Body Image Double Standards

Growing up, I was always the heaviest of my friends. It isn’t even that I was necessarily overweight, I just happened to have very skinny friends. Because of this and many other factors, I have always had a negative relationship with my body and physical appearance. I’ve been dieting and striving to be skinny for as long as I can remember. Yet even after beginning a workout regiment in high school and losing 50lbs. I’ve never quite liked my body.

As my friends and I got older, a lot of them started to gain weight. This isn’t surprising. Our metabolisms naturally begin to slow down after adolescence. Now that my friends are all heavier than I am, it’s brought to light some interesting double standards I hadn’t realized I had before. My very best friend has been very upset about her weight recently. Seeing her worry about it absolutely breaks my heart.

To me she will always be beautiful inside and out. It upsets me to think of her not loving and accepting her body exactly the way that it is, no matter what it weighs. Obviously to me she is just as worthy of love and happiness as she was when she was 100lbs soaking wet. I’ve never seemed to offer myself that same kindness, though. In my mind, I’ve never been “good enough” to deserve my own love, let alone the love of anyone else. I always tell myself that someday I’ll love myself once I lose enough weight or look a certain way.

I think this toxic mindset is one of the reasons I worry so much about my best friend. I’m afraid, terrified even, that she might think the same hurtful things about herself. I just couldn’t bear for her to think of her body the way that I think about mine. This has made me realize just how cruel and hurtful I’ve been to myself all these years. If I wouldn’t want my best friend to think and feel this way about her body, why have I been allowing myself to feel this way for so long?

It is so strange to me how vastly different the standards are that we hold ourselves to compared to those we hold other people to. Shouldn’t they be the same? If I truly want my best friend to love herself, every bit of herself, exactly as she is, wouldn’t the best way for me to ensure she does that be to lead by example? If I want other people to love me and accept me for who I am as a person rather than what I look like, doesn’t it make sense to show myself the same level of love and respect that I hope to receive? I pride myself on being a rational, logical person, yet I continue to live my life following a nonsensical set of personal rules and expectations.

Although I’m sad my friend is struggling with her self-esteem recently, at the same time I am grateful that she has given me unique insight into my own self-esteem issues. Now I not only want to change the way I think about and talk to myself for me, but for everyone else I love as well. I’m tired of sounding like a hypocrite when I tell her that she is beautiful and wonderful even though she may be overweight. How can I expect her to believe my words are genuine when I am simultaneously hating and berating my own, thinner body?

Sometimes it takes a good friend to help us realize how we should be treating ourselves. When we take a step back and look at ourselves as friends, it becomes quite obvious how unacceptable and unrealistic our own standards are. I am going to work hard to be a better friend. And that starts by being a better friend to myself.

Body Confidence, Body Positivity And Self Esteem - The Complicated Truth  Behind Instagram And Body Image Woes

Loving Kindness & Our Bodies

Even though I began intensely working out every day over a decade ago in an effort to lose weight while still being able to eat as I pleased, it’s no longer only about weight loss. What I once use to dread each moment of has become one of the things I look forward to most days. It is incredibly invigorating and empowering to witness just how much my body is capable of. I may not have every achieved the body that I had been seeking, but I did discover something even better: a newfound love and respect for the body I have.

I once saw a quote that read: Exercise is a celebration of what your body can do, not a punishment for what you ate. I think about those words a lot. They have almost become a mantra. When I begin to feel frustrated that my body still doesn’t look the way I want it to and wonder why I even bother with all of my exercise, I remind myself that regardless of the end result, I’ve come to enjoy my daily workout.

For me, exercise has practically become a moving meditation. It helps me reach that blissful flow state. I lose myself in exquisite motion. I don’t really know how to dance (nor do I ever really try to), but to me my workouts are almost like dancing. It truly does feel like an act of celebration for what my body can do. It is so fun to witness this body become stronger, faster, more coordinated. It’s truly incredible. Just like in my yoga practice, I am now able to do things I never imagined I could ever be capable of. It makes me feel proud of this wonderful body of mine.

