actually love my body just the way it is!
After quickly hyperventilating, I spent a quick shower contemplating an article I recently read where “real women” posed like the swimsuit models from the Victoria’s Secret catalog. Like any glutton for internet punishment, I’d foolishly read the comments on the article. Some of them were ecstatic, lauding all the women featured and calling them beautiful. Some were angry, calling out other commenters on basically encouraging obesity and, therefore, unhealthy lifestyles. And from what I could tell (although I did stop reading due to nausea, so who knows), not one commenter mentioned that the original models weren’t exactly the picture of health themselves.
In a world where there’s so much noise about body image, it’s no wonder I struggle with how I’m supposed to look and how I’m supposed to feel about my body. It’s no wonder so many woman—and men—struggle with eating disorders, weight issues, and food issues. It’s no wonder commenters on the internet are at war over this topic. It’s no wonder the media saturates us with images and words purporting competing ideas on what the ideal body is.
Did I come to some kind of epiphany that day about body image that carried me through the television shoot? No. I did the TV spot, had fun, and I only worried about how I looked once every seven minutes or so. I’ll call that a win. But this morning, as I putting on my own bathing suit to go for a swim at the rec center, I thought about the models who pose for Victoria’s Secret. And the women who posed for that accompanying article. And I wondered if the answer to being happy with my body and my life is a balance of equal parts gym time, cookies, and not worrying what anyone else thinks.
But that’s a balance that’s often easier to imagine than to strike.