Many years ago, I was in a shoe outlet with a friend. We were exclaiming about how cute a particular shoe was, when she added, “until you see it in our size.” And it was true. We pulled out the size 9, and it was clunky and ridiculous.
I’ve been told that the most popular size (meaning, I assume, the median size for women) was a 7 or 7 1/2 when my adolescent feet exploded into a 9, and I have spent the decades since thinking of my feet as big. I’ve also been told that 9 is now average, and I’d have to agree that the paucity of size 9 at shoe outlets suggests that that may be true. Still, my girlfriend is right, that so many shoes—and tennis shoes are the worst— just don’t cut it in that size.
Still, for many years, I have admired my feet. I look down at them and am amazed that something so small in proportion to the rest of me can do such a bang-up job of holding me up and moving me around. The strength of those bones, the power of those muscles and tendons is remarkable—a fact I sometimes have trouble appreciating when this awareness comes in the form of a briefly excruciating arch cramp. Maybe I should treat this as a plea for attention rather than a nuisance.
I am writing about this because I have noticed recently a deluge of articles relating to Covid weight gain, Covid flab, and other developments that are causing great unhappiness as people struggle to get back in the clothes with which they once ventured out into the world. Most articles focus on how to lose weight, how to get back into an exercise routine, or other approaches where the insidious subtext is how we have let ourselves go. The likelihood is that many of us were dissatisfied with the old normal as well. We had fitness or weight goals in early 2020, that now may seem hopelessly out of reach. If we wanted to lose 10 pounds before Covid, or up our regular exercise, now we may need to lose 20 or 30, or drop the weight on the resistance machines, just to start getting back to where we were.
And then, I also see evidence of a pushback against this thinking. I read articles that point out that self-love doesn’t have to mean getting back into one’s old clothes or old shape. Self love can mean noticing how well your body has served you, and thanking it by knocking off the criticism. Self-love can mean more targeted improvements, like greater flexibility or increasing stamina for activities you enjoy. Self love can mean wearing sleeveless shirts in hot weather even if your upper arms look flabby. Self love can mean realizing you don’t owe it to the world to wear makeup, or a bra. Self love can mean throwing away the Spanx. Or it can mean doing none of the above. Self love must be authentic, and mine will be different from yours.
I will probably dislike a greater proportion of photos of myself as years pass, noticing how many are “spoiled” by making me look more wrinkled or fat than my self-image will tolerate. Here’s a baseline photo of me (including feet) still looking pretty good at 71, taken in Montenegro last fall.
Maybe I can learn to see as fabulous the older self i am becoming. Who knows? But right now, as I move through the world, I can observe myself still moving, still smiling, still reveling in being alive.. I can look at myself after a shower and grimace at the sags and dimples, or I can say; “good job!” Thank you, from vital organs on out to the muscles and bones, to the skin which takes a beating to protect it all. Take care of it. That’s all my body asks of me.
I can vow to take good care of the whole me I am now—body, mind, and spirit. That’s what self love is