Pear-Shaped and Proud

This blog was first published on the HuffPost Blog on October 10, 2017

In 2003, two years after my marriage ended, and with the most intense mourning over, I lost the weight I’d slowly gained during the ten-year relationship with my husband, all twenty-five pounds of it.

I’d always had difficulty buying clothes. Five to fifteen pounds overweight for the majority of my adult life, I’d blamed my “fit” issues on my weight. But after transforming from a size sixteen to a size ten, I faced a rude shock. I experienced as much difficulty finding clothes in my smaller size as I’d had at my larger, curvier one. The issue? I was short waisted and pear shaped. I’d read that when she was first lady, Nancy Reagan was a size four on the top and a size six on the bottom. The article explained that being pear shaped was a common issue for women. Our first lady had clothing issues too! I found solace in our common challenge, although I tackled mine in the racks at discount stores while Mrs. Reagan had the help of topnotch American clothing designers.

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I’ve been chronically ill since I was nineteen. Out of necessity, I focused my energies primarily on optimizing my health and secondarily on achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. I always managed to be presentable. I may not have looked stylish, but I could pull outfits together when I needed to. However, if I planned to attend a special event, I might try on fifty or more dresses before I found one that fit or could be tailored to my proportions.

With a multitude of health issues, my hip to waist ratio barely ranked on my list of life problems. Managing a chronic illness is an exercise in frustration tolerance and fortitude. Anyone who lives with one knows it requires the serenity of a Nepalese monk to navigate medical and insurance systems while remaining calm. Recently I spent an hour and a half on the phone with the pharmaceutical company that manufactures my new medication. By the time the support person resolved my problem, I needed to take a nap. This was not an isolated incident. Managing my health needs is time consuming and demanding.

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Given these demands, I didn’t pay much attention to my pear shape. That changed in my fifties when I was smitten with fashion and began to appreciate it as an art form. I started to push the boundaries of my appearance, which forced me to take a frank look at my big hips and short waist. It was time to face reality. Over several years, I learned how to work around my shape in order to dress the way I desired. Ultimately I decided reality wasn’t bad; it paled in comparison to my poor health. As I dressed with more flair, I came to think of my body as a classic pear, giving my shape dignity.

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At my heaviest and sickest, I never disliked my body. In my early twenties—decades before body positivity and body shaming became part of our cultural parlance—I decided to embrace the former and reject the latter. I never felt embarrassed in a bathing suit and never had a problem being naked in front of lovers. Even when in pain, I’ve accepted the good with the bad and haven’t questioned why I have a body with so many issues.

Rather than fret over my shape, I choose to emulate Popeye, who declared, “I am what I am.” I’m able dress the way I want to, and I have a warm relationship with my tailor. I work around the challenges genetics gave me. And like Popeye, I don’t make excuses. I’m pear shaped and proud.

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SKIPPING THE ACADEMY AWARDS—LESSON LEARNED

In the spring of 1979 during my freshman year of college, my mother informed me oscar-2103653__340she could get me a seat to the Academy Awards. She had a good friend who was a member of the Academy. This friend, learning from Mom of my love for all things Oscar, offered to give me one of her tickets. I declined, claiming bad timing and telling my mother I appreciated the offer but wanted to take her friend up on it another year.

By the time the 1980 Oscars rolled around, Mom had experienced a falling out with this friend, and they never spoke again. My opportunity to attend the Academy Awards disappeared with the demise of their friendship. I laugh at this now. I could have seen Jon Voight and Jane Fonda win Oscars for Coming Home, and instead I chose to huddle diligently in my tiny dorm room working on assignments that could have been handed in late. I learned from this decision to accept good things that come my way, even if the timing isn’t perfect. Although I didn’t go to the Oscars, I obtained a good story and a great life lesson from the experience.

 

THE NEED TO FEED

Something happened to me in my forties—I began to feel the need to feed others. This urge was wholly new and completely unexpected. Whether I purchased with love (very likely) or cooked with care (less likely), I wanted others to eat my food. If I had guests over, I’d quip, “I’m Jewish, and a little bit of my heart dies if you don’t eat my food.” A joke, but it felt true. When guests ate what I offered, I experienced a deep satisfaction that exceeded logic. The feeling was primal. If someone came to my office and mentioned they were hungry, I felt similarly compelled to volunteer whatever snacks might be tucked away in my desk drawer. If they accepted, I was happy. If they declined, I felt unreasonably disappointed.cheese-slicer-650029_960_720

I love feeding people. I have no idea why. I’ve decided to live with this mystery and enjoy its upside—the glow I feel every time my food is accepted. I’ve lived with an illness without a   known etiology since I was nineteen. I can live with this

THE SATISFACTION OF THE EVERYDAY

I was driving home recently from a weekend afternoon of running errands. I’d cleaned my house and paid my bills that morning, my refrigerator held plenty of food, and my chores were completed. I felt a deep feeling of peace. My health can vary daily. Some days I can keep life running without much effort, and other days I manage through sheer force of will and careful pacing. But when everything necessary has been accomplished, I can relax. Then I feel proud that I’ve taken care of my animals, my home, and me. It is always deeply satisfying.laugh-1391102_960_720

I’VE BECOME MY GRANDMOTHER

When I cleaned out my grandmother’s apartment after she died, I found reading glasses in various places around her home. I discovered more than one pair in some rooms, for example by the television and on the coffee table in her living room.

Last year I had two cataract surgeries and a PRK procedure. Sinccolor-glasses-663248_960_720e the most recent procedure, I’ve often felt as though I’ve morphed into my grandmother. I’ve purchased eleven pairs of reading glasses, which I keep in my home, my office, my car, and my purse. I use all of them. At fifty-seven years, I feel prematurely old, which is unsettling.

But my grandmother rocked. The second wife of my maternal grandfather, she weathered the depression, married twice, had her own business, fulfilled many of her ambitions, and never lost her sense of humor and style. She’s always been my role model. So despite being dependent on reading glasses to see anything a yard away or closer, there are worse things in life than remembering this wonderful person each time I put on my reading glasses.

THE VALUE OF PERSEVERANCE

board-2470557_960_720Sometimes our bravest action is simply staying the course. How many of us have struggled to be diagnosed and then searched for effective treatment? Many people live with chronic illness or other demanding life challenges that require daily fortitude. We forget to validate the effort and courage we sometimes need to conduct our lives. We are brave and strong, even on our worst day, simply by refusing to give up and by continuing our efforts to have a good life.

A FEW MINUTES OF SUN

When I’m sick, all of my activities are curtailed. I eat simpler meals that require less time and energy to prepare, take shorter showers, and pace myself throughout the day to ensure that my basic needs are met. When I’m home all day, mundane activities are challenging to complete. But I’m also more appreciative of small moments of relief.

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Even a minute or two in the sun can feel soothing. So on those days, when I go downstairs from my 2nd floor apartment to the building’s lobby to retrieve my mail, I take a few moments to step outside. I lean on the railing of the stairway to the street and feel the sun on my skin. I watch the pedestrian traffic, which often includes several dog walkers. I look at the trees and the lawns, and I’m grateful for these few moments of fresh air and normality in an otherwise hard day.