Betty Duffy

Friday, May 6, 2011

Talking about bodies

So, the lovely Betty Beguiles has been talking about image, and vanity--about looking nice and being healthy to maintain the respect of spouse and society as we go about mothering our children.

And (the likewise, lovely) Bearing has responded to the post:

Yes, yes, we're all supposed to pay lip service to "health" as the reason to become physically fit and lose weight and all that sort of thing. I've done it myself. But admit it people.

You (yes, you) want to have a hot body.

Bearing has certainly called my bluff. Speaking as someone whose body is currently twenty kinds of weird from pregnancy-related weight gain, in addition to the onslaught of aging, where I used to get a little junk in the trunk in a heavy phase, now everything is migrating to my stomach and that area underneath my upper arms.

A diagram:

I hate it. I know gluttony is at the root of my problems, and now I'm going to rely on my vanity to fix it. And as far as twisting myself in knots over my intentions goes, I just don't have the energy.

Any time I'm able to "get in the zone" where weight loss is concerned, it's because I just can't stand it anymore, not because I have positive "get healthy" vanity-free motives for my body. Hopefully, God can make some good of my wicked ways.

I cannot imagine a way to dress in American culture that would totally absolve someone from vanity and body consciousness. Fifties style glamour relies on delicious curves and a narrow waist. 90's style glamour relies on bodacious booties and taut arms. Millennial fashion relies on excessive thinness. Even jumping back a hundred years is going to have me boosting up my bosom with a corset.

With the possible exception of the full burka, dressing has always been about making oneself pleasing to the eye, the male eye, the female eye, any eye. Good proportions are pleasing to the eye. The golden ratio applies to the human body, the ideal head, the ideal man or woman. Fat messes with the ratio and makes us appear off kilter, so it's not necessarily cruelty that makes someone say, "She would be such a beautiful girl, if only she could lose a little weight." It's an inherently true statement. Grace and proportion are restored with the loss of twenty pounds, or whatever. So maybe it's not so much that I want to have a "hot body" but that I want to have ideal proportions, to appear graceful.

And whatever outfit you put an ideal body into, no matter how well it adheres to anyone's concept of chaste dressing, it's going to be attractive, and likely even appetizing to the opposite sex. We know this, and feel bothered by it, I think, because no one really wants to say out loud that they are aspiring to the kind of figure that is inherently sexually appetizing.


Kaighla said...

You know, I actually have been faced with the truth lately that looking good makes me feel good. As a Muslim woman I am, thank God, free from worrying about how I look to people outside, but in the house I feel like it is just easier to wear my pajamas all day and make an excuse like, "Oh, I was cleaning. Didn't wanna ruin my nice clothes with all those cleaning duties...". But, about a week ago I got a wild hair up my butt and decided to dress well. And it was miraculous! I had all this energy to get the house cleaned up because hey, if I look nice the house should too, right? And anyway, the habit of wearing my pajamas all day was rubbing off on my son who would rip this way and that as I tried to pry his sleeping garments from his frame.
And, strangely enough, this all started because I did the exact opposite outside the home! I decided that some of headscarves were really too flashy and when it came down to it, my desire to pair this one with that overcoat had the same intentions behind it as my pre-Islam days of pairing this shirt with those pants/shoes/accessories. So, I decided to up my modesty-factor a notch or two. Then, almost instantly, this desire to look more sultry (or good at a basic just cropped up. Like hey, my husband sees some hot stuff out there and comes home to this filth? Poor guy!

Anyway, don't be fooled by the sheer amount of fabric in a burqa. Those puppies come in every variety of color/texture/fabric and can be sequined and the like! Women are women, after all, and the desire to beautify ourselves along with our surroundings is in our nature, in my humble opinion.

bearing said...

I'm totally willing to admit my aspirations. But then, you knew that.

Erin said...

First of all, I LOVE Kaighla's comment. It never occurred to me that even a burqa and headscarves can be so complicated in the fashion sense.

Also, I've been trying to "look good at a basic level" lately and follow the styles that I like -- no matter what anyone else thinks. Surprisingly, I've felt quite a bit happier with myself.

Lastly, I don't think fashion sinful. I think going overboard (or over-indulging in it) is when we need to step back and reevaluate our intentions. It's not rocket science, after all, it's simply the difference between looking frumpy and looking decent.

