As I was sifting through photos to find pictures for use in a collaborative book project I’m working on, I came across the photo at right, which is one of my favorite photos of my twin daughters. They’d just learned to walk and had toddled up to the mirror. As they gazed in the mirror, I asked, “which one is you?”
Each daughter pointed to the image of her sister.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised because, having been adopted from a Chinese orphanage, they’d probably never seen a mirror to know their own image. Each daughter had only ever seen her sister.
Rediscovery of the photo made me think about women and their reflections in mirrors.
I’ve recently been thrilled to reconnect, through social media, with friends I knew a lifetime ago…in grade school, high school, college and my year in France. Some of us have aged… well, I won’t say better, I’ll say truer to our younger selves… than others. Many who reconnect with me say, “I’d have known you anywhere!” or even, “You’ve hardly changed.”
I don’t see it. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder who it is looking back. The woman I see is older, more zaftig (a sexy way of saying plump) and grayer except for the overlay of Garnier Olia. It takes longer to apply makeup to get the almost-same results. And the clothing? Well, the wardrobe that once bordered on the fringe of NYC chic has a decidedly post-post-antitrendy-momliness to it. There have been days when I looked down at what I was wearing and thought, “What was I thinking? In the old days, I wouldn’t have …….. Well, I just wouldn’t have.”
Fortunately, my same familiar eyes shine back at me, albeit, through glasses.
And I think, “Oh, THERE you are!”
On facebook the other day, an article printed by the Huffington Post shows a “before” and “after” photo of a woman named Taryn Brumfitt. The before photo is of her as a young, tan, buff female bodybuilder. The after photo shows a modestly nude photo of her with a body carved by childbirth and the rigors of caring for children. In the trailer for a documentary she wants to produce called Embrace, she talks about how she is working to overcome the negative body image that has been unleashed as a result of post-motherhood changes in her body. As part of the trailer, she asks 100 women of all ages and body types to describe their bodies in one word. Watch the trailer, and you’ll discover 100 words to list in the dictionary under the word “derogatory.”
Sad, but true.
I think back through history to the types of female bodies that were considered beautiful. For much of history, the well-rounded woman was considered to be the ideal. It meant you were wealthy, had plenty to eat and servants to do your work. There was a status associated with a plump body. Then, as we moved toward the industrial age, society began to admire the svelte body. It meant you had the wherewithal to eat healthier foods, and more leisure time to spend working out and doing what you want to
do (working out).
Still and all, it was society dictating beauty, rather than we, ourselves, seeing it within and without.
As for myself, since I was about seven, I’ve had an issue with body image. I still have memories of neighborhood children chanting, “Two ton Tony, love to see you go. Two ton Tony, gee you’re movin’ slow.” If I look at photos of my six and seven year old self, I see a child that was normal in weight. My friends would have been considered “skinny.” Unfortunately, I didn’t see that then. I looked at myself through the reflection they held up to me.
Even when I was at my fittest, from doing ballroom dancing five nights a week, even when I was hired to perform Middle Eastern Dance in a rock video, I still saw myself as overweight. While one might imagine that aging would bring a tempering in self-criticism, I haven’t experienced it.
I hope that as people like Ms. Brumfitt explore the issues behind positive and negative self body image and as more of a spotlight is focused on the unrealistic expectations of “beauty” we exploit in media and advertising, we’ll find ways to equip our children to see themselves and others for each individual’s unique beauty, no matter the age, gender, ethnicity or size.
That is what I strive to help my daughters see, now that each looks in the mirror and sees her true self looking back.
P.S. I recognize that men and boys, too, can suffer from negative body image, and I know it is no less painful for them. Part of the reason I write this is because I am concerned that, with the incidence of self-injury and self-cutting on the rise in teens, especially among girls, more attention needs to be focused on helping all children, and particularly girls, develop positive self-body images that are internally generated rather than media- and peer-driven.