cultural norms

The Body Image Monster Didn't Win Today

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  I consider days when my body image monster doesn't win to be major victories.

I've battled body image issues my whole life, or more specifically once puberty hit and peer validation became a thing. Prior to that, I was just a kid of the 80s running around. Adolescence marked the beginning to the boxes we place ourselves and others into. It was when I became increasingly more aware and self-conscious of my physical form and it wasn't fun for me. The more I talk to people, I learn just how common this shared experience is.

Hell is a place on earth and it's called middle school.

I remember standing in the dressing room while shopping for bathing suits. Or shopping for something to wear to the final dance for my 8th grade graduation. I wailed. I pleaded. I sobbed. I didn't want to look. I didn't want to choose. Nothing felt right.I hated my reflection on those days. They were pure torture. It may be why I still have issues shopping for clothes. The dressings room bring up some PTSD, maybe, even though I'm no longer shopping for ill-fitting dresses or bathing suits.

Things got minimally better as I grew older. Grunge came into fashion and that meant big baggy clothes I could hide in. As fashion trends change, and since powerfully choosing to wear clothes I really love, I find myself sticking to old standbys from the GAP (not skinny jeans) or brands like Frank & Oak, my new favorite. I choose what feels good or what I like.

I've worked hard to get myself into the best shape possible, but the body image monster is always hanging out, like the proverbial raincloud above my head or a guest who just won't leave after the party is over. No matter what I eat (or don't eat) or how often I run or work out, I just don't have the body type where I will slide on a pair of slim fit pants and need a belt. Only once have I've known the feeling of having my sits bones actually hurt when I sat down--when I dropped down to 118 pounds in high school during the nadir of my eating disorder. It was unpleasant, the whole thing, and not something I wish to replicate.

I know I will have supreme inner peace and probably come close to nirvana when I accept my body fully for all it is and is not, but the body image monster is constantly goading me to suffer, instead. I haven't given him a name or a shape or other characteristics, he's just "there" as a feeling.

But he didn't win the other day. He's winning less and less each day, actually.

I had a day last week where I was laying on my bed, staring at my hand and I started sobbing out of nowhere. It may sound a little silly but the realization of how many years, days, minutes and seconds I've spent staring at my hand just knocked the wind out of me. I've been through so much and so many changes, and there's my hand--always there when I look for it. My body is so familiar to me, more reliable than any person, place or thing in my life; it's my oldest and best friend.

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I try to remember that realization and this sentiment when I lose touch with my gratitude for my body that works so hard to keep me alive another day. I've lost so many dear friends and family members to their battles with their physical forms and I know I'm not alone in this. By appreciating our own bodies a bit more, perhaps it's like sending a prayer for the extra day or week our friends and family members would have liked to be here, imperfect body and all.

1) Avoid mirrors. I didn't own a mirror for years and I have definitely noticed a huge shift in my own struggle with body image the more mirrors I have around or when I search for my reflection in a window. Sometimes I spend minutes spinning around, trying to get a good angle, before leaving the house. Some days, there are no good angles and I've found the best days are when I don't go near a mirror before leaving the house. Perhaps it's denial but whoever said ignorance is bliss is a good friend of mine when it comes to what I look like some days.

2) Wear what fits you now. Sometimes I rejoice when I can fit into pants I wore three years ago. Some days I feel like I should have a scrolling banner attached to the length of my body and be lifted horizontally into the atmosphere. I know my body has undergone a massive biological and physiological transformation in the past two years. I know different companies make clothes in many different environments from many different fabrics according to specific dimensions or measurements. Despite the reality that each human body is incredibly different in so many ways, we all try to look the same and fit into pieces of fabric sewn together. Still, my BIM (body image monster) tells me I'm a failure. When he does this, I grab whatever feels most comfortable now, no matter the size, and give him the finger.

3) Eat food. During the year or so of my eating disorder, I followed some ridiculous logic. I starved myself most of the day and then consumed specific foods I deemed "safe" or "allowed", most of which were high in simple carbohydrates. Since I was often so weak from malnutrition, I wasn't exercising to burn off all that energy so all those simple carbs went right to my fat cells. I little silly but hey, it happened. Now, I know better. Despite some frustration with my aging body and metabolism, I know eating more food of many different kinds (mostly vegetables and fresh fruit), not limited amounts of the same things, is the solution to maintaining a healthy weight. And so I eat whole foods in healthy amounts and consider my job done.

