My body is my temple.

This morning, I actually stopped in my tracks and contemplated my reflection for the first time in weeks. I was not really surprised to see my mother’s face staring back at me. Her genetic pool took over proceedings just before I hit forty, and Little My’s demand for me to let my hair grow has aided and abetted my destiny in its cunning plan to make me into a carbon copy of my mother.

Turning sideways for the ventral mugshot, I attempted to suck in my post-baby belly. It would have been more at home in the local butcher’s window alongside my chunky thighs, currently jousting for a traditional farmhouse sausage award.

I turned my back on the mirror and stepped on to the scales for reassurance. Tefla, the evil electronic demon of the bathroom, almost cackled out loud as she announced my weight. The same as when I was at University. So how come I’m two jeans sizes bigger?

I spent a while thinking this over in the shower, and by the time I’d hacked my way through the undergrowth on my legs, I had come up with what I saw as a logical and comfortingly irreversible explanation: gravity. Yes, that was it: forced downwards by the earth’s magnetic field, the padding on my upper body had simply lost its grasp on my skeleton and ended up on my stomach and behind, meaning I had the same weight but a new anatomy. I’d just swapped bosom and size ten jeans for a big butt and no boobs. Hey, world, meet a new concept:  fat transhumance.

As I towelled dry, I chewed over the term « my body is my temple ». This phrase conjures up images of self-indulgent body-builders and fitness freaks religiously veneering their own reflections and wearing out the mirror with self-admiration.

I would agree that my body is a temple – in severe need of renovation. Cracks are appearing in my weathered façade. After the perilous subsidence of the pelvic floor, other parts of the edifice slowly but inevitably started crumbling downwards, resulting in the tender beginnings of jowls, bingo wings and a sagging butt. Even my bust has begun an imperceptible migratory bid for my belly button, moving slowly but surely south. I had already jokingly explained this to Bigfoot after he sneered at my bra size in comparison to that of his chosen counterpart: I informed him that my 95B has simply stretched a little but that it can still happily fill my Wonderbra when tightly furled up like a jam roly-poly. I was concerned to see that he actually believed me.

flat stomach

flat stomach (Photo credit: emanuela franchini)

I freely admit to having problems identifying with the health and fitness crowd. I  admire their self-satisfaction, pride, self-discipline and boundless motivation to take care of themselves.  Like over-zealous believers, their health becomes their religion, and by some strange process, running 10km in the baking heat and depriving themselves of calories somehow becomes a pleasure. The only thing I could run would be the risk of viciously attacking the first poor innocent unfortunate enough to crack open a packet of salted peanuts within a 2-mile radius. Not only do these people not miss beer and peanuts, they don’t even like them to start with. I have six-packs in my fridge, whereas the only six-packs they have are tautly lined up along their abdomens, and get worked out on a regular basis.

Exercise is not only a different world, it’s a completely different planet for me. I am in awe when I see the pert-bottomed lycra brigade pounding their way through the countryside, their cheeks flushed and their poney-tails flapping back and forth as Katy Perry cheers them on through the iPods velcro-ed to their eardrums. I did try once, with a gym-teacher friend. She kept up a steady stream of health-related patter throughout our « short » run – 5 km of sheer hell during which I established that having a conversation whilst running full pelt around the Alsace vineyards was about easy as singing barbershop whilst you give birth.

Pulling on my baggy jeans, I drew the conclusion that I need a factory reset button to get a kick out of getting in shape. What do I enjoy more: the possibility of maybe fitting into that pair of jeans one day, or drinking my evening beer in the garden and nibbling peanuts as the cicadas sing?

I loaded my baguette with butter and strawberry jam in the cluttered kitchen, repeating to myself that I am in the driver’s seat. At least I will be – once I’ve booted my instinct out of the side window. For the moment, she’s the pilot. She steers me directly to the apéritif before dinner and the cookies afterwards, to the car keys rather than my trainers, to my blog rather than to the energetic cleaning of the house, and to reassuring pictures of curvaceous 1950’s sex-symbols rather than those of today’s anemic, anorexic top-models.


motivation-001 (Photo credit: whitehatblackbox)

I am therefore now on the look-out for Motivation, a reliable pal I lost from sight twenty-two years ago after successfully losing two stone. She then moved in with someone else, and was unfortunately replaced by a far-flung cousin called Self-Indulgence, who has been cramping my style (and my clothing) ever since. Motivation, if you’re out there somewhere, it’d be great to get together for a few months. But don’t call me, I’ll call you.

Wonder Woman.