Julia said...

It would be hard to be fruitful and multiply if we all looked like overgrown, lumpy apples.

As for motives, there ain't nothin' we do without mixed motives this side of heaven!

Kimberlie said...

Oh I know all about the "I'm just getting healthy" motive. Let's just face it. When I lost about 5-7 lbs during the early part of Lent and started fitting better in my clothes, I started dressing nicer because my husband noticed. Yup, he noticed I was losing weight and I wanted to look good for him. Now that I have lost 18 lbs (Yippee!) I tell him, "I want people to think you've married a trophy wife." Yeah, it's all about him thinkin' I'm hot. :)

JMB said...


Google Jeffrey Taubes and read his blog about weight loss and why exercise doesn't necessarily equate losing weight. I followed some of his advice and I easily shed 5 lbs, just by skipping the morning toast.

Also, I've been doing a Barre Fusion type of exercise this year and it's a great way to tone up. It's a combination of yoga, pilates, stretching and ballet barre work. There's an intellectual component to it as well, which makes it more challenging. I don't know if there is a Lotte Berke method training class at your local Y, but it might be something that appeals to you.

Anonymous said...

Loved the post, Betty. Here's the things that's been on my mind wrt bodies...that Theology of the Body really points to a time/place/state in which each child makes you *more* physically beautiful, not less. It's practiced, of course, in this paradigm (for want of a better word) of original sin, and so it doesn't...we get fat, stretch marks, body-consciousness, the doctor putting in an extra stitich and so on. But we shall all be changed, and in the twinkling of an eye. Perhaps that should be a mantra for dieters! One day all these beauties - of soul, of body, of grace - will cohere. Sometimes I think about that when I look at my stretch marks, shining all silvery. Think of the Lord's wounds, but transfigured. There's laughter to be had, right now, in all of this.

eaucoin said...

This is the stuff I associate with the renewal of baptismal promises, specifically this question: "Do you reject the glamour of evil?" And honestly, I always have to work on that one, and it's always a fine line. So, when you look great, and you end up in the crying room for all of Mass with spit-up on your great outfit, are you okay with that? Then you are on the right side of the line in that moment. But the tests are moment by moment. I love that line about vanity overcoming gluttony, so true, and a perfect example of how often good intentions get hijacked even before we walk one step.

mrsdarwin said...

I've lost a lot of weight lately, and though it started out as practicing fasting before Lent, it has morphed into "I wanna look GOOD" -- also helped along by financial incentives from my husband if I hit my target weight goals. I've slimmed down mainly through cutting out eating after dinner and by smaller meals at breakfast and dinner.

But I have run into problems in that, as I've lost weight, my ten-month-old has stopped gaining weight. This is probably not my fault, as even stuffing her with pureed turkey and chicken and potatoes and rice cereal isn't fattening her up -- she stays resolutely petite, though her hair has gotten very thick and she's added a few more teeth. But when the doctor suggested supplementing with formula and theorized that perhaps my milk wasn't providing enough nutrition for baby, I had to consider -- would I want more nutritious milk at the price of regaining weight, especially when the baby is getting older and going to be eating solids more and more? And I don't know the answer. It's not as if I'm her only food source. She nurses more for comfort these days than for nourishment (especially if it's right after a filling meal of yogurt and chicken and "tender pureed green beans").

I haven't parsed all this in my mind yet, let alone figure out where health and vanity start butting heads. I will say, though: I've been amazed (and that's not too strong a word) to see contours of my body I'd forgotten I had reappear, as if there's a whole new healthy self emerging. Vanity, perhaps, but also wonder and delight at the thought that this is ME! And that's not to be lightly brushed off -- God made my body, and it is good.

BettyDuffy said...

Bodies are good! Yes, Mrs. D. That's what I wanted to say. A healthy, well-proportioned body can be as much a mark of spiritual health as it can be of vanity. Over at Betty Bs blog, I think Melanie B mentioned something about vanity taking all different shapes and sizes. One can be vain about her garden for instance. I'm vain about my hands-which seems a harmless vanity to maintain and even to cultivate--but, it's vanity. Which is wrong. Of course, my hands are still good and necessary.

