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MamaChristy

I've decided that I just don't care what society expects; as long as I'm happy and we are happy as a family, it doesn't matter.

Please let me just say how proud I am of the men who have commented on this topic. They seem so enlightened and don't seem to care as much about our physical changes as we do. What a wonderful blessing.

Sarah

I have found that there is a point where my internal picture and my external picture don't match, and that is the point where I feel it is time to 'get in touch with reality' i.e. get on a scale. I did a huge amount of body image work in college, and then as I entered my 30's I had to figure out what worked for me. Luckily, my husband is not a fetishiser--he enjoys a good belly button or clavical, but if I am out of sorts physically, he can't get near me no matter what I weigh or how it conforms to norms or not. There is so much more to 'letting yourself go' than how much you weigh. Do you attend to your health? Do you have a vibrant curious mental life? Are you laughing? Letting that go has a big effect too.

Jody

Sigh. ENORMOUS sigh. I'm really really tired of the round-robin of this. Why for the love of god WHY do so many people (not necessarily you, Moxie) seem to think that a woman who's beautiful weighing 120 pounds is LESS beautiful when she weighs 180 pounds? Why can't we say she's differently beautiful, but still just as beautiful as she was before? Because I want to say that. I believe that.

And what really blows my mind about this is that's it's MOTHERS having this discussion. You know, my kids have helped me love my body more even than my husband, because they love best some of the parts I love the least: my stretch-marked belly pouch that they loved to pat and stroke when they were nursing babies, that they loved to stroke as they got older and could talk about mommy's "special skin" (it does feel special, you know? It's very soft, which I never actually noticed until they did), that they love to lean against and remember that they used to live inside there.

My mom hates her swingy bicep underarm, but my kids LOVE it, because it's so soft and cushy. That's what they call it: Gramma's cushy skin.

If you follow some of these arguments about weight gain and "letting yourself go" to their logical conclusion, then it's impossible to imagine beautiful women in their sixties and seventies (absent Joan Richards/Priscilla Presley level plastic surgery). Do we REALLY believe that? Moxie, do you look at older women in church on Sunday and think, wow, they were so beautiful once, long ago, but they sure aren't now? I can't IMAGINE you do that, but that's the logical conclusion, right?

And while I'm on the subject, if we're going to make fake distinctions between the beauty we lose through our own actions and the beauty we lose through aging, how precisely would that work? "Oh, I thought you had really gotten less beautiful because you gained thirty pounds, but now that I know you're on a steroid to prevent a serious medical complication, I realize you're really just as beautiful as always"?

Are our standards for our own beauty really so straight-jacketed by fashion magazines and celebrity tabloids? Are societal expectations for female beauty so much more immovable than other societal expectations that we, especially we as mothers, have to overturn every day? And if so, why? Why do we have endless variety in our standards in every area except this area of personal beauty?

I just refuse, absolutely, to equate putting on a few pounds with letting myself go, or becoming less beautiful. I'm having a rough day (awful, really: if anyone knows what to do with a five-year old boy who doesn't give a shit about peeing and pooping in his underpants multiple times a day, I'd love to hear it -- although any and all suggestions that it's all my maternal fault will go right into the trash can) so I realize that I'm not being especially kind or thoughtful here, and I'm certainly not responding to your actual post Moxie, but if I have to hear one more time that we're only really beautiful if we look the way we did when we were about 22, I'm going to slam my computer shut and never go near another blog again.

Moxie

The reason I put this post up was because I wanted to make a place where people could talk, theoretically or specifically, about real people deal with the expectations.

The vast majority of comments and posts I read reject the idea that we can or should look like we did when we were 22. Even the ones from people who weren't happy with how they looked. So how do we all process this against the backdrop of teenager-worship in American society? That's what I'm interested in.

I really hope it's obvious from my posts that I personally don't think women are only beautiful when they're thin. I'd be thrilled to look like Queen Latifah, myself, or like Judi Dench when I'm 30 years older than I am now. (I'm on a diet right now primarily because I don't want to have to buy new clothes and I don't feel good physically at this weight.) I've also been deliberate about not putting my actual weight anywhere because it's alienating to almost everyone. Half my readers would feel bad because they'd be thrilled to be my current weight, and the other half would be horrified that anyone's as heavy as my goal weight.

I'm so not surprised that mothers are discussing this. Weight is a concern for every woman I know, so I think it's the easiest thing to feel bad about and to focus on under the heading "letting oneself go." If you feel bad about your weight, you can either turn it on yourself or you can turn it on other women. I'm guessing the ones turning it on other women are also the ones who criticize things like pacifier use or feeding 2-year-olds ice cream.

But I'll put up a new post tomorrow or Monday, and then we can get back to the usual.

