Minding Your Body-Image History

As I highlighted earlier, body-image has been on my mind lately. Not only because of group, though that is a reinforcing factor, but because my psyche seems to naturally be flocking in that direction (the healthy direction.) Every week, we discuss a particular topic, and our group facilitator emails us all supplementary readings to peruse (or not peruse) at our leisure. This week, she included a body-image history survey complete with affirmations. Perhaps it seems cheesy or unnecessary, but I’m going to fill it out for the world to hear (or not hear) because I think it will be a healthy thing for me to do and what else would I be doing while getting paid to sit in a room? (homework…cough) Going to throw out a trigger warning, just to be on the safe side, but here goes!

Examine your body-image history. Understanding your past can help you understand how your body image, or your mental picture of yourself, developed and why it is so difficult to accept. Fill in the blanks below.

As a child, I felt indifferent about my body. I described my body with words like: skinny, thin, lanky, scrawny, stick like, flat-chested, small, tiny, pot bellied, big stomach, little, slim, etc. 

As a teen, I felt self-concious about my body. I described my body with words like: chubby, thin, skinny, fat, huge, obese, pregnant, lanky, big stomach, skinny legs, flat-chested, side fat, back fat, overweight, fat stomach, pot bellied, small, ginormous, tall, flat butt, etc. 

As a young adult, I felt uncomfortable about my body. I described my body with words like: out of shape, fat, chubby, huge, obese, pregnant, short-waisted, jiggly, tall, leggy, small-breasted, curvy, stick-like, thin, ginormous, pig, hippo, overweight, weak, unfit, waifish, scrawny, etc. 

As an adult, I felt okay about my body. I described my body with words like:  leggy, medium-framed, fat, huge, thin, average, out of shape, flabby, curvy, short-waisted, tight butt, sexy, pregnant, small, unfit, lazy, etc. (perhaps I’m not quite an adult yet….)

At this moment, I feel okay about my body. I describe my body with words like: strong, energetic, nourished, smart, injured, average, bloated, short-waisted, curvy, sexy, strong legs, big bellied, fat stomach, tall, long-limbed, gazelle-like, etc. 

Growing up, my caregivers, friends, and family described my body with words like: too skinny, short-waisted, on the heavier side, long-legged, etc. 

My caregivers, friends, and family currently describe my body with words like: great, thin, small, curvy, perfect, tall, small-breasted, perfect, sexy

How does your view of yourself differ from how other people view you now and how they viewed you in the past? Clearly, my friends have a more positive image of me and my body than I do. Clearly, the friends I have now are more loving, positive, and supportive than past caregivers and/or family members have been.

Do you have difficulty “letting go” of your past identity or body image? 

Yes, I do. Mainly because I look back at my past “mes” and I remember the negative feelings, insecurities, and associations I had in regards to my body. And I think to myself, WHY didn’t you do more about it? You didn’t exercise enough, you didn’t read enough about nutrition, you didn’t educate yourself, etc. etc. This thought process even includes frightfully twisted “why didn’t yous”……. including (I hate to admit this) thoughts like, Why didn’t you starve yourself more? Why didn’t you start earlier?

Anyway, and basically,  I’ve been self-conscious about my stomach since I was about 8 years old — I always hated swimming simply because I didn’t want to have to wear a bathing suit. Things only got worse when my sister became a gymnast, and I started going to her gym meets, looking at all of the stick skinny girls, seeing her with her 8 pack, etc. I was never active as a child, I was always an “inside” kid and preferred reading to physical activity. I always felt like the “fat one” in the family, since my mom was always super thin. Sorry to talk numbers, but I remember buying a certain size of jeans when I was 11, and my mom telling me that she wore that size all throughout high school. I just remember thinking, “Wow, if Mom was this small as a teenager, and I’m this big just barely into my pre-teens, how huge of a person am I going to be????”

Middle school was just stupid. Regardless of that little voice in my head feeling a bit concerned about being “fat” when older, I knew deep down that I was actually thin. In fact, in middle school, my peers decided that I was so thin I must be anorexic. Cue in the bullying and the name calling, and the cheer leaders calling me anorexic despite my own thoughts that I was huge in comparison to them, I had a fat stomach where they had toned fitness, etc.  Middle school is also where I started eating more, because my grandmother started talking behind my back about how I wasted food and was too skinny. I started forcing myself to finish my plate, ate more junk food, etc…..

Things got a little bit ridiculous in high school where I experimented with various behaviors, some of them healthy but most of them not. No need to go into it…let’s just say, there’s about a 50 pound difference between my “high” weight and my “low” weight, and in high school, I was at any given point at my thinnest (and unhappiest) my heaviest (and also unhappiest), and my most fit (my happiest.) I became a vegetarian, I dabbled with drugs, I started messing with other dangerous behaviors…..I was sort of a hellish mess in high school, though nothing compared to my friends (one of them even got sent away to a girl’s recovery camp. my problems were nothing compared to that!)