It’s a rare thing for me to acknowledge the beauty of my own body, not necessarily for what it looks like, but for all that it does. Besides that, it is a perfectly beautiful body visually as well. I know I am too hard on myself, accepting nothing less than perfection, a mirror image of the models and actresses I see everyday on my screens. When I take a step back though and imagine how my body would feel, being taken for granted and criticized and belittled at every turn, never acknowledged for the marvel that it is, it makes me very sad.

Today I wanted to take a moment to be mindful of just how lucky I am to have such an amazing body. It does so very much for me every day, and I don’t give it the credit it deserves. I want to carve out more time in my life for sending loving kindness to this physical form I have been blessed with to house my soul. I would not trade it for any other body in the world. It deserves to be treated so much better. Sometimes I like to think of this body as a precious animal that I have been charged with the care of. I have certainly not been giving it the care that it needs or deserves, especially this past year.

I am always so worried about how others judge my appearance. Even more than usual today since I am going on my third date with my vegan guy. I am always worried that I’m not good enough. That I will miss out on opportunities, friendships, love because of that inadequacy. Today I am reminding myself just how absurd that notion really is. Do I really want friends or a partner that love me only for my looks? Or who would think less of me if I looked differently? If the people I meet in life can’t accept and appreciate me for who and what I am, that is their loss, not mine. I will love myself boldly, inside and out, even if no one else in the world will do the same. I can’t control how others perceive me. All I can do is keep working to cultivate a more positive perception of myself. In the end that is all that matters anyway. Learning to love myself exactly how I am is all I’ll ever need to be happy.

Self Distortion

I was reminded again yesterday, that I really have a warped perception of myself. I genuinely have no idea how other people see me. One of the detectives I work with was excited to show me a YouTube channel he found. He said that the girl on this channel looked exactly like me. I am always extremely nervous when someone tells me they found someone that looks like me. Usually it is very flattering, but being someone that has an eating disorder, this is a great way to trigger me. Not that anyone has ever compared me to anyone heavy, but once I was compared to someone on Instagram that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to see myself. I was upset about that one for days.

Luckily this time the YouTuber in question was drop-dead gorgeous. She had an alternative look and long, beautiful, black hair. I still never know how to respond when someone approaches me with something like this, but overall I was very happy. Even though I do not see the resemblance at all. It’s interesting to contemplate the disconnect between the way others see me and the way I see myself. I used to glance at strangers and try to find someone I thought had a similar body type and build so that I could see how I must look to others. Eventually I gave up on this because it only upset me. I would be interested to see if the people I thought were built similar to me would be the people those around me would pick as well. I once even found a website where you could enter your height and weight and it would produce pictures of other people with the same dimensions. That one fucked me up for weeks. Even though the images produced could vary wildly, I always assumed I was closer to the less pleasing photos, rather than the women that looked like models at my height and weight.

My sister always used to tell me that I had body dysmorphia. Basically, that’s a mental disorder where you have an extremely altered perception of your physical appearance, usually focusing in on one aspect of yourself like your nose or your ears or your weight to hyper-fixate on. Part of me has always really wanted to believe she was right, but then a larger part of me always says, “well if that’s true you’re acknowledging that you aren’t as fat as you think you are, which is obviously ridiculous.” However in recent years, I’ve come to mostly accept that label even though I’ve never been formally diagnosed. (As you can tell I’m one of those four year psych degree people that loves to self-diagnose: autism, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, generalized anxiety, feel free to roll your eyes.) Anyway, I now view body dysmorphia as just a label that explains that I don’t know what a really look like. It’s as if I am always looking at myself in a funhouse mirror. My self-perception has a tendency to vary immensely from one day to the next, one moment to the next. And of course I always identify with the least flattering reflections most of all.

It can be really nice to be reminded that other people view me differently than the way I view myself. It’s honestly hard to believe. I can’t help but wonder if they are just lying to me or attempting to flatter me for some unknown reason. Oh, the inner ramblings of a mentally ill mind. It makes it quite difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. At the end of the day, I try to let all of this nonsensical pondering go completely. After all, it doesn’t really matter what I look like. One day whatever looks I have now will fade away. I will become shriveled, wrinkled, and grey. And I don’t want to have placed all of my value and self-worth in a youthful appearance. There is so much more to life than what you look like.

