I’m fat! My thighs are huge! I’m ugly! I’m old!
How often do you say these types of things about yourself, either aloud or inside your head? How much time and energy do you spend disparaging yourself and your appearance? Do you think this kind of negative self-talk helps you to change?
For many years, I was my own worst critic. I would criticize myself for a multitude of “sins,” but my most frequent criticisms related to my appearance. I set unbelievably high standards for how I looked, and I would berate myself for not living up to these benchmarks. Whenever I would look at myself in the mirror, all I would see were my flaws; my virtues were invisible to the harsh judge inside my head.
I used to believe that my self-criticism served a useful purpose. I thought that my brutal thoughts and words motivated me to change, and that the judgments pushed me toward productive action. While it’s true that seeing that I didn’t live up to my own standards propelled me to exercise more often and restrict my food intake, there was also a downside to my self-criticism that I didn’t see until recently.
One maxim that is true in many areas of life is, “It’s all relative.” This saying especially holds true in the area of body image. Case in point… Have you ever known someone who lost quite a bit of weight? That person may still be objectively overweight, but chances are that she feels pretty fabulous about herself and is enjoying showing off her new smaller frame.
On the flip side, a person who was previously quite slim and who has gained some weight might feel fat and unattractive even though she still looks shapely and beautiful to others. I have definitely fallen into the latter category at various points in my life.
Gorgeous models and actresses are not immune to body image issues. On the contrary, they are especially prone to disliking their bodies despite being praised and adored by the masses. I recently read two articles, one about a supermodel and one concerning a famous actress, which perfectly illustrated that celebrities are just like us in terms of their body insecurities.
I love clothes… and I hate clothes. Whether I love or hate clothes at any given point in time is very closely aligned with my body image.
If I’m feeling okay (I almost wrote “good,” but sadly “okay” is about as good as it gets for me…) about my body, I embrace the clothes in my closet and the process of shopping for new clothes. Conversely, if I am feeling fat and unattractive, I don’t even want to wear anything besides the workout clothes I wear when working from home each day.
Searching for a Feeling
I have a closet full of clothes, yet I generally only wear a small fraction of them. I have a tendency to be a compulsive shopper (see my post titled “Overspending” in my sister blog, “The Healing Project”) and I’ve come to decipher the reasons why I shop for articles of clothing I don’t even need. I’ve learned that I’m searching more for a feeling than for a pair of pants or a blouse. Subconsciously, I believe that if I can find the “right” pair of pants, I will magically be able to relax and stop hating my thighs so much.
Last weekend, my husband and I went on an overnight trip to Catalina Island. This place holds special meaning for us, as it’s where we were married almost 9 years ago. The island is just a short trip from where we live in San Diego, yet it feels like a world away. We generally try to visit Catalina at least a few times per year, sometimes on short notice when we feel the need to get away.
We were lucky to be greeted with warm and beautiful weather for our short getaway. This was fortuitous given that June tends to be cool and overcast in the coastal Southern California areas (hence the term “June gloom” which is used by locals). Warm weather inevitably brings out young women in bikinis, working on their tans and strutting their stuff along the beaches.
Needless to say, I am not one of these women in bikinis. While I have worn a bikini a few times in my life, those occasions have been extremely rare and punctuated by intense self-consciousness. Nowadays, it is a major breakthrough for me to even wear a bathing suit at all. The usual occurrence is about once or twice a year and I haven’t purchased a new swimsuit in close to ten years. I generally try to avoid occasions which call for swimsuits like the plague, although I once was a competitive swimmer and someone who loved being in the water.