My mother told me I would regret it.
Shaving my legs. I went all the way up to mid-thigh. She was mortified.
At the time, I took her comment quite superficially. “You are just trying to keep me from growing up,” I bristled.
My 13 year-old wisdom was quite vast.
In 2014, I remember her comment with some irony. I had started the journey of becoming what our culture mandated a woman should look like. Maybe that’s the trip my mom regretted me beginning.
I took diet pills in my 20’s, given to me by a doctor. I can remember my heart beating erratically. Feeling incredibly pumped up. All to lose weight. It’s amazing I didn’t stroke out. Oh – and I wasn’t overweight to begin with. Maybe 5 pounds. I had been anorexic in college, weighing a little more than 100 pounds.
I believed I was enormous.
I had a good guy friend who called that doctor “Dr. Death.” He hated the fact I was taking the pills.
I had what I now term “eating disordered thinking.” Restricting food was a part of that. But many young girls and women deny that they have “eating disorders” because they don’t strictly fit the criteria. They eat “healthy” – often a euphemism for restriction. They still have their periods. They don’t binge (or not often). They don’t regularly purge or maybe not at all. They may not over-exercise, although that might be up for debate.
Eating disordered thinking means that you never get the critical voice out of your head that you are overweight. Your body is an object that needs to be changed, whittled down before it is acceptable.
It is almost impossible to be a woman in our culture without picking some of this thinking up. It’s literally everywhere. 20 years ago, Ellen McGrath wrote a book, “When Feeling Bad is Good.” She discussed that the farther you were from the cultural norm, the more likely you were to feel an innate form of mild depression due to cultural bias. A “good” kind of depression if you understand it in that context.
If a woman, you needed to be white, married with kids, skinny, young, obviously heterosexual, and if working, have a job that was at that time, a traditional job for women.
The worst? A 58 year-old gay, overweight, single, childless, Hispanic female plumber.
Some things have changed in 20 years. Not as much as we might like to think. Especially not in the body image department. There is obvious bias against being significantly overweight.
It’s over-correction to negatively obsess about your own body.
What can we do?
1) Work on your own body image distortions. Don’t pass it on!
Every time you say something negative about yourself, about your body, you maintain the myth of perfection. Realize you are a role model. Your daughters (or sons I might add), your nieces or grandchildren will absorb your self-loathing, even if you eat normally. They will do as you do, not as you say. Start finding things about yourself that you can like. Absorb the nice things people say to you. If you really struggle, find some help from a therapist.
2) Buy products from companies that are trying to confront the myth of perfection.
There are finally companies, like Dovc’s Campaign For Real Beauty, that are using real-sized women as models and are preaching the power of self-acceptance. Others choose older models, not 15 year-olds to sell cosmetics. Or aging products! Support them. Ask local boutiques to do the same.
3) Stop the madness in your own social group.
When you and your friends get together, and too much time is spent talking about dieting or the latest exercise craze, gently point out that this kind of conversation is damaging rather than helpful. Encourage discussions about other things! Build a network of friends who are about the business of liking and accepting themselves. If it works for Oprah, it can work for you.
I still shave my legs by the way. My eating disordered thinking is something I continuously work on.
So far, I am winning that battle. It’s important.
Please join me.
If you enjoyed this post, please comment and/or send it on! What have been your own struggles with body image? I would love to hear! If you have any questions that you would like answered personally, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will get back to you!
As always, thanks for reading!