Friday, December 6, 2013

revisiting body image thoughts from 2010

i've been pretty quiet over the past few months about body image and weight. its something that has been on my mind a lot as i've gained weight during "off season." i haven't written anything here because i was trying to force myself NOT to focus on the weight gain. i was trying to break my thought patterns of negativity associated with weight and the negativity i place around the way my body looks.

the other day i was going through my google drive and i stumbled upon something i wrote in 2010. i had posted it originally to the blog i was writing at the time. when i re-read it for the first time since then i was just floored at the honesty and the wisdom the woman i was in 2010 had. though i now understand the importance of self love (something i didn't understand when i saw a nutritionist in college), nothing i could write now could better explain how i still feel about my body. nothing i could write now could better detail my thoughts, my feelings and how i am trying to change those thoughts and feelings into healthy, happy versions. 

so i figured i would share what i wrote back then. no edits, no changes. i know its lengthy, but for me, it was worth revisiting because body image is a serious topic for me and i never want to forget where i've been with it and where i'm trying to get to. i am on a journey to no longer seeing "weight" or my body's shape as "worth". the road is long and bumpy but i will get to where i need to be.

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"she's just big boned"
original blog post from november 17th, 2010


i woke up yesterday as i normally do; hit the snooze button for a solid hour, reluctantly rolled out of my soft, warm nest that some would call a bed, lumbered over to a hot, steamy shower, cleansed the sleep off of my body and huddled into a tropical orange towel to dry the wet off of me. i stood in front of my bathroom mirror, ready to begin the morning primping routine when i paused for a moment, studied the image of myself before me and thought three of the most day-ruining words in a woman’s dictionary, “i feel fat today.”

normal day over.

in college, i was instructed to remove these words from my vocabulary. after giving into the frustration i was feeling over my body and poor student eating habits, i made an appointment with the nutrition counselor at my university’s health center. i was nervous and excited to meet with the nutritionist; nervous because i had never opened up to anyone about how I felt about my body, excited because i was hopeful that this meeting would start the positive changes i was looking for in my life. i had been going over in my mind for days leading up to the appointment exactly what i would say to the counselor; preparing for the tears as we talked about why i was unhappy, diving into the origins of why i felt the way i did and looking ahead as i shared my innermost desires of what i wanted to look like. this was a big step for me, to open up to a complete stranger and admit that i desperately needed help. how the counselor received me would make or break how the rest of the relationship would unfold.

i was finally seated in the nutritionist's office, nervously fidgeting with my hands and the fringe of my sweatshirt, not knowing what to be prepared for. the conversation opened up slowly, and she asked why i came to her to make an appointment. i tried to explain, in the best way that a very guarded person could. between a barrage of uhmmmsuhhhs, pauses and throat clearings, i finally blurted out that i was unhappy with myself and i needed a plan to make positive improvements in my lifestyle. i was waiting for her to break out a nutrition guide and build me a personalized meal plan, telling me what portions of what i should be eating and when. i wanted her to share with me quick and impactful workouts i could do as a busy college student. what i didn’t expect, nor want, was what actually happened.

the nutritionist went to her book shelf and pulled out a book called, “do i look fat in this?” by jessica weiner. she began to go into a lecture about body image and accepting (and loving) myself the way i was. i started to zone out, feeling very exposed and unsafe in her office. she instructed me to read the book, and come back and visit her in a few weeks. i agreed to her request, but left the office feeling worse than i had when i entered. this wasn’t what i wanted. i was miserable and looking for direction on how to make good changes in my life to feel better, to feel healthy. i didn’t want a lecture on self love, nor did i need it. what i wanted was a plan and what i got felt like a band-aid.

curiosity got the best of me, and i did read jessica’s book. while i found it insightful and enjoyable, i didn’t feel any better about myself or the situation i felt i was in. i wanted change, and what the nutritionist seemed to be telling me was that i couldn’t change and i should learn to accept that and find happiness in my imperfections. well, if you’ve ever met me, you’d know that i refuse to settle for anything less than what i deem is the best. accepting something that made me miserable as it was just wasn’t an option. as a result, i didn’t make a follow up appointment with the nutritionist and decided that i would keep (what i viewed as) my problem to myself.

jessica’s book talked about exploring the underlying reason why we declare the “i feel fat” expression. she argued that it was physically impossible to determine what “fat” actually feels like on your body from day to day and that when you say “i feel fat” there’s something else that is triggering your emotions, something like frustration or unhappiness with a different aspect of your life. it’s easy to project emotions from issues that are pushed to the back of our minds to a subject that is socially acceptable to pick apart (weight, body image), which is why we funnel our feelings into a non-existent feeling of “fat” rather than whatever is really bothering us. i contemplated this thought for a long while, and while i do agree to some extent that other emotions can cause expression through poor self-image, i can certainly say that as i looked in the mirror yesterday morning, the cheeks on my face felt the way a chipmunk looks when his mouth is full of nuts and my stomach felt bloated from one too many pieces of lasagna on sunday night.

i don’t want to have a poor self-image, or hate the way my body looks. i want to be strong and confident and embrace the way every curve on my body moves no matter what i am wearing. i hate not feeling beautiful enough for my boyfriend or comparing myself to every athlete, model, actress, singer or woman under the sun. i want to love myself in the same light my friends and family do, but no matter how many pounds of fat i lose, or how many pounds of lean muscle i tone, i always see the same round version of myself staring back in the mirror.

how do i change? how do i get this image of myself that is burned into my brain to disappear?

