I want to discuss something that is quite personal. It’s something I’ve never spoken about on my blog, and really, it’s not something that I talk about with other people. It’s not something I seek other people’s opinions on. The topic I’m talking about, is my weight and appearance.
I think about my weight and appearance at a high frequency and it takes several forms; I think about it when I think about food; I think about it when I get dressed; I think about it when I have bad posture at my desk; I think about it whenever I glimpse myself in a mirror. Every time I think about these things, I measure myself against what I think I need to be and I can’t help but fall short of those expectations. Confessing how much I think about it is a huge step for myself, and it also acknowledges how far I have come. My appearance and my weight used to consume me.
A while ago, after leaving a very damaging and unhealthy relationship, I hated my body so much that I couldn’t look myself in the face in a mirror. That’s how ashamed I was of my body and my existence. I had learned to cover my limbs to hide my severe cellulite, I would tan my body to try and obscure the characters of my skin. I never used my diet to punish myself; fortunately, that’s never been part of my disdain for my own body. Gradually I have won back this territory. Often I look in the mirror now and I see my expectations of myself and the reality of who I am in perfect harmony. Yet still, I often wish to change things.
So when I look in a mirror, what flaws to I see?
I wish I had a jaw line and less of a pudgy chin, I hate the posture of my neck, I hope that one day I will escape my cellulite, I wish my waist was as small in side view as it looks from the front. I pinch the flesh I think I have too much of, I suck my stomach in and pull my shoulders back. Eventually, I’ll be honest, I will stare at my torso pretending my nipples are eyes, pinch my stomach into the shape of a mouth, and use my belly face to recite Shakespeare.
The key thing I think regularly is: if I was thinner, this or that wouldn’t be a problem. Me. I think this. I’m a size 8 (US size 4). I have a 27inch waist. I’m tiny. I know it’s irrational. I know it’s stupid. I still think, often, that if I was just that tiny bit thinner, those little things that bother me would bother me less. So I invest more energy into thinking about getting thinner to make the problems go away, than getting comfortable in the body I have now.
This is key. So please note this point.
Instead of dealing with accepting my body *as it is now* I believe that a greater level of thinness will whisk me up to the standard I’ve set for myself. I think that if I was thinner, my stomach would be flatter, or my rounded chin would be more defined, and I wouldn’t imagine what it would be like to have plastic surgery. It’s a standard that is always just out of reach. That standard has vanished in some areas of my life as I’ve gotten better. It gets weaker all the time. However, I know it’s not about lowering the standard. It’s about eliminating it all together. If at this point, at a size 8 with a 27 inch waist, I believe that a greater level of thinness is desirable in order to reach the standard I have set, it is brutally clear that *weight is not the issue*. Even though I keep reassuring myself that it is. The cognitive dissonance is hard for me on this. It’s taken a long time to get to where I’m at now, and I’m still working on it, with small successes regularly.
I’ve hesitated about writing this post because a preoccupation with weight, appearance and beauty feels like a first world problem. I have felt that as small as I am, what right have I got to talk about how much I hate thinking about my body. Then I remembered my time in retail.
When I was working in a clothing store, as a size 8 I was the second biggest employee. The other staff were really vocal about all their body flaws and would often stand in the mirror with their size 6 (24 inch) waists, thigh gaps and hip bones, and lament the way their belly wasn’t flat, or their upper arms were too fleshy. This was really hard for me to work around, but it made me aware of a great point: if your head doesn’t appreciate your body the way it is, the size of your waist is irrelevant. Here were girls smaller than I was, still craving the perfection they could never achieve.
Around the same time I met several models, who were incredibly thin, craving just a little more weight to make them less of a target for ‘eat a sandwhich comments’. These were women who were paid for being so naturally skinny, but bearing the brunt of a society angry at being shown only ‘skinny’ women. Can you imagine the horrid pendulum of swinging between self acceptance from industry adoration to self loathing from social shaming and vitriol? No person needs to have the voice inside their head that says ‘you would have value if you just looked less…’ reinforced by complete strangers.
I’ve worked so hard on breaking away from that voice in my head and it’s working. So how did I win back this territory? How is this now only a minor hindrance to my daily life?
1. I buy and wear clothes that make me look like I love my body as it is, instead of wishing my body was something else. If it doesn’t look good on me, I don’t wear it. This means getting cuts that fit my shape well, sizes that are right for me. When you look beautiful in something, it makes it much harder to see flaws, and you get into the habit of seeing the good stuff.
2. I’m a woman, so I look at other women. Specifically, I look at women of all shapes, all sizes, all skin colours, all styles, all religions, those who identify as women, those who identify as something else, and many cultures. I follow a vast array of bloggers. Seeing women that are a diverse array of humanity reminds me of the unique qualities I have and how I contribute to a broader part of society. It makes me realise that world is much bigger than me, and I don’t need to carry it on my own. It is much harder to set impossible standards for myself, when they are undermined by the diversity of the bodies around me.
3. Take photos of myself. Selfies (that I kept for myself), and my regular blog posts have been a great contribution to me seeing and accepting my body as it is. I deleted rubbish ones, and I kept the good ones. I’m now pretty good at being confident with goofy pictures that aren’t flattering. Being okay with seeing yourself, isn’t vanity, its honesty. Seeing constant photos of myself has made me more honest and realistic about what I look like.
So to you, as you read this, I want to say, if you feel like any of the above relates to you, you’re not alone. I know we all experience things differently, but if you’ve seen any part of yourself in this post, know you’re not vain, or crazy. You don’t need to feel like you can’t talk about it, just because of your waist size or your gender. I often feel like a fraud, running a blog with a positive perspective on bodies, and battling this personal mental prison of body shaming. If me sharing this experience has made a difference to you in any way, why not share your own experience with a comment below? You never know who might need to read your perspective to see some truth in themselves.