Wednesday 15 May 2013

happy in my skin

For Christmas, my lovely in-laws gave me a voucher for a massage, and I used it over the weekend. The spa was not one I would have normally chosen - it was more of a posh gym that offered treatments - but that's what makes gifts like this fun. I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in a part of London I rarely go to, at a spa I didn't know existed.

Upon arrival, I was asked to complete a confidential health questionnaire. No big deal. But several of the questions seemed odd. Out of place. Unnecessary.

What is your main concern?
I wasn't particularly concerned about anything. I was there to relax and refresh. So I wrote "relaxation".

If there was one thing you could change about your body, what would it be?
Hang on, I'm just here for a massage. What are you planning to do to me?!

How would you like to feel today after your treatment?
Ummm, see question 1.

I didn't spend very long answering the questions, but they stayed on my mind. After I had finished registering, I had about 45 minutes to spare before the massage so I went for a swim in the pool. If I had had any doubts about the gym/spa, they were confirmed: I am not their target demographic. Most of the members looked to be attractive twenty-something singles. Men with six-pack abs giving their muscles a rest in the jacuzzi. Women in bikinis using the sauna. Even when I was a single twenty-something, I didn't dare wear a bikini - I avoided bathing suits as a matter of course.

In my early thirties, I finally developed a healthy body image. I knew that I'd never be skinny (at least, not without more diet and exercise than I was ever likely to manage and sustain), and I accepted it. I knew I'd never be 5'10". I knew my curly hair would never hang straight without professional assistance. And I decided that this was all fine. Real women have curves. Real women go grey before forty. Real women have imperfect breasts. And real men appreciate real women (and have their own body issues, too).

So I became happy in my skin. I had a healthy pregnancy. My body has changed - things have shifted and stretched, but to be fair, I had stretch marks before pregnancy. I wear them with pride. War wounds, if you will.

Back to question 2. I answered, "quite happy in my skin, thank you". But the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me that they even asked. What message does that send to their normal members? Why are their members so body-conscious, so self-conscious, that they want to change their bodies so dramatically?

Outside - outside my little world, outside the spa - there has been a recent backlash relating to a stupid comment made by the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch. You can read about it elsewhere. Suffice it to say, I'm not A&F's target demographic, even if I were skinny/rich enough to shop there. I've never been drawn to their clothes, which is just as well since I'd never fit into them.

But presumably there is some overlap between those particular gym members, and A&F customers. Presumably quite a lot of the women - and men - push themselves at the gym so that they can wear trendy, "cool" clothes. And while I'd like to think that they're confident, well-adjusted people, I'd bet that there are parts of their bodies they'd like to change. Bigger pecs, smaller waists. Maybe in extreme cases, cosmetic surgery for a nose job or more shapely boobs. Questions and comments like this perpetuate a culture obsessed with perfection, defined as skinny, tall, tanned, primped, preened. SIGH.

As for me, I enjoyed the massage. I did leave feeling relaxed. I didn't worry about showing my big thighs in my swimsuit. Would I want to change anything about my body? YES - I have always wanted to be taller! But can I change that? Not without a magic wand or fairy godmother. So for now, I'm happy in my skin, with my greying hair and forty-year old eyes that now need reading glasses. I don't/won't shop at A&F. I should do more exercise and eat better, but not in order to fit someone else's idea of beauty.

And that's all fine.

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