Monday, March 30, 2009

Bikini Madness

Okay, we've all seen Valerie Bertinelli's look-what-I've-got-back body, clad in a teeny tiny bikini. All of us who have ever set--and met--a weight goal understand that this is an unpop the cork moment, and when you're over forty, that means the good stuff.

But let's get real here for a minute, can we? VBert started out unhealthfully overweight for her petite 5'4" frame. She was stressing out over (then) hubby Eddie Van Halen's continuing alcohol problem, dealing with the news of his infidelity; and gorging on jalapeno poppers for self-comfort. That she finally wised-up, went on a diet, and shed the excess pounds in a sane way is worth applauding, and we all did. High five's and you-go-girl. I'm not so sure vowing to get down to "bikini size" by her 49th birthday was an admirable goal. For one thing, she admits that she had to dwindle down her daily calories from 1,700 to 1,200. That's what, a handful of pea pods? She also hired a personal trainer to get her into camera-ready shape. So did Janet Jackson. And Oprah. Need I say more?

What was more admirable, I think we can all agree, was Valerie getting control of her life and wanting to be happy. Reaching for self-confidence instead of a bag of frozen cholesterol bombs. I read Bertinelli's bio--in part because I really did want to know what naughty vices this TV good girl supposedly indulged in--and found a woman like so many of us who substitute food for love. Feeding our stomachs instead of our souls. Of course, we celebrated with Val as the years of poor self-esteem and boundup resentment began to fall away and a beautiful, powerful, vivacious woman emerged. The question is: Why didn't she stop there? Why wasn't she good enough?

Maybe we're still hoping to be Bo Derek's 10 to Dudley Moore's fifty-something rut dweller. Maybe we believe that if we can run down the beach--in slow motion--without our boobs slapping against our bellies and our thighs chafing with every step, we'll be perenially nineteen. Maybe that will make us happy. The sad thing is, I understand it completely.

Last year, I suddenly dropped four sizes while continuing to eat boxes of Tasty Kakes and oily pizza for lunch. I slipped my new(ish) svelte figure into skinny size jeans for the first time in 15 years. I was on a thin-high. That was until my doctor told me I had hyperthyroidism and promptly gave me a combination of beta blockers and Tapazole to stop my metabolism from going at light speed, and, potentially, leading me to lifelong dependence on a defribrillator.

Okay, scary stuff. But I whined. I pleaded. I balked at every pound that appeared each month I stepped on the scale. I went into denial every time I squeezed myself into the size 4s and then settled for the size 6s. Every time I go in for my bi-monthly check-up, I try to look pathetic so he'll take pity on me. So far, he hasn't fallen for it. Drat. The point is, I finally had the bikini body I'd lost decades ago, and within a year, I gradually began to lose it. People stopped remarking on how great I looked. My tummy roll was beginning to creep out over the top of my pantyhose waistband again. But my boyfriend, bless his heart, said: I like you better this way. You were getting too skinny. And I thought: who am I trying to impress, anyway, with a Sports Illustrated bikini figure?

If there's anything about Bertinelli's re-ignited fame we should be celebrating it's that, at nearly 50, she proves that it's never too late to reinvent yourself. That we can be stronger, healthier and more resilient. That we can set even ludicrous goals, and achieve them because we want to challenge ourselves and, and at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. I want to be a published author. They never show your picture from the waist down, anyway.

I've become resolved to the fact that I'm unlikely to see 115 again in this lifetime. Personally, I didn't like the knobby little protusions of my shoulder blades poking through my blouses. But I've also completely overhauled my eating patterns, and have come to accept that an "ideal" body is one that allows us to live most joyfully. I hope when Ms. Bertinelli begins to see the little dial on the scale inching up again, she doesn't bemoan the loss, but (eventually) comes to accept that we are many woman during our lifetime. Some of them will look different than the one before, but each of them has dreams to fulfill. We just have to be willing to move on.