Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My Body History

Body History

As part of my research I am collecting body histories, I hope that these will help me to develop an understanding of my research participant’s motivation and desire to implement changes in their bodies.

Starting with my own…

I guess my earliest memories of my body are of doing gymnastics around the age of 8 or 9, I wasn’t very good at it, I couldn’t jump the horse or walk the high beam, but I was better at that than I had been at Ballet, my mother tells the tale of the Ballet teacher telling her that I was never going to be any good at it so I might as well go and do something else (hence the gymnastics). But I tried hard and worked through the junior grades and have the certificates to prove it. In fact, I was never really any good at sport, or at least that was my perception. Again my mother challenged the Physical Education Teacher when I was about 13 who gave me a D on my report card. I mean I could swim 5000m without stopping and I ran 4 or 5 times a week, but that D stuck with me, I was awful at ball sports, anything requiring hand eye co-ordination, and that, according to my school, was what mattered.

I was tall in primary school; I was taller than the headmaster, tallest in my year by a long way. I did gymnastics in a green leotard – oh so fashionable, with my legwarmers and everything – and I was called the jolly green giant. It was a friendly nickname, nothing malicious about it, I didn’t mind, my friends were tiny in comparison. First year at senior school, again I was tallest, for most of the first and second years in fact, then everyone started to catch up. I only grew 3 or 4 centimetres after starting senior school, by the end I was probably in the bottom quarter height wise.

I matured early too, got my periods while still at junior school and started wearing a bra before anyone else. It never bothered me. I was still the only girl in the class who didn’t run to the toilets to change for sport, and it never really changed. I never had a problem stripping off for a poolside change (towel strategically draped obviously if there were boys around).

I have no recollections of feeling shy of my body, hiding my body at all. It was just a body after all. I’m still the same now, communal changing rooms aren’t fearful places for me like they are for some people, although I’m a little more wary of full length 360 degree mirrors than I used to be.

At 17 I worked as a pool lifeguard, shorts, t-shirts, not a great look, but I wasn’t exactly big. I ate chip butties all summer and supplemented my diet from the chocolate machine (which regularly spat out free bars which of course I ate as well) and the older girls used to say “just wait until you hit your 20s you won’t be able to eat like that any more.” The summer before I went away for Uni I worked at the pool again, 12 and 14 hour shifts if I could get them, I went to the gym in my lunch breaks, ate badly, lost weight and started Uni lighter than I had been for a long time. I was confident, outgoing and had lots of fun.

As I went through university and beyond I gradually got heavier, but it never bothered me, I went to China for a year and ate out every night with obvious consequences. I always say that I was 8 stone 11lbs when I met my husband and 11 stone 8lbs when I married him 7 year later, I’m lighter than that now by half a stone, but no where near my lightest weight.

After university I went on my first diet. Started on New Years Day as all good diets are supposed to do. Lost a stone and then got bored, gradually put it back on again. Dieting was never really my thing. When I was getting married I refused to lose weight, why should I have to lose weight just to look good on one day. I still felt fantastic in my dress, looked good in the pictures, and had a fantastic day.
I moved abroad, did lots of exercise and got down to 68kg, so that’s about 10 stone 10lbs, what does 68kg mean for me, it means I can run (as opposed to plod), it means I can crack 60 minutes for a 10K race (I know it’s not fast but it’s good for me). Then got bored, and gradually put it back on again, hovered around 73-73kg for a few years and then fell pregnant.
Now I loved my pregnant body, never once did I feel that I had to control my body during pregnancy, never once did I worry about looking fat. I was pregnant, I was supposed to look fat, or at least bigger than usual. In fact, my legs and bum got smaller when I was pregnant, my arms were less saggy, my face was slimmer, it just had this great big bump out front, not a pretty football up the jumper bump, no teenage boy pretending to be pregnant look for me, a proper fleshy, female, pregnant bump, never mind a cushion up the jumper, I looked like I’d got the whole duvet shoved up there.
Post pregnancy my body has been of less concern to me in a real life setting, but increasingly of interest from an academic point of view, hence the fact I’m thinking about it now. I’d like to get back to 68kg, but there’s no sense of urgency. I don’t feel that I have something to prove. I promised myself a new pair of jeans when I hit 68kg because mine keep falling down but it’s not making it come around any faster. I just don’t care enough.
It’s not that I lack awareness of my body, I don’t wear a bikini, I don’t flaunt my body in public, I’m just more comfortable in my body than the average person. I’d like to care, I just don’t.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Mother's Body, My Body and My Daughter's Body

