I wonder if there has ever been a time in history when human beings have not been fascinated by the human body – our own and others’.
According to various sources, the “mirror” was invented sometime around the first century.
Depending on how you define “camera,” the first one was invented either in 1000 A.D., 1827, or still later.
All that to say, human beings have had access to the means for examining our visual selves for thousands of years.
Even before mirrors or cameras (let alone “selfies”), there were ponds and paintings, poetry and prose.
Recently I came across a photo montage entitled “Rare Pinups: Vintage Bikini Models.”
The montage contains images from as early as 1902 – just a few decades after the camera itself became widely accessible.
Some of the models’ costumes must be seen to be believed. It is hard to imagine bathing in these outfits – even walking in some of them must have been difficult.
Alongside the usual assortment of film and show stars are un-named models. Very few appear to be re-touched after the fact (aka the widespread use of tools like Photoshop today).
The two photos that most captivated me are #30 and #34 (just scroll through the montage – each photo is numbered).
I noticed a few key things after I completed my viewing of the full montage.
In a way, the montage had gently mentored me without me even realizing it – giving me a glimpse of what it might be like to live in a culture where beauty ideals more closely match my own body.
There was a time in my life when I thought my worth 100% relied upon my body shape and size.
In late 2013, the word “selfie” won “Word of the Year” – a somewhat dubious award given out annually by the Oxford English Dictionary.
The selfie – at least as it is recognized today – is also totally dependent on photography.
In other words, no camera, no selfie.
Interestingly, a “selfie friendly” camera has only been available to the masses (i.e. people like me with no photographic talent) since 2010, when Apple released the iPhone 4 with its turnaround front-facing camera feature.
Yet, just a few short years later, opinions about selfies are so polarized that, on any given day, we have an entire country scrabbling for founder’s rights, journalists claiming selfies are already on their way out in pop culture, and a French photographer named JR installing his 4,000 portrait tribute to selfies in none other than Paris’ Pantheon.
“French photographer JR thinks selfies can change the world,” a Time magazine headline proclaims.
At first the photographer (who sticks to his initials and won’t reveal any personal details beyond his French nationality) participated as bio-photographer in capturing people’s “selfie” images … a move which technically violates the spirit of what selfies are all about.
However, once he received TED funding ($100,000 worth), his role shifted firmly into one of documenting independently-snapped selfies voluntarily uploaded to his website.
JR believes selfies help us connect face to face and empathize with one another in a world that feels increasingly wide and impersonal.
On that note, in the spirit of writing a balanced post (gotta love being a writer) I did a little online sleuthing using the term “selfie.”
I first became aware that outer differences do not equal inner differences when I was six.
At the time, we attended a local church, and every so often we had special lessons to teach us about different religious practices.
I don’t remember what the lesson was on this particular day. I only remember that the story (parable) our teacher shared from a different religion sounded just like one of “our” stories, only with different costumes and character names.
I went home and told my mom, “Hey, guess what – our teacher told a story from a different religion but it sounded exactly like ours!”
Mom, busy fixing lunch for a hungry family, simply murmured something suitable and went back to building sandwiches.
But I was transfixed.
Thereafter, I have been on a lifelong search for at least one single shared point of connection common to us all….something tangible and powerful enough to make all the surface differences dissolve to reveal our shared humanity.
I know a lot about parrots but very little about tortoises, so lately I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on (which isn’t actually all that much).
My newest read is called “Voyage of the Turtle: in pursuit of the Earth’s last dinosaur,” by Carl Safina.
I will admit I did not expect to find that single point of connection I’ve been searching for these last 37 years in a book about sea turtles, but then all of a sudden there it was.
The other day a Facebook friend posted a link to a free online quiz.
The title read, “What is your brain gender?”
Of course I had to take it (I mean, who knew my brain had a gender?!)
The quiz asked me a series of seemingly easy questions.
I felt confident in my answers.
My result? My brain is 88% “female.”
To be honest, I wasn’t surprised (although I will admit to a moment of wondering what the other rogue 12% might be up to).
The moment I got done with that quiz, the website presented another.
The title read, “What is your inner age?”
I was so on this – I leaped right in and began answering more questions.
I’ve blogged a bit here and there about my ongoing work to resolve conflicts between “me now” and “me then.”
One of the most effective techniques I use is a simple Q&A.
For instance, if I wake up (like I did this morning) and realize I spent all night dreaming about painful periods from my past, I will ask my younger self questions.
Since my younger self is, well, younger, I use simple, open-ended questions.
I might ask, “What do you need from me?”
Or “What can I do to help?”
I also use statements.
Sometimes I say, “I’m so sorry.”
Or “Thank you for not giving up.”
Sometimes I just wait and listen and let my younger self vent.
