Thursday, November 20, 2008

Acting Up

I belong to a community theater group, and as such I spend time with talented women who can act, sing, dance, direct, design costumes, tweak sound systems and identify lighting elements.

They are a great group of ladies, ranging in age from teen to senior citizen, and normally I enjoy their company immensely.

I'm currently a cast member in a show that features tap dancing, which is definitely a stretch for me. I have never worn a pair of tap shoes and was fairly confident, up until about a month ago, that I would never don a pair. But now I've been cast as Maxine, who not only dances but dances well, and I'm striving to do my best, to use my imperfect body in a new and challenging way. (Note: tap dancing is MUCH harder than it looks!)

Anyway, I've been toughing if out at rehearsals, and rather enjoying it. I find that it's good for my body image to push myself this way, to acknowledge that I can try new things, and that even if I'm not perfect in form I can do lots of really amazing things.

So I'm at rehearsal the other day, having a good body day, feeling strong and fit and rather snappy learning these steps. Soon I'm having the wind taken out of my sails, because these talented women I'm spending time with are women, after all, and the conversation had to turn to our bodies.

Scene: A rehearsal space. Dorothy, Vera, Maxine and Bonnie are all attractive women in their mid forties.

Dorothy: (to Vera and Maxine) I saw the pictures online from that show a few seasons ago. Wow! You two have lost so much weight since then!
Vera: I was 40 pounds heavier then. I was disgusting.
Maxine: Well, that was about 20 pounds ago for me.
Dorothy: Well, you guys look great now. (How did we look then? Horrific?)
Vera: No, I'm gaining again. I can't even squeeze into any of my sixes.
Maxine: (Rolling her eyes.) You look great.
Vera: My feet have been hurting lately. I think it's because I'm so fat. I'm a solid eight now.
Bonnie: (Chiming in) I think women are too thin at size six. (Bonnie is a very fit and attractive size eight.) Women look best at size eight. Some women can even look acceptable at a size 9/10, or even an 11.
Maxine:(who is a curvy size 10 or 12) I think larger women are attractive, too.
Vera: (she has a very trim waist and large breasts) I'm out of control.
Andy: I've lost thirty pounds.
Vera: You look so great.
Andy: The divorce has been awful. I've always had meat on my bones, but now look how thin I am! I didn't really do it the right way, though.
Vera: But you look awesome now!
Maxine: Let's learn these steps.
Vera: (grabbing Maxine's midsection) I want one of those!
Maxine: (embarrassed) What?
Vera:(who just said her size eight body is disgusting) Look at that cute little chub.

Fade out as the middle-aged women meekly line up to begin the dance. Maxine, for one, is demoralized. In the background are the younger members of the cast, two girls in their early 20's. They are much larger than the middle-aged ladies. They are not a part of the conversation. They are, no doubt, talking about something much more interesting...

Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps it is inappropriate to comment on one another's bodies? I have found myself complimenting other women's weight loss because I want to appear friendly, because I'm nice and I'm trying to make a friend. Recently I told someone she looked like she'd been losing weight when she looked the same as ever (curvy and "overweight.") I like her and knew that she'd feel good about herself if I commented this way on her body, so I lied about it.

Wouldn't it be better to comment on her kindness, charity, wisdom, wit, or sincerity?

Because I truly admire all those things about her, and I'd like her at any weight.

One of my friends has recently lost about 25 pounds. She did this during a period of depression by eating one can of tuna each day and chain-smoking. So now I'm supposed to rave about how fabulous she looks, and tell her I'm so proud of her? Am I supposed to like her more now than I did when she was "chubby?"

Earlier this year I was about 10 pounds lighter than I am now. To achieve this I had to write down every morsel I consumed and log all fiber, fat, calories and carbs. I walked for hours each day, went to the gym to lift weights, and forced down gallons of water. I was consumed with my weight loss; it was all I had passion for.

So now I'm heavier. So what? I have time to write and clean my house and tap dance in a show. Are my friends disgusted with me? Maybe they are, sadly. Maybe the only way then can tell if I deserve a compliment is if I'm wearing a size eight.

I'm really going to try to change my habit of commenting on other women's bodies. I'm not going to bring up their weight loss. Instead I'm going to focus on the things I love about them that have nothing to do with their size.

I hope they will return the favor, and love me as I am. Even if I can't tap dance, thin or fat, or somewhere in between.


Soul Pockets said...

Great post Cathy. I am going to stop the eight comments also, about others and about myself.

Soul Pockets said...

That was supposed to say "weight comments." Ooops

Kate Wicker said...

You make such a great point here, Cathy. I know firsthand that when people used to comment on my weight, it often fueled my "sickness." People were, of course, being well-meaning, but it made me think I had better stay at a certain weight to be "noticed."

I also remember thinking once after I'd lost a lot of weight and people had stopped commenting, that I must need to lose MORE (since no one was saying anything about figure anymore). Of course, this has to do with my sickness and the fact that I can be impervious to rational thinking when it comes to weight/body image, not the people giving me kudos.

Still, I have to say some of the best compliments I've ever received have more to do with me as a person. When I hear, for example, someone comment positively on my mothering, my heart soars and it makes me want to keep being a mom deserving of laud - a much better goal than squeezing into a certain size pair of jeans.

I try to do this with my girls - to compliment them on their talents, their kindness, etc. So often we call girls "pretty," which is fine on occasion, but this shouldn't be the only compliment they ever receive.

On a more fun note, we have something else in common. When I use to do musicals, I loved the singing and the acting part, but the dancing often left me feeling a bit uneasy. However, I learned to put on my show face and just enjoy it and gained a whole new appreciation for my body even if I'd never ever be another Grace Kelly.

Break a leg, and love that dancing body of yours!!!