“I’ve always had a body image problem. No self esteem. And that will never change.”- Elton John
*Note here: I know this struggle relates to males as well, but this post is from the personal perspective of a female. Read it with whatever pronouns you wish.
I do not have to put out stats or research on this topic. All I have to do is close my eyes and remember all of the females I have encountered throughout the course of my life who have obsessed over their weight and appearance. Who have become quite ill in order to be thinner. Abused themselves relentlessly in order to look closer to what they perceived was the ideal woman. I’ve never had an eating disorder per se, but experienced thoughts over the course of my life such as, ‘I’d rather develop lung cancer than get fat.’ Grown big on medications I’ve taken and become almost schizophrenically paranoid about people scowling at my girth.
I had a lady once tell me I could be a model. This lady was another patient on the mental ward I was on during a spell of severe depression. I was starving myself and only commenced to eat the bare minimum when they threatened to hook me up to an IV. When I was looking “so good!” to my peers it was the short stint I tried back at school in the midst of my depression. My mother took me out for some new clothes and I was exasperated because nothing fit. The size 00 were slipping off my hips. This is what ‘pretty’ looked like to them?
I grew up on Calvin Kline ads and a slew of images thrown at me in every direction of sickeningly thin airbrushed models. I am almost 35, and just beginning to grasp the concept of not hating myself. Here are some of my own suggestions to work toward this goal.
Don’t Open That Magazine!
When I was in my early 20’s, standing in line at the grocery store with my father, I tentatively took a fashion mag off the stand, considered it for a moment, and then replaced it. “Don’t you feel smarter already?” my father commented under his breath. He had a valid point. Recovering from my major depression I flipped through those magazine ads and chain smoked. Why? Not the kind of material to send you on the way to wellness. I know some progress has been made in the media as to how women are portrayed and the horrible effects it has proven to have on mental health and overall well-being. We’re still not there. A good start to not hating yourself in your own life, is not to compare yourself to how beauty is depicted in these magazines. It’s not realistic. And not even really beautiful if you consider it. Beauty is a person’s mind. And women who really radiate beauty are the ones most unrelentingly, unapologetically confident in their own skin.
Walk Around Naked
It can be in the privacy of your own home. As long as you’re doing it somewhere, you are getting more in touch with yourself and more comfortable with what’s underneath your clothes. I love wandering about my apartment bare skinned when no one else is around. On the same token, not always hiding my body from my daughter is my way of showing her there is no shame here, and nudity is natural. Doesn’t mean we’re joining a nudist colony, doesn’t even mean I’m about to try a nudist beach. Well… maybe someday. We are so prudish in this Western society of ours. At least in the healthy, ‘this is what a real body looks like’ kind of way.
I once met up with an old friend for lunch and toward the end she dumped water all over what was left on her plate so she “wouldn’t be tempted” to eat anymore. I simply gaped. This was wasteful and neurotic. This was because the circle of people she existed among did not admit ‘not perfect’ people. I probably would’ve finished it for her myself had it not been so sogged up. Why are you dieting? To achieve that perfect physique, that’s why. Unless it is a very important matter of health like diabetes, heart disease, etc., most people who attempt one crash diet after another are seeking to be skinny and attractive to the opposite sex. My diet is called eating well, staying away from junk as much as possible, and staying active. And I would never call it a‘diet’. I am using the word diet here to describe the kind where you count calories, obsess over the scale, deprive yourself of eating things that you enjoy and make you feel happy because the thought of accumulating an extra ounce of body fat makes you feel disgusted with yourself. Because you pay too much attention to the unrealistic representation of women in the media. If your aim is just to be healthy and feel good, eating healthy and staying active is going to show on you in an attractively shining way.
