I’m going to get very personal and real. Real with myself, sharing personal thoughts and feelings with you. I’m not happy with how I look and I have a lot of self-image problems. I’m sure that puts me in the majority of most Americans, women or men. It’s rare to find someone who is completely happy with his/her physical appearance or body. I have a lot of opinions about this issue, but let me give my little history first.
I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I became aware of my flaws but I can definitely remember moments in middle school with my weight being identified by friends. Yes, in a joking manner, something was said to equate me to a whale, and while it may have just been a snarky middle school joke at the time, it obviously stayed with me. My eyes continued to be open to my flaws throughout high school and while I had gone through some physical maturing and slimming down, I was still insecure. I compared myself to my thinner, more athletic friends and never felt I measured up. I lost weight for proms so I could be really thin, and now that I remember back to what I’d weighed before even losing more weight, I scoff at what I thought was “fat” at the time.
Then came college and all the comfort food I could want. Weight gain and more weight gain. I was back to actually being obese, like I’d been in middle school, and then the loaded questions started coming from people in my life: “Your pants are getting a little tight, aren’t they?” or “How’s your exercising going?” And then the psychological connections between emotions and food became even stronger. I ate because I was stressed, upset, anxious, and lots of times just wanted something to help me feel better. I ended college 30 pounds heavier than when I started.
Marriage and jobs came next, and I tried to level my new adulthood with feeling so insecure. I lost weight a couple of times with exercise and better eating habits, but it always came back because I’d cycle through stress and eat to feel better.
Then came pregnancy. Let’s not go into detail about the comments I received about my appearance while pregnant. People who know me and strangers alike felt it was a free-for-all to comment on my size, roundness, swelling, etc… Thank goodness for the few who told me I was beautiful, glowing, and radiant. After having Ella Grace, I dropped my pregnancy weight and then some more with nursing and feeling too busy or discombobulated to eat. However, my body was totally different: scarred, stretch marked, soft and loose, and dimply. Add in the postpartum depression I’ve written about before and the self image was pretty negative. After nursing stopped, my weight climbed again and then I was moved to a new job that requires me to sit in a room full of computers all day with little to no moving around like in my previous job. That puts me to the present day in which I’m at my heaviest weight without having a pregnancy to blame. I’ve said since the beginning of the year that I’m going to lose weight, get healthier, be a better person, yadda yadda…and it hasn’t happened yet. I won’t bother with giving excuses. I know I get in my own way.
So with my little history given, I’d like to think I’m special or different for feeling this way, but I can GUARANTEE that there are countless other people who have stories similar to mine and who feel just as discontent with their bodies. But here’s the opinion part. WHY does it have to be that as a society, we’re always discontent with ourselves? And aside from the obvious answers of Hollywood and media, who else is responsible for making us feel inadequate? At what point in history did it become a societal issue to focus on a person’s weight, body shape, appearance, and level of beauty?
Frankly, it makes me very angry and frustrated that I even deal with this stuff! When I’m in a period of focusing on my body, how my clothes feel, or how to conceal my body inside of my clothes, I’m also fully aware that I don’t have to think or feel the way I do. But I can’t stop it. And even when I try to focus on the concept of just being happy with myself or my life, it never seems to work. I also try to think about my health, but I’m so darn brainwashed that my appearance is more at the forefront of my thoughts than overall well-being. And that’s insane! It’s ridiculous that I am this way in a society so focused on shallow and material matters. And even worse – I live in a region where food is so glorified and frankly, it is glorious and yummy! When the two worlds of importance concerning appearance and food meet, people like me who want both get stuck in the middle.
Another thing that ticks me off: I’m totally 100% mindful of my state of mind and my food choices. It’s not like I mindlessly eat. I am so conditioned to care about what I look like to other people that I literally have split-second thoughts about everything I eat. I get irritated by obese people on reality shows who comment that they “don’t know how” their weight got so large or they just eat without thinking. It doesn’t work that way for me; I’m aware of it ALL THE TIME. And even further, if I was focused on being happy and just living the life I want, I’d eat what I wanted and just not care! No, I’m not talking about gluttony or excess every single day or for every single meal. But it’d be nice to enjoy a full meal in a restaurant and not think about how gross I look to other people as I’m stuffing my face.
So where does that leave me? Or you? Honestly, I’m still lost and unsure that I’ll ever be comfortable or content with my appearance or body. I do my best to be inspired by quotes from people who talk about loving your body and accepting its flaws, but one look at my stretch marked stomach or my dimpled thighs deflates any quick inhalation of confidence. I will, however, continue to fight the battle of not totally falling into a pit of despair and letting myself become obsessed…with either food or my body. I don’t pen myself up into a dark room and refuse to participate in society; I’m not chronically depressed; but I think I will always have a desire to be different and/or better. I do want to be happy and healthy, and while I’d like to think that being a certain size or weight would equate to the happiness part, it probably won’t. Instead, I’ll try to find a balance between living a normal life, without outrageous dieting that’s not sustainable, and work to develop and project the confidence I have about myself in other aspects. I’ll focus on the fact that my intelligence should be important, my contributions to the betterment of future generations should be merited, and that my humor has caused others to smile and be lifted into a better mood. I have to remind myself of my own worth constantly because society isn’t programmed to do it for me.
And further, I will make it a large part of my mothering journey to instill in Ella Grace that she will always be beautiful and worthy, no matter her size, appearance, shape, or weight. I will do my best to personally work against what society and the media will try to teach her, and even if I’m not a perfect example of confidence in my own life, I will not degrade myself in front of her or allow others to make sideways remarks to negatively influence her self-image. When I compliment her, I will compliment her true person, beauty, and achievements. Telling a girl her outfit is cute isn’t a compliment to the girl. I want my daughter to have all the happiness in the world, and I’ll do everything for her confidence that I haven’t been able to do for my own.