It does raise the question of how others perceive the rest of me. I don’t think my self-perception is much better when it comes to my character or personality. I really couldn’t say what words other people might use to describe me. Perhaps I should make a point to start asking them, letting them know before hand that I want their honest opinion no matter what. I can’t even image what kinds of words they might use to describe me to be honest. But I am so curious, because those are the perceptions that really matter in the end. However, even with these descriptions I am so much quicker to believe anything negative about myself than anything positive. When someone says nice things about me, it can make me feel uncomfortable, even guilty. I think, “Oh no, I have somehow tricked them into thinking better of me than they should. They are going to be so upset if they ever find out who I truly am.” I know these thoughts may seem ridiculous, but they come up more than I’d like to admit.

The sad thing is, that none of these opinions or perceptions of other people are what’s important. Because ultimately it’s my own self-perception that matters most. Sadly it is also the least flattering perception I’ve encountered. I’m hopeful that maybe learning to trust the perceptions other people have of me will give me the confidence to start to see myself differently.

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Manifesting Self-Love

As the new year approaches, I have a lot of fear in my heart. I have planned to make a lot of changes and I am just worried that I won’t be strong enough. I worry what will happen when I do make these changes. That’s why in the next few days, I want to try to support myself as much as I can. Instead of writing about all of my anxieties, I want to write about why I deserve to be happy. Why I deserve to experience these changes in my life. Why I am enough.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but whenever I sit down to focus kind thoughts and words toward myself, I feel a lot of resistance. That “cool” “emo” teenage girl inside me still cringes hard at the thought. When I was younger I seemed to have learned somewhere that it made you a more interesting person if you hated yourself. I felt dark and dramatic, tragically beautiful. Loving yourself was lame, unheard of, and besides, I surely didn’t deserve it. And I still struggle with these thoughts every day even though I recognize how immature and harmful they are now. My heart seems to seize up whenever I try to direct loving sentiments toward myself.

But I really want to work on this. I know it will get easier if I can just push past this blockage in my heart and practice being kind to myself. I do deserve kindness. Especially from myself. We all do. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful or conceited about thinking that. And I want to make these changes in my life in 2021. I’m not doing them for anyone else but me. It is okay if I gain weight. I will still deserve love and compassion. I won’t be any less worthy if my clothes fit a little snugger, if my face is a little rounder. That shouldn’t even be the focus to begin with. I want to change how I have been eating regardless of the outward effects. I want to do it because I love this body. It does so much for me, and I have been treating it terribly. Telling it that it doesn’t deserve the nutrients it needs to keep me going. Telling it that it’s healthy weight is too heavy, hideous, unworthy. Stressing my heart with disordered behaviors. Isolating myself to accommodate those behaviors. I would never stand for someone else abusing me this way. Why should I be allowed to continue abusing myself?

I want to enjoy food again. To cook fun healthy meals, knowing that they will provide my body with everything it needs to make me happy and healthy. I want to eat mindfully, to eat with my friends and family. To allow food to be a part of my life again, instead of my whole life. Come what may.

I have a lot of other changes I want to work on as well. But maybe for now I’ll just focus on making a plan and tackling this one. I always expect too much of myself, then beat myself up when I inevitably fail. Not this time. This time I’ll give myself all the time I need. There is no deadline. There is no punishment for struggling. There is no “failure.” It’s just living my life. It’s just getting up every morning and trying my best. That’s more than enough.

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Heavy Dreams

Last night for the second time in only a few days I had a dream about carrying an extremely heavy purse or bag. I found the first one rather amusing. I was still in high school. I was about to drive myself to the school and I was running late. But I stopped to organize my bag because it was ridiculously heavy. I just kept taking out more and more nondescript, random items until I had nearly filled my entire living room.