Well, high school feels like ages ago, and I am now preparing to graduate college and am 21. I still struggle with food, body image, and keeping my behaviors under control. While I *know* that positive reinforcement and being kind to yourself is important, and I make an honest effort every day to be good to myself and love me, it’s way easier said than done. I didn’t intend for that question to ignite this mini rant/history but basically, body image history is hard to let go of because of my inability to accept the behaviors I did and did not partake in. Make sense? Yeah. It’s dumb. Moving on.

Similarly, people with body image issues make the mistake of thinking that bad eating behavior (mindless eating) equals bad person. Instead it would be helpful to think, “Accept myself, and tweak the mindless eating.” 

Wow, what wise words! Now, some pictures of my dinner/lunch from the past two days just as a breather from all the intense body-image discussion:

 

Dinner I cooked up with my friend Laura — Actually, she did all of the cooking while I sat there and chopped the kale but it’s cumin/cinnamon spiced and baked sweet potato/yam, carmelized onions, and sauteed kale over quinoa and French green lentils 🙂 Super clean. Super tasty. Cooking and communal eating should happen for everyone at least once daily.

Watching Laura cook so meticulously inspired me to do something similar for lunch the next day:

 

Baked sweet potato/yam spiced with curry powder and dill supplementing some sauteed curried tofu and broccoli 🙂 Now back to body image stuff…

Acceptance Exercise: accepting the gif

First, imagine that you are you are at your birthday party, and you have received a gift. It is exactly what you wanted. Picture what this would be (but be realistic.) Write down what this gift is. 

Can I make it known that I don’t really believe in birthday parties? I mean, if someone invites me to their birthday, I’ll go of course and I’ll be supportive of course. But personally, they feel like any other day to me….But that’s beside the point. The perfect birthday present. And I have to be realistic? Is that even in my vocabulary? My persona? Ahem……A 6 month stay in Europe is all that is on my mind lately. If someone could grant me that….That would make my life. BUT back to being realistic. Maybe a nicer food processor? A slow cooker? A nicer blender? Some good knives? A collection of nut butters? New brakes for my bike? A massage? A pedicure? The latter three, really. I’m not a girly girl at all, but my nails could definitely use some tender love and care….as for my bike, I currently ride a death trap.

Now, imagine that at your birthday party you are celebrating a friend’s birthday as well. You can’t keep this gift you love, because it was intended for your friend. An she has accidentally picked up the gift intended for you. You exchange it with her. Write down how it feels to let go of the gift you really wanted. 

Here’s the part where I start to wonder where this is going….and wow. I guess that depends on who the friend is, which gift it was (since I wrote down so many), etc. etc. Here’s the part where I stop qualifying these hypotheticals! Short answer: if the Europe trip was actually someone else’s, I would probably rage up with jealousy and envy..though I would be happy for my friend and wish them a mind-blowing experiencing. I would acknowledge that I probably just wasn’t meant to experience Europe at that point….If it was any of the kitchen items, I would simply tell them that we should make cooking dates a regular thing! If it was the bike or nail thing, I would shrug it off and realize that I’m okay as things are now, and I’ll be okay without it still.

The gift that was meant for you is something that you didn’t really want. Describe a gift you recently got that you didn’t really like. 

Okay, I know these questions are hypothetical, but seriously, does the writer of these questions know to whom they are speaking? It’s me. I don’t expect my friends to get me anything, ever. And when they do get me things, my friends are so amazing that they always get me something that is perfect for me as a person. I guess the last gift that I received that I did’t want was the non-functioning blender my mom gave me, and that’s because the damned thing doesn’t work…..That, or my dad gave me this Christian book that he wanted me to read…..

Consider what you could do with this gift. How would you make the gift fit into your life or be of use? For example, you might give the gift away. Maybe you hold on to the gift anyway in case it might come in handy someday. Write down what you could do with this imaginary gift. 

With the blender, I suppose I could excite my inner DIY and take it apart, trinketing with parts & wires like my mom’s crazy ex-boyfriend…I could keep playing with the cord as my mom tells me to do, to see if the thing could work….I could recycle it, or take it to a junk yard. As for the book — I guess I could read it, for a fresh perspective. I could sell it. I could donate it. I could leave it on someone’s porch, or I could burn it, or I could ……cut it up and make art out of the cut up pages.

Goal: Finding a use for a gift you don’t want can give you inspiration. You can use this example as a guide for how to think about accepting your body. Your body is a gift. You don’t always get the gift you want or ask for, but you can accept it graciously and make it work or fit into your life. 