Recently we’ve been chatting (via blog posts at least) about a number of, well, less “naturally desirable” character traits and where they might have come from.
And what (if anything) we can do to get them to go away.
The other morning I was snoozing as usual. The night before I had watched a Netflix special about the link between Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens.
Needless to say, after a night of dreaming myself back in the jungle, quite hairy, covered in mosquitos and wielding a spear held together with tree resin “pitch glue,” I was in full-on contemplation mode about the intersection of evolution with invention.
The next night, I watched a special on Yellowstone National Park called “Battle for Life.” The special featured pronghorn – a type of mammal similar to the antelope – and how they evolved to become the fastest land mammals out of a desire to evade a now-instinct type of cheetah.
And it hit me.
The other night I was watching something…..I think it might have been “Longmire” but don’t quote me on that.
Speaking of which, while watching, I paused the show to write down this great quote:
There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it….only a present that builds and creates itself as the past withdraws.
Since then, I have read it every few days (on account of having written it down right on my in-phone grocery list).
Each time I re-read it, the quote makes me pause yet again.
You see, I’ve never been a “past gazer.”
I’ve just never wanted to go back – not a day in my life.
If anything, I have spent more time gazing into the future, wondering when it will finally get here.
Perhaps this is because for approximately 20 of my 44 years to date, I struggled with anorexia and bulimia.
Even after that struggle ended, I had another good long decade to follow of fighting tooth and nail with cyclical anxiety and depression.
Maturity, medication, meditation (and feathers – plenty of feathers) helped me break free at last.
When I broke free, I felt like my past had released me into my future – the future I had been longing for ever since I was born.
Last month I shared a post about how to stop judging other people.
The post generated some interesting comments.
One particular reader suggested that perhaps the sensation of “jealousy” might have a similar survival-based purpose.
I was most intrigued by her idea!
The truth is, I am personally more apt to look to animal behavior rather than human behavior to better understand why I think and say and feel and do the things I think/say/feel/do.
This is because when I watch animals there is less subtext to wade through.
The link between motive – action – desired outcome is clearer.
In the judging post, I used the analogy of a lady eagle choosing a mate and why judgment might be helpful to that process (especially since eagles mate for life).
In the same way, when I watch television shows about animals, I notice what appears to be a fair amount of what I might call “practical jealousy” – jealousy that could be useful for successfully navigating the various facets of a survival-based daily life.
Pearl doesn’t try to hide his jealousy. If anything, he amps up his efforts at self-expression (perhaps assuming his large featherless housemate is too dense to pick up on anything less than the most extreme outbursts).
You might be wondering, “How do I know that Pearl is ‘jealous’?”
Recently I read the story of Robin Korth – called “My ‘Naked’ Truth.”
Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure how I came across it.
But once I started reading, I couldn’t stop.
Here is a beautiful woman, vibrant and alive in the decade just one ahead of mine (Robin is 59, I am 44) being told by her 55-year-old boyfriend that she is “too wrinkly” to be desirable in the bedroom.
Lately it feels like everywhere I turn, I am confronted with another story like Robin’s.
And lately, each time I read another one of these stories, I discover another courageous mentor – someone I desire to emulate, to embrace, to thank, to join.
Here I have to share that, in the two decades since my eating disorder battle subsided, I have maintained an uneasy truce with my ever-changing body.
I have agreed not to mention the parts I don’t like, and it has agreed not to flaunt them in my face when I look in the mirror.
But I know they are there. And it knows I don’t like those parts.
After reading Robin’s story in particular – and even though her tale is not unlike many others I have heard in the last several months (years, decades) – something inside me just put her foot down.
It said, “Enough.”
Enough of this.
Enough waffling over whether or not to really “go for it” – for the full experience of genuine body love.
Don’t get me wrong.
I don’t love making mistakes.
But I love mistakes themselves.
Mistakes are great mentors.
I usually hate mistakes when I’ve just made one (especially if other people notice) but then I start learning whatever cool new lesson it has to teach me, and everything shifts.
At that point, I fall a little bit in love with mistakes….all over again.
For the past couple of months, I have been successfully guarding a slip of fortune cookie paper from the sharp and eager beak of my parrot, Pearl.
The fortune reads:
It was when you found out you could make mistakes that you knew you were onto something.
Yet for most of my earlier years, I didn’t realize mistakes were okay….allowed….expected, even.
I didn’t think any of the people around me ever made mistakes.
I didn’t think I was supposed to make mistakes either – not if I was living right.
Yet mistakes kept happening, all the time and in so many ways.
I made mistakes about what I ate (or didn’t eat), what hobbies and classes I pursued, what friends (and boyfriends – don’t get me started on this one) I chose, what I wore, what I said, and what I did.
For a time I thought that I myself was a mistake.
This was the most painful time in my life to date.