in which old photos make me think things

I've been scanning some old photos -- some of Allan and me through the years, others with my siblings at various ages -- and have been posting them on Facebook. This experience has led to two insights. The thoughts themselves aren't new, but this walk on memory lane has recalled and reinforced them.

Insight number one: my self-image was extremely distorted throughout my life. 

I thought I was fat and ugly. Yet there is evidence that that was not the case. I am now overweight, but that's a different story. This was a girl well within a normal, healthy weight and size range, thinking she was seriously overweight.

It was no surprise that many of my female Facebook friends related to this. We came up with the following list of reasons. The reasons are not ranked in order of importance; it's a big mix, a preponderance of evidence, as the legal phrasing goes.

1. Media. We are constantly barraged with images of what is supposed to be beauty perfection; most are completely unrealistic.

2. Friends and peers complaining they are fat, often people who are thinner than us.

3. Thoughtless comments from parents or other relatives.

4. A parent who constantly diets and talks about their size and/or weight.

5. Clothes manufactured with unrealistic size standards.

6. A sibling who was praised for her appearance, while many of us were praised for intelligence, cultivating the belief that a girl could be intelligent or attractive, but not both. Shorthand for this: I was "the smart one", she was "the pretty one".

7. Well-intentioned compliments about weight loss. ("You look great! Have you lost weight?")

Most first-world women have struggled with issues caused by a negative self-image, to varying degrees. It feels like part of being female. It can ruin lives. And it most certainly prevents us from leading happier, more fulfilling lives.

And I don't doubt that this is the case for men, too, perhaps for different reasons.

Insight number two: the future is unknown.

My first trip to Europe was in 1982. I graduated university, then spent the summer working to save money for the trip, and went with a female friend. We had open-ended air tickets and no idea how long our money would last.

I had dreamt of going to Europe, especially Paris, all through my teenage years. The art history courses I took in university fueled this into an obsession.

When I finally went, I ran around at high speeds, trying to see as much as I possibly could. I was sure this would be my only opportunity to travel in Europe, ever. I don't know if I actually verbalized this, but it was always my assumption, a constant. I could not foresee how it would be possible, what kind of life I might lead that would allow me to go to Europe more than once.

My trips to Europe so far:
1982: Brussels, London and day trips, Amsterdam, Paris and day trips, Rome, Florence, Venice, Lucerne (with NN)
1985: London and West Country (with NN and on my own)
1993: Paris, Chartres, points throughout Provence, Naples, Salerno, Rome, Florence, points throughout Tuscany, Venice, Verano, Bologna (with Allan)
1998: London, some West Country and Wales, Paris (with Allan)
2011: Ireland (with Allan)
[Sometime in here I made a rule that anytime we went to Europe, we would include Paris.]
2013: London, Paris, and points throughout Spain (with Allan)
2014: Paris, Giverny, Rouen (with my mother)

And of course this omits any non-European travel, itself a substantial list (although never nearly as long as I'd like).

My point is not how much I've travelled. My point is that we don't know where our lives will take us.

I had many life goals and fantasies that haven't come true, of course. Most notably, I am not a well-known author of young-adult novels. But the list of Things I Have Done That I Never Thought I'd Do is much longer.


impstrump said...

#LeastImportantThing, but if you're interested in telling us more, I'm super curious why you thought this would be your only chance to go to Europe.

What were the circumstances the led you to be able to save up the money in just one summer, but not think you'd be able to save up the money ever again in the future?

laura k said...

What were the circumstances the led you to be able to save up the money in just one summer, but not think you'd be able to save up the money ever again in the future?

I don't think I've ever thought of it that way! An excellent question.

Let me see...

1 - We had graduated university but didn't have "real" jobs yet, so we could take this long, open-ended trip. Everyone I worked with told me I was so lucky, they wished they could do this, but they couldn't, because they were working, tied to their jobs. I heard from pretty much everyone that I once I was in "the Real World" I would not be able to do this again.

Maybe what they meant was the backpacking-style of travel or the open-endedness of the trip. But I think what I absorbed was that the Real World (which apparently I had not joined yet) would preclude adventurous travel.

2 - I had an unusual summer job where I was being paid a commission, supervising people and getting a cut of all their commissions, so I was making a lot of money in a short period of time. But I planned to go into the arts, probably theatre management/administration, and didn't expect to earn very much doing that.

3 - We were traveling on the cheap, staying in youth hostels and dive hotels. I had it in my head that you could do this while you were young and then at a certain point, you couldn't do it anymore.

4 - And then something indefinable that I can't explain. I saw this period as a window between the student life and this Real World I heard so much about, and that was my window for travel and adventure. I was the only person in my family to travel in Europe this way. I didn't have any models or support for it. Now it doesn't seem like what I did was such a big deal, but at the time I was really stretching past my comfort zone.

My parents went to Europe with tour groups, x number of cities in x number of days, days all planned out for you. Which is weird because they traveled independently, planning our family vacations all over the US. But I assume they didn't think they could do European travel that way.

So some of it was my own inexperience and my inability to imagine what life would look like once this whole Real World thing started.

Thanks for helping me think about that!

impstrump said...

It's so interesting how the things adults around us do when we're young can have such an unintentionally strong influence!

Enough adults around me growing up travelled that it wouldn't have occurred to me that it wouldn't be an available option, but I kind of had the opposite: It wasn't until I was 22 that I realized that I could just not travel if I don't want to. Until then, I'd thought of it as some mandatory chore of adult life, like having a job and doing your taxes and buying groceries. Then I had a revelation (brought on by one of those "you won a cruise!" scam phone calls, of all things) that I'm totally allowed to just opt out of that whole segment of life.

And then it wasn't until I was in my 30s that I realized that, on the rare occasions when I do have to travel, I'm totally allowed to spend as much of my own hard-earned money as I'd like to make it as comfortable and pleasant as possible, rather than having to do everything on the cheap.

laura k said...

Ah, the joys of independence! I know exactly what you mean.

It can be challenging to make those choices in a culture where spending money on creature comforts is not valued -- where frugality is a high priority. I often don't share details because I don't want to justify my choices.