Like a lot of people, I got caught up in my share of the summer Olympics. I watched a man with one leg sprint like a gazelle around a soft, clay track. I saw beefy guys in little kayaks slaloming down big water obstacle courses. I saw lithe, teenage swimmers pop out of pools with winning smiles and Russian ballerinas toss balls in the air with the tips of their toes. But the one thing I could not get enough of was volleyball star Misty May- Treanor’s lovely, ample derriere.
As a woman who has lived her whole life rejecting her body for one reason or another – my thighs were too fat, too muscular, my calves too big, and my tush too plentiful – the sight on network T.V. of a strong, athletic, full bodied woman in a tiny red bikini was absolutely eye-popping. Possibly even a game changer. Suddenly large, muscular thighs and curvy, full behinds were the new beautiful and Misty was leading the way.
While other fans might have been blown away by Misty’s digs and dives, I was examining every inch of her body like an ornithologist peering at an exotic, never before seen bird. Cocking my head at the T.V., I took in every inch of her: those smallish breasts, the tan, muscled tummy – paying particular attention when she sat down at a break to see if there was any hint of flab toppling over her bathing suit bottoms.
I turned to my husband on the couch and asked, “Do I look like that?”
I can tell you what I wish I looked like and what I’m terrified I look like. I can tell you about the friend who, trying to be helpful, told me not to wear shorts because my calves were too big. I can tell you about how my father made my sister and I stand at the dinner table with our legs together to see if there was light between our thighs and which would permit us to have dessert. I can tell you about protein drinks that fill you up and help you forget about lunch, about 100 calorie popcorn, and turkey meatballs that are 2 Weight Watcher’s points each. I can tell you which cold medicines will squelch your appetite, and about how good it feels to wake up empty when you’ve had the will power to go to bed without dinner.
But after 52-years on this earth I cannot accurately tell you what my body looks like because I have no idea.
Which is why watching Misty in her red bikini jumping around that sand pit in front of millions of people around the world – Misty in her true body – not airbrushed, not hidden under clothes or angled for the best TV light – was like seeing a curious version of someone who might look like me, or who at least belonged in the family of people who looked like me, a girl some might call husky or stocky, but who looked absolutely gorgeous in my eyes.
And for the first time in my life I started to consider that I might look just fine.
I was reminded of something a boyfriend said to me once when I commented that I wouldn’t mind losing another 10 pounds. “But then you wouldn’t look like you,” he said. The thing was, I’ve never wanted to look like me. Even though I am not technically overweight, the one thing I’ve known since I was 15-years-old is that there is always more weight to lose – no matter what size I am. Smaller is always better and the minute I’m “there” I will catch a glimpse of my puckered ass in the mirror and be reminded that I can never, ever go soft on myself again, never forget the quest to stay ahead of weight gain.
I shared this blog post in process with my husband and a friend who loves me very much and they both encouraged me to dig deeper, get past the whole ego – my body – do I look good – skinny thing. Of course they’re right – I’m smart – I should know better – this is shallow – it doesn’t matter. But the truth is, this issue around food and my body plagues me every day. The friend I mention, she and I walked 192 miles across England one summer and I refused to eat a scone laden with fresh, rich cream at a mountain top café that specialized in them. This after a 15-mile hike. Somewhere along the line, between comments from messed up family members, media images and who knows what else, I stopped being able to see myself clearly, got lost in a fun house full of nasty mirrors that showed a girl not right, grotesque, horrible looking. I’ve been running away from those mirrors for years, like a girl being chased by a ghost.
Watching Misty stopped me in my tracks.
I Googled her. She’s 35-years-old, is 5’9’ and weighs 158lbs. You can watch videos of her playing volleyball, talking about exercise and nutrition, even hamming it up with her husband, Dodger’s baseball star Matt Treanor. In some of the videos her thighs look even bigger than they did at the Olympics, but to me, she looks shapely, womanly.
She also looked happy.
Happy to be on the beach, happy to be sharing her life, and happy to be talking to fans. Last I heard she’d be ending her competitive volleyball career and trying to get pregnant – something I did at 35 as well. I gained 50 lbs with that first baby, lost it in a year and gained 50 more a few years later with my second. I was completely horrified to gain that weight back and ended up dieting and heading back to the gym so often that I lost my breast milk, and my 5-month-old daughter started drinking formula. My biggest fear at this point in my life is that I’m going to be dieting at 70 – still questing for perfection.
I won’t lie and say that Misty has changed the entire game for me. I know that I can’t always trust myself to be gentle when I’m looking into a mirror. I know that I’m likely to choose green salad over pasta, and that on the days when I’m so busy I don’t have time to eat I’m going to feel silently victorious, excited at the prospect of dropping a pound. But Misty made a big impression on me.
It’s not transformation. I know I have much work to do, but it’s a start. There’s a toe in the door jam of my self perception – maybe a slight pause when I look at myself in the mirror – just a tiny moment when I remember Misty in her tiny red bikini – her infectious smile and bright eyes – how happy she was to be playing her game and living so big. That could be me, I think. That could be me.
Editor’s Note: And it could be you too. If any part of this post speaks to you, join coach Rachel Cole and myself for Hunger Stories: Writing Our Way Toward What we Crave, What we Need & What we Want. Sunday, September 23rd at Teahouse Studio in Berkeley, 9 – 4pm. Contact Teahouse to find out more.