This is my 100th post on this blog and I wanted to dedicate it to something important. I confess: I struggle with body image issues. Medically I am considered healthy and within the healthy BMI range set by the United States. I really hate sharing my weight and my height, but for the sake of being honest I will share it here. I am about five foot two inches and weigh anywhere from 112 lb to 118 lb. I bloat easily and ‘losing weight’ is an uphill battle. The heaviest I’ve ever been was 125 lb back in high school. I exercise fairly regularly, so I don’t think its a lack of movement that is my problem.
In my head I think most girls around my height should weigh around 105 lb. When comparing reality to my ideal, it is easy to see why I sometimes feel like I’m fat, chubby, heavy, etc. I’m not trying to perpetuate the ideal of super-skinny women, nor am I trying to make people who are actually overweight feel worse about themselves. What I am trying to say is that girls who are at a healthy weight (from a medical standpoint) can also struggle with body image. I think it’s bogus when girls are put down for having body image issues when they are perfectly ‘skinny.’ Those kind of comments are not helpful and they tend to make those who are struggling ignore the fact that they were struggling in the first place. For example, it’s not really ‘kosher’ when I’m talking with my peers to say, “Sometimes I feel really fat,” or, “I really struggle with not nitpicking things about my body that I hate.” Mostly I just get comments like, “Are you serious?” and “You’re so skinny! How can you say that?” I often got rebuked and it is exactly this type of reaction that put me in self-denial and guilt these past few years. While it’s nice to get the confirmation that I am perfectly normal, but it’s not very conducive of a deeper conversation. Sometimes I just want someone to really dig into the problem with me and for someone to understand that perfectly body-normal people can struggle.
Recently, in a New York Times article, it was discussed how outside appearances could perpetuate or exacerbate female aggression toward other females. When a stereotypically scantily clad female walked into a room other females in it quickly turned toward passive-aggressive and plain aggressive behavior. Interestingly, it mentioned that as a gender, we perpetuate the pressure to look beautify, stay thin, and dress desirably. It cited a study that showed that multimedia (such as magazines and TV) did not perpetuate nor pressure girls into perusing society’s definition of beauty. We put pressures one each other to remain competitive for males. It argued that in actuality, the media is a reflection of societies changing values and ideals. Media plays off the idea of what is popular in order to appeal to the masses. If media portrayed unpopular views it would be unsuccessful. Personally, I do not doubt the persuasive power that media has over the masses (there have been plenty of examples of media powerfully swaying public opinion), but the article does put an interesting argument forward.
“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” 1 Peter 3:3-4
There are lots of articles on finding strength in my inner worth. I believe that. The stuff that is on the inside carries a lot more weight than what is purely appearance. A beautiful person is never truly beautiful unless they also have a good heart. Even the Bible advises us to adorn our hearts with beauty, not just the outside. I have experienced the strength that comes from knowing that I am a capable, smart, young woman with plenty of gifts. I believe that as a human being, I have value. If you’re religious, you may also understand that a lot of this value comes from understanding that I am a child of God. I am worthy of beautiful things just like any other creation. But none of this has eliminated my struggle. It took me a long time to admit that I was struggling. For the longest time I had convinced myself that I was above worrying about my body or resorting to fad diets, over exercising, starving myself, and other stereotypical things. I felt disgust for myself when I pinched my ‘fat rolls’ and wished I was bone thin. Every time I looked in the mirror I had to pep-talk myself into being thankful for what I had. Don’t misunderstand me. I am so, SO, thankful for what I have and who I am, but being thankful for the body that I have didn’t come naturally and was often forced and anyone would agree that forced thankfulness is not the same as true, heartfelt, thankfulness. I entered a lot of fad diets and worried about calories all the time. I justified it all by pinning my reasons on other things: counting calories is healthy, this new liquid diet will be a good cleanse, cutting meat out is more humane, etc. I was actually lying to myself to make myself feel better. I got really good at it. Once I realized how much I was lying to myself, I realized how utterly exhausting it was. Body image is a legitimate issue, even for perfectly healthy women. It gets better, but it is slow progress. I trust that thankfulness will eventually come because the guilt over feeling terrible about my body is slowly going away. In the meantime, I encourage those with body image problems to talk about it. Find a good friend, a good counselor, and explain. Stewing in your own problem is not going to make it better. Denial is even worse.