Attention: Measured By the Pound

In my lifetime thus far, I have worn my hair short and I have worn my hair long. It has been light, dark, curly, wavy, straight, razored, bobbed and layered. I have been a cowgirl, a granola and a professional. I have dressed trendy when I could afford it, sporty or provocatively when I felt like it, and something I like to call “Shabby-Midwestern-Chic” for much of the remainder.

Throughout all of these different looks, phases or whatever you wish to call them, I have never noticed a difference in the amount of positive attention I have received. But in all of my years, I have noticed that one thing, ONE, single, solitary thing seems to make a difference no matter what I have on or how I choose to wear my hair. I am talking—as can be inferred from the title—about my weight.

I feel it fair to mention that I have never really struggled with my weight in the way that some people do. For my entire life (save for a brief period between 2007 and 2009) I have never been classified as “overweight” on the medical charts. I have always been a healthy, normal weight. As a child, I could eat whatever I wanted and it never mattered. Then, like a lot of women, once I entered my late 20’s I needed to start watching it a little more closely as the scale crept ever upward after too many pizza binges. But still I managed to keep it in check.

Then one day, tired of flying a little too close to the sun on the wings of pepperoni — I decided to make some radical changes to my diet and exercise routine, resulting in a 30 pound weight loss and a rock-hard, 95-pound body. To some friends and family, I was a little “too skinny,” and technically underweight but none of that mattered to me because I felt great. For the first time ever, I completely loved my body.

However, curious things began to happen as the pounds melted away. Stranger than needing to shop for smaller sizes and having my jewelry resized was the way I was being treated by others… particularly members of the opposite sex. Suddenly I had gone from being someone who received compliments or glances once in awhile to receiving them wherever I went. And in a word, it was: intoxicating. So intoxicating in fact, that it’s a wonder I ever let the lbs. climb back into my truck. Looks, stares and some additional suitors all became part of my reality for… a time.

But that wasn’t even the half of it! People were KINDER. They smiled more and when I walked into a store of any kind I was asked immediately if I needed assistance. It wouldn’t be until much later that I even noticed the additional attention. But eventually it registered. And do you want to know WHEN it registered? It grew clearer and clearer, little by little, as the pounds found their way back onto my frame. I know this to be true as I experienced another (more milder) yo-yo in recent years. Pounds melted away again and I received more positive feedback from total strangers.

Don’t get me wrong, I was never treated poorly when I was heavier. I simply grew invisible. Which is interesting when you consider the sheer physics of it! I mean, I BECAME larger. I took up MORE space. But the more space I took up, the less people noticed or acknowledged my existence. Now some of you may say that it was/is a matter of confidence. The better you feel, the more you get noticed. And that might be true.

Except that I spoke to a male co-worker once who had experienced the exact same thing. I asked him this question about self-esteem being linked to weight and body image and thus generating positive or negative attention, and he believed that they had no link. “I feel like the exact same person” he said. “I have the same amount of confidence no matter my size… People just look beyond me when I’m heavier.” Fascinating. I thought. Simply fascinating. He’s a GUY and it’s happening to HIM too!

I wonder if I am guilty of the same behavior toward others that I’ve encounter out in the world? Whether we want to acknowledge this or not… I am officially calling it out! We are a society that is ruled by beauty and any or all of the perceived trappings thereof. It’s a shame, I know, for the outside to hold so much power over the inside — that truly unique part of us which is of far greater value. And yet I’m certain that it’s a part of our motivation at times. Whether that’s good or bad? Well, only you can weigh the importance of that.

NYC: Does This Pizza Make Me Look Fat?

Remember the good old days when cameras used film? You took all of your vacation pictures home with you in little black canisters — their contents largely unknown. And when you got around to it, you would drop them off at the nearest photo developing place and get them back within one to three business days.

Ahh yes, the good old days of blissful ignorance when your vacation could not possibly become clouded by some random image of you frozen in time. The picture was snapped and everyone moved merrily on their way.

But now that we live in the digital age and have the opportunity to SEE that random image of ourselves almost frozen in time—that is before we hit the SAVE button—we often recoil at what we see and wish for a do-over. We reposition ourselves in an attempt to look happier, taller, thinner or ironically… more natural than we did in the previous snapshot.

During our trip to New York we took a lot of pictures. After all, New York is a magnificent city with so much worth seeing and remembering and Lee is a wonderful photographer who artistically and diligently documents the events of our travels by taking numerous fun and interesting pics.

