Rejecting Body Envy

I was on my way to pick up my daughter yesterday, and when I was stopped at a light, a woman crossed in front of me. She wasn’t particularly young or particularly old but she was–like so many women on the west side of Los Angeles–in spectacular shape, which I could easily tell because she was wearing work-out clothing. (Odds are good that if you see a Brentwood matron before noon, she’s either on her way to or from yoga class.)  Sitting there idly, studying her because I had nothing else to do, I thought–as I have so many times in the past–My life would be so different if I had that body. So much better.

Not my body. Not even close.

Not my body. Not even close.

And then I  sat up straight and thought, What the fuck, Claire?

I mean, where the hell does a thought like that come from? It was so unconscious, it just appeared there, in my head, full-blown, at the exact same moment this long-legged well-muscled woman appeared on the street in front of me.

But the second I actually stopped to examine the thought, I realized how idiotic it was.

In what way would my life be improved if I had a killer body? I’ve been married to the same incredibly supportive and adorable man for 24 years. If an imperfect body was a deal breaker for him, I’d probably know it by now. But he’s never once complained about the way I look. (Admittedly, he’s too terrified to. But still.) I certainly don’t require him to have Ryan Gosling’s taut abs: I just want him to be fit enough to live a very long time, and preferably longer than I do. As far as I can tell, that feeling is mutual, except he probably isn’t thinking in Ryan Gosling terms.

My kids seem to like me fine the way I look. In fact, my youngest son told me recently that he prefers my face to any other mom’s, because he thinks I look like I’m nice. I defy you to find a better compliment than that.

Professionally, I sit in a room and write. Occasionally I do go out in public to give talks or meet people, but I’ve got to believe that none of my readers sits there thinking, “You know, if she had a thinner waist and her arms were tauter, I’d be enjoying this panel so much more.”

One thing I’ll grant you: I’d enjoy trying on and buying clothing more if I had a perfect body. But I enjoy buying clothing plenty as it is. In fact, I don’t want to like it more than I already do. That way lies expense.

It is possible I could go out into the world with more confidence–and maybe even more enjoyment–if I had a body like that woman’s, but I need to look closely at that, because . . . well . . . why? To make other women envy me? To make men fall in love with me? I don’t need to do either of those things. I don’t want to do either of those things. I want women to like me and enjoy my company. I want men to like me and enjoy my company. I should be envying people who can remember faces and names better than I do–that’s actually meaningful.

It’s not entirely my fault I fall into this stupid way of thinking. People who make stuff want to convince us that we’re not good enough with our imperfect bodies and faces because then, when we see advertising that says their stuff will make us prettier, we’ll buy that stuff out of insecurity and false hope. So they shove pictures of women with long lean bodies and high cheekbones (and when I say women, I mean sixteen-year-old girls) in front of our faces and make us feel like something’s wrong with us because we don’t look like that. We need to stop falling for this crap. I need to stop falling for it.

That woman who crossed in front of me had an enviable body. And I envied it. Out of habit and laziness. It’s ridiculous. I need to reshape my inner monologue and stop fretting about the long narrow thighs I’ll never have and start thinking about how lucky I am to be healthy and loved.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Rejecting Body Envy

  1. There isn’t enough YES in the world for this. For all of this. Signed, a fellow pro writer who also has the same inner monologue.

  2. Thank you!! I need to remind myself of this daily.

  3. Val

    Such a fantastic message. And beautifully written, always, Claire!

  4. What about us oldies who once had that enviable body?? I say FUCK it…it took too much energy from those I love to keep it that way! Life is so much easier now that I don’t have to starve and exercise myself into thinness!

  5. Deb

    So very true. I’d rather have my three beautiful children than the body I had before them.

  6. This was fabulous. And so much the conversation in my mind as well. But how incredibly difficult it is to weed out those thoughts, sometimes bald and sometimes fleeting. They leave insidious residues.

  7. missourimom62

    I love this. Wise and to the point. Bravo bravo bravo, and thank you.

  8. Imelda The Hon

    Thank you very much for this. I’m quite overweight (and working on it) and so for me looking at healthier bodies is aspirational, but envy is a big part of it, and you’re right, it’s so unhealthy. If there’s a good reason your body needs to be different, work on getting it to where it needs to be. Envy is pointless.

  9. Love this post! I read once that virtually every woman in America–including the young, thin ones–hates her thighs. Ugh. I made up an aphorism for myself about this very issue years ago: “It’s not my job to be beautiful.” (Let some other poor fool chase after impossible, air-brushed perfection. Ha.)

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