The other night I was watching Too Fat For 15, a show on the Style network about teenage kids that are enrolled at a weight loss school/camp and they were having a seminar on body image.
At certain points in the year they share their facilities with another group, other teenagers that do not have weight issues but are simply there for recreational purposes, and some of the students were having difficulty dealing with the fact that the non-medical campers were allowed more fun foods, engaged in sports and wore bikinis with no insecurities or problems (this one could be debated but it was the perception of the weight loss campers that this was the case) and that the members of the opposite sex were super attractive, unlike how they would describe themselves.
*Quick note: These are the words or opinions of those there on the “slim-down” program. This was not my insight whatsoever, I am just simply re-telling the portion of the episode that intrigued me.
So I am in the kitchen, listening/watching my DVRed segment, and my interest was peaked when they were discussing the idea of body image and where it comes from.
I was a history major in college, took a lot of art history classes, and know for a fact the concept of beauty has changed drastically throughout the course of time.
If you have ever watched an episode of I Love Lucy, or seen the pin-up girls of the 1950’s, stick thin was not in.
Those women had curves, voluptuous breasts and hips and did not strive to be killer athletes.
In the medieval period, being smaller was considered horrific because it meant you were either poor and couldn’t afford food, or you were sick and couldn’t provide yourself with adequate medical care; not two things that most people want to be associated with in today’s society, so what the heck is with all the airbrushed models and eating disorders?!
Well let me first start by saying, eating disorders do not always come out of a desire to be thin.
Many people use restriction, over-exercise, bingeing, purging, and a whole slew of other things I didn’t mention, as mechanisms for coping with unwanted feelings.
For me personally, I really didn’t like crying, being mad, sad, or any “negative” emotion to be emitted physically because I felt it either showed signs of weakness, or would make people think less of me/ that I was a burden.
FYI, I was totally wrong so please do not ever adopt those beliefs.
Any time someone hurt my feelings, I would literally get on the treadmill and RUN from anything that was emotionally coming up for me.
Any time I got mad, instead of telling the anger-invoker how I felt, I would instead restrict or again, abuse physical activity, because I felt like it would distract me from what was really going on.
Did you ever complain that something hurt, like maybe your knee, and then an older sibling or jokster friend bopped you on the head and said, “see now your knee doesn’t hurt anymore, but your head might…”
That was how I felt, in a non-corny, very serious, life threatening, sort of way.
So now that we know eating disorders are not always about the actual look, or number on a scale, what does all this have to do with body image?
Well, the deeper entrenched I became with bottled up negative emotion, the more critical I became of myself.
The reasons behind this are two-fold;
Biologically your brain does not function well when it is undernourished, because it is constantly consumed by thoughts of food and distorted perceptions.
And because you are so hurt, sad, etc. you almost become paranoid that everyone hates you, which I then internalized as relentless negative self-talk.
Nothing I ever did was good enough; I could never be smart enough, pretty enough, be productive enough….I could never be thin enough.
I believe that we live in a society that has multiple influences on our body image, and one is definitely the immense pressure I alluded to above.
I see students every day who are involved in a bazillion different clubs, take 6 AP courses, get straight A’s, work, play sports, and do all these different activities, except have fun.
I was one of those students, and I regret that now because no one really asked what rank I was in my class in college.
No employer ever asked how many hours I studied a night.
And I missed out on a lot of cool social opportunities because I was so damn worried about the grades I was getting, thinking they somehow proved my worth as a person.
And sometimes I encountered pressure situations that I could not change, and that is when I turned to body image and criticizing my appearance, because it was something I felt I did had a bit of control over.
The kids on Too Fat For 15 also blamed the media because the entertainment world does not always paint us the most accurate picture of reality.
Have you ever read in a magazine a celebrity quoted saying, “omg, I eat whatever I want, just do yoga, and carry a lot of shopping bags to maintain this ridiculously svelte figure.”
These people are paid to look good. They have teams of people who work on them, every, single, day.
I would look fantastic too if I had a personal trainer, private chef, make up artist and stylist blinging me out all the time.
Instead I have some of the same clothes I wore in high school and college, color-damaged hair that doesn’t want to grow, a make-up drawer filled with drug store cosmetics, and a treadmill that my dad was nice enough to buy me like a million years ago.
It is ridiculous to think I could look like Jennifer Aniston, but it is totally ok that I don’t.
It is just sad that false images are plastered everywhere to influence what the world perceives as beauty, and I am ashmed to admit that I fell into that trap for way too long.
But aside from pressure and celebrity, the one influence the show mentioned that I have to say really struck home with me was familial impact.
Yes. The things your family says and does has a major effect on how you live your life.
At least it does for me.
You have all heard the Dairy Queen story about my good old Grandy telling me to cut out the DQ because I was getting fat, when I was a little girl, age 7.
I have told you many times about growing up in a house that considered diet soda and Honey Nut Cheerios as a splurge and that team sports were pretty much a daily requirement.
I am not speaking negatively about my loved ones at all, because in all honesty, without them I would be dead.
They never meant for me to take these things so literally and my mom, who I idololized, cannot help that she was blessed genetically and looks like she is in her 30’s, even though she is a tad bit older.
All I ever wanted growing up was for my family to love, accept, and be proud of me.
And they would have been regardless of my size, but I never felt good enough.
I wanted to be special and show them how much I cared for them by being the best that I could be.
Unfortunately, it is my personality to do things a little obsessively, or to the extreme, and I just happened to interpret health incorrectly.
The point is, we live in a world that makes it very difficult to be completely comfortable with who we are, naturally.
God (I hope that didn’t offend anyone) has given us all unique gifts, physically, spiritually, emotionally, and in pretty much every other area of our lives.
It is up to us to take at least one of these specialties and embrace it; be proud of whatever it is that makes us an individual.
I am not going to lie to you and say,
“Oh yes, I wake up every day loving who I am and thinking I am a super fabulous person.”
In fact, many days it is quite the opposite, but like many things, I am working on it, and I want you to do the same.
Just know that regardless of how society, or those who you are close to, make you feel (if it is negative, that is) you will never be able to make everyone happy.
You will never be able to please all the 6 billion people on this earth.
The only person who has to be happy with who you are, is YOU.
So go ahead….tell yourself something you like about yourself and do it now.
I like that I am a good listener.
Have a terrific Tuesday!