It’s a fine line…

Self-directed. Self-assured. Smart. Strong.

In great shape. Healthy. I have been described over the years as having all of these qualities.

By others.

I’m just wondering why I can’t believe it, or see it, myself? Perfect example, last week…

On a beautiful sunny day last Friday my friend Eve and I hopped into my Subaru mom-car ( I was wishing it was a cool classic convertible a la Thelma & Louise, but hey, it worked…) and we made our way along the curvy Vermont roads to destination: Saratoga Springs, NY.  The mission? To check out a few very targeted women’s clothing stores while our kids were at school. It’s finally warm out, almost-summer-like, and we were both in need of a few new things that weren’t either turtlenecks or made of SmartWool. We didn’t have a lot of time, but since all the clothing stores nearby have closed (we miss you Garnet Hill!), the hour-long each way trek to Saratoga was the closest option but needed to be quick and targeted.

With a much-needed stop for coffee and something really decadent at Mrs. London’s, we had time for three stores. We both tried on a ton of things. Eve gravitated towards dresses, and she tried them all. Me? I tried a mixed a bag of stuff. Living the river-mom lifestyle I do, with a gravel driveway and a Labrador Retriever always shoving wet muddy sticks into my legs, I worry about getting a little too over-dressed on most days so I usually end up with jeans or whatever I can wash easily. At the end of the day though, Eve did much better than I did. Everything she put on looked fantastic! And everything I tried on? Hmmm, well, this embroidered peasant shirt that looks so beautiful on the hanger makes me look dumpy. And this striped dress that Eve looks great in looks ridiculous on me; matronly. That’s the best word to describe it. And this? I look awful in patterns.

What the heck? Why do I look so odd in everything?

Or do I?

Honestly, I really thought I was over this self-confidence thing. You would think after awhile we get used to how we look. We get used to our own personal style. But I’m truly mystified by the fact my eyes do not see even remotely what other people see. I’m the perfect example of that Dove Beauty video that was floating around the web last month. Where the women describe themselves as completely different from how others describe them. At home I try on my clothes all the time, and find the same problem. What looked great in the store just doesn’t look as good at home. Or actually, it looks good sometimes, but then I get a glimpse of myself in another mirror or a reflection, or photo, and think, how the heck could I have thought this looked good in the first place.  It’s like I see myself through these fun-house mirrored glasses.

I don’t think I was always this way. Honestly, I always had a pretty good self-esteem. But it has been worse in the last few years, and I’m thinking this has to be one downside to being so focused and in-tune with my health and fitness level.

Since starting this blog, I have stayed away from any mention of weight itself. And I did this intentionally because I haven’t been worried about losing weight for awhile now, since I did finally shed all that extra baby-poundage about 3 1/2 years ago then refocus my efforts on fitness-related challenges. I actually put my scale away about a year and a half ago because for me, a very numbers-oriented person, trying to always hit the same number on the scale was a toxic experience. If there was any fluctuation at all, and as I’m sure you all know, there always is fluctuation from day-to-day,  I didn’t cope well with it. But today I’ll talk about it because I think there is a myth that needs to be dispelled about being the right size, or the right weight. And how this ties into our self-esteem.

How many times have you said to yourself:

If only I just lose that 5,10,15, 50  pounds…

Or, if only I’m a size 4, 6, 8, 10…whatever your size of choice is

Or, if I can just fit into those old jeans from high school…

I will be so happy! I will look fantastic in all my clothes! I’ll look great in photos! And once I hit that magic number and magic size, the tough part will be over. I’ll be done.

And I will love how I look.

It sounds just like the perfect fairy tale ending, doesn’t it? “And they lived happily ever after...”. Nobody knows what happened to Cinderella and the Prince after they ran off together, I mean really, do you think their life was always perfect? Does the story really stop there?

You don’t “live happily ever after” either once you hit the magic number. Actually it becomes even more of a challenge because now you have to figure out how to stay there! I have learned that yes, health problems do start to go away when you are the right size and focus on being fit. You have a great amount of energy and more endurance.  Your physician will tell you your BMI is normal and you are on the right track. That part is fantastic. Celebrate!

But the self-perception part for me has become confusing. My eyes and mind have taken a little longer to adjust; or maybe the way I see myself is all just relative. Just because I am the right weight doesn’t mean suddenly I’ll like the way I  look  in photos. I still have bad hair days. I still change clothes 5 times before going out because nothing seems to look right. I still have fat days. I still see where I need to improve. When I try clothing on in stores, like last week, I still don’t think I look that great in everything…actually, most things!  I have almost stopped asking my husband’s opinion on an outfit to find out if I look ok or good, or if something makes me look big, because I really want to know sometimes, but he so often just scoffs at me, kind of in disgust, like are you joking that you don’t know this, you always look great?!

Hmm, how the heck am I supposed to know this?

