In comments on my post about attractive vs. pretty, several readers asked for a series about Building Attractive. Here goes, with the caveat that this will rely on personal opinion, hypotheses and confessions, as true as I can make them .
How to build Attractive? I wish I could dive right on in to clothes and makeup. To hairstyles, and eyelashes, and high-heeled loafers. But that would be inauthentic, and inauthentic is the least attractive thing of all.
To my way of thinking, which is all we’ve go to go on right now, here’s the first step:
Live with helpful intent in your body.
In other words, albeit less suitable for a poster on the home office wall, you’ve got to do what you can for your health.
I use these words very carefully. I am not saying that health problems preclude attractive. You can be attractive in a wheelchair, with hair loss, with an incurable skin condition. I center myself on Carly and her optimism all the time. Intractable health conditions make Attractive harder, but not impossible.
I believe that evincing an intent to take care of yourself matters more than any specific set of physical results. We’re talking exercise and diet. You knew that. And I’m not going to tell you anything wholly original. This is simply my particular approach.
To act with helpful intent towards our bodies, we must let them do as they evolved to do. Your body was made to move around. Therefore,
Move around as much as you can.
I hate playing sports. Golf makes me cry, so does tennis. Can’t run to save my life. And yet I had a reasonably active childhood, swimming, romping through fields, and tussling with my brother and sisters. In high school and college I danced, preferring leotards to volleyballs. After graduation, in London and New York, I joined a gym for once a week weight-lifting. Now I walk to work, half an hour each way.
So while I’ve never worked out like an athlete, moderate exercise is a lifelong habit. Here’s what I know. Make movement something you’re stuck with.
- do it on the way home or on the way to work
- build it into what you have to do, i.e. bike to the grocery store
- sign up for a class you’d feel bad or dumb for skipping
You don’t have to do 30-day this or furniture to road races that or Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am anything. But if you actually enjoy running, or lap swimming, or tennis, enjoy.
And then nutrition. Here are my personal weight and diet details. High WASP ancestors shudder in horror at the disclosure, but I speak up in hopes that the information will be useful. Entertaining at the very least.
I was a skinny kid, until I went off to France the summer after my freshman year of college. They fed us well, in Le Buisson de Cadouin, on bowls of cafe au lait, bread, butter, and chocolate all around. When I returned, I weighed 130lbs. At not quite 5′ 6″, skinny no more. Was I fat? No. But I didn’t feel like me and I went on a diet. To this day I remember carrots.
I dropped down to 117.5lbs. Where I spent the rest of my obsessed, dieting, and eventually bulimic college career. The bulimia fog lifted one day in Manhattan, a year after I had graduated. “Why, ” I thought, “Don’t I just eat what I really want?”
Focus on eating well, in place of self-denial.
And so I have done, ever since. The trick has been in deconstructing what I meant by Really Want. I’ve focused unifying body and mind, so feelings don’t recruit body to a subversive battle with the mind. Gotta line up the troops. When I ask myself, “Do I Really Want this,” I want the all the parts of self to answer with one voice.
As an aside, it’s quite likely that privilege eased my path to comfortable eating. My mother was home to cook for us every night. My father’s doctor had told him to lower fat consumption, due to high triglycerides. So we ate poached fish before it was fashionable. Broccoli. Fruit. Judicious cookies. No candy. My native comfort food is on my side, as is a genetic tendency towards muscularity.
If your food of origin doesn’t support health, you have to replace your family’s food preparation strategy with your own. Re-parent. But isn’t that the task of much of adulthood?
My nutrition strategy now as follows:
- avoid bad hunger after meals (eat comfortably to satiety for lasting fullness)
- revel in good hunger before meals (snack consciously, drink a lot of tea)
- save room for chocolate and a glass of wine
- stuff your face with vegetables. Eat meat. (I support those of you who are vegetarians 100%)
- cheese is recreational, as are carbohydrates
This translates to what I ate the other day, in case you feel like replicating my strategy or find these things comical. Which they are, from the right perspective:
- a piece of whole grain toast with chocolate peanut butter, and two cups of English Breakfast tea with milk
- 2 cups of ginger tea
- a breast and a half of chicken, a bunch of steamed cruciferous vegetables, a small French roll
- some Altoids and a 10-20 jellybeans
- many glasses of water
- cup of brown rice, and reasonable servings of 5-spice tofu, kung pao chicken, green beans, and ma po tofu that involved small second helpings for satiation
- 3 squares of dark chocolate and 2 of milk
- 1 glass of fume blanc
If lunch is big, dinner is small. The day above involved more sweets than usual, meetings were probably at fault. I now weigh 123 lbs, in the morning. Yes, I still keep track, but yes, I’ve shrunk closer to 5’5″ over time. Slender is part of my own Attractive algorithm, there are other approaches. I mean in no way to prescribe behavior or state. My approach makes me feel more self-generous than deprived.
I will say in closing that we cannot deny the social pressure on American women to be thin. But Attractive demands no particular weight. To each her healthy own. We can focus on treating our bodies well, and we can build Attractive on a foundation of kindness towards ourselves.
Kindness, while not always indulgent, is always forgiving.
Images: me. Note that I include self-photos not as examples of attractive but to break up all the text and add emotion. The other models around here, suitable for moody pictures at least, are on strike. If anyone would send me some evocative self-portraits, indicating a liminal state, I’d love to use you instead.