Last weekend, I spent some nice time out in nature with a couple of friends I hadn’t seen in a very long time and with my dog Gracie.
As I sat in the living room, at the end of the day, still enjoying the warmth from the sun on my skin and sipping something refreshing, I looked at the pictures one of my friend took of me during the day.
While looking at the picture below, I was pleasantly surprised to see it immediately put a smile on my face and made me feel very happy.
It made me realise with more certainty than ever that I’m on the right path to nurture body acceptance and body neutrality in my life.
See, not a long time ago my eyes would have focused on my body, on the back fat, the curvy bum and that would have been enough to make me forget about the great moment this picture captured.
It would have been enough to put myself in “operation transformation” mode, usually starting with a massive clearout of my fridge and press to eliminate all the foods “which make me fat”.
Today, instead, I’m amazed by the blue of the sky, the sense of connection with my puppy I get from this photo, the memory that comes of all the small details about that particular moment filled with a sense of freedom, fun and joy.
My body is still there in the picture, as it would have been in many other pics before, but today it’s not under scrutiny, nor it is a reason to feel bad about myself.
There’s no plan to shed pounds, nor the desire to change it. There’s no worry about what other people think when seeing me in this picture.
This day was good, and my body didn’t have much to do with it, apart from the gratefulness I can feel for my body allowing me to have walks, and see all this beauty all around me.
The most significant part of you is not your body
Body image problems are the first to show up and the last to leave whan you’re working on eating difficulties.
I say ‘first to show up’ because wanting to change your body can be what starts the eating distress.
It’s often the spark which starts the fire of disordered eating, the diet rollearoaster and, for some, a battle with an eating disorder.
As women, we deal with this belief that bodies have to look a certain way, to be slim, wrinkle-free and with a fair and smooth skin. All the time.
So we become hypervigilant and extremely self-conscious. We don’t find it comfortable to look different, we don’t accept a body which naturally falls on the larger side of the continuum, we reject aging and showing the signes of that.
Personally, I noticed that the more I bought into the beauty ideal, the more my life became smaller, hollow and lacked purpose.
There were many missed opportunities for socialising, learning, exploring, daring and having fun. All because of the fear of my body being scrutinised by other people’s eyes, because of the judgment around my fat body.
During my college years, I have a vivid memory of squeezing myself into one corner at the back of the classroom, to attract the least attention on me. I felt vulnerable, wobbly and insecure.
My desire to connect, get to know new people and socialise was big, but it was heavily limited by the worry of not being good enough because of being fat. This is just one example. A big one, but just one example.
Looking at the body with fat-phobic eyes
We live in a world which constantly says (directly or indirectly): fat is bad (but you can easily replace the word fat with other body characteristic too).
That having a large waist or a prominent belly is something to hide, to be ashamed of. That being fat automatically equals being unhealthy and be destined to develop diseases.
It’s the same world which connects being in a larger body with being lazy, not self-motivated, less ambitious, under-performing… and many more.
I got this message since a very young age, as early as in my school years when we were weighed eveey term in front of my schoolmates and exposed to ridicule and judgment.
I know for sure I’m not the only one here in this community to have had a similar exposure to harming messages around the physical body.
Painful things start to happen, such as rejection, being ridiculed, sensing the judging looks from the external.
We feel bad about ourselves and we attribute that to being fat.
The shift from “I feel bad/fat” to “I am bad/fat” can happen very quickly, especially at a very young age. And that’s how we internalise the fat-phobic message that “FAT IS BAD”.
It ends up being embedded in our brain, and it’s common for someone in a larger body to fear (and therefore constantly try to avoid) specific situations/people which in the past might have been linked with ridicule and judgment.
I so wished someone had told me back then that I was more than a body. That my qualities, my personality and my way of being mattered. A lot. That the most significant part of me was not my physical body.
It would have prevented my life to get smaller and smaller.
I wouldn’t have been so critical of myself when looking at pictures of me or my reflection in the mirror.
I would have definitely taken more pictures of myself.
I’m now working through the grief for the past experience of my body, for the missed opportunities that resulted for not believing I was good enough because of my looks.
It’s a work in progress.
It requires forgiving myself and also talking myself out of thinking that those opportunities are lost forever. Most of the times they are not.
- I’m happy the way I look at my body is changing for me.
- I’m happy I’m more aware of my internalised fat-phobia as I’m starting to see more and more other bodies with different eyes too, not just mine.
- I’m happy I’m not actively trying to change my body. On the opposite I’m embracing more and more of it just as it is.
- I’m happy for forgiving myself any time I catch myself being self-critical about my body. That I can change my thoughts and my feelings by reminding myself I’m not here on this earth to please other people’s eyes or demostrate anything through how I look.
- I’m happy for prioritising my own internal experience of my body ( how I want to feel in my body, and what it does for me), regardless of how I look or how others feel about how I look.
- I’m happy I can increasingly see myself as more than just a body.
It gives space for a lot of growth and expansion in my life.
You don’t need to wait for your life to get really small before you start doing something to heal your body image and any consequent eating distress.
You don’t have to change the way you look to feel good about your body. You have to change the way you look at it.
In order to achieve this, it’s important to learn more and understand the impact that fat-phobic and other judgmental messages have played so far in you entertaining difficult feelings and thoughts about your body.
- Can you become curious about how your idea of the “right” body was created in the first place?
- What type of experiences and messages shaped that? Who were they coming from?
- Where did you learn what you learnt?
Here is a book I recommend to go along with your exploration.
I’d love to hear your stories about what specific situations/messages contributed to the way you feel about your body today. If you feel like sharing them with me, just leave a comment or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to reading you.
Always with kindness and until the next,