Also, have you tried cranio-sacral manipulation for Wilder? That and/or acupuncture would be my suggestions. (Even from a purely objective POV, the blame-the-mother thing just doesn't work in your case, as your other two provide a control group for your mothering skills. It's got to be something else, and I'd look at physical things first.)

Her Bad Mother

I've said on my post on this topic, and in numerous comments, and want to say again here (at risk of getting all ad nauseum about this) that its. not. just. about. the. weight. Weight is the flashpoint, but I just don't think that it's all about that.

I really think that for many women (well, me) the whole post-pregnancy transition/transformation thing can be troubling/unnerving/uncomfortable not *just* because we've landed on the wrong side of society's standards (tho' that's often part of it) but because we've changed so dramatically, so quickly. Overnight, we've begun looking a whole lot more like our mothers. For me it's not an 'oh god I don't look like Kate Moss' issue - I never did, regardless of the youthful skinny. It's a 'who the f*** is that looking back at me from the mirror?' And, 'who am I, now?' more generally. I'm so freaking different now, in so many ways, and it freaks me out.

Anyway. What I really wanted to say was, thanks, Moxie, for providing a little more space for this conversation. I've been a little uncomfortable with the intensity of some of the 'let's MOVE ON' sentiments expressed around the blogosphere. I get that a subject can get tired. Totally. But this hit some big nerves and I'm betting that a lotta folks might still be benefiting from, maybe even needing, the discussion, and it would be a shame if if anyone was silenced (in comments, or in their own blogs) because of the 'let's stop talking about this' vibe. New subjects are welcome. But I for one would be happy to see this conversation continue on, in some form or another, in the nooks and crannies of the blogosphere.

littlem

"Are our standards for our own beauty really so straight-jacketed by fashion magazines and celebrity tabloids?"

Um, yes.

(I live on the coast(s) but felt just as ostracized, as a "Hollywood fat" girl - size 12, it doesn't show up nicely on camera unless you're 6 feet due to lens distortion) - in my home state of Indiana when I went to college.)

Unless we fight it as eloquently as Jody does in the post I'm quoting from.

Women's body image and its control by men is a HUGE issue in this culture.

I will not rant - see mopie.com/BigFatDeal and Twisty's "I Blame the Patriarchy" for more.

Heather

I've found reading both sides of this highly charged emotional topic to be extremely intersting.

The more difficult issue for me, as the mother of a daughter (and a second daughter due in just a couple of months) is how do we avoid passing on these societal expectations about physical appearance to them? I don't want my daughters to own the legacy of looking into the mirror and whether it's 115 lbs or 160 lbs, being unhappy with herself. I'm pretty sure my own mother didn't want that for me.

Brooklyn Girl

The part of "letting myself go" that resonates for me now is not the weight (although that's an issue), but the time for personal grooming/upkeep. I was never a fashionista or what have you, but I used to have time to put in some contact lenses, put on a touch of make up, wear decent clothes, and thow on some jewelry.

Nowadays, contacts bother my sleep deprived eyes, I have no time to apply make up, I wear clothes that are baby food-resistant and easily washable, and avoid jewlery because The Boy likes to pull on it.

Most of the time that's okay with me because my priorities have shifted. The societal expectations have not, however, and every once in awhile I catch sight of my reflection (usually in a store window, usually in comparison to another woman who looks much more together than I feel), and I feel like I need to start apologizing to anyone who has the misfortune to have to look at me at this particular moment in time.

Jody

Moxie, I've read very fast and dirty through posts and comments on this issue, but I've walked away with the impression that MANY commentators are writing words to the effect of "I'd look better with fewer pounds." From people who are great with their current weight (whatever it might be) and from people who aren't. And the thing is, I think, at that point of intersection, we need to ask: WHY? Because beauty is not an immutable standard, so why do those ten pounds make you look less attractive, to yourself, to your mate, to the rest of the world? I'm asking it as a serious question: what's wrong with those ten pounds? Or thirty? What's wrong with a woman's voluptuous hips or cornucopia breasts or laugh-creased face? Is there only one aesthetic standard for the female form? Who said so?

Why do we give more credit to Queen Latifah and Judi Dench than to ourselves? Because what I'm reading is a lot of people who do that.

And of course it's hard to push up against these standards without saying something mean about someone: either thin people are gaunt and bony, or fat people are double-chinned and sloppy. And there's no question that designers and buyers punish women who dare weigh more than a size 14, because look at what happens to the clothes. All of a sudden, you're stuck in sacks, looking like your great-aunt Thelma. Of course no one feels pretty in that stuff: but is it the fat, or the clothes?

