How a men’s magazine gave me confidence that Elle could not.

I am a huge fan of the anti-plastic surgery, no-makeup, aging-naturally, don’t-retouch-my-photos movement that’s been taking hold among a small but significant number of celebrities. 

In 2003, Kate Winslet was up in arms about this retouched photo on the cover of GQ.

Kate Winslet, whom I thought was so beautiful when I first saw her in movies in the ’90s, is now 20 percent more awesome to me because she refuses to starve herself and won’t get plastic surgery. I love that she takes a stand against retouching. I love that a growing number of ladies’ magazines are open to publishing unretouched photos and make-up-less shoots and photos of “plus-size girls” and using women over the age of 35 as cover girls.

This is a fabulous trend. If only it were the norm instead of the exception.

I wish Winslet or any of the natural beauty activists were on the covers of any of the ladies’ magazines that have arrived at my house since the fall.* But the vast majority of the cover girls,  actresses, models and fashions in those magazines have catered to an imaginary world full of wrinkle-free women whose dress sizes top out at 8. An extremely unscientific survey of the cover girls in my magazine rack currently includes several young starlets, the super-slender Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore, who has been criticized for being too skinny as she ages.

Sophia Loren has said that young actresses need to "mangia!" I'm paraphrasing here.

I realize some women have trouble putting on weight, but most people I know struggle with the opposite problem, as do I.

“Too skinny” is not a problem I will ever have unless, god forbid, I end up in a survival situation. Even then, the chances of me getting “too skinny” are pretty slim because before starving to death I would

1) eat songbirds, squirrels, bugs, bark and weeds, probably poisoning myself in the process, or

2) be killed and eaten by my friends and relatives for the fat reserves I carry with me at all times.

I digress.

Witness Marilyn Monroe eating dessert.

Moving along, I’m tired of reading women’s magazines and feeling overweight. So the other day I went to the website of a men’s magazine instead.

Normally I try to stay clear of men’s magazines, particularly the articles that focus on women’s bodies, but I was sick of reading Elle and wondering what it would be like to fit into a size 0 pair of skinny jeans. (I’d have to shave several inches of bone off my hips to make that happen.) One Google search later, I’d found this gem: Men’s Health’s 100 hottest women of all time.

Now before I get into the list, I’m not saying that women should start adhering to standards set for them by men’s magazines. I am saying that while women’s magazines display a certain kind of figure as ideal, not everyone sees it that way.

Jayne Mansfield is smart enough to know that she can eat AND be attractive.

Look at this list. Some of the ladies are listed with their measurements. One of them (Jayne Mansfield) is listed with both her measurements and her IQ (163). These women are all shapes and sizes. Sure, there are a lot of skinny gals from the ’70s and today, but many of them look as though they’d never dream of starving themselves. Look at Ann-Margaret. There’s a lady who looks like she eats food. Number one is Jennifer Aniston, who might be skinny, but I’m glad she’s number one, because she seems genuinely nice.**

The point I’m trying to make here is not new. It’s trumpeted all the time. It’s just that the message – that there is no real standard of beauty – doesn’t always hit home. There are days when I just don’t feel attractive, or when I pine for my twenties or even my teens. And even though I know that’s a fool’s gambit and that in 10 years I’ll be pining for my 30s, I do it anyhow.

It’s normal for individual people to be insecure every once in a while. We all have bad days. What’s destructive is when a whole culture of people (American women, for example) are insecure all the time. In a time when the decent women’s magazines show me slimming clothing and size 2 dresses and the trashy ones publish articles focusing on diets, gossip, and sex tips, it was refreshing to see a list, created by guys who find smart, talented, funny and kind women attractive and who define 100 different body shapes as “hot.” The only thing that could make the list better would be more women of different ethnicities.***

After looking at this list, I got up and looked in the mirror. I felt beautiful. I logged onto Facebook, and congratulated myself on being friends with so many other beautiful women. I looked at a family picture and what do you know? My family is just rank with lookers. I told my husband all of this, and he agreed. And then we went out and had pizza for dinner.

* Thanks to a few shopping trips to Lohmann’s this fall, I am now the recipient of a lot of women’s magazines. Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle and Marie Claire all visit my house monthly. So does Food and Wine.

**  Sesame Street pro tip: Being nice trumps being curvy or skinny or what-have-you any day of week.

*** I counted about 10 women of color on this list. But that’s still a really small percentage when you’re talking about a list of 100.

Gluten is a cruel and scrumptious mistress.

At some point in the last several days, I ingested gluten.

Our collection of flours. We do a lot of baking.

I think I know when it happened, and I don’t regret eating that meal because it was delicious. Gluten (the sticky protein in wheat) is always delicious. Well, it’s always delicious to me. That’s because I haven’t eaten gluten on purpose in almost eight years. I was diagnosed with an allergy to gluten when I was 25.

