October 22, 2014

What's my number?

Last weekend, two photographers and a film guy descended upon my house to interview me for a documentary called By the Numbers: Perceptions in Beauty, a project about women’s body images that involves taking photos of naked women. In their words, they want “to help people, especially women, be freed from the pressures of the media and society to fit into certain norms of beauty, sometimes expressed in the numbers about one’s body – weight, age, size….” It’s a project designed to encourage body love, rather than body hate. They’d heard about my naked blog photo project and they’d come to talk to me about it. They lugged in all kinds of camera equipment, rearranged my furniture, and asked me a whole bunch of questions. It was fun. In fact, the conversation was so stimulating that I forgot to ask any of them to pose naked for my blog. Clearly, I'd forgotten my manners.

Towards the end of the interview, Friendly Woman Photographer asked me what numbers have affected my body image or self-esteem. Put on the spot, I couldn’t really come up with a good answer. I don’t usually know how much I weigh: the only time I weigh myself is when I’m at a doctor’s office, and that’s hardly ever. I’ve never felt like I was too fat or too thin. I’m not self-conscious about my age. I like all the silver in my hair, and I’m quick to tell people that I’m 53. I’m happy with my bra size, my shoe size, and my clothing size — although I do fervently wish that some fashion designer out there would make bathing suits for women who have breasts and hips and other standard female body parts.

But today, I thought about my body image when I was younger — and I remembered how I HATED wearing glasses. So I think I’d have to say the number that affected my self-esteem was 20/20 — the ideal vision that I didn’t have. Glasses made me feel ugly. When I was a teenager and got a job, the very first thing I saved money for was contact lenses. For me, the five-minute process of taking off my glasses and putting in my contact lenses was a beauty ritual that utterly transformed me from shy nerd to attractive, confident woman. It was, in fact, the only beauty ritual I ever needed. I don't wear make-up, worry about my clothes, or do anything with my hair: it's all about removing the glasses.

I think that at an impressionable age I was exposed to way too many of those romantic movies and novels where main character is this nerdy, asexual woman with her hair in a bun and glasses on — and then at the end of the story, she takes off the glasses, lets down her hair, and is suddenly beautiful. It's possible that I internalized the cliche. I hate wearing glasses and I have always had long hair. Perhaps I’m more influenced by the dominant culture than I thought.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've never minded wearing glasses. In fact, when was little, I was thrilled to get them because I thought they were so fashionable.

And I'm ok telling anyone my age.

My weight? That's a secret I'll bring to the grave with me.

H.

Anonymous said...

That's so interesting. My glasses are as much a part of me as my feet or my hands, and they're part of my self-definition: fundamentally I think of myself as a person behind glass, at a remove from the world. I only switch to contacts to ski (ie put on googles) or paddleboard (ie put on sunglasses). That said: I got a pair of very striking glasses 2 weeks ago -- my first new pair in a decade -- and I feel transformed! It seems other people interpret me differently, too. I wonder if this is how people feel when they lose a great deal of weight.

--Jennifer

L said...

hahaha, that is so funny to me!! That you would have given in to stereotypes about women.

I HATE HATE HATE glasses too, so much so that I happily paid 3K for LASIK and it was the best money I ever paid in my life. But I did it because I couldn't wear contacts anymore with my chronic Giant Papillary Conjuntivitis... :-(

Thrilled to hear that you're part of this project!

jo(e) said...

Jennifer: That's exactly what I don't like about glasses -- I don't like a pane of glass between me and the world. When I look someone in the eyes, I don't want glass frames between us. Perhaps my dislike of glasses is tied to my extraverted personality.

jo(e) said...

L: I've had lasik too. But as I get older, I do need reading glasses so there's just no escaping them ....

Contingent Cassandra said...

I like my glasses, too. I've had them since eighth grade, tried contacts only briefly (too much of a fiddle, and not all that comfortable for someone with spring and fall allergies, or perhaps just eyes that are more sensitive than average to that "something in them" feeling), and at this point would feel pretty naked without them. I do try to remember to update the frames every few years (which is getting easier now that the prescription changes more rapidly). The most recent ones look good with my white streaks (which I also like).

I'd be more careful about sharing my weight, not because it bothers me all that much at this point, but because many people in our weight-obsessed culture attach a lot of assumptions about behavior, self-control, etc., etc. to particular numbers (and seem to have very little sense that there's a pretty wide range of body types, habits, states of health, and degrees of mobility that fall in the "obese" range).

Tonya said...

I think when it comes to things like self-image, all of us are far more influenced by culture than we realize.

I think that's how the fashion industry, the cosmetics industry, and the diet industry makes so much money off women in this country.

Annette G said...

I have oh so many numbers. But like you, age is not one of them! Very interesting and I hope to see the product!

Zhoen said...

My weight has crept up to 170, which shocked me a bit, and I reflexively thought, gotta lose 20 lbs. Until I decided this was fine, as long as I still feel fine. Not going to hide that number anymore than my 53 years, or the grey hair, or the progressive lenses in my glasses.

But it takes effort to stare back at the public Gaze, and defy it.

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law said...

Sounds cool. Do you know when we'll be able to see the interview?

readersguide said...

Funny, I like glasses, and missed them when I had contacts, and I am definitely an introvert. I have no beauty regimen, either -- maybe there are more of us than I thought!

Magpie said...

i laughed aloud at the "I forgot to ask any of them to pose naked for my blog."

i had glasses (bifocals, even) when i was in kindergarten. i got contacts when i was in high school and loved loved loved them. you can wear fun sunglasses! you don't cry when you cut up onions! and then my prescription changed and contacts just didn't work any more and now i'm a glasses person again. i still miss the contacts. oh well.

jo(e) said...

Tie-Dye Brother-in-law: No idea. I'll let you know when I hear that's coming out!

jo(e) said...

Magpie: One of the things I loved when I got contacts is that I could walk in the rain and STILL SEE THINGS.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I have the same feelings about glasses--at age 14, I was told I needed them, but I refused to wear them and continue be half blind rather than wear glasses--however, my weight is definitely also an issue.

I wanted to mention that you are beautiful and I love you.