During therapy this week, Dr. P and I did a little work on body image. (I realize that there’s quite a bit of work needed here; it might be quicker to melt an iceberg with a hair dryer. But ya gotta start somewhere.)
She’s asked me in the past what concerns I have with my body. (I love how she asks this like she can’t possibly understand how I would have any issues with my physical self. I suppose they teach acting in 2nd-year psych, right?)
I describe those issues in great detail:
“My thighs. I hate my thighs. The skin is loose, I have stretch marks and cellulite, and they’re too big here on top. The worst are the saddlebags. They sit right below the pot-belly I have – it’s my FAT EQUATOR. So if I could lose ten pounds RIGHT HERE, that would help. I look horrendous in a swimsuit. I have to wear a skirt, to cover my legs, and it has to be a one-piece because of my belly…and you know, with a skirted one-piece? YOU’RE NOT FOOLING ANYONE. Everyone KNOWS you’re fat when you have to wear a skirted one-piece.”
And so on, and so on.
Dr. P: “So…what do you LIKE about your body?”
Me: <blank stare>
Dr. P: One thing.
Me: …um…Sometimes, people have said I have nice eyes.
Dr. P: Good, I agree. (She clearly got an A in that acting class.) Eyes. Tell me about them.
Me: <pausing to think a sec> <shrug> I dunno. They’re eyes.
Dr. P: Hmm. Anything else you like?
Me: Eh. My face is OK. I mean I have a really strong jaw that sticks out too far, and it’s pretty square, and I have an unusually large head, which looks really ridiculous next to someone with a small head. And I have a very distinctive nose. But I do OK with what I have to work with…I mean, I don’t make small children cry, but I don’t exactly inspire poetry here.
Dr. P then proceeds to point out to me how detailed and descriptive I am when it comes to talking about the parts of me I don’t like…but when it comes to the parts I DO like, I’m really quite brief.
Dr. P: Like with your eyes. You said “they’re eyes.”
Me: Well…they ARE. I mean, you get the eyes you’re born with. You can’t really make them smaller or bigger or change the color. You get what you get. No point in trying to change them much.
Dr. P: But you could, if you wanted to. You can put on makeup…I have a sister who spends a lot of time on her eyes, playing them up. You can even get contacts to change the color.
Me: Meh. It’s like feet. You can’t really fret much about how big your feet are. Not much you can do if you’re genetically stuck with a pair of flippers. Your shoe size just is what it is.
But I couldn’t protest too long…because she did have a point. Then she told me that she thought I had a lot of really nice features. For one, I have great hair. Now on this, I do agree. But there’s a story behind my hair.
I have impossibly thick, coarse, wavy hair. It’s been a burden for most of my life. My mother had thin, straight, fine hair…and absolutely no idea what to do with her daughter, who had the equivalent of a Brillo pad growing out of her scalp. We had no conditioner, and no brushes – only those small pocket-sized combs (which I spent a lot of time running away from. No conditioner, no brush? You can imagine the spectacular snarls that grew – and the tears shed as she tried, every few days, to work them out. I recall the combs were ironically printed with “Unbreakable” – I had the misfortune of proving them wrong more than once. This was even more entertaining when the broken piece got completely lost in my hair, only to be recovered with the next combing or shampoo.)
Growing up, I suffered through several years of hysterically bad haircuts. True, it was easier to comb when there was less of it, but every wave and bend insisted on marching to the beat of its own drummer. I took “Extreme Bedhead” to new levels. My cowlicks had cowlicks. My baby sister, trying to be kind, told me, “You look like Janet on Three’s Company!” Great. Every little girl wants to look like the “smart” roommate, right?
In high school, I got a brief reprieve. It was the 80s, after all, and BIG HAIR was in. I could totally rock the mall chick bangs, and hardly needed any teasing or hairspray to make them sky-high. (I did, of course, USE hairspray. Aqua Net Extreme Hold. We called it Aqua Rock or Aqua Helmet. I’m sure that decade is at least 72% responsible for the hole in the ozone later. I hope my grandchildren accept my apologies.)
But soon, waves were out, straight locks were in, and I was back to having hair that didn’t fit. I gave up on haircuts for the most part, and wore it long. Secured behind a headband, or in a ponytail, it generally behaved. (Although it was heavy. I couldn’t secure my hair in any sort of clip – they didn’t make any large enough. I had to gather a ponytail and stick the barrette through the top third of it in order to get it to work.) Every few years, I’d chop a bunch off, just for a change – and I instantly regretted the decision every time.
(To give you an idea of how much hair I have: At one point, when I decided to chop it off, I thought maybe I should donate the hair. It was natural, and I had PLENTY of it, so why not? You could probably feed three full scalps with the harvest from my head. The stylist couldn’t get my hair into a ponytail – there was too much of it. So she split the mass in half, making two tails to cut. She started to cut…and dislocated her scissors on the first tail. After some cussing, and a new pair of shears, I had two very thick ponytails to donate. I put them into the package to mail, and took the envelope to the postage machine at work, just to ensure I’d have enough stamps. The package rang up at NINE OUNCES. Yes – that is OVER HALF A POUND OF HAIR. Don’t look at me like that. EVERYONE with food issues reweighs themselves after a haircut. Admit it.)
I had been living in the Midwest for a few years before I had the guts to try cutting my hair again. This time, though, things were different. I hopped on the interwebs and discovered that there were other people who had hair like mine, who not only got frequent haircuts, but LOVED their waves. So I hit up a salon that specializes in curly hair….and now MY HAIR IS FABULOUS. What a difference a skilled cut and the right products can make!
So now, I flaunt my curls, because you know you’d HAVE to pay good money to get curls like these if you weren’t born with them. I play with the color, too – I vary between reds and blonds; every shade between copper penny and honey is fair game and was probably on my scalp at one time or another.
And the shape! I love my cut. It’s super short on one side (yes! short hair DOES work on me!) and chin-length on the other. (Imbalanced, like the rest of me. Heh.)
Here’s what it looks like (note – while I have fabulous hair…I do not possess exemplary photo-editing skills. Ah well, we can’t be good at everything.):
And the best part? It’s wash-and-go. Scrunch, arrange, done. My hair can be done in under 3 minutes. Fabulous AND low-maintenance. WOOT.
So what’s the moral of the story, kids? Make the most of what you have? Don’t waste energy on the things you can’t change? Or learn to love what you were born with?
I’m not sure. But if I can learn to LOVE my hair, after it gave me over 35 years of misery…maybe there’s hope for my Fat Equator to one day not be a hostile territory.