The Duchess of Windsor in 1970, 35 years after a prince gave up his throne for her.


In response to Dr. Allen’s visual assault by an overexposed jogger the other morning, I have to say that it seems true: No lower limit has been discovered as far as poor taste is concerned. This is especially true here in New York City, where in the past few decades the Duchess of Windsor’s famous motto,  one can “never be too rich or too thin,” has been pursued with unapologetic fervor. Obviously, many people have found themselves in financial, physical and spiritual trouble while pursuing these goals. Though the Duchess herself was an example of someone who was dead serious about her aims and was clearly a great success at achieving them, she was by most accounts, a terribly unhappy person.

The Duchess was, however, also someone who knew her strengths and used them to great advantage; the jogger may not be so lucky. Many of us do not have an accurate self-image and, as a result, do not present ourselves to the world in the best possible light. This can work both ways: While this woman may have gained weight gradually and in her mind’s eye sees herself as someone who can still wear bare midruff styles (should anyone over the age of 14 wear them is a question for another column), many women I know have not, on the contrary, adjusted their physical self-images to incorporate the fact that they look much better (thinner or shapely or whatever) than they did as adolescents.

I once worked with a very beautiful young woman who was also very friendly and engaging. Not surprisingly, she was being stalked by several pizza delivery boys at once (as well as many other admirers), just as in the movie There’s Something About Mary. She did not have an up-to-date, accurate self image: She had not “grown into her looks.” Unfortunately, because of her beauty, she could no longer afford to be quite as friendly as she had been as a young girl, with her naturally warm personality, without inciting unwelcome interest.

Back to our jogger: My husband suggests that she perhaps knows what she looks like but likes herself and has nothing to hide and, though her taste in clothes may not be agreeable to all, he says that this is a good thing. Though she is jogging, she may not be doing it to lose weight, and even if she is, that does not necessarily mean that she thinks her body is unattractive and needs to be hidden. “More power to her,” he adds.

Men, in fact, often see women more positively than the same women see themselves. Along with the physical epidemic of obesity there is a devastating emotional epidemic in this country of women’s hatred of their bodies. This self-hatred has resulted in eating disorders, self-mutilation, record-breaking plastic surgeries, including many newly invented ones, and general misery. The age at which girls start dieting and complaining about how “ugly” they are keeps getting younger.

So I hope my husband is right. I hope the jogger thinks she looks good, and that her positive self-image inspires her to keep exercising for all the right reasons. Statistically speaking, this is probably not the case. Sadly, she’s probably like the majority of American women who feel that at least some part of their body is ugly.

When is enough enough? As women, we have to help our daughters—and, if it’s not too late, ourselves—feel more satisfied with who we are. As for the Duchess of Windsor, she was not a beauty (though one must admit she was thin), but apparently she carried herself as if she were a great treasure, and men found her very alluring, including, famously, the King.

Feeling beautiful is more powerful than being beautiful. But there’s so much more to it than meets the eye, as they say, and there are few standards left to help young women find their way. There are lots of beautiful young women in New York, but my patient stood out more because of her lovely heart than her beautiful face. Where the Duchess went wrong is in failing to realize that “enough is enough” has nothing to do with numbers, whether high in a bank or low on a scale.

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  • Diane June 22, 2009 at 10:21 am

    Thank you! I responded to that earlier post before I read this and you have stated my views well!
    Women have recognized this pop culture trend for quite awhile but I don’t think we’ve made much headway with it. Despite 40 years of so-called liberation we still judge each other much more harshly for our Barbie-doll attributes than on our real life accomplishments.
    I guess all we can do is to continue to point it out to one another.

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