I think it's interesting how we assume that slenderness is comparable to weakness or inability when it comes to breastfeeding. If a baby's not gaining weight we almost immediately look to the mother and say--"She's too thin." But I've known overweight mothers whose breastfed babies "fail to thrive" according to their doctors. Calories in/calories out are important, but even more so, I think, is good nutrition. It's possible to get enough calories without getting fat.

JMB, I'm going to check this guy out. I need a refresher in my diet and exercise repertoire--something to make it fun and accomplishable.
i want to look good in my clothes, but i also really do want to feel strong again. It's been awhile.

Dobrovits Family said...

I struggle with this.

I was raised by a vain woman. There is no other way to say it except honestly. She had 8 children over 18 years, was a fabulous mother (extended BF, very nurturing) - but has been obsessed with her weight and appearance her whole life. She was always objectively beautiful, and when natural aging hit with full force (about 50), she could not handle it.

She has had 3 full face lifts, many other minor "procedures", and religiously gets botox-ed every quarter.

I do like to look good for my hubby and to show the world that Catholic moms with big families are not frumps...I like to run to stay in shape and so I can eat dessert a few times a week...

But then I start to worry I am heading down the same path as my mom...the one that leads to calculating the "points" in the chocolate Easter eggs she is sharing with her grandchildren and to taking about food and skin creams in every single conversation you have with her....

But then I

BettyDuffy said...

Dob Fam, I think we all have concerns about emulating our mothers' pitfalls--and each is unique.

JMB said...

The main reason WHY I breastfed was to lose baby weight. DUH! LOL. Anyway, I always got really skinny breastfeeding until my last baby and then I had the back fat and it didn't disappear until about 1 year after I weaned her. Mother Nature finally got onto me I suppose.

I agree with Betty though. The body is very efficient with it's milk making capabilities. The baby may just be naturally petite and this has nothing to do with the quality of your milk.

bearing said...

MrsD: Ditto on the "your milk isn't nutritious enough" doctor. That's just nuts. How could formula be more nutritious than your milk? You're already supplementing with "real food" (real compared to formula, not real compared to breastmilk), so why give her fake food?

Does she look healthy and strong and active? If not, have you ruled out food intolerances/allergies as a possible cause of malabsorption first?

JMB said...

It's Gary Taubes, not Jeffrey. Sorry!

BettyDuffy said...

JMB, After a quick google search, I figured it might be Gary--since he was the only Taubes associated with healthy eating. Have you bought any of his books? Or is there a post in particular where he gives away his theory?

JMB said...

Read "Why We Get Fat". Back in January I came across the Reader's Digest version at the dentist office and (I sadly admit) ripped it out of the magazine. I eliminated carbs in the am, had a soup for lunch and ate a normal dinner and lost 5lbs in 2 weeks. I was not hungry nor did I feel deprived. The weight is still off and I no longer crave toast in the am.

BettyDuffy said...

Oh man, carbs in the a.m. are just about the only thing that get me out of bed. And coffee.

What do you eat? eggs? meat? This morning, inspired by bearing, it occurred to me to have cottage cheese and tomato juice, but I just wanted something warm and carbie.

MrsDarwin said...

JMB, that's basically how I've been losing my weight as well. And I was going to have biscuits this morning, but you've inspired me to skip that for an egg.

Bearing, baby is healthy and active, though she doesn't crawl yet or pull up (though I've seen her making motions in those directions). She's happy, wriggly, and tiny.

I gave her the whipped cream frosting off of yesterday's birthday cake, and she devoured it with a will. The child ought to be 25 pounds, the way she eats, instead of 14.

JMB said...

I have a 2 egg cheese omelet 5 mornings a week. I either add feta or shredded cheddar cheese. Just a little bit to give it some flavor. I've gotten so used to eating it that it doesn't make me want to gag anymore.

bearing said...

My default breakfast is low-carb (egg + veg), but I do mix it up with mid-carb (fruit and yogurt) and the occasional high-carb (oatmeal with nuts). Protein is a must, as is coffee.

I have written about Taubes' Why We Get Fat here, here, here, and here, and about Good Calories, Bad Calories here.

TS said...

On the diagram drawing, you presented things from the back view; perhaps the front view improves with weight gain.

BettyDuffy said...