As for the fashion-magazine standard, NO ONE looks as good as the women in the fashion magazines, especially not those women. Their thighs and waists are airbrushed away (literally: have you seen those Hanes ads with Jennifer Love Hewitt? they removed half her waist), their skin is recolored and retextured, it's ALL fake. Unless the article specifically tackles the question, "what do they look like without their makeup?" even paparazzi shots are altered, however subtly. And the real publicity shots, the layouts and the red carpet poses: uff da. The pancake makeup on the stars going into the Oscars looks pretty hideous close-up in real light.

We already know this, of course, people have been critiquing fashion imagery for years. But we haven't internalized it, obviously, and I do think that too many people believe, not that they'll ever look 22 again, but that's the best they'll ever look. In which case, we're condemned to disappointment forever after (and unfortunately, we didn't think we looked that good at 22, either). We wouldn't, most of us, want to BE 22 again, but we'd like to weigh about what we weighed, have about as few wrinkles as we had, have the stomach skin we had....Even when we know we can't get there, we say, "well, I may not look as good as I did then, but I'm okay with that." And I'm trying to be a little more angry, and say, "no, I look JUST AS GOOD, hell, BETTER now," even as I get wrinkly and overweight, because there is more to beauty than the standards of the photo editors at Vogue and Vanity Fair and People.

And I do think that women as mothers, because they've woken up after too many sleepless nights and looked in the mirror and said, "whoa, dude, who IS that" are well positioned to challenge a static concept of beauty. That we don't do it strikes me as unspeakably regrettable.

Jody

One other comment about age and weight: the older you get, the less obvious it becomes that thin is your unambiguous best friend. My triplet tummy would look far weirder if I lost another 40 pounds. Skin tone looks better with a little fat, especially on the face, as one heads past 40 and into 50. Heck, even Courtney Cox admitted that she could have fantastic arms and legs, or a fantastic face, but by her late thirties, they both couldn't look their peak together, because when her body was thin, her face looked _too_ thin.

Again, maybe I'm just not reading closely enough, but I'm hearing too many people say, not "I'm beautiful now," but "I'm beautiful enough, given the constraints." And I want to ask: What's with the "Enough"? Enough already. Beauty can change just like our bodies did.

Bethany

I'm with Brooklyn Girl. The weight bothers me, but it's the letting myself go that really hurts.

I saw an guy I used to date at the grocery store today and I almost hid, I was horrified. Sure the weight, because I know he'll take that back to his friends and say, "I'm so glad that didn't work out." But I was more embarrassed by my unwashed hair, my sloppy sweater, my lack of makeup. And then I thought -- this is what I look like EVERY DAY (except for the hair, which I DO wash!). I don't need to look good for my husband to love me, but maybe every now and then it would be nice for both of us if I could at least try a little, you know?

If I'm embarrassed in front of ex-boyfriends, then what does M. think?

But you know, with two small kids with whom I spend the majority of my time, it's just time I'd rather spend otherwise, and they really don't care how I look.

I don't know..got more thinking to do.

momzom

I agree with Jody--who is beautiful, and I know because I see her (not frequently enough) in real life. She has and always has had the most amazing smile....

And you know what? Absent a health department citation, our houses are good now, too. That's my preferred variation on the theme: the house isn't good enough, the house needs to be the clean house equivalent of 10 pounds thinner. And I need to be the equivalent of 10 pounds thinner better-read, or =50 pounds thinner more professionally advanced, and =75 pounds thinner a more patient mom. And not one bit of that fear or feeling of inadequacy does me, or my mind, or my house, or my family any good.

Lena

As I wrote about on my blog - due to MIM's post that just could not be ignored - I think the larger point her is HEALTH. Why is no one talking about that?

No, we are not packages as women as we are not advertising ourselves to every freaking person we interact with. As soon as the MAJORITY of us start feeling like we are not competing with each other, then society may begin to view us that way as well.

That said, being 'happy' with yourself overweight is fine and dandy, but heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Overweight women.

How about we love ourselves enough to keep ourselves healthy instead of just thin?

Monica

What Brooklyn Girl and Bethany said...that is more my issue right now than the weight. Sure, I'm uncomfortable in my clothes currently, but the big problem is everything else--hair that has not been cut since my 6th month of pregnancy (and Madam is 8.5 months old), eyebrows in desperate need of plucking, no makeup, glasses, t-shirts and yoga pants all the time. And I used to LOVE clothes and fashion, but it's just my husband and I, and he works ALL THE TIME. Thus, something had to give, and it was me.

I am depressing myself.

Jody

Lena,

It's informative to consider the recommended BMI for each person's height. My recommended BMI range falls between 135 and

Jody

Between 122 and 163, actually (I checked the precise measurements while waiting for this browser window to reset). MOST of the folks agonizing over this weight gain have been regretting a 20 pound weight gain, and if you started at 130 (for my height), you'd still be WELL within the range of healthy.