A while ago, I wanted to write a book called, My Grandmother's Corset, My Mother's Barbie, My Plastic Surgeon and Me. I liked the title, not so catchy but a clear indicator of the content and romantic enough to (hopefully) catch people's attention. I wanted to write about women's body image across generations, and more precisely the importance of the waist in body image ideals.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I’ve just finished reading Susie Orbach’s Bodies (Profile Books, London, 2009), - hey, that’s a 2009 book that I’m reading in 2009, how up to date am I! - It’s well written, easy to read, engaging and accessible. One thing that really struck a cord with me, Orbach talks a lot about the influence that parents have on children (and the adults that they become), and it has revived my interest in those cross-generational aspects, the legacy - my original book idea was to look at the legacy of the corset - of my grandmother's body to my mothers, my mother's body to my body, and my body to my daughter's body. Well, yes, it's obvious that parents influence your children you might say, everyone knows that, but she’s talking about the influence of parents on their childrens' bodies. No, not just the way they dress, hold themselves, present themselves, not even just in terms of how thin or fat they are. Their ACTUAL bodies, how their bodies grow, and I find that a frightening thought; that my actions now, my sufficient or insufficient parenting will influence my daughter’s body for the rest of her life.

Looking at things analytically, I know that there are things in my life that are reflective of my mother’s influence on me. My inability to go on a diet – yes, very funny – to stick to a diet, the fact that I’m generally so comfortable in my body that I don’t have the motivation to diet. My mother dieted when I was younger, and she still does, I remember her going to Weightwatchers meetings on a regular basis for a while, and I always remember her coming home one evening and reporting the leader’s comment to one particular women who was whinging and making excuses for her failure to lose that week “You’re here because you’re fat, and you’re fat because you eat too much”, it’s funny what you remember. But that didn’t result in me always wanting to go on diets, in me being insecure about my weight in general. I guess, from a purely practical point of view, I had a healthy diet, at least while that diet was under the control of my parents – largely but not exclusively my mother. And as a result I had a healthy body, I was active, I was social, I didn’t have trouble fitting in, so I had no reason to dislike my body. My parents were important in the creation of that body.

So back to now, is there any sure way to ensure that you pass on to your children your good habits and not your bad ones? To make sure that they grow up to be confident and happy with their bodies? Whether I make my daughter finish all the food on her plate or not, will it really make any difference in the long run? There are things I would like for my daughter that don’t come naturally to me, I never wear makeup, glamorous is not second nature to me, I can’t for the life of me walk in high heels. I wish a was a bit more everyday glam, a bit more naturally elegant. I wish that I cared a bit more about the way I present myself. I dislike people who look great but don’t look like they’ve had to make too much effort to get there, but I still want to be them.

Maybe I'll still write the book one day. It's on the ever growing list. Now I have my own daughter though, I may have to change the title to include her too, which would probably make it too unwieldy, and knock it down from the bestseller list...

Questions Raised

  • How do I instil a sense of beauty and natural elegance into my child when I don’t have it myself, or rather how do I make my child what I am not and should I?
  • If I like my body, does that mean my daughter will like hers?
To Do
  • I have my second batch of interviews to arrange for next week, the questions will remain largely the same but with an emphasis on collecting more of a body history and background which it is hoped will help to develop the data collected.
  • To begin with I am going to attempt to write my own body history - which will follow in the next post.
  • For writing practice I am writing up a book review of Orbach's Bodies - I'll post that here too.