Wow, now I feel like a giant asshole. Leave it to me to completely not get something, and miss the point entirely. Honestly, the parable is sort of weak. Not exactly very compelling. Not the strongest note with which to end this little exercise….though I’m glad I did complete it.

I guess the most profound thing (so profound) I can take from this is, just like my friends are all so amazing that any gift they might choose to grant me with would be perfect, not only for me generally but for me at that particular point in time specifically, so my body is perfect for me and my designated life path whatever that may be! 🙂 K going to go vomit over my own profundity 🙂 Have a good day.

Fitness Friday rolls in November! (As If)

Just kidding. Except not really. This week has hardly been about fitness. Which is unfortunate. I’ve hardly slept in three days, and my exercise has consisted of a few warm-up Pilates moves, walking to campus, biking around, walking from the grocery store, you know. I did go for a run this past Monday but other than that, it’s been a pretty rough week, mostly because I haven’t slept but also because it was my “mid-terms” week and also because I haven’t been dealing with stress in quite the healthiest of ways.

Moving on. October is over, I can hardly believe it’s November. What a month! I screened a film in a festival, became obsessed with Pilates, became unobsessed (but still interested) in Pilates, became addicted to Green Monsters, decided to start training for marathon-racing, turned in more late assignments than I’ve ever turned in in my life, missed more classes than I’ve missed in my college career, quit smoking, rekindled my love for writing, rekindled confidence in my voice and my writing, watched a lot of Hitchcock, kicked a fever, kicked a wave of depression, kicked a bunch of leaves, had epic kitchen failures, had epic kitchen successes, started blogging again, decided to join a food / eating concerns / body image-themed therapy group, thought about how I’m going to market myself for post-graduation jobs, gained more encouragement in regards to my writing, baked a ton, spent all my money on groceries, joined the Central Coop, and most recently, decided to start making steps at changing my living arrangements.

Long list. I also spent my Halloween in a real haunted hotel. Okay, I don’t know if it’s actually haunted but they say it is and it is sure filled with history and haunted with memory if not ghosts. A friend of mine was screening a film he’d shot at said hotel, and I stopped by after my long twelve-hour day to not only support but also to indulge my childhood fascination with haunted houses, my thoughts on manufactured frights vs. real life hauntings, and to hear some bites of history I just knew he’d be able to provide.

November Goals (Short-List Because I’m Brain Dead) 

1. Run at least 3 times a week! My first week of “training” has sort of been a failure.

2. Do Pilates (1 hour, at least!) at least twice a week.

3. Learn to budget, budget, budget. Just because I stopped smoking and cut back on drinking does not mean I can spend every penny I earn on expensive groceries…..

4. Find a way to stay engaged in my school work and carry this quarter through with a strong finish despite a rocky start.

5. Stop over-eating! Stop obsessing! Eat slowly! Eating is sacred!

6. But still eat.

7. Bake for people.

8. blah. get sleep.

9. Research apartments and hopefully finalize the move / find a replacement for my current situation!

I’m realizing this post has no focus but my brain, honestly, has no focus right now. The main things on my mind are 1. food / eating concerns / body image group and 2. my decision to consider moving

On group: I’d like to post a reflection / illustration piece that gets at the core of my first experience with this but I’m not sure how to do that without breaking anonymity / keeping true to positivity. Not that I had a bad first experience, I definitely didn’t. But when I can figure out a healthy way to convey this, expect that soon.

One thing I will share — one of the group rules is no eating, for obvious reasons, and of course, what happens to me, my stomach starts growling about halfway through the thing, so awkward, I hope I didn’t trigger anyone, God. My stomach hasn’t growled like that since high school when I was sitting next to a guy in history class who I thought was sort of attractive. or something. Stomachs never growl unless you’re in a room full of people and everyone’s really quiet. Didn’t you know that?

On moving: I’ve finally come to terms to the reality that my living arrangements are no longer ideal. To say nothing against any of my house mates, I feel I’m able to be neither as happy nor as healthy as I’d like to be so long as I continue to live as such. I’ve been suppressing these types of thoughts for some time now, because I really can’t afford to live anywhere else, plus, I’m comfortable with everyone, plus moving sucks, anyway, but I faced it head on the other day. I (thankfully) already have someone who’s also looking for a place and I think we could make it work. Hopefully everything goes according to plan, if they do, ideally, I’ll be able to make moving a reality by January at the latest. Apartment living, here I come! (so, I hope.)

Why am I posting when I can hardly think? I do not know. I leave you with this.

Question of the day: What’s your best “my stomach is growling and this is quite awkward” story? The best thing about this experience is, I know it happens to everyone occasionally, as do most “embarrassing” things that I only think happen to me and me exclusively, because we’re all human and it’s sort of beautiful how much we have in common despite being so utterly, often painfully, different.