Think About Your Authentic Self
Who are you? Who were you before the world insisted on moulding you into someone else? What are your interests, passions, things that spark that fire within, and capture the attention of those around you because they realize how much it is an essential part of your whole being? Animals? Nature? People? History? Traveling the world? Collecting rare pieces of glass? Helping people with their sex lives? Point being, the stuff of your brain, the inner details of yourself that make you happy about yourself. Or what about your unique features? The little bump on the bridge of your nose or the dimple in your chin or your unusual eye colour, smooth skin, beautiful feet, or seemingly imperfect features that make you, YOU! Seek interests, distract yourself from the obsession of appearance. Don’t pay attention to what you are bad at, focus on what your talents are. Trust your intuition. And of course, realize how much of a waste of time it is to worry about what others think.
Wellness retreats are supposed to be wonderful places to reconnect with your inner peace and find a tranquil equilibrium. However, I’m not going to advertise any here since I myself can’t afford to hop on a plane to Bali or wherever. I did find this helpful blog post on how to create your own retreat with the free download of a Retreat Planner and Checklist. Good place to start to guide you into self-care practices. Also found how to set up your very own and very affordable writer’s retreat. Yay to not spending so much money, but still feeling good about yourself! Have you ever tried smudging? Have you looked into essential oils? What about meditation? These are approaches to assist with your well-being, rid you of negative energy, and help reconnect you to your spirit. Obviously, I have to say it, get into NATURE! It is a wonderful place to connect to your soul in peaceful surroundings. It’s as easy as heading into the nearest patch of trees and just be.
Here are some links to resources that might leave you with more of that hopeful, good feeling rather than that disappointed, self-loathing feeling you often get after flipping through a fashion magazine.
Little Miss Sunshine. I love how this shows the seven-year old, Olive’s, obsession with beauty pageants and through it reveals the absolute absurdity and grossness of what those are all about. It illuminates the damaging influence they have on forming a young girl’s self-concept.
The Illusionists. This is a documentary so takes a more serious look at how mass media and advertising effect our perceptions of ourselves. And how making us feel insecure in our own skin could actually gain certain companies profit as we seek to buy the products to make ourselves more attractive.
The following website, created by Amy Poehler, has a slew of resources based on female empowerment. Here are some books that relate directly to the topic of self-esteem, body image, and self-confidence for a range of ages. This list includes educational material for adults to use as reference. Great starting point for discussions about these important subjects.
Consider Some of the Techniques I have collected Over the Years
If I do not get a decent amount of sleep, I go completely loopy and it’s just not good. So aside from the usual pieces of advice, (no caffeine after 4pm etc.), sometimes I lay in bed with my eyes closed and start at my toes, working my way up my body sending thanks to each individual part for serving whatever function it does in my life along with some healing white light. It’s a way to get in touch with your body, especially the parts that may be feeling a little strained. I often don’t make it past my waist before I slip into unconsciousness.
An evening bath in water with five drops of lavender essential oil, sometimes with a handful of lavender infused Epsom salts for an extra dose. And the homemade body scrub I use also has lavender in it so there’s a triple dose right there, and I find when I scrub it into my skin, it mellows out my entire body for that extra ‘woosah’.
Another way to just quiet your mind is to fantasize. Usually this will guide me into dreams. My thoughts move through ‘whatever I am fantasizing about. Personalize this to whatever works for you’, into the jumbled beginnings of the dream world.
I read. Reading tires my eyes out and, especially if I am wiped, knocks me out before I get to the bottom of the page. This doesn’t work for everyone however. Some people I know have reported that if they are into the book they will just keep going into the wee hours. This is a particular risk for a night-hawk trying to get themselves into the routine of an earlier bedtime because they need to be waking up early.
Journaling is an excellent way to expel negative concepts about yourself, or free your subconscious thoughts. I found a wonderful blog that offers a free writing prompt download. I plan to use it to lead me into my own therapeutic writings.
I think it is crucial that the movement for women to stop hating themselves keeps progressing. In the face of what the fashion, cosmetic and likewise industries try to force feed, or rather starve us into trying to become. Cheers to not hating ourselves!