Every January, I choose between two New Year’s resolutions: to get thinner or to stop caring about being thin. I know that not caring is the better goal. Still, every year I choose “thinner.”
Given this perennial quest to change my body, I read with interest a recent report that the plastic surgery industry is booming. Pandemic lockdowns have apparently created a time without business trips or bar mitzvahs in which people can reshape themselves and recover in private.
I had considered doing this too — not the surgery, but the covert transformation. I pictured myself emerging miraculously fit from a pandemic pupal phase, as if all that stood between me and the JLo version of age 50 was a year out of public view and a stripper pole.
Instead, I took a break from thinking about how I look. Gone were bimonthly trips to my office in New York City; gone, too, was fretting about what to wear. Had I ever hoped to fit in amid the artsy urban millennials? No. I just hoped that I had an outfit that would keep me from standing out.
Question: Which seasonally appropriate pair of slacks (1) pairs with the only boots that don’t hurt after walking for blocks; (2) currently fits; and (3) won’t make me feel like a country bumpkin, a middle-aged woman, a mom?
Answer: I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
Now I meet colleagues via video chat, where — depending on the platform — I am a disembodied face, a name or even just my initials. No longer am I a physical being with a size, weight and questionable wardrobe; I am my voice, my ideas, my work.
That’s been incredibly freeing for me, someone whose bodily burden boils down to being an average-size middle-aged American woman. I can only imagine that for people who face actual physical difficulties in their daily commute or long days at a desk, this stretch of working from home has its gifts.
Obviously, struggles with body image and social expectations do not compare with the challenges of living with a disability. But they still sometimes feel like plenty. I once baffled my husband by expressing interest in a burkini (when they were in the news) because the idea of being at the beach without thinking about how I looked seemed like bliss.
I know I shouldn’t have these feelings; politically, I reject them. But still they remain. So I have joyfully embraced this temporary freedom from my wardrobe and my weight. I happily wear the same non-revealing clothes over and over — often actually the same ones, but also the might-as-well-be-the-same three turtlenecks in rotation. (Plus pants. Honest.)
It’s not just while working that I am free from body anxiety. When I see friends, since it’s outdoors in Upstate New York, I’m inside a coat and under a blanket; when I go to the library, I wave from my car as someone brings my books to the curb. At the grocery store, the only part of my outfit that I think to readjust is my mask.
Last month, when my kids said they wanted to dress up for Thanksgiving, I should have been pleased at the spontaneous show of respect for family tradition. Instead, I resented having to visit a closet I had abandoned months before. What are these shoes for? What even are dresses? Who was this person?
I retreated to my dresser and fished out a “festive” and forgotten ruby-colored tunic. I marveled as the rest of my family honored the holiday properly: collared shirts and ties, dress plus heels.
I know I’m fortunate to be alive and healthy and to possess more than enough clothes. I’m not ungrateful. I also can’t wait to dance, travel, hug friends and meet my colleagues again in the city. But I will miss this unexpected gift of moving through my public life without much considering how I look. The gift of feeling body-less.
The experience of living through this deadly year should, by rights, erase our petty preoccupations and give us lasting wisdom and perspective. It should be a pupal phase from which — ta da! — we all emerge enlightened. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, at least not for me. I wish I could say the pandemic cured me of self-consciousness and that next year I’ll choose the better resolution. I’m still not ready to give up thinking about my weight. But at least now I can begin to imagine how that might feel.