Ignorance really is bliss
When you are a child, you are such a brilliant version of yourself. Clumsy, unrefined, unaware, and brilliant. The “reasoning” part of your brain is completely underdeveloped and does not even realize its own ignorance, which is the best part. (I swear, the more I learn about anything the more evident it is that I have so much to learn about everything…. and in turn, the more you know about a topic, the more there is to know.)
Children are able to say and do and be the most blunt individuals at times… and then there is this other part that makes them so deliciously innocent. Most kids aren’t aware of racial differences, economic status, religious conflict, and body image. As you grow, at some point all of this beautiful fog is somehow lifted, and you become a person who judges the book by the cover–whether you mean to or not. Adults haves preconceived notions about people, things, ideas, and beliefs. It is hard to just take something for what it is without deciding something about it before knowing all of the facts. And while this is a good trait for some things, it is a hard one for others. It is a positive trait when you see a red coil on a stove and assume that means it is hot, and that you should not touch it. It is a horrible thing when you see someone of a different race and feel intimidated by your differences, or assume that you will not have anything in common with them.
I have been thinking a lot about body image.
That is another one of those things that most children are blissfully unaware of. You like Sally because she also enjoys making mud pies. Johnny is fun because he climbs trees as high as you like to. You never noticed or cared that Sally is “overweight” and Johnny is “scrawny”.
My friend and I were talking last night and she told me a truly heartbreaking story. She works in retail and heard about a mother who was shopping for her 8-year-old daughter. The mother said that she didn’t dare tell her child what size the pants were that she was buying, because if her daughter gets around 50 pounds she freaks out and won’t eat …. at age eight! My immediate thoughts were, a.) Hey Mom, she learned it from someone… I bet my savings account that it was you and b.) What does the future hold for a girl that is that focused on body image at such a young age? Imagine the hard times that puberty will bring when so many things are changing completely out of your control. It is a travesty.
The conversation about body image continued later that night. We were talking about how sometimes when we see a girl, we wonder if that is how we look to other people. We come from a society that compares everything, and I have found myself for years in a cycle of “Am I as big as her?”. I am terrible at guessing anyone’s weight, so I never think about it in terms of poundage. (Plus, I truly believe that everyone’s body is different and people carry it in different ways, so 160 pounds on one person can look completely different from that same amount of weight on another). I was really bad about this comparing game a few years ago, and even had bits of anxiety sometimes when I would approach a door because I was not certain that I would fit through it. This all sounds humorous, but in all honesty– that was where my mind and self esteem was at that point.
My friend and I for a while now have been within the same basic 10 pound range of each other, and yet I never look at her and think that she is unattractive. I have never seen her wear something and thought “Her stomach looks big in that…” or “She is too big to wear that outfit”. And yet–these are thoughts that I tell the mirror all the time.
I don’t recall how it all started, but I ended up saying that I had felt like I had a neck like Mama June. My friend was laughing and was mad at me for even saying that, because to her it seemed ridiculous, but that honestly is how I have felt at times.
I have huge arms. I always have, even when I was at my smallest. I just have thick, wobbly arms no matter how many tricep dips, pushups, and shake-a-weights I’ve shook. (Note: I actually have never used the Shake-A-Weight…) See exhibit A: large, shapeless arms. I have always been slightly envious of my friends arms, because they are very lady-like and pretty. She was arguing that her arms were barely bigger than mine and I did not believe her. I told her we needed to measure and that she would see that my arms have a good 7″ on hers. Again, she laughed at me and said there was no way that they were even 2″ bigger. So we measured. And they were like an inch, maybe an inch and a half. That shocked me.
Because of my arm insecurity, I am rarely seen without something to cover them. All cute dresses are masked with sweaters, wraps, shrugs, and coverage of some type. Always. No matter the temperature. No matter the season. No matter how adorable my dress underneath is, or how cute the outfit would look without it.
I have really been working on my thought processes lately when I start thinking poorly of myself. I am talking “self love” while I am dressing, putting lotion on, etc. and reminding myself that this is my body, I am grateful that I am able to be an active human, and though it does not look how I wish it did: it is mine and I need to love it.
On Sunday I went to my friends’ baby’s birthday party, and it was 75*, in the heat of the day, outside. Gorgeous. I arrived to the party in a dress and a 3/4 sleeve sweater, to cover my arms. After about an hour of being incredibly hot and uncomfortable due to the heat, I decided that it was okay if people saw my arms. I went to my car, deposited my sweater, and gave myself a quick pep talk about how I am super awesome and if people want to judge me because I have ginormous arms, then that is their loss. (I know to some people this will seem ridiculous: but if you struggle with your body image, like most people do, then I think you will understand that the ridiculousness of a situation does not prevent you from doing it over and over again when you are insecure.) And guess what? I survived. And I enjoyed myself. And it was a tiny thing that represented a big step for me, and that made me feel great.
I feel like my conversation with my friend about body image is exactly how it truly is: I don’t see her and notice her flaws, but when I look at myself– my flaws are the first things I see. I need to start seeing myself how she sees me.
This made me think about the Dove Real Beauty Sketches. Which I love.
Let’s blame society & the media
Cliche, but so true. Body Image is defined by Mr. Webster as “a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others”.
I think that this “by noting the reaction of others” is the part that has led to the worst of our negative views of our bodies. Most advertisement, regardless of the medium (a TV commercial, magazine, an ad on the side of a bus, etc.) directly targets body image. This goes for both genders. Men don’t typically look like Calvin Klein models, and most women don’t look like Victoria’s Secret angels.
And even though I consider myself a strong woman, it is hard to see some things and not feel completely objectified, powerless, and insufficient. They set standards that I will never measure up to. But then once I start looking at them more, I realize that I wouldn’t want to look like them anyway. I want to be healthy, not skinny. I want to be in shape, not anorexic.
So where does this leave me…
I know that this is the beginning of a learning process for me to love my body and appreciate the things that make me unique and wonderful. Because everyone is unique and wonderful. I need to learn that when I am facing the mirror and I see flaws, I have friends and people that love me that see me differently than I see myself. And while I can’t see her yet, it gives me great hope knowing that she is there, and that someone is able to see her.
“Step away from the mean girls… and say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks. Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate? Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others: This is a call to arms. A call to be gentle, to be forgiving, to be generous with yourself. The next time you look into the mirror, try to let go of the story line that says you’re too fat or too sallow, too ashy or too old, your eyes are too small or your nose is too big; just look into the mirror and see your face. When the criticism drops away, what you will see then is just you, without judgement, and that is the first step toward transforming your experience of the world.”