Body Image Problems: Who’s to Blame?
I reject his touch, his love, all for the sake of a few pounds.
The diatribe against my body begins.
“I’m gaining weight.”
He listens. Then he sighs.
“You look great,” he says.
“I’ve gained three pounds and I can’t lose them.”
How much of my life have I wasted obsessing over a few pounds?
“I don’t care.”
“But I do.”
“You’ve got to stop.”
“But I can’t.”
“You can,” he says, “but you won’t.”
I flinch again – this time because of his words, not his touch.
They cut through me, their simple truth.
I haven’t forgotten those words. They come to haunt me when I’m tempted to shrink away from my husband or pick apart my body.
I’ve given a lot of thought to body image and why so many women struggle with it through the years.
I’ve searched for someone, something to blame.
In college I wrote a research paper on the television’s portrayal of females and how it affected college-aged women’s body image. I conducted primary research as part of the paper and randomly selected college women to complete a survey about their television viewing habits, their perception of the actresses on popular TV shows at the time (like Friends). I also included questions that analyzed how they felt about their bodies. The results were shocking and oddly comforting to me at the same time because I didn’t feel so alone in my body angst. The majority of respondents strongly agreed with the statement that television actresses were unrealistically thin; yet, a similarly high number of respondents strongly agreed that they often compared themselves to these same actresses.
We compare ourselves to unrealistically thin women.
Scarier still, more than 30 percent of the respondents agreed they would give up 10 years of their life to be 10 pounds thinner.
Ten years of living for 10 pounds.
What’s wrong with this picture?
A whole lot. Obviously.
But there’s something wrong with the picture in my head, too. And the media didn’t draw this distorted picture either. I did.
Back then, my research was proof for me that I’d been right to blame the media for my own problems with my self image and my eating disorder.
Of course, there were other scapegoats. My former, chubbier self and the cruel teasing I endured when I was soft around the middle and not what any sixth grade boy would consider pretty. In college, I blamed the boy who broke my heart. Sometimes I blamed my perfectionist leanings, which certainly played a role in my desire to stay thin and to resort to unhealthy habits to keep the scale in check, including any mode of purgative measures to keep me below a certain weight. Starving myself, running through a stress fracture, taking an entire package of Exlax in order to “cleanse” my body of ugly, nasty calories, and forcing myself to vomit many times a day.
I felt so powerful then. When my life felt out of control, it was easy to turn to the number on the scale as a way of feeling in charge.
I could not make people love me, but I could make myself thinner.
Eating disorders and any body image problem are more complex than simply wanting to look a certain way, and all of these pieces of my past and personality probably contributed in some way to my eating disorder. And so did the unrealistic images portrayed in media.
Why should I find my “inspiration” in twenty-something women airbrushed and/or carved from silicone?
But should I be spending so much time thinking about myself, my flesh, the way stomach feels against the band of my skirt?
You can, but you won’t.
The truth is, when it comes to my body image and why it hasn’t always been the healthiest, I can blame a lot of things.
I can blame the media and the barrage of airbrushed beauty.
I can blame society for suggesting women’s power is found in their curves and their beauty.
I can blame the jerky men who made me feel like an object and spent way too much time looking at me instead of talking to me.
I can blame my former self, that chubby girl nicknamed “Miss Piggy.”
I can blame the relics of my eating disorder.
I can blame my husband for not understanding. During past body image discussions, I’ve been known to lament, “You don’t understand.”
And the men we love and the men who love us probably don’t completely understand why we are at war with our flesh.
But neither do some women. I can blame them, too, for not joining in on the body bashing. (Or I can at least be envious of them for their inner peace and the loving self-care they gift themselves with.)
I can also blame the women who might understand, the women lost in an obsession with dieting, good and bad foods, who compete to be the fairest of the fair.
I can blame the scale I wasn’t supposed to step on.
But I have to take some of the blame, too, because what my body image really is more than some social construct is the way I see myself in my head.
Maybe it’s time I take some ownership of my past body angst and start blaming myself for looking inward instead of outward, for believing I’d be better somehow if I dropped a few pounds when my dignity does not change with clothing size, for spending more time beating myself up instead of building myself up, and for being so absorbed in self-hate, which really is a deviant form of self-love, instead of paying attention to others, especially those I love. Especially those I love who are hurt by my body pummeling.
You’re beautiful, he tells me (and so does He, always) more often than I deserve. (There I go again.)
It’s time I start believing that. It’s time we all shatter the funny, carnival mirrors in our minds that twist and distort the way we see ourselves. If not for my own sake, then for our spouses, for our children, and for the Author of Beauty whose designs are to be praised, not condemned.