There's lots going on in this month's O the Oprah Magazine around the idea of appearances and how much they matter, or don't.
First, there is "The Great Weight Debate," stupidly subtitled, "Surprise: The latest research shows that you can be overweight and fit, and thin but carrying too much fat." Hasn't this "latest research" been floating around in the news for a while now, always followed by the disclaimer that lets us know that, "of course," it's better to be fit and thin and quotes from a few health professionals who are afraid people will take this news as a license to be overweight. No one seems to consider the possibility that excess weight might not be the cause of the health problems, but just a marker for unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise, and that it might be those behaviors that really put people at risk.
Then there's a section of essays by authors looking at themselves through others' eyes. One looks at photographs with friends realizes that we all too often miss our own beauty in a quest for skinny perfection. An older author laments her newfound invisibility as a 58 year old woman in a world where youth reigns.
And then there is Oprah's response to all the hullabaloo over her hardbody-and-purple-sweatsuit cover story, in which she thanks people for their responses, cheers other people's self-acceptance, but says that she does not feel healthy at her weight. And of course, I think, she has felt what it is like to be an abs-baring stunner and doesn't quite want to let the dream of that die. Who can blame her?
I know I've been feeling the futility of being a 38-year-old chasing beauty on what seems like a greased slope. At the same time that I'm fighting a battle against stubborn fat, age is attacking me on the other flank, putting silver threads in my hair and carving a deep crease in my forehead. When people tell me I don't look my age, I breathe a deep sigh of relief, which sounds something like, "Maybe it's not too late, then." I'm always afraid I'm going to be old and fat and irrelevant before I ever figure out what I'm really doing with my life. I'm doing what I can to stave off age with hair dye and moisturizer, exercise and lots of rest. Sometimes when I see fresh-faced college girls I wonder why I didn't appreciate my looks when I was their age, and then I feel very much like a dried-up old lady.
I'm not sure why it's still so important to me to participate in the beauty pageant anyway. If I were the person I really want to be, I would take the advice in that first article to heart and remember that it's really all about fitness. I am working on the weight thing but I don't really have to wait until I get to my goal to appreciate the improvements I've already made to my health by working out regularly and eating more whole foods. Think of the contestants on "The Biggest Loser," who are already throwing out their pills when they've been on the show for a few weeks because they have changed their diet and exercise habits, even though they're hundreds of pounds from healthy weights.
I can't stay young forever, so what I'm shooting for is a happy and healthy old age, I guess. Hopefully I can achieve a few more of my dreams along the way, too.