My Body, My Self 

body image

I get this all the time, actually. It comes from someone who reads MyBodyMySelf, comes to my talks, or has known me for a long time. Yes, I have this problem. I think I know why they are surprised.  We are talking about body image and eating behavior, and I am not carrying around a visible amount of extra fat, and I don’t have ribs sticking out of my back. So you can't see it. People say this to me because they believe what I am talking about is a visible problem. But the issue this blog addresses is mostly not visible. It is hidden inside our minds.

Today’s National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports that 20 million American women will be diagnosed with an eating disorder in their lifetime. The 20 million women estimate is up from practically nothing in 1960. This statistic is staggering: one out of every eight women will be diagnosed with a mental illness around their body image and eating where practically no mental illness existed 50 years ago. 

These statistics are relevant to all women because we are all living in the same environment, our diet culture, that is causing the epidemic. All eating disorders have in common an underlying “body image disturbance.” Six of 8 women today live with a similar-in-kind body image disturbance, or simply a negative body image, from living in a time and place obsessed with youth, thinness, and having a perfect body.

We have quite a bit to consider when piecing apart our individual relationship with food and our bodies.  But before we get to working with the individual pieces, we need to re-align our ultimate destination. This is a version of re-calibrating our internal GPS around our body image and eating. Where are we headed?  

The first stop will be intentionally replacing the 30 year old picture of Twiggy or Farrah or whoever you have gnawing in the back of your mind as your model of what you think you should look like. For our generation that came of age in the early days of the feminist movement, the image/role model could likely be you, yourself at a younger time and weight. Or for those of us stuck in food prison, it is most likely a relentless adherence to Twiggy-like a number on the scale. Or it could be her clothing size, that keeps you captive, forbidding you from ever enjoying a piece of bread or dessert. 

With so much emphasis on women’s bodies in our culture, and with all the media images imposing a narrow standard for beauty, it might seem impossible to have and maintain a positive body image.  The following four blogs in MyBodyImage discuss how to cultivate a positive body image using My Body Journal  as a tool to help locate your thoughts around your body. These blogs build upon each other and discuss how to develop a positive body image with discussion and tools centered around the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA’s) definition of a “positive body image:”

Many women spend the healthy years we have being alive distracted from living because we feel shame about our bodies. Many women engage in a tremendous amount of self-judgment and self-punishment around food and weight. Even Oprah, one of the most successful women on the planet, probably goes to bed feeling guilty because of what she ate that day. Time spent being disappointed in yourself can be a remarkable time-sink in a person’s life.  Research shows that the average women spends 31 years of her life dieting. How much time have you spent in past decades telling yourself that your body was flawed? Look at pictures of yourself from those olden days; do you now realize how wonderful you actually looked? From an objective vantage point, you can appreciate the smile on your younger face and look in your younger eyes, and not hone in on just how thin (or not) your legs looked.