It is so dumb.
I stood in the shower, and in that moment away from everything, what snuck into my relaxed brain space is the woman who always asks me how old I am. “Why does she do that?” I thought. “Why does it matter that every single time I see her she asks?” I am not kidding. She asks me every single time and then does this whole restate thing, “You are how old again?” I always answer to which she responds, “I am younger than you.” Why does it matter? And really, if I am going to point the finger at her, I had to wonder, “Why does it bother me?” Is it that she asks or, is it that whole incessant drilling-restate-comparing-each other bit? I do not like getting blindsided and sucked into the vortex where I am forced to compare, especially because before she reminded me that I was older than she is, our ages did not matter.
I stood there naked, my hair pulled back, hot water pounding my body, and in that moment of complete exposure and soothing relief, I could not stop thinking about her need to put me in a place juxtaposed to her.
Trying not to get my hair wet, yet thinking that this shower time was somehow therapeutic, my mind untethered, I let the ball roll. It is not the big stuff that gets me. When I take a second to catch my breath, these trying-to-understand-why thoughts race into my quiet, years-of-therapy, and defenseless spaces. I promise. It is always worse with hormones [wink, wink]. Happy Day 1 to me! I am a rock when the world falls apart, but someone reminding, and reminding me how I stack up next to them is a conversation I hide from every single time. Fully immersed, I wondered, “why do women always seem so consumed with the exterior? Why do they base their worth on how they look next to another woman?” I thought about the other day in class. I pictured it. There I sat, and next to me sat the only other old lady [wink, wink] in class. She has six kids, which are her world. I know this because every single class period she looks at me and says, “my kids are very important to me. They are my world.” She also talks a lot about her hair. As I sat in class she up-and-down-glanced me, me, the one all-dressed-in-black-with-the-exception-of-my-very-bright-yellow-green-with-bright-pink-accents-tennis-shoes and said, “you don’t like to wear color, do you?” All I could think is, “why the hell does it matter, what a weird question, and why are you drawing attention to the color of my clothes?” My response as I now noticed her black shoes, “maybe we are opposites.” Then and completely catching me off guard, she waited for me after class, “maybe she likes friends who feel less than, and if they don’t, she finds a way to get them there first,” I thought, and maybe women, women who seem to have it all, like six beautiful and very important children, really do not feel like they do, and how they find a moment of feeling better is to intentionally or unintentionally size us up.
Between rinsing off the soap and deciding if I should use the yummy-smelling shower gel (of course I did) these comparing-oneself-to-others thoughts were making me feel a little anxious so I did what these kind of thoughts make me do and jumped right into the obvious correlating issue: the female body image.
I remembered the extremely thin woman I saw at Starbucks the other day. She was so out-of-place frail that I cannot forget where I was when our paths crossed. I thought about all the people I know who struggle with eating issues. Society can be such a bitch to us women. Then I thought about the one eating issue I have never quite understood: Anorexia. Being a person who desperately wants to understand, I often stop here when it comes to food issues, body image, and why. I understand over eating. I understand looking in the mirror and hating what I see. I have never understood why women starve or exercise themselves into emaciated, slow death. I remember the girl in high school. She wasn’t the most popular, but certainly not the least. She was smart, kind and started at an acceptable and very average weight. I remember watching the positive attention she initially received as the pounds came off, and also watched the positive attention fade right along with her size, until eventually she was hospitalized, nearly dying because she would not eat. Why? She was beautiful. Why was her brain making her do this?
It is crazy. We all know the women, the women who have gone too far, and because Anorexia is a disease where body-image-perception is severely distorted, the diseased person cannot see how distorted they have become, and if they do, they cannot stop, and if they do, they replace weight loss with another thing they must control, at least, that is what I have been told. I had a friend who struggled with Anorexia tell me something about the unhealthy relationship with food, and the power it had over her, and it is about letting go of that power. Because really thin people are obvious to our human eye, Anorexia is an easy way to see life off balance. We know the women with faces covered in the eating-disorder-indicative-downy-fur, baggy clothes, especially when you know they were exercising from sun up to sun down. I recently saw one of those women at the grocery store and all I wanted to do is offer her a granola bar. I knew it wouldn’t help. I felt really sad and wanted to ask her, “why are you doing this to yourself?”
Oddly there are even moments I wish I had the competitive genetic, focus behaviors and drive that seems to accompany the Anorexic. Many Anorexics I know push themselves to the highest level of success. The competitive insecurity that seems to walk hand in hand with that particular eating disorder is something that not only breaks my heart, is also an essential driving force, which can bring a person to the heights of great achievement. Even when “cured,” I have watched a severe eating disorder morph into some sort of other competition, comparing-one-self-to-another-disorder. I think it is harder to see the life off balance when someone being-too-thin is not the issue.
Maybe I sound super insensitive, or just super dumb. In truth, and like I have mentioned, I have mountains of compassion for anyone who struggles with body image, addiction or any comparing-oneself-to-another issue. I know the soul crushing pain of feeling less than and I would not wish that suffocating space on anyone. And in the interest of full disclosure, it is true. When I was fifteen I binge ate and barfed for a time. Not often, but often enough for me to think it is worth mentioning here. Thank God for my ADD-ness, because I lost interest very quickly and moved on. It took one person to say, “stop doing that,” and I was done. I feel lucky. Seriously. I know I am. I am grateful that my own biological switch was not completely turned that way.
Even now I am not sure what to do when I watch loved binge eat a bag of Skittles, or watch others count every single calorie they consume, some going as far as to drink alcohol solely based on its calorie content, or walking around with a bag of carrots at-all-times just in case of the temptation to cheat. It bothers me when friends ask me about the weight I want to lose when I have not thought about it myself, and it confounds me when I see a friend get their weight under control only to move to another competitive, obsessive issue. I want to remind them that they are good enough with their beautiful families, their beautiful parenting, their fame, their accomplishments, and every other awesome part of them. And this is where I think all that comparing stuff fits right back in, and if I sit back long enough, let the warm water calm me, I actually see it is not me, and really how self-centered to ever think it was? I do not know if it is even them? I think it is their biology, and the control that biology has over their soul.
Maybe that is it. The crazy part about that all-consuming body image issue, and the obsessive issues it can morph into (like competitions, excessive righteousness, being number one), is its power. The woman, who keeps asking, really does not care how old I am; she cares that she is getting old. The woman in class does not mind that I wear a lot of black; she is worried that she is wearing too much color. I have known many Anorexics, and simply people terribly off balance (which I have been myself – off balance, that is), and I think it is incredibly hard to see past the pain of them — what a shitty card to have been dealt.