My Experience With my Body Image

This blog was written for, and posted by, a friend of mine who writes about body image issues, both in her blog and in her PhD work. You can, and should, check out her blog here: http://femmered.blogspot.nl/

 

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I have been sick recently. I had a high fever and no appetite for a couple of weeks. I lost a lot of weight. Pants I had bought in the spring of 2011 (when I was very sick in a different way) started to fit too loosely around my waist. I could see my ab muscles. I could see my ribs.

 

After my fever subsided, I started, predictably, to put that weight back on.

 

I felt bad about it.

 

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I suffer from depression, anxiety, have low self esteem, and yes, body image issues. These are not things that fit nicely within clearly defined lines. They blend together, feed off of each other, and become parts of a whole person.

 

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When I was 18, I decided I wanted to bodybuild. I created a matrix to measure the nutritional values of some staple foods and measured my diet down to the gram. My mother was worried I had an eating disorder. I worked out obsessively, to the point of taking a cab to a 24 hour gym when a group project meeting broke at 2 am and the school gym was closed. At my physically strongest, I was 5’9”, 175 lbs, with roughly 10% bodyfat. I was deadlifting nearly 400 lbs.

 

I didn’t like myself then any more than I do now.

 

I still catch myself wishing I was that strong again.

 

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I am a victim of self-improvement. I am in a constant state of feeling like I am not good enough for myself. This feeling has motivated a lot of my projects. It also feeds my self-esteem issues. I tried to satisfy both by making a project out of changing my body.

 

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The insidious thing about changing your body is, paradoxically, that it is obvious.

 

If you change yourself emotionally, or mentally, only the few people close enough to you to know your heart and mind are going to notice, and those people are going to see you often enough that the change will be gradual. But if your body changes, anyone can notice. The reinforcement, positive or negative, can come from all the people who see you, from family through complete strangers. The feedback that you get on physical traits far outstrips the feedback you get on metaphysical ones on sheer volume, even if you value your metaphysical traits much more highly. For someone constantly seeking to feel good enough, it can become addicting and entrapping.

 

You get stuck in this feedback loop where you get the positive reinforcement, the attention or praise or body language you crave, so you make more changes, which results in more positive reinforcement. You get stuck on the treadmill and the speed keeps increasing, and the faster it goes, the harder it is to get off.

 

And then all of a sudden your legs quit.

 

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As an eighteen-year-old with low self esteem, I worried that I wasn’t good enough to find love or sex (even with the benefit of hindsight, I don’t know which worried me more). I have both now. I have a richer, more rewarding life than I did at 18.

 

But the old feedback left desire lines in my brain, and nowadays, I feel weak. I feel powerless. My mood suffers. I don’t get the endorphin high I used to get from the gym. I have a partner who gives me plenty of positive reinforcement, but I’ve never handled praise very well.

 

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Since chronic ailments prevent me from working out (or at the very least make it a risky and harmful idea), I spend a lot of money on clothes to try to look good nowadays. I feel good every time I do, and then I feel bad about feeling good about something so superficial. I wish I drew more of my self-esteem from my inner qualities, some of which I think are pretty good.

 

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I think, if I had to guess, the solution lies along a path involving a lot of brainwork: meditation, yoga, mindfulness. I don’t think I can change how I feel about myself by changing who I am. I don’t think there is a “better” me out there that I will be able to love on his merits. So maybe changing how I perceive the world around me and my place in it will work. I don’t really know, but it’s worth a try. I’ve been good, maybe great, in a lot of other ways, and it hasn’t helped.

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One thought on “My Experience With my Body Image

  1. Hi there! First off I wanted to say that this blog post resonates with me. The experience itself may be very different but the emotional and physical pain involved in this process is very similar. It baffles me that we would go so far and be willing to destroy our bodies only so we can fit this standard of beauty to gain some sort of esteem. Thank you for sharing your story with us. I would love for you to check out my blog as we discuss similar issues dealing with body image and the standard of beauty. Thanks and hopefully your life is more enriched than ever! thebeautymatrix.wordpress.com

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