Sunday, May 23, 2010

Finding the Center

I have been mulling over a MORE magazine article I read a little while ago, "Time for 'Stacy's Mom' to Hang Up Her Thong?"  OK, the title stinks.  But the article digs into an interesting issue.  The title refers to a Fountains of Wayne song about a "hot mom," and the article's writer seems to be saying that as her teenaged daughter ventures into dating, she needs to figure out a way to step away from the role of flirtatious, attractive woman and become just a mom.

If my daughter had become the hottie in the house, then what was I, aside from her chauffeur? My personal definition of good mothering has always included not just supporting my daughter but stepping aside for her. When she made the basketball team I went from being knowledgeable former player to mom in the stands, cheering her efforts; it was unthinkable that I would bellow free throw tips from the bleachers or do anything else to show her up. Yet when it seemed time for me to sit down in the stands and play frumpish, middle-aged mom, I balked. . . .  I noticed something happening to myself and my friends as our kids edged into puberty: Even though our knees creak a little more and we find ourselves with reading glasses, we still feel young, or at least youngish. Unlike so many of our mothers when they were our age, we don’t view ourselves as over the hill, and we see no reason why the rest of the world should, either. . . he problem is we live in Desperate Housewives times. The cultural norms of beauty for every female between 13 and 90 are roughly the same: smokin’ hot babeliciousness. To be beautiful, pretty, handsome or any of the old-school definitions of attractive pales in the face of hotness. The choices seem to be, cultivate your MILF-ishness (which might mean competing sexually with your own daughter, which is downright creepy, not to mention high on the list of dubious parenting practices), or live out the rest of your life wearing fleece.

Later, she talks to a friend who throws out all her lacy thongs and replaces them with white cotton granny panties after she discovers her daughter's sexy undies in the laundry.  I have a real problem for me with the idea that these are the two choices. Who wants to try to try to look -- and worse, act -- like a teenager through age 40 and beyond?  Do we really have to send out signals of universal sexual interest and availability to avoid a life of fleece and frumpiness?  My problem with both of these is that they're reactionary -- either we desperately need the attention of men to prove that we're worthwhile or we're sending out a big "NO" to everyone before they even ask.  No thought here of how the author could build a sense of confidence and a feeling of attractiveness from the inside instead of flirting with teenaged boys. No sense of how to feel sexy for yourself and for the people you choose to involve yourself with romantically instead of the world at large.  I don't think there is an easy way to figure this out -- it's something that I have been struggling with myself.

I have also been reading Geneen Roth and listening to "Inside Out Weight Loss," and both seem to deal with this feeling of an empty center. I think one of the reasons that weight loss continues to be a struggle for me is the question of who the new me would be.  The last time I got to goal weight, I felt a lot of pressure to put on a persona that didn't feel like me -- how would I prove I had "made it" if I didn't wear clothes that revealed my new body? What if I wore something that was slightly big or insufficiently fitted and people thought I was putting the weight back on? At the same time, I really didn't want to attract admiring glances from icky guys at the gas station.  I had the new body but not the confidence and sense of ownership I really needed to maintain it.  When I was really overweight, I felt like I attracted snotty glances at the supermarket and a lot of unwanted advice from family and friends.  At my current weight, I enjoy a certain level of invisibility.  Being 20-30 pounds overweight is so normal in this country that no one pays attention to it.

I think it's hard to commit to leaving that comfort zone.  It would mean figuring out a way to create a new self-image that is more inner-centered, less focused on other people's opinions. That figuring out does not seem to be a mental activity -- no matter how much I try to think the problem out, I only come up with pat admonishments to "be myself."  I think that this kind of discovery requires a different kind of processing. In one episode of "Inside Out Weight Loss," the host asks listeners to imagine a "Wonderful Me" who has figured out our problems.  We don't have to know the answer, we just have to picture what someone without the problems would look like, act like, think like, be like. 

One thing's for sure: I know she wouldn't look like Stacy's Mom or be wearing sweatpants.


  1. You bring up some really good points concerning our thought process when our bodies change. I think age has provided me with an option that I didn't see before: I'm going to just be me and the rest of the world can accept it, or get over it. Either way, it's not my problem. Of course, sometimes I waver in my conviction, but for the most part I can easily wear this attitude. I wish I knew this in my 30's because I remember thinking the exact things you've mentioned.

  2. I'm 43 with a lovely 14 year old daughter, so I found this interesting. I reluctantly pass on some things as they are not appropriate for 40 plus. I wear fitted stuff because I look best in it, but overtly sexy stuff doesn't really project the right image-- I would be horrified to be thought of as "trying too hard". I don't feel I have to fade to promote my daughter (who, lord knows, doesn't need help in that department). I think many of us have to grapple a bit in our 40s anyway, and when you have a young beauty coming up it kind of puts things in sharper focus. I will never have-- never had, at any point-- her creamy skin or long legs or naturally red lips. But you know what? I like my looks, mostly, like my body. And I enjoy her beauty almost as if it were my own. The problem is trying to "optimize" her, poor kid, when sometimes she just wants to put her hair up and run around in sweats.

  3. These are really important issues, Jen, and I'm glad you wrote about them. Some of us are exactly the same on the inside after weight loss as before, and get angry when people treat us differently because of our size. That's what I've done in the past.

    This time is different because I've been working on getting to know myself better and to deal with the issues that complicated my weight gain in the first place. I know you've been doing the same, and as a result, we are in different places this time.

    I like Carol's attitude and want to be able to relax into just being who I am, even as that unfolds.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07