The Tyranny of Body Image and the Measurement of Self
I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. I easily gain, I use food as comfort and as an anesthetic. And I feel ashamed.
I recently had a photo shoot for a small local magazine. The photos show what I look like. I cannot deny what is the truth of what my body looks like, what my face looks like, what image I present to the world. And here is this image, captured for all to see (as if they cannot see it in person?). Here is the image, that will be published next month, captured and frozen for all to see. The image of an overweight, older woman. The image that is the me that the world sees.
I notice that I focus on what the photo looks like, what I look like. I don’t focus on the honor to be chosen for this magazine, that a friend referred me to them because I have been able to finally express parts of me that I had no time for when working full time. To finally begin to express the writer in me, the artist in me. I don’t focus on the part of me that agreed, with much fear and trepidation, to be part of the magazine, even though I didn’t feel like my story was special. I wanted to encourage others to tell their story, to acknowledge and validate that everyone has a story and their own brand of special that they can share. And to give a message that it’s ok to express this, even though we have been told not to as we compare ourselves to others.
But these last things are not what has occupied my mind these last few days. No, I have focused on the photographs. An image of me frozen in a moment of time that in no way expresses all of who I am.
I think that sometimes I can get fairly deep into denial, avoid looking at parts of myself in the mirror that I don’t want to see the truth about.
But, there it is in a photograph for all to see. For me to see. Going to be published. Seriously?
How many of us struggle with shame about our bodies? As women (and I know that men have their own pain and struggles about these issues, but I can only speak to what I know about intimately), as women, we are taught about the value of looks, of beauty as it is defined by the current societal standards, of unwanted and unloved weight.
To be overweight, to be fat, is to be less than what we are supposed to be. (Well, actually more than, but in essence, less than.) This is not something that we can hide or camouflage, as our bodies are there for all to see, try as we might to wear “slimming” clothes. We cannot hide what is the truth of what we look like.
I ask myself, though, even though it is true that I carry more pounds than I need, that I want to lose weight, that I continually try new ideas to do this, why is shame so deeply connected with this part of me?
I cannot hide my use of food. I cannot hide the layers that I try and hide behind. I cannot hide that I struggle with this. I cannot hide that I am seen as less than and that I know this, on a very deep level. I feel the judgments. The harshest one being my own.
I have internalized the harsh critic, the beratement, the judgments, the disdain. And I fling them at myself. With no compassion.
This hurts. And part of me feels that I deserve this punishment. For being weak and not having the self control to get myself into the accepted shape, even at my age.
Yes, I want to lose weight for health reasons. But, to be honest, the bottom line is that I would like to feel and look better in my skin and my clothes. And let go of the weight of all the judgments that I feel coming at me, both externally and internally.
We are taught to shame ourselves, to hate ourselves, to try and hide and not be seen, to accept the categorization of being less than.
I applaud all the body positive work that people are trying to do these days. It is a step. There is much work to do. It doesn’t take much research to find the disdainful comments that others feel they have the right to make when they see the images of women that are not the idealized form.
Jordan Peterson comes to mind as one example. He clearly writes that the photo of the larger (gorgeous)woman on Sports Illustrated is not beautiful and never will or can be. And although we protest his comments, how many of us abuse ourselves in this way on a daily basis? Is he not verbalizing what our internal judge is already saying? I find myself angry with him for this, yet somehow let myself get away with much worse comments than his toward myself. Toward this body that has gotten me this far in life and survived and struggled and come through so much. This body that breathes and walks and helps me experience what this world has to offer. This body that is a vessel for my soul.
The weight is heavy. The shame is even heavier.
So here is the challenge, I think. How to learn to love myself where and how I am right now, this very moment, in this very skin and shape, even as I try to lose some weight. To accept what is, with compassion. To stop the endless cycle of self shaming which can then lead to further self sabotage. To see myself as I am, as I look, and to see all of me. To see this body that holds who I am and have been. This body that navigates this world. This body that shivers with fear, cold, excitement. The body that feels the grief of loss, the joy of connection, the delight of touch, the bittersweet experience of being alive. The body that breathes, feels, responds, keeps going strong. This body that helps me express my soul through writing, through art, through my eyes, through my smile, through my tears.
Can I learn, on a deep level, that it is ok that we are less than perfect? And that we can love what is, as we keep trying to be the best version of ourselves?
We are human, we are alive, we are flawed, and we are absolutely stunningly beautiful. As is.