Heart disease is linked to heredity, diet, and exercise. Plenty of people eat healthy foods and get the recommended amount of exercise and still weigh more than they did pre-children. Blood lipid levels, EKGs, etc., are all better measures of a person's health than their pant size (within the range we're mostly discussing here). I don't think anyone's ignoring the health issues at all.

Jamie

I'm not married and I'm not a mother, so while this whole topic has fascinated me, I have to admit that there are parts I can't relate to. But I do understand the idea of feeling like you're not ENOUGH, and how hurtful it is when you think that your partner might think that too, that some change has made you less than what you were. In my opinion, most women in our society are socialized in such a way that we constantly feel inadequate - not pretty enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not good enough wives or mothers or friends or daughters. We're taught to sublimate a lot of our feelings and to seek approval from others - from our families, from society in general, and from men in particular. We internalize that beauty standard (and sadly I do think that there is basically one beauty ideal these days, though one would assume that will change over time, as it always has) and think that if I am thin and beautiful I will be ENOUGH, I will be loved, and I will be happy. This whole idea of false advertising that started this topic struck a nerve in me because I am constantly trying to fight that feeling, those thoughts (usually unsuccessfully) in myself and the idea that my future husband buys into our relationship with only one version of me physically and has a right to expect that that won't change, well, that makes me feel once again that what I am at any given time won't be enough, that I will have to change myself and conform to expectations. I know that isnt what MIM was saying, but that was what her post made me feel.

Bihari

One of the many threads I find so fascinating in this whole discussion is the one which weaves over and under the issue of beauty's mutability. I am almost 39; my mother is 72. Recently we were looking at pictures of our college age selves and talking about the way we look now, the way we looked then, and how we feel about the change. We decided the usual things: we love the depth of experience which shows on our faces and the weatheredness of our childbearing bodies, but we miss that amazing promise which 21 year old beauty holds, and we certainly miss the beauty of the energy we had.

In other words, we think it's both/and, not either/or. When we were young, we had a particular kind of beauty, which lacked some things (wisdom, depth, and shadows) and blazed with others (freshness, health, a kind of untouched-ness). Now I have another kind of beauty, and my mother yet another. Each involves a gain, and a loss--or rather, several gains and losses. Like, I suppose, everyhing else in life.

Heather

On the topic of acknowledging societal expectation and then making peace with it, Brian and I have this game we play sometimes.

When we are out somewhere where there are a lot of people, I will spot a woman who fits that ideal that women are taught to aspire to physically (through tv, magazines, etc.). I will point her out to Brian and say, "See her? She looks like what women are taught to think they need to look like to be attractive." Brian always thinks she looks too boring, too thin, too vapid, or too much makeup.

Then he will look for a man who fits what men are taught they are supposed to look like to be attractive to women. "Look at that guy," Brian says, "What do you think?" I always think those guys look too boring, too beefy, too dumb, or too pretty.

It is just a silly game, but I think it has some power in it. We use it to reject societal expectations and to affirm that what we value is something quite different.

Not sure what my point is, but your post just made me think of this.

weaker vessel

I've followed the trails of this debate all over the blogosphere over the last several days, and I haven't posted or commented about it anywhere, in large part because my thoughts on the subject are so damn conflicted. But I think what it ultimately boils down to is that while I recognize the ruthless realism of the dynamics of human sexual attraction and the reasoning behind the cynical, but fundamentally accurate description of major physical changes as a kind of "false advertising," my persistent hope is that in the context of a meaningful, functional marriage, love and commitment can allow us willfully to transcend our brute physicality, perhaps not wholly, but at least a little, at least enough to make it work for both partners.

dutch

Moxie, I'e had your comment to my post and this post bouncing around in my head for several days now. One thing that I appreciate about you (and your husband) is the level of thought that goes into what you do. Wood and I were talking the other day about what an amazing thinker you are. I aspire to do it, but come far short of the example you set.

wookie

I think how I deal with the difference between self-acceptance and society's vapid and invasive standards for appearance is fairly simple.

Air time.

We have all had critical thoughts of other peoples appearence, grooming, weight, etc. But how much "air time" do we give that thought? Probably less than five seconds, unless it's an odour issue that we're forced into close contact with on a subway or elevator. Even then, a few seconds after the smelly person leaves, the thought has similarly evaporated.

Do you go home and obsess about how big the ass of that woman on the subway was? Sit up at night thinking about how big that guy's belly stuck out from his pants? Of course not! If you do, you have entirely different issues.

So give society's expectations of your appearance exactly that priority. Five seconds. Then move past it and onto the things that are really important, like self-worth, health and respect.

Rahma

Very cute idea and yes we did travel but our thank you is ulusaly taking them for dinner out or providing the food for a BBQ dinner. Love how you used the shovel to say Thanks. would love to win a set of cards.

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