The day it all started, I was in a French clothing store on a mercy mission for my upward sprouting, and thus trouserless, eleven-year-old son. I had already dug through the kids’ clothing section, and successfully emerged with two pairs of jeans, having survived the merciless, snatch-and grab world of French mothers at the sales. I slid gratefully away from the sales scrum. As the women’s clothing department appeared on the horizon, the noise of screaming toddlers diminished. I stopped in front of the first clothes rack, and my fingers fluttered over a skimpy size ten dress that reminded me of the one that I had fitted into once-upon-a-long-time-ago. Before producing the three reasons for my visit to the shop in the first place, before discovering the culinary joys of Eastern France, before……

My thoughts were interrupted by a strong waft of vanilla invading my nostrils. I was pushed sideways by an immaculately made-up, delicately perfumed local delicacy who eyed me up from head to toe, muttered “Pardon, Madame”, and shoved the size 10 skimpy out of the way to grab the size 8 just behind it. She held it against her sinewy, taut body, hissed a self-satisfied “ouais!!!!” through her teeth, then smirked smugly at me before swinging off to the garish green changing rooms, the chains on her handbag clanking in tempo with her high heels.

It was then that I turned around and saw it. The Wonder Woman T-shirt.  The predatory eye of the clanking, pin-up consumer had missed this little beauty, and I grabbed the label, then sighed in frustration. It was an out-of-bounds size 8, and it got me thinking. Was nobody here a size 8, explaining why there were so many items of that size in the sales? Maybe size 8 women are a rare species, and the human missile that had just knocked me sideways was a rarely-observed species that had ventured out of its lair to replenish its wardrobe during the sales?  Glancing under the rails of clothing, I half expected to see Richard Attenburough-style journalists crawling through the vestimentary undergrowth to film her as she shopped.

I returned to my study of the Wonder Woman T-shirt. Having already glimpsed WW’s cleavage in cartoon books, I couldn’t help wondering how she could fit her generous bosom into this particular garment, even if her minute waist did spare her the muffin top no doubt currently stretching the hems of the larger-sized T-shirts  bought by aspiring Wonder Women.

We all know a Wonder Woman, and are in awe as she manages her house, husband and family with more determination and assiduity than Martha Stewart. She is up, showered, perfectly made-up and perfumed before the rest of her tribe, and trills a sexy “au revoir, mon chééééééérie” to her doting husband before pulling beautifully ironed clothing out of the cupboards for her grumpy offspring. She drops them off at school after a sensible breakfast and then runs off elegantly without breaking her neck despite her 7cm high heels, mobile phone clamped to her ear. On good days I smile, on bad days I look down at my old pair of jeans and my faithful trainers, and my self-esteem plummets to sub-zero temperatures in her wake.

Turn up out of the blue at WW’s home…. and admire, or weep. She will never be flustered, never be in pyjamas, and never be in a foul mood. Her golden retriever does not shed, whereas mine provides enough hair to make an angora survival bag within the average week.

Time mysteriously stands still in WW’s home. Dust does not dare enter her spotless interior, which sports glass flowers on low tables that her children strangely don’t touch. The white carpets are mysteriously unsoiled by soda drinks, and much as you insist on walking barefoot, no pieces of crisps will ever get stuck between your toes. Push the sofa backwards, and you will not find the missing piece of the incomplete jigsaw you threw away last week, or a rogue playmobil helmet. WW’s children actually look after their stuff, without being asked. No red felt tip pen without a lid leaking its contents onto the sofa cover, no lonesome peanut screaming out for a taker. Niet. Nada. Welcome to the perfection of domestic paradise.

Whereas her pristine vegetable tray proudly boasts organic vegetables, the only organic thing to be found in mine recently was a decaying avocado lurking at the bottom. A family of six can appear unannounced and be invited for what is described as “a simple” dinner: WW whips out a meal for 20, beaming and gushing “it’s just leftovers” before digging a home-made tart the size of a tennis court out of the depths of a fathomless fridge.

In Wonder Woman’s bathroom, small decorative figures and framed quotations about “Home sweet home” remind you that what the French quaintly call the “little corner” is also a quiet, homely place, and a pile of magazines, novels and cartoon books are thoughtfully placed there for passing visitors (and yes, I did use that adjective deliberately). I will spare you details of my bathroom, but the reading material found there is currently “Snakes of the world”, the free magazine from the health insurance company, and a mail order catalogue: my failsafe method of making sure nobody hogs the toilet for too long.

Wonder Woman finishes her day by cleaning her kitchen floor, tripping delicately over her beautifully shiny tiles in Isotoner slippers, and curling up in an appropriately feminine ball on the couch with a cup of herbal tea, whilst her husband looks on admiringly. My personal version is to drag on my manky Canadian sheepskin men’s slippers, which I fondly refer to as my kayaks, and climb over the dog to the sofa, only to be growled at by the lanky teen strewn over the piece of furniture designed for 4 people, defiantly clutching the remote as if it were his last Rolo.

As my fringe-flicking teenage son regularly points out, my reaction is based on pure enviousness, awe and lack of self-esteem. He’s right. See, it’s not hard to admit it. But what we forget is that each and every one of us is a wonder woman, just not that kind of wonder woman. Being the one who cleans up after the cat throws up on the floor, the only one who spends the afternoon fighting to combine two pieces of string, an egg-box and a disappointed child in a determined bid to build a dinosaur, and the one who decides she doesn’t like chocolate cake that much after all when there isn’t enough left is already proof of the pud, don’t you think? So thumbs up to all you other Wonder Women out there…..whether or not you own the T-shirt.