Body envy.

Thank heavens I’m not a straight man. Because then I might have to spend my life in intimate relationships with women and lord knows, sometimes we are nuts.

I’ll give you an example. When I was pregnant – every time I was pregnant – I would often look longingly at women who were wearing normal clothes. Clothes with non-elasticed waistbands. Clothes with belts.

I would also gaze wistfully at women with small boobs. Boobs that didn’t require complicated contraptions with latches and industrial shoulder straps to keep them above waist height.

And it’s not even that I dislike being pregnant! In fact, I am one of those women who mostly adore the physicality of it. To paraphrase Bridget Jones, you might even call me a ‘smug pregnant’.

Nevertheless, these longing gazes persisted through the 9 months of pregnancy and continued for about a year after giving birth. For all that time I had that beautiful plumped up, luscious look of fertility; the one all pregnant women and new mothers have but never appreciate because they’re so busy being brainwashed into thinking they should ‘lose that baby weight’.

Fast forward to a few months ago. My boobs and body have pretty much resumed normal transmission. As close as they’re going to get, anyway. I’m sitting in a café when a newish mother walks past me holding a baby who looks no more than a few months old. I gaze at her wistfully without even realising it. When I’m not pregnant or breastfeeding, I can get quite obsessed with women who are. I stare at them with a mix of envy and admiration, marvelling at their softness and roundness. Wishing it was me.

So. Just to summarise: the grass is always greener.

Now before you get all, “Hey-aren’t-you-part-of-the-National-Body-Image-Advisory-Group-and-doesn’t-that-make-you-a-hypocrite-for-saying-you-envy-other-women’s-bodies” on me, let me respectfully say, chill.

Indeed I am passionate about advancing the cause of a more positive body image, particularly in the media. Doesn’t mean I’m not human. And I always believe it’s more helpful to air complex feelings about complex situations rather than deny them. It makes for a more nuanced and interesting discussion.

Generally, I am happy with my body and grateful for all the things it’s done and continues to do. But I’m not immune from the occasional admiring glance at someone else.

So much is written and debated about young women and body image but nobody tells you it’s a lifelong issue. And for many women, it is, varying in intensity and changing along with your body, even though it’s invariably more connected to where your head is at.

On Australia Day I went to an excellent BBQ at a friend’s house. There were dozens of families with kids ranging from newborns to teenagers. As the temperature soared, the big kids hit the pool. So did many of the littlies – chaperoned by their Dads who eagerly stripped down to their boardies.

Meanwhile, all the mums stayed fully clothed. Hot and clothed. So did all the women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s without kids, even though it couldn’t have been a more perfect day for a dip and instructions to bring your swimmers were issued with the invitation.

I’ve seen this happen a million times in social situations around water. The dads will take the kids swimming, the mums stay on the sidelines. Is this reticence due to (a) Self-consciousness? (b) Fear of being judged for how your body holds up in a swimsuit? or  (c) Not wanting to get your hair wet?
The majority of the time, for the majority of women, I’m going to go with the combo of (a) and (b).

At this particular BBQ, I was solo and ensconced in my trusty Jets one-piece, didn’t hesitate to jump in the water with my kids. For a while, it was just me and kids and dads.

Eventually, another mother joined me, swimming over to confide: “I’m so glad you went in. I was dying to swim but women never do at these things.”

As we agreed it was a shame that so many gorgeous women were benching themselves around the pool instead of diving in, she said something very wise which has stayed with me ever since: “I keep telling my 40-year-old girlfriends that our bodies aren’t going to get any better than they are now. When we look back at 50, we’re going to think we looked hot at 40. So we may as well make them most of it. At 20 we thought our bodies weren’t good enough, same with 30. And every decade you wonder why they hell you wasted time worrying instead of just embracing it. So I’ve decided I don’t want to look back in another ten years and curse myself for not wearing a swimsuit more often.”

I thought this was so sage.

A couple of weeks ago, I took a deep breath and wore a short dress. I never do this. I’m not even sure when I stopped showing my legs. It just happened. But inspired by my conversation with my new swimming friend, I thought ‘stuff it. World? Here are my legs.’ Carpe Diem.

Do you have feelings of body envy? When and towards whom? How do you deal with them? Has there been a time in your life when you were particularly vulnerable to body envy?

If you have a great relationship with your body, how do you do it?
[images by Mozaic-Curves project]

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