Monday, April 6, 2009

My "ideal body" timeline

The idea for this post comes from the incomparable, inimitable fitness blogger Skwigg. If you don't know who Skwigg is, you're missing out, and you must go to her site directly. No, I take that back. You must go to her site once you're done here, because if you go to hers first you'll get too absorbed in reading all her fabulous posts, and you'll never make your way back here, and what the hell, I'm fascinating too. Not.

Anyhoo, the first time I recall wanting a body that wasn't my own was when I was about 3 and desperately ill with the chicken pox. It was Christmastime, and the Nutcracker was being broadcast on PBS. My parents had turned it on in the background, and even though I was running a fever of 104 the beautiful music and colorful scenery drew me in immediately. Okay, maybe not the colorful scenery since this was 1965 and all we had was black and white TV, but even so I was hooked. I wanted to be Clara. I wanted to be the Snow Queen. I wanted to be the Sugarplum Fairy. I wanted to wear the pretty dresses and dance on the tips of my toes.

I wanted to look like this:

The photo is of Suzanne Farrell, aged 15, right about the time she was accepted into Balanchine's company. She was sort of the quintessential ballerina of her day, and every little girl in my ballet class wanted to be her.

Unfortunately, by the time I was 15 I was pushing 160 lbs at a height of barely 5'3", and it was fairly obvious that ballet stardom was not destined to be mine.

Nor did I hold out much hope of ever metamorphosing into Farrah Fawcett-Majors, the reigning glamor girl of the era:I don't have the right skintone to achieve a glowing, golden tan, and there is not enough Sun-In in the world to make me California-girl blonde. I know. I tried.

I did, however, manage to achieve thinness by my senior year of high school by eating nothing but iceberg lettuce for nine months. I also drank lots and lots of Tab. If I were a lab rat I would be dead today.

Unfortunately for me times had changed and it was no longer enough simply to be thin. When I was in college the aerobicized form of Jane Fonda was the ideal:
I'm not positive, but I think she may be wearing two pairs of legwarmers in this photo. I wore legwarmers as well. But then, I did a lot of things in the Eighties that I wouldn't necessarily do again, and so did you, so no judgments please :)

The Eighties were also the era of the glamazon supermodel, exemplified by Paulina Porizkova:

I didn't actually aspire to look like Paulina because, well, she's close to 6 feet tall and I am ... not. She and her fellow glamazons didn't inspire me, they just made me feel depressed.

So I decided to just give up on the whole thing and go to law school instead:

That's Sandra Day O'Connor, by the way. She wasn't actually my role model when I was in law school because I was more of a believer in judicial activism in those days, but as the first and in those days the only woman sitting on the Supreme Court I still looked up to her tremendously. Still do, in fact, but that's a subject for elsewhere.

Fast forward to the late 1990s. By this time I was well along in my 30s and starting to look more than a little like Justice O'Connor in spite of being a good 30 years younger than she. I was still following a semi-starvation diet, but even so the weight was starting to creep back on, and of course I'd dieted off what little muscle I'd ever had so that even more than being overweight I was overfat.

So, with the admirable logic of the carb-depleted I decided to start running. This did in fact help me lose some weight. But of course it didn't do a thing for my muscle tone ... so naturally I decided that what I needed to do was run even more. Woohoo! I was on the Overuse Injury Express! Pretty soon I was down from 30-plus miles per week to no miles a week, and the weight was coming back on, and I was grumpy to boot.

Enter The FIRM:

(What's up with all the yellow leotards and swimsuits, anyway? Yellow is an awful color for me, which should tell you something right there.)

I didn't actually want to look like Susan Harris because she seemed a bit thinner than I thought would be healthy for me, but I definitely wanted to be strong like her. I loved the way she was able to press 15 lb dumbbells overhead and do pushups on her toes--12 of them! Wow! I didn't know girls could do that! Well, I did, but I'd never thought of it as being anything I could do.

What was so positive about this for me is that for the first time ever I had a performance goal instead of simply an appearance goal. This was a major, major mental shift for me, to be exercising for reasons other than to achieve a certain look.

Which is not to say that cosmetic results no longer mattered to me, because of course they did. First I wanted to look like FIRM instructor Tracie Long

Only without the implants.

Then I wanted to look like Cathe Friedrich:

Only with hips.

Then I stopped doing videos and started doing the bodybuilder-ish routines featured in magazines like Oxygen in the hope of one day looking like Elaine Goodlad:

Only without the implants, Ooompa Loompa skintone and apparent steroid use.

Then I decided to do P90X just for kicks, and immediately I decided I wanted to look like Dreya, the gorgeous gymnast/aerialist who appears in some of the DVDs:

Only with ... okay, no, she looks fine as is, and I still wouldn't mind looking like her.

Mostly, though, I'm okay these days with just looking like me, except that I really do need to do something about my hair: