I, like most American women of my generation, or at least the ones I know, have body issues. Eating issues, exercise issues, self-image issues. When I look back at movies from the seventies or early eighties, I'm consistently shocked at how soft the leading ladies were. These women, just pre-Jane Fonda, didn't have sculpted biceps or six-packs (not that you ever saw their abdomens). Jessica Lange in "Tootsie", anyone? Gorgeous, certainly. Gifted, without a doubt. All about her body? Nope. She floated from one scene to the next with her ample hips and jiggly upper arms. And, of course, was beautiful and confident and the very definition of womanly.
But here I find myself in 2010, brought up on a diet, no pun intended, of Kate Moss and Jennifer Aniston. I was a professional actress for years so I had a whole staff of people (agents, managers) telling me, sometimes not very delicately, to watch my weight. One manager I worked with in my early twenties actually shrieked at me when I had arrived at her office in a less than flattering pair of jeans. "Do you have a big ass?", she cried, "Do you?" Her two assistants observed raptly, they seemed to be struggling to refrain from taking notes. I actually didn't have a fat ass. Ass has never been my problem, except for maybe a lack of one. I once had an African-American guy shout at me from his car as I was crossing the street, "You got no ass at all, girl!" I wanted to chase him down and say, in earnest, "You mean it? Could you come talk to my manager?"
I've tried to tread lightly on the body stuff with my girls. Though, in recent years, I'm always on some sort of restricted diet (no alcohol, no sugar, no dairy, no gluten, no fun), I've tried to shield the girls a bit. When they ask why I'm not having cake at a party, I try to convey that I don't feel so well afterwards. They see right through me. "Mom doesn't eat sugar because it makes her fat," one will inform the other. Or, "Mom, don't eat that! It has gluten!" Mae, a while back, was doing imitations of everyone in the family. For each one she did a different funny walk. Mihiretu waving his hands in the air and screaming. Lana stepping prissily on tip-toes with her nose in the air. Ben stomping along and swinging his arms enthusiastically. When she got to me, all she did is say, in an absurdly high voice, "Oh, I love my new diet!" I had, the previous week, stumbled on yet another book by yet another nutritionist that allowed goat cheese, dark chocolate and red wine. I was thrilled and joked to friends about my "diet", kind of reveling in the retro, seventies sound of it. Mae, apparently, didn't get the joke. Or got it too well.
And while I feel a million times better physically when I'm eating well, and I tell everyone who asks that I eat that way for the health benefits and not for weight-control, in truth it's mostly vanity. I love the way I feel when I'm thin. Clothes, and I'm a lover of fashion, look better. And, truth be told, being thin, at least in Marin, and certainly in L.A., where I spent all those years, has some cache. It gives you power. Women give each other the top-to-toe assessment on the sly. The one with the best body at least has that going for them, if nothing else. They may not be the richest, have the best career or the most well-behaved child, but they wear size 27 jeans. Men don't play this game, for the most part, probably because they don't have to. They don't have to subvert their competitive nature. They can be outright cutthroat in business or sports or whatever they choose. And usually they don't choose clothing size.
Today at Good Earth, the natural food store that serves as our hippie supermarket, Lana chastised Mae for getting licorice (organic licorice but even so). She told her that it was going to rot her teeth. Make them even more rotten than they already are. Mae has never had a cavity or even a bad report from the dentist, but it hurt her feelings. On the way home, she said that Lana's always mean to her at Good Earth. This time it was the teeth. Last time Lana told her she was fat and going to get fatter from the chocolate milk she was buying. Again, Mae is in no way fat. I think that child is pure muscle, like a python. Which I told her. Then I told Lana that she needs to can it with that kind of critique. Mihiretu, listening to this all, chimed in, cheerfully, "Mama faht, Mama faht." Don't know why. Maybe because it's one of my biggest (albeit superficial) fears? He just tuned into my wavelength long enough to give me what I didn't want? All I could do was laugh.
It's my last day of being thirty-nine. Friends have been telling me that this is the decade I stop caring so much what people think of me. Maybe I'm off to a good start.