Selfie. The theme of this issue can conjure up many thoughts about the self — inner and outer, good and bad. It was a terrific theme and I confess, a bit of a scary one on which to write. To really look at one’s own self honestly requires a healthy dose of courage and more than a little bit of Kleenex. At least it does for me.
Here on what should be a beautiful April day (but is, in fact, another day where snow and cold is predicted to again hit our Michigan city), the Easter Bunny has come and gone, leaving in its wake leftover jelly beans and chocolate eggs and probably more than a few pounds on my hips. It will require far more work to bid farewell to them than one would like!
A gloomy day like this is perhaps not the best to look deep within oneself, opening that Pandora’s box of faults and foibles. Deadlines don’t care.
My first diet was self-imposed. I was eight and it was post-Halloween. With self control unique for an eight-year-old, I rationed my Halloween candy, piece by piece, limiting myself to three pieces a day. Somewhere between age five and age eight, I had gone from cute, curly-headed girl to a little porkette. To put on my little green tutu with the antler ears for my ballet recital was a memory I’d like to forget. The combination of bad wardrobe, big tummy and an awkwardness that made ballet not my greatest artistic achievement did not lead to a performance I anticipated with great joy.
Throughout the following years, I struggled, as many do, with weight and I do to this day. I wanted to be pretty, like the other girls. My wildly curly hair didn’t allow for the long, straight hairstyle of the day, parted on the side with a strand of hair pulled across the forehead to the opposite side, then tucked neatly behind the ear and hanging below the shoulders. Nor did it work with the shorter chin-length bob with a bit of poof — but not too much poof. Instead, my hair was cut short, the same way it had been since I was — well, eight.
On the night of my junior prom, we went to dinner with a group of friends. I was on Weight Watchers so I ate only lettuce from the salad bar. (Weight Watchers was tougher in the late 1960s than it is now.) My boyfriend in senior high, knowing my struggle, gave me a most thoughtful and wonderful gift on Valentine’s Day (and it remains one of my favorites of all time!) — a huge candy box filled with sliced red, yellow and green peppers, carrots and celery sticks. Some would take offense. I was relieved.
The summer before I went to college, my mom made my 18th birthday cake. It was styrofoam, frosted beautifully. But when college came along, with its dorm food, I met the “freshman fifteen.” Then there was the year of apartment living during college — inexpensive pasta and pizza were the two main food groups!
This led to the brewer’s yeast diet, the grapefruit diet, the cabbage soup diet (that was a very bad idea), liquid protein (another bad idea), Dr. Atkins, bingeing and purging (this didn’t last long, fortunately), calorie counting, points counting. You name it.
And the self image continued on its topsy turvy rollercoaster. Round face, big hips, overbite. I thought I looked bad all the time. Every single minute of every single day for decades. And it didn’t matter what anyone else said.
Not all that long ago I was looking at photos taken during my 30s with a friend. There are three of us, dressed in gowns for an Oscar party, with our friend who was “the producer.” And we look great. Really terrific. My friend said, “And we thought we were so fat. Wouldn’t we kill to look like that now?”
I had thought that many times.
We do such an number on ourselves, don’t we? Long before the media discovered Photoshop, conveniently removing blemishes and double chins, we were looking at others, trying to see ourselves in them — and failing. Because we were ourselves.
And when I think of me, there was nothing really wrong with that self except some extra pounds, and not even that many. That self had certain talents, some well recognized, the others less obvious but still good. That self I knew had far more kindness to others than to herself. That self could listen to others for hours, could be there when needed but didn’t know how to be there for herself or listen to the positive parts of her inner voice instead of the negative ones.
That self had (and has) grit. She overcame paralyzing shyness, could sing and act on stage, appear on television or speak in front of groups and shake hands with strangers at a public gathering when necessary. That self studied theatre in college and has acted every single day of her life in one way or another, while still doing her best to be her own genuine self — a contradiction, yes, but a truth.
It was no surprise when I took the Myers-Briggs test again, some 20 years after the first time, to find I was still in INFP-T, an introvert who was intuitive, feeling (versus thinking), “prospecting” (or seeking) versus judging and turbulent (emotion-driven) versus judging. That’s the person who could do a meet and greet or work a public event and then return home, mentally exhausted for having been “on” with strangers and the one who hated being a supervisor because making decisions or disciplining others was simply too hurtful.
But there are good things that come of this introspection, some self-realization that is positive. Or, to put it in the words of Oscar Hammerstein in a song from “The King and I,” — “When I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.”
That porky introvert did learn to mix and mingle; to get up there and tell her story (granted, far easier on a keyboard than at a TEDtalk); to do a multitude of things well (some, very well) and never lost that north star of believing that the feelings and needs of human beings and living things are perhaps more important than anything else in the world. Those crazy, irascible, unpredictable, loving, annoying, cuddly, frustrating, irritating, beautiful, wonderful creatures.
And sometimes, one of those creatures is one’s own self.
And so, I look at yesterday’s pictures and see something different. Something better than I saw before. And I look at today’s pictures, too.
The hair is still curly and unruly — but most of the time it looks kind of cute (and it’s really easy to take care of). Every five weeks the gray hair at the roots begins to show and I make my faithful visit to the stylist who does her magic. Yes, it’s vain, but I can work with that.
The hips are still too big — and always will be. The thighs don’t always stop moving when I do and I could throttle Michelle Obama for launching the sleeveless craze. The orthotics in my shoes for the heel spurs mean you are less likely to see me in a dress but I still find pretty things I like and I can work with that, too. And thanks to the extra chin (or is it lack of jaw line?) and my overbite, I have learned the best way to look at a camera — and it isn’t profile!
But I still smile. I smile big, I smile happy and I smile because I’m alive in this world and there’s less time that there was a few decades before. There’s less time for all of us, really, because in truth, we never know when our last moment will be. And wouldn’t it be a shame to have it come and realize all those we wasted thinking we weren’t pretty or smart or talented enough when maybe, just maybe, we were?
I will still try to lose some of those extra pounds. And I will succeed — and fail — and succeed again. Because I want to be healthy, not pretty. Someone very wise (sometimes annoyingly so) reminded me — health is the goal.
But life is too short not to travel the world, even if you have bad feet. It’s too short not to take a chance and learn something new, do something unexpected, find light in the dark, conquer your own demons.
And life is too short not to enjoy chocolate eggs or jelly beans every now and then. Because after all, it’s a long way till Halloween.
About the Author: Jeanie Croope
After a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.