I just want to go ahead and move forward with the designation that this is going to go really deep so therefore it might not be something that you relate to.
When I think about body image, my first notion goes to the size and shape of my body. I think about the things that I believe to be true when I look at myself in the mirror or the ever-changing relationship I have with that reflection back. I heard once, “Do you realize that you’ve never actually seen your body?” And I think to myself that I most certainly have, every single morning as I mitigate the way that my day might unfold based on how I’m feeling about the shape of it that morning. But the truth is, I haven’t. I have only seen a reflection of my body in a mirror. I have not been able to look at my body through the lens of those around me, and the bodies that I see around me daily are not tied to this emotional context in which I see my own.
Is that narcissism I ask myself? Patriarchy? Childhood trauma? Disillusion to reality? Or all one in the same? Is this consciousness that I experience of my own accord or are these experiences that I feel so heavily something of the autonomy of my genetic make up in which I try my damnest to exert control and have none?
What is it about body’s that we desire? What is aesthetically pleasing to the eye? If you look to the history of the aesthetic across history and generations, symmetry, hip to waist ratio (not actual size) and shoulder to hip ratio stay consistent. Within that, things change across the zeitgeist (the social and cultural views at any given timepoint) but if we look to the body’s that we find attractive and pleasing to our eyes, this is what we want to see. If we lived on a deserted island with no social and cultural development of what is the ideal, would this ever be something that was even discussed? I think not, therefore I think that the mere idea of body image distortion is not just some ‘mental illness’ that people like to throw around, but another narrative that was created to let women know that their body’s are the only thing that give them social value. From the beginning of time, this has been the case and we still experience this as people continually ask me when I will have children. I truly don’t get upset with this question as it’s only natural of them to ask with my stage of life, but it’s simply a framework to let me know that I must be involved in the objectification and shaping of my body because that is what gives me value in our present culture.
I think that we all know this not ACTUALLY to be true, but as homo sapiens (I only use that word because I truly mean this as biological not like just an idea), it is within our framework to want to be connected and accepted. It’s crucial to our existence and babies who don’t experience connectedness at a very young age even if reconnected quickly to adoptive parents still experience immense trauma into their later years. It is written in our DNA to want connection so therefore when we don’t fit the ideal, we begin to experience shame. The closer that we get to the ideal, we feel pressing urgency to maintain, avoid the other, and society rewards us by cheering us on and letting us know that “we look great”.
We create camps because that’s also what humans do. We say WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THIS and go into that camp or we say “it’s really okay to play along” and we go down the dieting route. I think that the dieting route is never meant to be of harm. Many times we simply just want to be healthier, or if we look deeper we want to fit the ideal, but even that makes sense. It’s okay to want to belong, but at what point do we see it as a social justice issue? At some point we have to say that we don’t accept the narrative. We separate from it. We recognize that it’s okay to love ourselves in health, but that doesn’t mean that we take up less space. We recognize that sometimes that means not even talking about health and wellness because inevitably the conversation is always turned back to aesthetics within the population at large, and then there would need to be awkward conversations of how to navigate this in a healthful way, so then the camps get even more divided (how’s that for a runon sentence?). It’s either a rejection of diet culture entirely or become part of the wellness space. You must pick, and if you say you are body positive but yet teach others how to diet, who are you even? What are you even doing and if you are someone who has EVER struggled with body image in your past, then GTFO because NO ONE WANTS YOU THEN. You’re not even allowed to make healthy decisions because then it’s disordered. We create more and more narratives, more and more story lines of who is accepted and who is not when at the end of the day, it’s all confirmation bias to what we already feel or don’t feel.
We create a space where vulnerability is not accepted unless you want to go into a particular “space” on the internet, and so those that don’t want to choose a camp become isolated and feel shame. I become nihlistic. None of it matters in the end anyway.
Maybe when I thought I had it figured out, I did not, and as I’ve grown into a more mature human, that makes all the years of work fraudulent. This is what happens to so many in the health and wellness space. It reminds me so much of Jordan Younger of The Balanced Blonde, and how she had to witness her shame smeared all over the internet in gossip because she chose to say that she was no longer vegan because this had created an orthorexic vantage point of health for her, and she needed balance. I heard her on a podcast like last week explaining that she gets emails daily about orthorexia to this day. Her shame will follow her forever, and I’m thankful that Jordan has found a really great confidence in herself that she knows she is past it and it’s okay.
We have to be able to understand what is going on from a societal, cultural, and neurobiological standpoint if we want to get to the root of what we feel and how to manage it appropriately. We have to start shifting the narrative within the way that we live our lives and the ways that we have conversations with others to let them know that it’s okay for them to take up space, but it’s also okay for them to be healthy if they so desire and can do so within a mental model that’s appropriate.
We then have to look at the intersectionality of race and gender and realize that when we think about the topic of body image, the conversation TYPICALLY comes back to white females, and how that affects those people who aren’t in that group and the even greater shame and displacement from society that a male must feel when he is struggling in these same areas when his cultural ideal is supposed to be one that is strong and independent and confident. Black women have a culture of being thicker than white women but what if you are struggling to be that, where does that leave you? What if your body is shaped more like a white woman and you have light skin? Is that a bad thing? I don’t know culture enough, but I think it’s worth mentioning because white females are typically the forerunners on this topic and I’d love to know more about how black women feel. We do need to recognize that women are targeted more frequently and how can be part of changing this? How are we portraying ourselves in the health space that continue the portrayal of women only being valued for their body.
But every female that I know of that has continued in the wellness space post body image disorder is targeted maliciously. My point of saying this is just to point out that even in the female vulnerability, we are just simply shamed for just living out our truth and our personal stories, which causes further isolation. But that’s connectivity in 2018 and so we must discuss it, because these ideas aren’t just something that we discuss amongst ourselves but things that are now pervasive in images on young girls phones, and how are we contributing to their narrative.
We might think that we are being a loving image of truth and wellness, but what does that say to those young girls? This is always something that I struggled with because I feel as a wannabe/used to be influencer, it brings a level of responsibility to the images that you are putting up online and the messages that you preach.
If you preach body image love and yet you diet and exercise, is that true body love? Some would say yes and some would say no. Your truth is your truth. I am not here to disrupt that or challenge anyone truly, but simply just to navigate my thought processes. And when we speak of body image, is body love and body acceptance on the same spectrum because then we told that we don’t have to love our body’s but we just need to respect our body by caring for it appropriately. But what is appropriately? I have people who ADAMANTLY would say that self love means going to the gym when you don’t want to go and sometimes eating the things you don’t necessarily want to eat because that will make you feel better in the long run. I absolutely know there are those that feel a deep social justice issue with those very things, and I really align with that as well.
Through my soul searching, I have become super cautious of the images that I post and the words that I say, but it always ends up in a big WHOMP and I keep deleting posts. Hahaha! I should stop that, but whatever, I’m always like ‘oh that didn’t come out the way I wanted it to’ but I’m spending time on this one and hopeful that it will be taken in a positive, loving, caring for the future of women and the spaces we should be allowed to fill up.
Thank you for allowing me to write in this space and share this with you. I hope you'll see my heart in it and not judgement.