Mayim MishegaasMayim Mishegaas

Body Image: Our Perceptions

How we see our own bodies and those of the people around us
By Mayim Bialik     Published on 09/12/2016 at 8:20 AM EDT

It’s everywhere in the media: body-shaming accusations, plus-size models posting pictures of their cellulite and empowering other women to do the same, Amy Schumer (who is my dress size) being called plus-size and then being accused of fat-shaming for trying to clarify why size 6 is not plus-size….it’s a crazy world in terms of body-image-related issues right now!

I live in Los Angeles, the city of women who come here to be models and actresses (which in many cases are models who also want to act). Everywhere you go, skinny bodies are on display and most everyone looks like a model or someone who lives with – or is – a personal trainer. As a mom of 2 and a naturally curvy person, the past 10 years have not really been helpful to me in terms of body image…thin is in more than ever, and with the increase in plastic surgery, the “ideal” body is even more and more unattainable by natural means.

A few interesting things happened lately that have made me feel a bit better.

  1. Veins. One of my guy friends has a gorgeous wife. Like, super gorgeous. Like, maybe one of the most attractive people I know. She’s stunning. Her body has always been great; she was a dancer and although she has had 2 kids, she looks like a teenager. She has not had work done on her face or body; she’s just gorgeous. (She’s also really sweet!) We were out one day and she had on a dress that showed her knees. I don’t typically look at people’s knees but the way we were sitting allowed me to notice that she had broken veins on the inside of her knee. Nothing tragic; nothing gross; just normal broken veins that many many women have after the age of 30, especially if they are genetically inclined to have them. It was not a huge deal and I didn’t even say anything to her –because there is no reason to!? But what I realized when I saw her broken veins is that she’s normal. She’s not some superhuman being because she’s beautiful. She has broken veins on her legs because she is human and she is not immune to aging just because she has what I perceive to be a better body than mine. We all age.
  2. Gravity. I have a friend about 10 years older than me. She’s always very well put together and she’s very funny and articulate. We were in a group of moms hanging out while our kids played board games (nerdy families need to stick together, right?) and we got to talking about body stuff. We were sharing stories about how our young bodies were a thing of the past and this particular friend stated something that I initially found depressing, but have come to find it comforting. She said that you hit a certain point and there literally just is not going to be enough elastin (the protein that keeps your skin firm and tight when you are young) to withstand the pull of gravity at some point. Meaning, even if you get skinny and work out all the time and starve yourself, nature is going to catch up with you. Even the thinnest and most fit 50-year-old won’t have the skin of a 20- or even 30-year-old. It’s just not scientifically possible. Gravity will pull down on skin without a lot of elastin in it and your skin will just…be that way. The wrinkly skin which looks like crepe paper in those ads for “skin firming” techniques scares me, but hearing this friend talk about aging this way helped. All those young women who seem to have the world – and men – in the palm of their manicured hands will also age with time. That’s it. We all age.
  3. TruthThe truth is I have the body of someone who has given birth and has lived 40 years. I have scars that won’t go away no matter how much cream I put on them. All of those women who say they embrace their scars and their stretch marks are not from my village. I don’t like my scars and stretch marks. But I’ve given up trying to make them go away; I don’t want laser treatments to minimize them; we are not kidding anyone anymore over here. My skin is still pretty elastin-happy, but I know that’s just a ticking clock. I hope that most people will look past the limitations our bodies have as we age, but I know that some people don’t. I don’t want to post pictures of my mama body online like this woman. I respect her for doing so and I am happy she has that kind of confidence, but I just do not. I am used to the body I had for the first 30 years of my life and I miss it: it was not a battlefield, it was not a subject of poking and prodding and questions and interrogations. This is my new body and I am trying to love it. But the truth is I don’t always love it.

When I wear SPANX at a red carpet event, I can make my body look like it has no lumps, no bumps, no cellulite and no scars. That’s not what I’m talking about. There are very, very few people out there who actually know what I look like naked, but I know. And when I see women on the carpet with literally fabric covering their nether regions and not much else, I know that I could never pull that off. And having a PhD and being a hard worker and a devoted mom doesn’t make up for the fact that by societal standards, my body is not as desirable as those women’s bodies are.

I did not write this post so that people would say how great I look. I wrote this post because I think more women should talk about our insecurities. And much as I appreciate how many women – celebrity and otherwise – talk about feeling beautiful no matter what their body looks like, everyone is different. And for me, because of whatever happened in my life and my family and with the way I perceive women and bodies, it’s hard for me to see my body change. And it doesn’t feel good a lot of the time, especially when I compare myself to women who work out with trainers every day, don’t have full time jobs, and don’t have kids! That’s not realistic for me to try to look like them, but many of us still feel inadequate if we don’t look like them.

I know that I am a competent, “good enough” mom and I have a PhD and a job that I am proud of. I am a terrific whistler and I bake really well. I am loving and emotionally intelligent. Those are great things! But for some of us, wanting to look as good as other women – even if those standards are unattainable for 99% of the population – is still a struggle despite our other accomplishments.

I hope that we are as open to hearing voices from those women who don’t feel “beautiful no matter what” as we are hearing from those who do feel that way.

I’m a work in progress, I guess. Just like my body.

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