Over the holidays, I binged hard on “Mad Men,” scooping up all four seasons from Amazon Video on Demand. While I have been enjoying watching the worlds of Sterling Cooper and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce unfold (and cringing at the reenactments of some of the 60’s low points, like ubiquitous cigarettes and secretary pat-downs, as well as lack of doctor/client privilege for wives against husband’s prying questions), one interesting thing I’ve noticed is that non-waifs are often front and center in the cast of female characters.
My husband mentioned he liked that the women on the show weren’t skin and bones hoisted up on Christian Loboutins, like we see in television shows and movies set in modern times. As a woman who does not have a single-digit size, it is refreshing to see women who look more like me. Peggy, successfully growing an accidental copywriting career; Joan, sauntering around the office, keeping tabs on everything and everyone; and even some of the models used for various ad campaigns. In those days, as we see through the eyes of the show’s direction, popular culture had more of a tolerance for curves and womanly, as opposed to girly, figures.
As someone who has been significantly overweight, I am all too familiar with how much attention is placed on body image. The research that says people who are overweight earn less than their thinner counterparts. The feeling of being invisible at a party or club, while men feast their eyes on thinner women. The frustration of knowing that designers would rather go for quick bucks by mass marketing clothes in sizes 14 or under, rather than construct intriguing items for women with larger proportions.
Now that I have shed 45 pounds, I see that my perception of my body is not something that changes rapidly and decisively, in the same manner that my excess weight has fallen off. I find myself confused as to what size I am. Recently, to my surprise, I found myself tightening a medium belt to the fourth hole. For months, I made do with a large belt on which I’d run out of holes, convincing myself that I wasn’t medium material. It was only on a whim, shelling out $6 each on a brown belt and a black from a store that I was closing did I receive my pleasant surprise. (Similarly, a medium top, which I hoped to wear in the spring or summer, after losing more weight, actually fits me now. I was floored.)
Mind games continue, as I see that size numbers and letters are often pretty arbitrary–sometimes, even for the same brand. (Thanks, Old Navy.) And there’s the odd feeling I get from knowing that even though I’ve lost about 20 percent of my starting weight, technically, I’m still overweight, by BMI standards for my height of 5 feet, 5 1/2 inches. At 182 lbs. today, technically I’m still obese even–by 2 lbs.
We tend to place a lot of stock in scale numbers and the little numbers machine-stitched into clothing tags, but not so much on how much more energy we have to run after our children, how much easier it is to walk (or run) up several flights of steps, or how quickly an old pair of pants will fall to our ankles after being pulled up over our hips. There has to become a point where weight loss isn’t a game of numbers and inches, but a change of mindset and a growing comfort level with our current, new state. I’m now trying to focus on the phenomena that are less quantifiable in a numerical way than they are in a quality of life kind of way. I feel that a shift in focus will force me to recalibrate what is normal to me, as far as my size and my perception of it.
Sure, it would help to go back to a time like the middle of the 1900’s, of fleshy pin-up beauties, to enable women to feel good about their bodies, but the reality is that it is up to us to accept ourselves. Whether thick or thin, good body image is an important asset to have. It will sustain you through the times when you feel accomplished, and the times when the scale number goes up. You will know that your self-worth doesn’t hinge on weekly or monthly weight fluctuations, but rather on what you accomplished to get to your low weight, and the fact that you are absolutely equipped to stay there in the long run. I think my New Year’s resolution this year should be not to lose more weight, but not to obsess about the process–or the end result.