I’m sensing there is a fine line in my fitness quest between being on it, and being on it way, way too much. And maybe I’m leaning a little too far in the wrong direction… I do what it takes to keep up with being fit every day for health and strength reasons, yet somehow the line gets blurred. Maybe because I can’t visually see great health as a direct result of my efforts. I only get those quantitative numbers once a year when I get a physical. So maybe getting more focused, and sometimes overly critical on visual appearance becomes the default.

I heard a TedTalk last month while I was in the car listening to NPR, and have thought about it often since. It was with Cameron Russell, a model, talking about beauty. One part really resonated with me, when she mentions the low self-esteem of all models in particular. Always being forced to look a certain way. Always focused on being thin. And the stress of having to maintain this for their jobs.  No, I’m not even remotely model-like, but you can see why I get where they are coming from. If you are trying to hold this super-high standard for yourself, you will get more critical.

Take away the scale and the measurements, and where do you look to see progress?

It’s all in the details. The more you look. The more you see. The more you feel you can work to improve. I don’t think my inability to see myself with clear vision stems from trying to live up to overly-idealized photos of women in magazines or actresses on TV or in other media. I really don’t read beauty magazines, or watch shows with overly vamped up women. I don’t want to be them. It must come from this inner-perfectionist quality I have developed for myself in the last few years that has warped my ability to truly see who is looking back at me in the mirror. Because I know the person I see can’t really be so bad…

And I just wish I could tip that fine line back a little bit, because maybe right now I’m a little too on it.

How do you feel about yourself?

Are you too critical, too on it sometimes in your quest for health and fitness, sometimes for your own good?

How have you ultimately found the balance? Would love to hear your stories.

Below are two videos: The Cameron Russell TedTalk and the Dove Sketch video. Please watch…worth the time.

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8 thoughts on “It’s a fine line…

  1. I can totally relate. My weight has gone up and down over my lifetime. I’m 54 years old. Whenever I see a picture of myself while I’m losing weight, even though I’ve reached my goal, I’m never completely happy with what I see. I see 5 pounds that needs to come off my stomach, or maybe my saddlebags are too big.

    If I regain some weight and go back and look at the same picture through ‘fatter eyes,’ I can’t believe I ever thought I was still too fat. It now looks perfect to me. In some instances I have even thought I looked too thin.

    I don’t know why this is, but it is. It gives me a little understanding of how an anorexic can see themselves as too fat.

    • Joni, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. If it wasn’t us going through this, it would be so fascinating to study the why, wouldn’t it? And yeah, scary to say I can see how that too (about those with eating disorders)…self-perception is powerful and can make and break our moods and outlook at times…

  2. My husband found a photo of me taken at my lowest weight. At the time the picture was taken I remember feeling thin and felt pretty good about what I saw in the mirror. But the person I saw in the picture looked gaunt and unattractive, too thin! I’m now a few pounds heavier and feel like a FAT failure. Husband says I look much better, my clothes still fit, but I can’t wrap my brain around it. Somewhere within a span of 5 pounds lies perfection and self-acceptance, LOL. I just can’t seem to find it or recognize it.

    • Oh, I wish I could hug you!! Our brains are so well-aligned in whatever weird space they are in! Thanks as always for your support and comments–so reassuring! The thing is logic (my BMI, the fact that I wear small sizes) tells me I’m the right size and small and have nothing to complain about. I just can’t seem to connect that logic with my eyes when I’m sitting there and what I see is different, never a good reflection….hopefully these 2 parts of me will align and stop driving me crazy soon!

  3. It’s funny- there’s been a backlash against the popular Dove “police sketch” ad you cite, because some people cry foul, saying “yeah, but you’re still perpetuating an unattainable beauty ideal! It’s the same old story!”

    To which I say, yes, I see that. Do we have to be physically beautiful to be a beautiful person? No, of course not. But does that mean we will-or should- abandon the pursuit of beauty? I’m not so sure. As a reformed art major, I’m pretty sure beauty doesn’t just exist on the cover of the Sport Illustrated Swimsuit issue… it comes in too many forms and shapes to count. We just need to abandon an unattainable supermodel ideal (complete with photoshop effects) in favor of Real-People Beauty.

    I don’t think we need to abandon beauty wholesale, just because we aren’t all Halle Berry. We need to be able to recognize beauty everywhere- even in ourselves. Friends can be a good help with this.

    So- for the record, you couldn’t look “dumpy” OR “matronly” if you tried, my dear! Honest.

  4. Interesting Eve. I hadn’t heard the back-lash, except of course that Dove is a brand and all they want to do is cater to women so they can sell more. But they are a brand and they are good marketers, so I don’t mind that so much. As for helping women see the good in themselves, that can’t be all bad. And thank you so much–we must go shopping together more often and you can help get me out of this brain-warp I’m in now….

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