an article in this month’s cosmo seemed to be too fitting to my thoughts around my body image and why i have been unable to dig myself out of seeing my body in the same negative light for years. the article is called “beat your secret confidence killer”, which explains that we form beliefs about ourselves based on what other people tell us. the article goes on to say that the beliefs, whether true or not, get so stuck in our minds that they affect our self-image and we never question them.

i didn’t have to read too far into the article before i immediately thought back to the horrible years of my life that was 5th and 6th grade. i thought about the awkward transition from my safe and sheltered elementary school into a combined school with students from all over the area. meeting new people, recognizing the first feelings of needing to fit in, it was overwhelming, and i wanted nothing more than to be liked by everyone and accepted into numerous friendships. my pre-teen years were unkind to me, however. i grew very quickly and was taller than most of the boys (and girls) in my class. i had broken a few bones which rendered me inactive and as a result i put on a lot of weight, more weight than was flattering for my frame. i had no idea how to do my hair, wear makeup, or dress the way the other girls did (mostly because i couldn’t fit into the clothes). but i never thought anything about it, never thought there was something wrong with the way i was, just that i was different.

i quickly learned that i was wrong. and what i can understand now was childhood bullying, at the time it was learning and seeing who i really was from the cool kids who knew better than i did. they weren’t afraid to tell me that i was fat or not pretty enough to be included in their circle of friends. they weren’t afraid to suggest that i play the role of the boat from gilligan’s island in a class skit because it was “just my size”. they weren’t afraid to humiliate me in front of my friends until we were all forced to laugh about it because we didn’t know how else to respond.

elementary school was easy; you made friends because you had an awesome imagination and were willing to share your toys. grade school was the reality check, and no one saw me for the creative, friendly girl that i thought i was. all they saw was fat. and from that moment, that’s all i began to see too.

part of growing up for me was forgiving the people that had made my grade school years, and the way i felt about myself, so miserable. after all, they didn’t know better at that age and they were just trying to fit in, too. it doesn’t make the bullying okay, by any means, but i’m no longer angry at them and no longer feel like a victim. a positive. but what i can’t let go of is the image of myself that was burned into my brain, the “fat girl” that was all people saw when they looked at me or thought of my name.

when i said “i feel fat” yesterday, i meant it. but i can now realize that the mirror i look at will always be distorted to the way i’ve been trained to see myself, regardless of whose mirror i am using or how my body actually looks. i’m not sure how i can dig myself out of this vicious cycle of thinking. as the article in cosmo suggests, recognizing where the insecurity is coming from is the first step to getting over it. if that’s the case, then i’m well on my way to a long journey of self discovery, love and appreciation (and i think i’ll keep the article by my mirror, just in case).

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this Alicia. I, too, struggle with these issues. Even though the intellectual side of me understands it, the emotional side of me still struggles. I just wanted to let you know you are not alone and I admire you for sharing.

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    1. Thank you Stephanie, I really appreciate your kind words. It is too easy to feel alone, which makes us hide and our feelings intensify and become a larger demon. Just sharing makes the demon shrink - I hope for others hearing someone share makes their demons shrink, too.

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  2. I needed to read this and although I cannot really articulate much right now, I really appreciate you sharing. I grew up with these same issues and some days I feel over it and happy with myself and some I don't.

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    1. I think it will always be a battle, but at some point, the low days won't be as low and the good days will outweigh. I'm looking forward to that :)

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing this, Alicia. I think we all deal with this is some way, shape, or form. Your statement about 5th and 6th grade really hit home with me as I was bullied in 6th grade as well - those kids shaped my self-esteem for years, and it wasn't good at all. I appreciate your openness and honesty. This was a great read. Thanks again for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome, Karen. Thank you for taking the time to read. It is amazing how just a few words can shape you into the person you are, but I know I would not be the same without what I endured at those ages. I am better for it now, but it took me awhile to get there. I hope you are too.

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  4. Wow, what a powerful piece. Everything you say is so true. I love looking back and seeing how far I've come, but I also love looking back and realizing that the girl I WAS might have been wiser than I gave her credit for a the time.

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    1. We don't give ourselves enough credit in either light, so it is nice to finally be able to see that I have things going for me now and that I did back then, too.

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  5. this is such a great post, Alicia! I'd love for you to join me for some Healthy Habits : )

    http://myknowledgegenie.com/healthyhabits2014

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  6. Ahhhh. I just randomly stumbled upon your blog (haha I don't even remember how(?) at this point?? I think I was stalking Oiselle running ambassadors in MI? Not sure. I just moved to Ann Arbor from Philly, so I had to find some local runners/bloggers on the interwebs...). Anyway, felt like I had to leave a comment on this post. Usually I don't read superlong posts people write (i can be v. lazy), but this really struck a cord with me. You articulated some things about body image that I myself have struggled with for a long, long time. And it's both comforting and kind of, almost...bizarre to read somebody else's exact same thoughts and feelings about something that feels so personal and lonely at times. So, yeah. I dunno. Thanks I guess! :)

    Also, just wanted to say hello to a fellow runner in the area! yayy running!

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    1. Hi! Welcome to the area and thanks for sticking with the long post :) I totally now how annoying long posts can be, sometimes you just have to get things off your chest. I appreciate you doing so - knowing there is someone out there who has felt like you makes you feels less small and alone!

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Getting comments feels as good as a freezing cold glass of Gatorade on a hot summer day. So don't be shy - share your thoughts & opinions! - Alicia