You’re sitting in a café having coffee with a friend. Every few minutes you surreptitiously tug at your top so it doesn’t cling to the contour of your stomach.
You receive an invitation to your school reunion. You’d love to go but feel you can’t because you’ve put on weight and you worry about what people will think.
You regularly scan your body in a full-length mirror, thinking “God, look at my thighs/belly/insert other body part here”. When you’ve examined all your “defects”, you mutter a conclusive “ugh” before walking away from your reflection in disgust.
What’s the driving emotion behind all these behaviours?
We tug at our tops because we believe our bellies are shameful. We don’t want to see people we haven’t seen for a while in case we feel the shame of their judgement. We obsess over our reflection looking for “evidence” of our shame – inevitably we find it in all the parts of our bodies we deem unacceptable.
You don’t need me to tell you about society’s relentless obsession with appearance, thinness and “looking good”. It’s everywhere. Attempting to hold on to a sense of self whilst navigating the shark-infested, body-shaming waters of social media is a challenging experience alone.
Now, I could give you a bunch of statistics about how the number of people struggling with eating disorders has increased dramatically in the past however-many years. I could provide you with figures on how many people are currently attempting to diet. I could tell you the percentage of women and men who report dissatisfaction with their bodies. But I’m not going to.
Because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is you.
Whether we like it or not, we live in a thin-obsessed age. The crucial thing is how we deal with it.
Because we have a choice.
We can surrender to the body-shaming bullshit that says only thin bodies have value and continue to shame our bodies for the rest of our lives. Or we can decide to reject it, commit to appreciating our bodies and set ourselves free.
Pick a side (I think you can probably tell which side I’m on).
If you’ve decided to stick with Option A and keep focusing on the pursuit of thinness at the expense of your health and sanity. Good luck. You can stop reading now.
But for those of you who have chosen Option B – good for you. Here are a few ideas for you to consider:
Put in a body-shaming boundary
Body-shaming messages, like “before-and-after” images on social media, are incredibly triggering so protect yourself as best you can. I know this is easier said than done because they’re everywhere but it’s good to put in a boundary and reinforce it if necessary. It’s OK to take yourself out of a conversation at work if it turns to dieting or switch off social media if it’s getting to you. Other people may not understand the path you’re on, but you do and that’s what counts.
Focus less on “looking good” and more on authenticity
When we’re obsessing over our appearance and what’s “wrong” with it, we forget who we are. We ignore everything else we bring to the table – our warmth, humour, strength, passion, resilience, sensitivity, uniqueness – need I go on? You could be the most gorgeous-looking person on the planet but if you lack authenticity what is there for people to connect with? Know your identity beyond your appearance – that’s what endures.
Practise gratitude to your body regularly
It would be great if I could sit here writing this post telling you how much I love my body and how it looks. But I’d be lying. Although I’ve come a staggeringly long way from the time when I really couldn’t look in a full-length mirror at all, I’m not immune to what Geneen Roth calls a “Fat-and-Ugly Attack”. When this happens, I tell my inner bully to do one and immediately list three things I’m grateful to my body for. For me, there’s no better way to restore the balance (it also serves as a reminder for me to practise gratitude more often).
I know that it can be hard to appreciate our bodies if we feel they’re letting us down. But, as fellow blogger Caz from Invisibly Me demonstrates, it’s possible to value our bodies even when struggling with chronic illness. Caz’s blog is full of insight, inspiration and humour. In her post from October last year, “World Ostomy Day”, she explores her “ability to better prioritise the need for self-care and appreciation of my body rather than just focusing on appearances” (click on title to read).
Body-shaming messages may be rife but we don’t have to perpetuate our own shame cycle.
Genetically, we’re not all built the same, it’s ludicrous to think we should all look the same. It’s not for our bodies to conform to some projected ideal and the more we refuse to be ashamed of our bodies, the more we turn the body-shaming tide.
Having a dysfunctional relationship with our bodies is like having a best friend who’s unwaveringly loyal, reliable, helpful, responsive and considerate but who we treat with utter contempt.
They deserve better. So do we.
“Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?” is the focus for this month’s eatonomy group on Saturday 29th June. For more information, please see the Community page. To book a place, please use the Contact form.