It really depends how you look at it

After cutting all of my hair off, I looked in the mirror and my chubby arms no longer looked quite as chubby. They looked more…strong. Or maybe they looked rounded without being gross.

My friend told me a story about getting a compliment on a part of her body that she has always  felt self-conscious about, and then looking in the mirror and thinking that that part of her looked completely different. It didn’t make any sense. Could she have lost ten pounds en route to the mirror? Only if you involve aliens.

And as much as I like the Katy Perry song (I can’t help it. It’s not my fault. It’s the beat.), I can’t involve aliens. I mean, if there were aliens, they would be showing up in a lot more obvious ways. It’s not like they’d have this super secret relationship with the government, and then occasionally abduct some dude in a cornfield, just for kicks. Talking about aliens that way insults their astounding mastery of interstellar technology. They’ve got nothing to hide from this puny little planet. And they probably don’t look even remotely human– think about how we don’t look anything like slugs and seahorses and stuff, and our DNA is a lot more similar to those things than it would be to aliens.

OK, I’m done. I’m sorry. I was made to watch an X Files movie recently, and I’m a little indignant.

This is what I’m really writing about:

It’s not at all clear that we use the right words for ourselves. That we imagine the right images when we think of ourselves.

I feel bigger than everyone around me. I’m not, but I feel it so clearly that occasionally, after I’ve insisted that my wrists are twice as thick as a friends, she’s held her wrist alongside mine and shown me. “Look.” And sure enough, hers are bigger. But how? Her wrists look so delicate and lovely. Mine seem unexpressive and thick.

Sometimes my legs are stunted and unfortunate. Sometimes they are shapely and adorable. They can change without any warning. But they’re not really changing at all.

I am changing. My perception of myself changes all the time.

The day after I cut all my hair off, I stopped by the drycleaners and Jackie, the woman who runs the place, said, “Swan.”

I said, “Excuse me?”

She said, “You look like swan.”

I think I blushed. It was the coolest compliment ever.

Suddenly, I felt a little like a swan, with a long, graceful neck. I do not have a long, graceful neck. But Jackie saw something of the swan about me, and then I saw it about myself.

I catch myself standing up straighter automatically. I feel surprisingly fluid and graceful.

Is there ever anything so awful about our bodies that it can’t be rephrased? The huge majority of the time, we hate things that aren’t even bad. Things that other people don’t mind about us. Or even things that other people find beautiful about us.

My friends are always surprising me with the things they can’t stand about their bodies.

“It’s my chin. It’s horrible.”

“Wait– really?”

Or the usual: “My stomach,” when I would never  have thought there was anything unattractive about her stomach.

“It’s my arms,” I say, in front of several friends.

“What?!” they yell simultaneously.

I look at them, confused. I mean, of course it’s my arms. Just look at them.

But maybe the problem is that I’ve spent way too much time doing just that. Or way too much time looking at them in exactly the wrong way.

If an alien showed up  in my apartment now (which it could probably do, if it had the technology to get to earth first), I doubt it would notice my arms at all. It’d be more concerned with all the weird holes and bulges on the part of me that makes sounds that resemble some primitive form of communication. It would be distracted by my strange, unbalanced body with it’s little legs on top and clumsy long legs on the bottom, set on flat parts that don’t spread out far enough to prevent me from toppling if I’m poked a little. It would wonder why my vital organs are all so exposed, with only a paper-thin stretch of skin and a few twiggy bones hiding an awful lot of them.

It would probably find me horrifyingly ugly. Disgusting, actually. But then, I’d look exactly like all of the other disturbingly gross five-pronged figures with their sound bulbs on the stalk in the flat plane between the secondary legs on the top.

It really depends on your perspective.


*  *  *

Unroast: Today I love my mouth.

New Skipping School post, about things homeschoolers don’t know how to do.



Kate on June 28th 2011 in beauty, body

6 Responses to “It really depends how you look at it”

  1. Mandy responded on 28 Jun 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    I’m a massage therapist, and I’ve had women on my table who could probably have modeled swimsuits apologize for their supposed fat butts or huge tummies. I’m baffled. I don’t see this alleged fat.
    But I’ve seen this phenomenon often enough to realized that if they cannot see themselves objectively, I probably don’t, either.
    So when someone gives me a compliment, I try very hard to see what they see. And I’m kinder to myself when I look in the mirror.
    And, yes…it’s amazing that how we feel can have such an impact on how we see ourselves. Feeling beautiful can actually make you beautiful.
    Imagine that!

    Unroast: Today, I love my belly!

  2. jeanie responded on 28 Jun 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    I really like this post, and I totally identify with it on many levels. But what would you say to someone who really does have a huge stomach or a double chin? What’s a good honest, loving response, to someone else or to ourselves when we look in the mirror and see something that’s difficult to accept? I totally agree that our perception of our bodies is often wacky, but it is just as often the truth. Someone has to be the chubbiest one in the room. I wish we could say to each other, yeah, you have fat stomach, it’s awesome! It’s you! Not that I’d ever have the courage to do that.

  3. Sooz responded on 28 Jun 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    interesting post. i often say to people that i know i am fat. i recently gained like 50 pounds. i know i’m overweight. but they always put me off and say things like oh you look fine. it upsets me b/c i know they notice my weight but at the same time i don’t want people to call me fat. it would hurt my feelings. i guess in an ideal world it just wouldn’t matter. people would see ME and really dig that and not worry about the outer stuff. they would just be wowed by my awesome personality and my awesome being-ness and that would be enough. :)

  4. JessB responded on 28 Jun 2011 at 10:02 pm #

    Hmm, interesting. I’ve just started really properly committing to working out in the mornings again, and afterwards, as I’m getting into the shower, I occasionally think, ‘wow, my stomach really does look flatter’ or ‘gee, I think my legs are starting to look slender’. But they are not. I don’t know whether the exercise endorphins are messing with my head, but after doing 55 sit ups a day for two days, my stomach is not flatter, nor are my legs more slender.

    But it’s nice to feel that way.

    And I’ve decided this morning to really try and hold on to those thoughts, to take a photograph of what I’m thinking, and to remember it when I wake up and have to talk myself into exercising. That feeling of a flatter stomach and slender legs is really appealing, and I’m looking forward to it being real.

    I also remember times, particularly lately when I’ve been speaking with my little sister, about how people see us and how we see ourselves. Just as she could never look bad to me, I’ve realised that I can never look bad to her. I teared up when I realised that, it made me feel so loved. So I’m thinking of that too.

    Unroast – today I’m loving the way my stomach feels after my sit ups. I can feel the muscles there as I move. I have muscles there!

  5. rachel responded on 30 Jun 2011 at 4:31 am #

    I love what JessB says about exercise, I’ve noticed the same thing myself.
    I don’t have a full-length mirror in my house, and I’ve just started to notice that just having small mirrors or reflective surfaces to catch glimpses of *bits* of me in make it a lot easier to zero in on the really-hideous-bits. Lol.

  6. Eat the Damn Cake » Reasons why you should feel good about your body responded on 19 Oct 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    [...] Even though you can recognize yourself, you always look different. How you feel and what you do and who you’re with and what kind of mirror you’re [...]