The Elephant in the Room

Image: retronaut
Image: retronaut

I am a card-carrying member of the Ms. club; proud feminist, maiden name keeper, donor to Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood, and all the rest.  In my heart I believe the feminist movement played an important role in righting centuries of wrongs by raising awareness and shining light on gender inequality.  That said, as much as feminism has done for my sistahs and me, it hasn’t managed to make a dent in the mindfuck that is women and body image.

Body image; the old elephant in the lady’s room.  The consciousness raising groups of the late 60s, the bra burning and shaving boycotts of the 70s, the glass ceilings and shoulder pads of the 80s, the curve embracing 90s, even the photo-shopping exposés of the 2000s—all of that and that great hulking elephant is still there, trying to camouflage its bulk in the corner with a yoga mat and a Luna bar.

As comfortable as I am with who I am, I’m not so comfortable in my jeans.  Though I will never be a size 4 again without some sort of parasitic tapeworm, I would like to fit in my size 8s, comfortably and without having to yank and pull and lay down on the bed to get them zipped.  So yes, I have jumped on the resolution bandwagon.  The diet has begun and the work outs have stepped up.  I need to moderate my over-indulgences with some under-indulgences in order to even things out.  It’s like the financial crisis.  I’ve spent too much and now I have to put some austerity measures into place until things balance out.  I am ok with that.  Mostly.  What makes me pause is how much I talk about it.

How many of the conversations I have with other women revolve around food and exercise?  Too many.   In today’s modern world there are plenty of reasons to worry about what we are putting in our mouths, as our lives become more sedentary, it’s important to make sure we keep moving.  That’s not what I’m talking about, however.  I’m talking about how much effort women spend talking about dieting and exercising, not to mention putting it into practice.  We talk about how much we are eating, what we are not eating, what we’ve given up, what we’ve indulged in, what we miss eating, what we ate too much of which is why we are obsessing about what we are not eating.  We talk about diets (Paleo, Atkins, South Beach, 5/2 fasting).  We talk about exercise (yoga, Pilates, cross training, boot camp).  If you’re thin and fit, you offer advice, tips, dos and don’ts, gluten-free recipes and tricks.  If you’re overweight and out of shape you seek it out, looking for wheat in the chaff to avoid the chafe.


Generally speaking, most of the women I converse with are all just either side of the average.  None of us are in desperate need of losing vast amounts of weight to save our health.  Yet even the thinnest among us is unhappy with some body part, the fittest still striving for better definition or a flatter stomach.

None of this is unfamiliar to me.  I am a daughter of the Tab and cottage cheese generation.  A child of aerobicizing and Let’s Get Physical.  I grew up in a house with a mother who knew the calorie count of a baked potato off the top of her head.  And that is just it.  The fads and the trends have come and gone, but not much else has changed.  Sure, instead of putting on a leotard and sweating to the oldies, we are wearing lycra and paying a boot camp instructor to bark at us to crunch harder, squat lower and jump jack-ier.  The scales are digital, the gadgets are more high-tech, and there are apps to do the math for you, but the amount of time and energy we put into thinking about it, discussing it, fretting about it—well, that hasn’t changed despite all the years of trying to be happy with ourselves.  Even after decades and seminars, consciousness raising, educational initiatives and after school specials, most of us are still beating ourselves up to meet an idealized version of an imaginary woman; whether it’s the buxom, wasp waisted pin-up of the 40s or the cross trained triathlete’s body of today.

The real elephant in the room is that most of us are convinced WE are the elephant in the room.

Across my forty-some odd years, I have come across no more than a handful of women who have a truly healthy relationship with food.  By healthy I mean women who eat a balanced diet without having to obsess about it, or restrict it, or count it or talk about it.  Women who eat for pleasure without guilt.  I will be the first to admit that as motivated as I am by wanting to be healthy, I am even more motivated by the idea of fitting back into my clothes.  And if I am honest, I don’t mean the size 8s, I mean the size 6s.

