We live in a world of “do more, be better, push harder”. We strive to achieve more with every move. We are hard on ourselves and we have a very negative perception of those who move slow, relax more and indulge in the many luxuries of life.
These are all elements that we use to express ourselves, things that we may work towards and “things” that we feel represent us. The reality is, these are things that people judge us on and things that we measure our worth against.
Now, take all of that away and what are we left with? Ourselves. Our bodies. Our shells. Our self image, more specifically our body image is defined as the subjective picture or mental image of one's own body.
What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
How you sense and control your body as you move. How you physically experience or feel in your body.
When is the last time you went through your whole day without having a negative thought about your own body? When did you last go through the day without hearing someone else talk about what they didn't like about themselves, or what they need to change? I would be surprised if there were too many of us that were able to have a day free of any worries of doing more, pushing harder or being better in terms of the way we look.
We live in a world that teaches us how to be unhappy with ourselves (I know its dark, but it is true). Everywhere we look we are surrounded by messages about what is right and what is wrong in terms of what we do with our lives. The pressure we face in terms of our body shapes and sizes is no different. We have been taught that only certain bodies types should be saught after as a measure of health, success and physical attraction. We very rarely are able to see someone living in a larger body showing us that if our bodies look like them, we can be healthy, happy and successful. Not only are these messages throughout our media, our school systems, our workplaces but also our medical system places far too much emphasis on weight and we are all just following along. BMI for example has been proven to be a measure that is no longer useful, but we still go and step on the scale every time we see a doctor don’t we? (for the record I do not and am perfectly fine;)
I am bias. I know that. I worry that people think that because I have spent a large part of my career working with individuals with Eating Disorders that I am seeing this problem where it doesn't exist. I also know it is hard to hear these messages from someone like me being a small, white woman who does not have the judgement and barriers against me that other people in larger bodies do. But Trust me. My perception is not altered here. Personally I have done a-lot of work to get to a place where I understand my relationship with my body. This does not mean that I don't relate to what it feels like to be so paralyzed with shame around my body that at times in my life it has left me isolated, alone and very depressed. It doesn't mean that I don't remember from a very early age feeling different and very conscious of the way I feel in my skin. So why does my brain process my view of myself that way and others don't? I wrote an article outlining the differences between (Body Image distress and eating Disorders here) .
We live in a appearance focussed, success driven and diet crazed world that has led to the notion that we should be able to control our life and our weight. We are brainwashed to think that this is the way we should be living, That is is an easy thing to do if we just follow the steps of the latest diet or the latest exercise craze. We are supposed to have the will power and the motivation to put in all the effort that is needed to make this type of thing a priority in your life. All the people we see representing what is healthy to eat, what type of exercise is beneficial for us, are all thin, good looking and have the ability to practice what they preach. But not everyone can do this. And guess what? not everyone WANTS to do this.check out this youtube video on an alternate less popular view
What we need to recognize is that this focus on weight, control and judgment creates a cycle of shame for a lot of individuals. As a therapist I see that having too much focus on body image and controlling ones weight can lead to Anxiety, low mood, low self esteem, relationship and intimacy challenges and Eating Disorders which can all be challenging to treat.
We see this impacting individuals of all ages, genders and socioeconomic statuses. This is not just something that impacts young women (as I think is what people assume) the pressure is on.
-it is the teenage boy who doesn't feel like he is big enough to be attractive.
-it is the little girl who has always been told she looks so much older than she is because she is tall.
-it is the woman who has gained weight during pregnancy and no longer recognizes herself in the mirror.
-it is the middle aged man who feels that he is aging much faster then the rest of the world.
-it is the athlete who feels that unless they are perfectly toned that no one will notice them.
-it is the person who after years of battling an Eating Disorder has to get used to the way their body feels when they are treating it properly.
-it is the person who has been consistently assuming they would be happier if they just looked that much different.
I am not sure if anyone has read "The Subtle Art of not Giving a Bleep" but it is great. He says in the book “The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience.” ― Mark Manson, This really stood out to me. The constant push to find something better, be better, do better, think better is causing us to feel like we are doing something wrong. Causing us to feel like just being is lazy, unproductive and negative. What he is saying is that we need to accept ourselves to feel better. (in a nut shell) It is so sad to me to think that so many people are stuck in a place where their thoughts are consumed with negativity about themselves, I want to help open our minds up to the bigger picture.
What I want to do is try and be an advocate to change the nature of this conversation. I want to work help people recognize that focussing too much on food, focussing too much on weight and being “healthy” can have a very damaging impact on ourselves and our youth. I want to try and help identify key elements that can help to foster better more balanced relationships with our bodies.
I will be doing this at THRIVE on June 7th. Come and listen to my story, why I do what I do and learn about why this epidemic of body image distress is impacting all of us.
Register today to ensure your seat. Spots are limited! Click on the poster below to register online.