Last night’s was slightly different. This time I can’t recall exactly where I was. It may have had something to do with school again. The strange part about this one was that when I looked into my bag to try to lighten my load, there was hardly anything in it. I could not understand what was making it so heavy. It seems like once I looked a few times the bag felt lighter though.

I know most people probably view dreams as just random nonsense. But I genuinely believe that my dreams are a glimpse at my inner landscape, my subconscious fears, worries, obsessions. I think it’s worthwhile to at least attempt to decipher them. Even if it’s only the interpretation I come up with that has any significance.

I saw something recently about dreaming and was shocked to learn that serotonin plays a part in remembering your dreams. Considering I’m someone with intense anxiety, which usually means a lack of serotonin, I’m surprised I am so good at remembering my dreams every night. Perhaps it is solely because they matter to me. However, it only strengthens my belief that these nightly lives I lead are important somehow. Especially when they are recurring.

After some brief research, it seems that dreaming about something being heavy is, as could easily be expected, a signal that you are carrying heavy burdens with you. Although I found it interesting that a purse or bag specifically can imply secrets. Given that I have been thinking a lot about secrets and shame recently, it makes sense. My best guess is that these dreams were a metaphor for my anxiety and the heavy weight it puts on my heart and mind.

The first dream was showing me that when I take the time to examine my heavy load, I realize that I have no need to carry most of the things that I have been carrying. It is okay to set them down. The second dream is a little more interesting. There wasn’t anything heavy in my bag. I think this was referring back to a real life scenario I often go through. I often feel so overwhelmed, thinking I have umpteen tasks to complete. But when I actually sit down to list them out, I realize that it’s not as bad as I was imagining. And my heart feels lighter. This is exactly what seemed to be happening in my dream. I felt like my bag was so ridiculously heavy. But when I looked inside I realized there was hardly anything inside. Then the bag felt lighter.

I think both of these dreams were a gentle reminder from my subconscious. All I need to do is be present and really look within to see that there is no reason for my heart to be heavy. There are a few things I burden myself with carrying. But it is time to set those things down. I don’t need to weigh myself down with them anymore. Remaining mindful of what is truly inside each moment, I will see that all is well.

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Wondering About Wanting

For nearly as far back as I can remember I have been hyper concerned about my appearance. Particularly my weight. I can remember trying to count calories and choosing the healthier option before I was even old enough to really understand dieting. Over the years this has spiraled into a drastically negative self-image, self-destructive behaviors, and disordered eating habits.

It seems like in the beginning I had a clear idea of what my goal was and why I was trying to get there. But the other day I paused and wondered, why do I care about this so much? What do I think I will gain if I lose 10lbs? I managed to lose a considerable amount of weight in high school and then even more recently, yet it’s never made me any happier. It never gave me more confidence or a better body image. My mind just shifts to a new imperfection or thinks wow, I must have looked really bad before.

I know that everything is ultimately just about the way you choose to see it. Nothing is going to make you feel beautiful until you decide you are. Nothing is going to make you happy until you choose to be. Yet I can’t stop grasping at these shallow desires I’ve held onto for so long.

I constantly tell myself I don’t deserve things because of the way I look. Yet I would never say the same about anyone else and would be horrified if anyone did. Besides that, I am often told that I am good-looking, thin, sexy, etc. but I refuse to believe a word of it. A few times though I’ve caught a surprise glimpse of myself in a photo or mirror without immediately realizing it is me I’m looking at. I always think I look pretty at first.

I must have body dysmorphia at least to some degree. I wonder what I truly look like outside of my warped mind. I wonder why it matters to me so much. I really want to work on being kind to myself and treating myself like I would treat any other person. While it is easy for me to say everyone is deserving of love and respect and compassion with conviction, it feels dishonest and strange when I tell myself I am worthy of those same things.

I’ve got to keep practicing. I’ve got to keep reminding myself of what is really important. I hope that one day we can all learn to love ourselves for all that we are. And to anyone who may be reading this that feels the way I do about themselves, know that you are not alone and that you deserve to be happy, to love yourself, and to be loved by others regardless of any real or perceived faults you may have.