We are too hard on ourselves, stretching and starving to meet an idealized image in our own heads.  While I may fret about how my stomach looks hanging over the button of my jeans, when my husband sees me naked, I’m pretty sure that’s not what he’s thinking about.  When I am having a coffee with a friend, or sharing a bottle of wine with another couple, I am pretty sure they aren’t tracking the caloric tally of my Rioja intake.  If I’m digging a sand castle with my kids on the beach, I really shouldn’t be worrying about whether or not people think my ass is too big for a bikini or that my arms could be more toned.  But I do.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.


I’m not saying we should all break out the cheese puffs and stick our heads in the batter bowl.  But as we’re logging those calorie counts, we should try to strive not so much for a size or a six pack, but for a healthy relationship and not one of extremes.  There is a balance between never having a slice of your child’s birthday cake and eating the whole cake in by yourself in one sitting. And while we are downloading the latest app for the iPhone or worrying about the right amount of wicking in our workout wear, we should take a moment to put things in perspective.

It’s a modern, champagne problem.  Surely women of the Industrial Revolution weren’t fretting over fitting an exercise program in between their factory hours.  Surely all the upstairs/downstairs to-ing and fro-ing of the Victorian era precluded any need for an evening yoga classes.  In a world where millions struggle to find enough to eat, we are keeping track of our calories to make sure we don’t eat too much.

I need to be the first in line to take my own advice.  You would think I would know better.  A card-carrying feminist, a student of Women’s Studies, a forty-something woman who blogs about knowing herself.  I am just as guilty of striving for an impossible ideal.  Perhaps my resolution should be more about moderation and less about size 6 or even 8.

It’s time to confront the elephant in the room and to send it back where it belongs.

157 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room

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  1. Omg, seriously? This post literally could not be more apropos for, oh, only MY WHOLE LIFE. I’ve had poor body image my entire life, since I was a tween – courtesy of the double whammy that is both cultural influence and family issues. Though I beg to differ about embracing curves in the 90s – lest anyone forget that Kate Moss is perhaps singlehandedly responsible for turning the “drug-addiction anorexia” look into something people suddenly thought worth emulating. Then there’s always a new diet, a new fad, a new pill that may or may not *accidentally* kill you in your endeavors to starve yourself into an arbitrary concept of “beauty”. Sorry, but extremes aren’t beautiful and what we should be focusing on is health – eating better, repairing our damaged food chain so that we can actually stop poisoning our bodies with what we eat, and focusing less on external factors and more on what’s inside a person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. I didn’t want to delve into the politics of food stuff, but there are plenty of reasons to be scared shitless of what we are putting in our bodies, from the stuff we ingest to the cellular rays that are bouncing around our brains 24/7. You are right about Kate Moss–maybe the curve embracing was more early Millenial? Hard to say. The influence of culture and ethnic and economic factors play huge roles as well. It’s hard to get all that in in one post–which really was meant to be more of a rant at myself. But wouldn’t it be great if it reopened the dialogue–yet again–about embracing ourselves for who and what we are rather than what we do or don’t look like in the mirror.


      1. You know, I think the problem is that we’ve become a society of extremes – from anorexia to morbid obesity. And what doesn’t help is some of the junk on tv that either perpetuates stereotypes or ridicules real problems.


      2. I think you are right. I find myself writing a lot about balance, and how important balance is–and yet I struggle constantly to find it in my own life. Luckily I am living overseas and miss out on a lot of the junk on tv, though I get enough exposure to it through the media!


  2. Sadly it’s not just ourselves we are hardest one but I believe women are often the worst critics of other women…let’s not pretend we all haven’t at some point criticised another woman about the way she looks – whether that applies to being too skinny or too fat.


    1. Also very true. I think it’s easy to blame men. It’s easy to blame the media. And the media definitely play a big part, though I think most of it comes from within. Are we so lustful for that feeling of power and hungry for control that we’ll starve ourselves and call out someone who doesn’t to feel ‘masterful’. I’m afraid of the answer to that question. And the can of worms it opens up.


  3. My best friend in the entire universe says she has never once noticed my weight, and we have been friends since we were 8. I always try to look at people in terms of who they are, but I’m the first to judge myself. Thanks for writing this. Cheers!


    1. I am too, don’t worry. I have so much to be thankful for, and yet I still, at my age, beat myself over the head because I’ve got a muffin top. I’m working on it!