I haven’t blogged about my gluten allergy because food allergies are boring. Whenever I talk about gluten, I can’t stand myself. It either sounds like:

a) I’m some crunchy anti-gluten zealot (“Allow me to educate you about the horrors of gluten, brothers and sisters! Join me in going against the grain!”)

or

b)  I’m feeling sorry for myself because I can’t order a pizza. Boo hoo. Someone, please, call the waaambulance.

Anyways, since I have to think about my dietary restrictions constantly in real life, I like to write about other things here.

But since my reaction to this particular glutenous meal has slowed me down so much, and since Elizabeth Hilts posted that today, on her fabulous Inner Bitch Calendar is “I love my body — no matter what day,” I thought I’d post about mine.

Allergic to being an adult

I haven’t always been allergic to gluten. I ate bread with abandon as a child. Actually, the only allergy I had as a kid was to pollen. Around Mother’s Day, every year, I’d be miserable with allergies for about a week. I dreaded that week. I have memories of sitting in church for the Mother’s Day mass, all dressed up, with my eyes swollen and itching and my nose all runny. But that was really it. I don’t remember being allergic to anything else.

Then I grew up. All of a sudden I was allergic to a variety of things: Gluten, lactose, wasabi, certain store-bought fruits and vegetables. Even non-food allergies surfaced; I am allergic now to both cats and dogs (which doesn’t keep me from having one of each.)

Actually, I like to think my body is just allergic to being an adult.

I would like to quit

There are days, like today, when I would like to quit my allergies, particularly the gluten allergy, because that one has caused me to rearrange my life. Lactose I can take pills for. Wasabi is easily avoided. Fruits and vegetables can be grown or bought organically. But wheat? It’s in everything, and the older I get, the worse my reaction to it becomes. And I hate being The Woman With The Food Allergy. You know the one. You have to organize group dinners out around what she can and can’t eat. She interrogates the waiter about what’s in each menu item. She comes to dinner at your house but has already eaten a meal, just to be safe. She carries her weight in gluten-free products when she goes anywhere. She turns down slices of your 90-year-old Aunt Betty’s delicious homemade cake. I don’t like being that person at all. I especially hate turning down cake. And also, poor Aunt Betty has no idea what gluten is, and just thinks that I’m vainly concerned with my figure. Aunt Betty, let me assure you that I am not. I am crying on the inside because I can’t have three pieces of your delicious, mouthwateringly glutenous cake.

Ahem. See the self pity? Call the waambulance, folks.

Gluten Freedom

And yet, being gluten-free has been a good thing for me. Right before I was diagnosed, I ate a lot of fast food. I was having Dunkin’ Donuts bagels for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch and pizza for dinner. I worked all the time, and all of these foods were available en route to and from my various assignments. When I was diagnosed, I suddenly had to plan my meals. I had to bring food with me. I had to cook at home. And although there was a longish getting-used-to-being-gluten-free period, during which I spent too much money at health food stores and cut things out of my diet that didn’t actually contain gluten, I ultimately created a diet that worked well for me. And I dropped a lot of weight, which was nice.

And then there was another thing – one of my friends at work had been diagnosed with similar allergies about a year before. (Actually, her allergies were worse.) So all of a sudden I had a support system. We shared information, recipes, lunches. We learned – often the hard way – which foods to avoid. Sometimes  we were both ill because of an unfortunate snacking experience. Still, I think those food-related disasters were easier for me to handle because I had a gluten/lactose-free buddy. We were friends before my diagnosis, but I think our mutual allergies cemented our friendship.

Now that I think of it,  the best things to come out of my allergy have been the connections I’ve made with other people. I’ve been amazed at the generosity of people who invite us to a party, and put a special gluten-free item on the menu just because I’m coming over. Sometimes they’ve never intentionally made something gluten-free before. They don’t have to do that – I can almost always find something to eat – but they make the effort, and I’m always touched by that.

My cousin, who is an extraordinary baker (she made my wedding cupcakes), is especially thoughtful. For example, I haven’t had Christmas cookies in forever. But this past Christmas, she made me four types of gluten-free cookies. I still have some in the freezer, and I break them out whenever I need a little snack. She makes me something whenever she bakes for a family gathering. She doesn’t have to do that, and I’m always floored when she does.

And then there are the legions of people who email me gluten-free recipes, or links to articles about gluten-free foods or gluten-free restaurants in our area. I get at least one email like this every couple of months, and I love it! It’s touching to know that people are thinking of me, and I’ve got quite the collection of gluten-free recipes.

So maybe being allergic to life isn’t that bad. I mean, I’m still not happy about being laid up for a few days after each forbidden foray into the delicious realm of gluten, but hey — avoiding gluten is a really good way to stay beach-trim, and I’ve got a lot of awesome friends.