Occasionally when he would snap one I would ask to see it before we moved on to the next destination on our “must-see” list. And occasionally I would ask him for a do-over… particularly if I felt that said photograph made my face look fat.

<<< As a side note, other than the scale and my clothing, photos are very revealing to me when it comes to a change in my weight. Oftentimes they are even MORE telling than clothing and if I so much as suspect that the scale is inching in an upward direction I refuse to get on it. So photos can sometimes provide me with that slap-in-the-face “AH-HA moment” (as Oprah would say) … and inspire me to get off my butt and do something about my upward mobility. >>>

OK… back to the story. Lee put up with my requests for do-overs for about a day. But then, in the early part of the second day when I pouted and complained about my ginormous moon face he sighed, put the camera down, looked at me and said something kind of like this: “Joanna. You know you are not fat. And we are in New York. One of the greatest cities in the world not to mention one of the greatest cities to EAT in the world… and you are complaining about your weight. I don’t want you to TALK about or even THINK about your weight until we get home. If you want to worry about it then, that’s your prerogative. But for now… Just enjoy.”

And he was right. I knew he was 100% right. I knew that I was being ridiculous and shallow and that if I really am unhappy with my current weight… Well… Sitting down in front of a gorgeous, large, authentic, New York-style pizza pie from Lombardi’s—the very first and oldest pizzeria in America—was most certainly NOT the time nor place to start worrying about it.

“Shoulding” On Ourselves

There is a little-known occurrence reaching epidemic proportions and running rampant through our culture these days. This problem may be affecting you or someone you know in some very harmful ways. Perhaps you’re already familiar with it… it’s called “Shoulding,” and it is a dangerous thing. I was first introduced to this concept by my mother who was frequently telling me that it is never productive to “should” on yourself. And even though she reminds me (almost daily) NOT to SHOULD on myself… I still do it.

It starts out harmless enough… with a few benign statements such as: I should clean my house. I should do some laundry. I should pay some bills. I should balance my checkbook. I should wash the windows. I should wash the car. I should wash the kids. These statements in and of themselves aren’t harmful. They can actually serve in a helpful manner by prompting us to take care of those things in our lives which need to be taken care of. However, there is a much darker side to “shoulding”… and this is the side that we ought to be concerned with.Let me demonstrate by sharing some personal “shoulds” I have dropped on myself over the years… I should be happy. I should be married. I should be a mother. I should be a successful graphic artist making more than enough money to meet my monstrous suburban mortgage payment. I should bake brownies and change diapers. I should be shuffling kids off to soccer practice and swimming lessons in between power lunches and networking dinner parties.

And I’m just getting warmed up…

I should be a size 2. I should have 8-minute abs. I should have Madonna’s arms, Angelina’s lips and Jennifer Aniston’s flawless skin. I should have thick, lustrous wash and wear hair (in the trendiest style of course) I should arise in the mornings looking like I have just stepped out from the pages of Vogue. I should start each day by running 6 miles and eating nothing but fiber, lean protein and organically-grown produce. I should wear fabulous clothes and drive an equally fabulous, environment-friendly, hybrid car. I should have a perfect mate who looks like Prince Charming and treats me like a queen. He too should earn an obscene amount of money… and together with our beautiful and well-mannered 2.5 children, we SHOULD be the poster-family for happiness and domestic bliss.

This process of “shoulding” can also work in another way… for there are just as many things that fall into the “Should Not” category. A few of my personal favorites are: I should not be divorced. I should not be single. I should not be childless. I should not struggle to pay my bills with a college degree. I should not have any debt. I should not feel the need to constantly defend or explain myself. I should not (occasionally) wish for a different life.

As you can see, “shoulding” is a lose/lose activity. An exercise in futility. Nothing productive or good can ever come from “shoulding on ourselves.” The moment the word “should” leaves our mouths, we are damaging our current and future happiness. This is what my mother is always trying to get me to see. As a woman of 60 she tells me how much time she wasted “shoulding,” when she could have just chosen to be happy and content with who she was and what she had in THAT moment. She hopes that by telling me this while I’m in my thirties, it might save me a great deal of heartache and disappointment and it might allow me to enjoy what I have right now.

So I guess if there is anything, ANYTHING that I SHOULD do… the singular exception to the “Thou Shalt Not Should” rule… it would be to stop all of this “shoulding on myself” RIGHT NOW and start accepting, embracing and enjoying the reality of what IS and what IS NOT.