    1. Diahann, thank you. It is very true though, I think a lot of us believe that others are judging us at any given time in any given space. And to be honest, most of us are so far up our own behinds that we’re not paying attention to anyone around us anyway. I’m glad it struck a chord though and look forward to seeing you around.


  4. Nice post. I think moderation is the key to most things in life, but I think you’re state of mind has a lot to do with the state of your body. 15 years ago I became clinically severely depressed after a life-altering breakup. I gained 40 pounds in a few years because of it. Then when my depression morphed into panic attacks and agoraphobia I saw a shrink and he put me on some strong meds. I struggled, and put on another 40 pounds. After another major life shift where I started experiencing chronic, mind-numbing pain, was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which in turn I couldn’t work, lost my business, my house, and had to move home to my mother, who was diagnosed with dementia, moved into a nursing home, and died last year. As it’s coming to the one year anniversary of my mom’s death, I am sad, but I must say I’m less depressed than I’ve been in years, am reducing some meds, and have started to feel better about myself. So ok, I have 80 pounds to lose, which could stop me, but feeling better is actually allowing me to set some goals to slowly get healthy again. My depression is less, and, miracle of miracles, my pain is less, which makes we want to start exercising again. I found a dress online yesterday so beautiful, but it only goes to a 16, and I’m a size 20. I’m thinking about buying the dress and putting it up in my bedroom where I see it frequently so I have the goal to fit into that dress. It’s also about perspective! I’m turning 50 this year, I’m realistically never going to be a size 8 again, but that’s okay! It’s a domino effect–the dominos fell to get me here, and now they are falling into place as I feel better, do more, eat better, and today finally decided to write a blog (which I’m still figuring out how to do) but getting on WordPress today made me find your post, and I wanted to share my story. He’ll, this might be my first blog post! Feeling good makes you feel good about yourself. I’ve had poor body image since high school, even though there was nothing wrong with my body then. Today, I accept where I’m at, and go from there. I think we all need to be so less hard on ourselves, and be kind to ourselves like we are with others. Healthy is a great goal but it shouldn’t be an obsessive journey that makes us miss out on the truly wonderful things that happen in our lives every day. Sorry, long comment!


    1. Wow! Bright side: You have a lifetime’s worth of stories to share on your blog and you’re just hiding your stride. Good luck with the blog, and I’m tickled that it was this post that made you break out the keyboard and start click clacking away. You are absolutely right–obsessive journeys, no matter what lay at the end, are never going to be healthy. So irony of ironies, even if your quest to be healthy leads you to obsession, it’s not going to be healthy! How’s that for a kick in the pants. You sound like you in a good place, mentally, ready to face the world and whatever additional challenges it throws at you. I think you will find if you stick around, that there are a great number of people out there that have similar stories to share. That is not to take away from the pain of your own, but sometimes knowing there are others out there that have experienced the same makes us feel a little less alone in the world. Thanks so much for reading and commenting and get writing!


    1. Lol, my pleasure. Are you allergic to poultry too? Because if you are that would seriously freak me out. (Yes, I am and I know it’s unusual, but I swear, it’s true!)


  5. We tend to worry too much about how we look, instead of how we feel. You can be much higher than the so called recommended “BMI”, and be very fit and healthy (think body-builder here).

    I think the trick here is a mental one. Stop worrying about how we look to others, and start concentrating on how we feel.

    Apart from anything else, has anyone ever conducted a survey along the lines of “who thinks big is beautiful versus the opposite?) Maybe the results would surprise us all.

    Great article, thank you.


  6. “There is a balance between never having a slice of your child’s birthday cake and eating the whole cake in by yourself in one sitting.”

    Excellent. I hope that we all find that balance.


  7. For me it’s a constant battle between my vain self and self that tries to focus on things that will help the world become a better place. I usually lose the battle because it’s so accessible to post Instagram stories and pics of myself, and subconsciously emulating other people who do the same. Perhaps the more attention I receive the more I want it. It’s like I know the difference between right and wrong but I sometimes tend to do the wrong thing. I guess it’s a life-long struggle to become better people but on the way we lose some…


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