I sometimes experience thoughts of disappointment with my body:
Who is that big awkward person in the mirror?
Is that how I really look?
I really need to lose weight. But why can’t I stop eating all that junk food?
The thoughts stay for a bit, then recede into the background as I get on with the business of everyday life.
But they do keep coming back to haunt me.
I sometimes feel guilty about having these thoughts. I’m a psychologist, I should be able to get a grip on myself.
I have no right to have these thoughts. I am not battling a serious illness like cancer or dreadful injuries that come into people’s lives and can steal away physical attractiveness and self esteem. In fact I am in ridiculously good health.
When I was a young adolescent I honestly thought that no one else had these thoughts. I thought my body was wrong. I was too tall, too big, awkward not graceful and delicate like girls are supposed to be aren’t they?
Perhaps I was supposed to have been a boy I thought. Oh no I wasn’t a boy puberty arrived with lots of body changes. But I wasn’t a graceful girl with small breasts. I was a big girl with big breasts and everyone, especially men let me know about that in ways that weren’t fun. I had always looked forward to growing up. It was a bit of a scary mystery- what had gone wrong?
Long lean tanned bodies, both men and women were on every page of all the magazines, the internet and television. It seemed to me that if I ate the right food and exercised hard I could shape my body into a new thinner toned version of myself. I tried all the diets and the exercises I could get my hands on.
Then one day in a bit of a melt down in the gym, a trainer who I really respected said to me why was I trying so hard to change my body? As we had that conversation realised I’d always felt I needed to fight my body and train hard to govern it and restrict it and basically shrink it. I was created big and very strong and that was it. It was as futile and pointless as an elephant trying to train to become a cheetah or a big Oak tree trying to look like a daisy bush.
After that day I started to think differently. I started to eat more and better food as fuel. I began training to suit my body- heavier weights to grow muscles, martial arts to learn how to use my power and my size positively.
I stopped worrying about what my body couldn’t do and started to love what my body could do.
Don’t get me wrong it has not been a quick process . I’ve had sore muscles. I still have lots of training goals I haven’t achieved. I still don’t enjoy shopping for swimwear. Sometimes I still feel quite self-conscious especially in tight clothes.
I shared this dilemma with other people and to my surprise many other people said they felt the same body shame and disappointment too. They were healthy and told time and again that they were “normal”. However they just did not feel comfortable with who they were and how their bodies looked or felt.
If they tried to lose weight they got fatter. If they felt too skinny and tried to get muscular bodies that did not happen despite hours in the gym and heavy weights. Or they felt disappointment with noses that were the wrong size or ears that resolutely stuck out and wrestled with decisions about surgery or no surgery?
Over the years I have learnt that when my body shame begins to bother me it is often my inner self asking for some help and comfort to manage stress.
When I am stressed and tired I forget that the images in the media of the “beautiful people” are only carefully posed, lit and often photoshopped shots of people with genuinely unusual bodies. Don’t get me wrong: if people have impossibly long legs or fabulous muscles then that’s great. It just doesn’t mean that I need to feel guilty that I look different.
It has been a long journey to self-acceptance and gratefulness for what I do possess. It hasn’t been possible without support and the chance to share lots of ideas with others.
If you have concerns about your self-image or suffer body shame don’t hesitate to talk it over with others, you can contact us here. You will find you’re certainly not alone. It has been a very rewarding part of growing older and wiser to learn all of this and even better to share it with others.
Clinical and Neuropsychologist
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