“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” We’ve all heard this, usually in trying to justify someone’s love for someone or something that is conventionally not beautiful. The rationale, I suppose, is that if you love something or someone enough then you are blind to their flaws and see their true beauty. The point is that the nature of beauty doesn’t change but rather the person observing it does. I love this idea – even if it kinda slams both the people in question, one for their looks and the other for their taste – but for me this axiom reads a little differently.
Let me back up. On our vacation we got to visit a wide variety of friends and relatives. As in any family gathering there was an abundance of children, wet swimsuits and food. (I ate a shaved ice every single day, I swear. Why does Minnesota not sell shaved ice? We have lutevisk – fish jellied in LYE – yet you can’t buy frozen water doused in artificial colors and a sweetener.) There was also an abundance of opinions covering everything from ObamaCare to whether or not the National Enquirer is an actual news source. And some of the opinions were about me. (Yes everything revolves around me, can we get back to talking about me now? Me, me, me!)
At one place, I was surrounded by people who love me and respect me and, unless I’m disciplining their children (which I have totally learned not to do), think I can do no wrong. Here everyone gushed over my baby bump and told me how adorable I was and how I didn’t look big at all. In fact, my sister patted my tummy lovingly and said, “This is a just right belly.” And I felt that way! I felt adorable and cute. My maternity clothes felt stylish and well fitting. I even wore my maternity swimsuit with a certain unselfconsciousness that I normally do not possess. I saw myself that way because they saw me that way.
The next place, sadly, was the opposite. The people there, folks who admittedly tolerate me at best, staunchly ignored my pregnancy unless it was to make off-hand comments like, “Is it just me or do you look a lot bigger this time around? I can really see it in your arms.” and (looking me up and down), “I’m so glad I lose weight when I’m pregnant.” And for the time I was with them, I felt that way too. I felt lumbering and large and slow. My clothes felt ugly and too tight. I was absolutely positive that I had overindulged and gained at least 5 pounds in the week we were there. By the end I was avoiding my reflection in windows and planning in great detail the diet I was going to start rightthisverysecond.
So it was with some surprise when I arrived home and went to my next doctor’s appointment to discover that I’d actually lost a couple of pounds on my vacation. I was still in the textbook-normal pregnancy range. At first I was relieved – I wasn’t the elephant girl! – and then I was angry. How dare they make me feel so ugly? And then I was frustrated. With myself. I know there’s a Dr. Phil-ism in here about people not being able to make you feel anything and perhaps something about cattle ranching but I’m too tired to look it up.
Here’s my problem – and it’s been a lifelong problem: I let other people define me. Sometimes it works to my benefit such as when I was in third grade and my teacher told me over and over again how smart I was. But sometimes it works to my detriment. When I was 5, someone close to me told me I was shy and for years I believed that about myself and even acted the part despite my natural inclinations towards gregariousness. And so it was this time: My body didn’t change in any measurable way while I was gone and yet my body image went through enough costume changes to make Cher jealous.
Shouldn’t my body image be mine to define? Shouldn’t I have learned in my 31 years on this planet how to see myself and not have to use other people’s eyes? I’m not saying that other people’s opinions can’t be worthwhile but how does one temper their effect? I can’t be the only person who has ever had this problem. *cough*Oprah*cough* Any of you guys dealt with this? How have you figured out how to deal? It really depresses me that I am this malleable. Help!