I’m not naïve enough to believe that I will ever fully understand the unique challenges associated with body image that are such an integral part of eating disorders and, to a lesser extent, the daily lives of countless other unafflicted women—young and old. I am, after all, A MAN, which, in itself, almost automatically disqualifies me from meaningfully participating in a conversation on the subject. Moreover, as if my gender alone were not enough, the truth is: I’m not just any MAN. I’m “that guy” – the one who still has a T-shirt (or two) in his chest of drawers that he bought in college and actually wears from time to time – albeit not in public (my wife’s choice – not mine). Hardly the “stuff” of someone who cares a lot about how he looks. This is not to say I don’t have body image issues of my own, I do, as anyone who reads Chapter 21 of my book (“TPD”) will soon discover in rather excruciating detail! However, having listened attentively to my daughter and dozens of other women share on the subject over the last several years, I recognize that the idiosyncrasies of “me” pale in comparison to the body image issues that many women wake up to and continue to be bombarded with in print, social and television media every day of their lives. Mine also lack the power and influence those issues have on the lives and behaviors of women, especially those afflicted with eating disorders.
But it occurred to me last night that I don’t need to rely on my own experiences to make the point I want to make about body image, because there already is a young lady in my daughter’s life who seems to have this body image thing mostly figured out. Unfortunately, she has to “teach” by example, which, in turn, necessitates that others pay very careful attention, because she can’t speak. She’s a dog – a quasi-psychotic Shepherd mix-breed to be as precise as one can be in such matters – who Ashley lovingly rescued from the local pound as a puppy a little over a year ago. Her name is Syeira. She’s mostly adorable and has a heart of gold not only for Ashley, in whose presence that heart overflows, but for everyone she meets – friend and stranger alike (well, almost everyone – she doesn’t seem to like bicyclists and skate-boarders very much for some reason!). However, as is clearly evident from the photo (above), Syeira also has a droopy left ear. Imagine waking up to THAT every morning – looking in the mirror and coming face-to-face with one ear that, unlike its proud and properly pointed neighbor on the opposite side of your head, just won’t stay up no matter what you do. And then imagine realizing that it’s a fact of your birth, an inescapable aspect of who you are, impossible to hide, there for all the world to see – and maybe even make fun of if they are so hurtfully, ignorantly inclined.
What is a dog to do? Well, I suppose if she were a person, Syeira might choose never to leave the house and, perhaps, even hide from guests while she’s in it (truth be told, she has been known to hide out under the bed on occasion, but that’s usually when she’s just consumed another pair of Ashley’s favorite shoes!?!). However, that’s not at all how Syeira chooses to live her life. No, she lives hers fully – droopy left ear and all. And the curious thing is: that droopy left ear hasn’t held her back at all. If anything, among us humans, it has become a trait of endearment – just one of many Syeira possesses that make her that much more fun and lovable. More importantly, at least, I suspect, from Syeira’s perspective, her droopy left ear hasn’t interfered in the least with her ability to interact and enjoy afternoons out with her “peeps” at the local dog park, all of whom, like their owners, have their own body image and dispositional curiosities to deal with. In fact, Syeira is the life of the dog park – filled with energy, exuberant in her playfulness, loving towards all (especially the small dogs) – and immediately recognizable because of, you guessed it, her droopy left ear. Truth is: I’ve accompanied Syeira and Ashley to the dog park on dozens of occasions and I haven’t once seen a dog (or dog owner) refuse to play with or pat her because of her droopy left ear – and I suspect I never will.
There are lots of dogs who could have found their way into my daughter’s heart and home that day at the pound. I’m glad the one that did has a droopy ear – and a heart of gold. Come to think of it, that droopy ear and the “adorableness” that came with it, may well have been the thing that literally saved Syeira’s life. I sense somewhere along the way Syeira embraced that reality and, in doing so, set an example that will encourage all of us to take at least a small first step in that same direction – a step that may very well one day save our own.