4) Relax and relate. The body image monster is such a funny guy. He tries to tell me that people I see who are thinner or more fit (the skinny jeans wearers, namely) are happy and content in their bodies. Such a sassy devil, that one. He's funny and really wrong. When I find myself comparing myself or making assumptions about other people, I think of how many people have confessed their own body image struggles to me. I relax and remember not to be deceived by appearances. I relate to the internal conflict of self-acceptance many people face each day, no matter their appearance. I would say everyone, but I try to avoid generalizing with my assertions. But it has surprised me how many people struggle when others might think they would have no reason to at all.

I think it's also helpful to zoom out and consider our bodies as one aspect about us. We are more than our physical forms. We are our character, our courage, our talents, our habits (both good and not-so-good ones) our accomplishments and the way we show up for people and relationships we care about. We are unlimited potential and when we confine our worth to the shape we are in, it limits what we can provide others and give to ourselves.

I share this with my clients who make assumptions, either related to body image or anything else, and they find it really helpful perspective. It's inspired me to write another post about what we think we see and what we attach to it. That's coming up next week.

Do you have a body image monster? What have you observed about him/her/it over your life, as you've grown and changed?

What have you found to be effective in defeating and overcoming the negative self-talk of your body image monster?

When I Was a Boy/Girl

A few nights ago over dinner in a local restaurant, the song "When I Was a Boy" by Dar Williams came over the speakers. I started singing aloud, remembering the lyrics fondly and I took my girlfriend's hand and said, "can you listen to this song when we get home? It's really so good." She said, "sure".

We got home and I pulled out the old CDs and gave her the lyrics. She almost cried. "So good!" she said.

It is. It's so good.

I love music--mostly everything and anything--but my favorite artists are singer-songwriters who put poetry and music together to express what many of us feel but can't express. We all experience music to be therapeutic, cathartic and healing. Classical, R&B, hip-hop, pop, dance---heck, even country has its merits.

I went through a phase when I loved Dar, through and through. One of her songs, February, is forever etched in memories about my first love. Over the past 10 years, I have hardly listened to her but when I took out those liner notes and read those words again--I thought, man. How poignant for my life today!

Even if the acoustic guitar and Dar's lilting voice breaks aren't your jam, give it a listen. I posted the lyrics so you don't miss a word.

I won't forget when Peter Pan came to my house, took my hand I said I was a boy; I'm glad he didn't check. I learned to fly, I learned to fight I lived a whole life in one night We saved each other's lives out on the pirate's deck.

And I remember that night When I'm leaving a late night with some friends And I hear somebody tell me it's not safe, someone should help me I need to find a nice man to walk me home.

When I was a boy, I scared the pants off of my mom, Climbed what I could climb upon And I don't know how I survived, I guess I knew the tricks that all boys knew.

And you can walk me home, but I was a boy, too.

I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw. My neighbor come outside to say, "Get your shirt," I said "No way, it's the last time I'm not breaking any law."

And now I'm in this clothing store, and the signs say less is more More that's tight means more to see, more for them, not more for me That can't help me climb a tree in ten seconds flat

When I was a boy, See that picture? That was me Grass-stained shirt and dusty knees And I know things have gotta change, They got pills to sell, they've got implants to put in, they've got implants to remove

But I am not forgetting...that I was a boy too

And like the woods where I would creep, it's a secret I can keep Except when I'm tired, 'cept when I'm being caught off guard And I've had a lonesome awful day, the conversation finds its way To catching fire-flies out in the backyard.

And so I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived And I say, "Now you're top gun, I have lost and you have won" And he says, "Oh no, no, can't you see

When I was a girl, my mom and I we always talked And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked. And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do And I have lost some kindness But I was a girl too. And you were just like me, and I was just like you"

I feel like anyone, hetero or LGBTQ, can relate to the simplicity (and complexity) of what she's conveying in the song---about how we all began the same as kids and then become victims of socialization and cultural norms.

What gets lost?

What is the cost of "growing up" to fit in?

Give things in your life some thought. When did you decide something had to go in order for life to be easier? Does that ease come with a price? Is there something in you or about you that the world needs to see and hear right now? Something that might be a surprise to some and a WELCOME surprise to MANY?

Oh, Dar. You progressive, incredible songstress, you. Kickin' butt and takin' names in 1995 with your vision of how things can/should be.

LOVE!