If you haven’t already, please watch the video above. It is so emotional, so raw, and so powerful. The video is of two best friends reading thoughts they have had about themselves out loud to each other. I have heard the phrase “talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you love” many times, but this shows just how damaging our negative self-talk can be. I constantly talk to myself in ways I would never even think about other people because it’s too cruel and that is so sad to me.
When I was thinking about writing this blog post, one of the first things that came to mind was a day in July or August when I saw the above picture and it sent me into a tailspin of horrible depression with suicidal thoughts. I had gained a substantial amount of weight following my hospitalization for mania and medication changes and I was horrified when I saw my body reflected back to me. I completed a Thought Diary worksheet about it the next day at my intensive outpatient program (IOP- group therapy in an outpatient hospital setting) and I thought I could share some of the related feelings and beliefs with you. These are things I wrote at the time:
How I feel: fat, ugly, gross, disgusting, waste of space, unhealthy, worthless, ashamed
What I believe: I will never feel beautiful, I’m not skinny enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m not motivated enough, I’m lazy, I’m not funny enough, I’m not happy enough I’ll never find love, No one will ever love me.
I would never say such awful things to someone else, so what on Earth made me think it was acceptable (and is still acceptable) to say them to myself? I believe it’s a combination of dating someone who was cruel to me at one time and a lifetime of seeing and hearing girls denigrating themselves. I had a boyfriend once who told me that I had gained too much weight and he no longer found me attractive. That was not the only hurtful thing he said. It was also roughly 65 pounds ago. If the person I cared for so much back then couldn’t find me attractive with 20 extra pounds on me, how could anyone love me now?
The other thing is, we aren’t meant to take compliments well. Girls are meant to deny any compliments given or come up with something else that is wrong with us. “Oh you have such pretty skin,” “Ugh, but look at this muffin top!” “I wish I was as thin as you,” “I wish I could eat whatever I want.” We are taught to counter every compliment with a self-insult. I’m not sure where the message to do this first came from or why we think it’s ok but it reminds me of Regina George in Mean Girls:
Regina: “You’re, like, really pretty.”
Cady: “Thank you.”
Regina: “So you agree?”
Regina: “You think you’re really pretty?”
Cady: “Oh…I don’t know”
It’s an awkward exchange primarily because Cady accepts the compliment without arguing about it or insulting herself, which is what we as viewers expect her to do.
Society teaches young girls that skinny and pretty=good and overweight or not traditionally pretty=bad. We are supposed to be small and quiet and take up as little space as possible. We aren’t supposed to be loud or rambunctious or big or dirty or messy. When I was young, my brother gave me the nickname of “Chubby,” which lasted for several years until my parents finally had to have a talk with him about how much it bothered me. Of all the things I could be, fat somehow seemed and, to some degree still seems, to be the worst.
Body image problems are not exclusive to bigger people or to women. People of all shapes and sizes struggle with how they appear and how society and the media tell them they are supposed to look. According to NationalEatingDisorders.org, a staggering 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from eating disorders in the USA alone. We’ll talk more about eating disorders next week, but the statistic is alarming and speaks to the magnitude of body image issues faced by all types of people. One population that struggles with body image is professional swimmers. Swimmers need to have large shoulders and strong muscles in order to swim quickly, which puts pressure on both the men and the women who choose to participate in the sport. Where it gets a little bit trickier is that the women have that body ideal to work with but also a second body ideal, one for when they are out of the pool and should be skinny with a few curves in the correct places. In an article for USA Today, Jennifer Carter, the Ohio State University Sports Medicine Center’s director of sport psychology, said, “in terms of the body type that athletes are going for, we know in our culture that thinness for women and muscularity for men is the cultural ideal of beauty right now.” An example given in the same article was that “a female swimmer might feel good about her broad shoulders in the pool but negative about them when she cannot find shirts that fit properly at a shopping mall.”
An emerging trend is the Body Positive or Body Positivity Movement, which encourages love and acceptance for all body types and came up with the phrase “all bodies are good bodies.” The movement is aimed at increasing self-esteem and self-compassion across the board, regardless of a person’s size. Tess Holliday, who started the hashtag and movement #EffYourBeautyStandards, hopes her movement will combat the marginalization of plus size people and said, in an article for Bustle, “In an ideal world, it would just be great to be allowed to be who we are, and not have to defend our bodies or our health.”
Another proponent of positive self-esteem and body positivity is Glennon Doyle Melton, an author and TED speaker who I’m honestly a little obsessed with because she just seems to speak from her soul and is all about telling hard truths. In a recent blog post, Glennon tells how her ten-year-old daughter made a comment that all of the other girls are skinny and she is different and Glennon sat her daughter down and told her the story of her life and her eating disorder. They talked about the messages girls get from the media and other people and about how it’s all designed to keep girls “weak and separate from each other, so we can’t join forces and lead.” They talked about what bodies are for and what bodies are not for. The next day, the two of them went to a bookstore and her daughter noticed the emaciated women on the magazine covers. Glennon explained to her that the reason seeing the magazine covers made her feel bad was because women’s bodies aren’t for selling things and told her that there was nothing wrong with her, there was something wrong with the media and the magazine industry. Her ten-year-old daughter, who is a total badass, wrote a petition:
“HELP SAVE HUMANITY
This is a petition to show that I, ____ ______, strongly feel that magazines should not show beauty is most important on the outside. It is not. I think magazines should show girls who are strong, kind, brave, thoughtful, unique, and show women of all different types of hair and bodies. ALL women should be treated EQUALLY.”
Glennon Doyle Melton has written several wonderful blog posts (and parts of books) about body image and she is an inspiration to me. In an effort to be more body positive, Joanne and I have elected to share photos this week on our Instagram that we would not normally share because we don’t like how we look in them. To check them out, visit https://www.instagram.com/illuminatedbyu.
Resources on Body Image