Sunday, August 12, 2007

:: New Demographic ::

I confess: I compare myself to other women. I think all women do this, but I could be wrong. I’m pretty sure some women do it. OK. I do this, and maybe it’s just me.

I “check out” women (for lack of a better term) to see what they’re wearing, what they’re shaped like, how white their teeth are or how shiny their hair, what flaws they have. Before this last bit gets you too riled up, let me make a clarification in my defense. I look for flaws in order to remind myself that these women I see and immediately think of as beautiful or cute or whatever, they have flaws, too. I see a girl at the bread shop who I think is cute, and I notice that her nose is crooked and that makes me like her cuteness more.

I was particularly bad about making comparisons when I was pregnant. It became sort of a game: how far along is she? Does she look like she has gained more or less weight than me? Does she look happier about being pregnant or more miserable? (I sort of wrote about this here.)

Now that I’m not-pregnant, I’m fiercely interested in other women with young kids. At the mall, I am drawn to all women pushing strollers. If they’re too tiny, I pray that their strollers contain toddlers, not infants.

Oddly, I am uninterested in women pushing strollers who are bigger than me. I don’t feel any weird pride or anything that I am the smaller non-pregnant person in the equation. I simply note the fact that said women is indeed not smaller than me and I move on, my eyes scanning the horizon for other women.

Given my urge to compare myself to other women, my return to the gym yesterday was particularly weird. Cleared for exercise by my doc earlier this week, I was eager to get back to the Y. I honestly don’t care that I’m carrying a few extra pounds, but at the same time, I can’t stand that I feel so weak and I really hate it that my lovely wardrobe is still off limits, in large part. (I’ve got exactly two pairs of pants that fit: a pair of jeans (hello? it’s been 100 degrees here for weeks) and a pair of blue cargo pants. That’s a lot of blue.) Given my history with food I can’t bring myself to diet to get the weight off. Restricting food intake only leads me to become extremely preoccupied with food to the point that I am reduced to eating heaping spoonfuls of peanut butter dipped in bowls of chocolate chips or tubes of cookie dough or tubs of cool whip. So the gym it is.

But yesterday, I had this weird realization. I don’t know that “epiphany” has the right connotations, but it was a realization of that scale:

I have changed gym demographics. It’s no longer appropriate for me to compare myself to the 18- and 20-year old girls on treadmills and ellipticals, their sneaks super white, their shorts super short, their hair pulled back in smooth ponytails and secured by those giant head-sized rubber bands that weren’t invented when I was their age. Sure, now I can look wistfully and longingly at their small, muscular little bodies. But the comparison is unfulfilling. I’ve had a kid. My waist has expanded to more than 40 inches and is now on its way back to something approaching its normal size. My boobs have produced and stopped producing milk. I’m in a new gym-comparison group: the other moms.

Trouble is, at least yesterday, this new comparison group provided no satisfaction. And by satisfaction I really mean that there were no moms in sight who put me to shame. Just as I am uninterested in moms who are bigger than me pushing their strollers around the mall, so too am I uninspired and untortured by moms at the Y who still carry baby weight from children who are now 18 and wearing super white sneaks and super short shorts. I want to compare myself to hot moms who still look like moms (no one too skinny) but who I know have tried to be healthy and strong. I want to compare myself to them and to be able to say, yup, I’m one of them, too.