*This is an excerpt from one of the books that I am currently working on writing. Enjoy …
About a year ago, one of my closest friends said to me “I never hear you talking about body stuff.” This may not be a revelation for some, however we are talking about me. I talk about a lot of things, especially things that are taboo, unconventional, risque, controversial. But she was right, I rarely ever talk about body stuff, not even with my closest friends.
That moment had me examining the way in which I had completely kept all of my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, fears, insecurities around body image solidly in the dark for most of my life.
Shame Researcher and Vulnerability Advocate, Brene Brown, says that Body Image is the deepest place of shame for women. And that nearly all women experience shame about their body at one point or another. When I heard her mention this on a podcast interview I was shaking my head emphatically in agreement, because it definitely is true for me.
I found this excerpt from an article she wrote:
“After interviewing over 200 diverse women, it became very clear that there are no universal shame triggers. … Body image happens to be the one issue that is the closest to “universal” with over 90 percent of the participants experiencing shame about their bodies. Body image also serves as an invisible thread that runs through almost all of the ten shame categories. In fact, body shame is so powerful and often so deeply rooted in our psyche that it actually transcends the appearance category and impacts why and how we feel shame in many of the other categories including identity, appearance, sexuality, motherhood, parenting, health, aging and a women’s ability to speak out with confidence. What we think, hate, loathe and wonder about the acceptability of our bodies reaches much further and impacts far more than our appearance. The long reach of body shame can impact who and how we love, work, parent, communicate and build relationships.”
I realized just how deeply true this was for me because a mere four days ago I came across a video about the ‘ugly truth in beauty magazines’ and it brought tears to my eyes.
Despite my usual staying quiet and silently suffering around body image, I decided to speak up. Because here is the thing, shame cannot exist in the light, it can only exist, and even thrives, in the shadows.
I wanted to do different. I was ready to quit hiding my head in the sand, ignoring this huge pain point for women, hoping it will go away some day.
The following is what I wrote on my Facebook Page, in conjunction with the sharing of the video:
“It absolutely breaks my heart that we get these messages and are bombarded with them day in and day out from when we are little.
Truth be told, I started taking diet pills when I was 12. I had already heard twice as a kid growing up that I looked pregnant.
(Although I was in hindsight a pretty average weight and build in my childhood, I was teased on two different occasions by ‘mean girls’ who asked me if I was pregnant or how many months I was. It shattered my self esteem.)
I had such a distorted image of my body. I wanted to be skinny and pretty. Dieting, excessive exercise, and thoughts of liposuction ruled my twenties.
Then there was the issue of not having large breasts and contending with the thoughts of “Should I get a boob job?” Some super fucked up shit to wrestle in order to come to terms with what it is to be a woman in her body.
These magazines and the beauty industry are complete garbage. I haven’t read them in years and don’t ever plan to go back.
I’ll come up with my own fashion, thank you very much. Last but not least, I will own my own sense of beauty.”
After that I was going to take a nap and ended up crying. I began to touch my body and say “I’m sorry”, which had me cry even deeper. I felt such empathy and compassion for the ways in which my body was neglected by my own hands. My poor body that for years I wasn’t able to love, but hate instead. The more I let myself feel it all, the cries turned into sobs.
It brought back up memories of all of those times I felt ugly, fat, horrible, unattractive, etc, etc. Times I would pinch my underarms, pull at my stomach, grab my cheeks. It was painful to see the extent of unhappiness I felt and the completely inappropriate ways I treated my body.
Simply put, I wanted my body to be anything but the body that it was.
Yet I felt trapped in this body of mine, that was nothing like the body society said I should have in order to be adored, wanted, desired, liked, admired. So I became abusive towards it.
For nearly two decades, I yo-yo’d with my weight and went in and out of treating my body like shit. I said mean things, deprived myself in various ways, overate especially when the food was free, worked out obsessively, didn’t work out at all, took diet pills and fat burners throughout, got fake tans to look leaner, felt self conscious and judged myself when going out to a bar or club.
I think my rock bottom moment was when I got some speed from a friend and would snort a line or two a day hoping it would help me become skinny.
All of this I did in the shadows. All of it I hid from the people I loved. All the while I felt isolated, alone, sad, and in a lot of ways hopeless that it would ever change.
The cycle for me would look something like this:
Feel unhappy with my body. Realize that I ‘totally slacked’ and now carry a bunch of extra weight. Have a really hard time getting rid of it. Feel unsexy, unladylike, and like a loser (pathetic). All of that snowballs into “Who would ever want me?” Get back into a diet and exercise regimen with a vengeance. Slim down. Think I look decent again. Something triggers me like a break up or stressful situation. Emotionally eat and stop working out. Gain weight. Feel unhappy with my body all over again.
A vicious cycle that would come and go for years. I’m not going to lie, I still experience really mild versions of these feelings and thoughts from time to time.
These days I am tapping more and more into the anger, the injustice, the cruelty that is taking place in our society around what a woman’s body should and shouldn’t be like. I wish we could ban this ‘ideal’ around beauty, so that we could end the suffering altogether.
Beauty magazines are worse than heroine, alcohol, and cigarettes combined. They do nothing but traumatize young girls and have them hate their bodies or wish their bodies were different … and for what??!!
It has taken me most of my life, but I have come to love all women’s bodies – all types, shapes, sizes etc. I wish that was the message being communicated in these beauty magazines:
That all women are beautiful and special and unique, all bodies are to be loved and adored.
Here is the other thing I have come to realize a lot more as of late, men suffer from body image hurts as well. It is not the same as what women experience, however they are brainwashed about this shit too and take on what is expected of them around their physique, sexual stamina, penis size, height, weight, attractiveness etc.
We all hold so much judgment, shame, and unrealistic expectations, around our own and other people’s bodies. It’s time to stop the insanity, don’t you think??
**To get on the waiting list for my upcoming book “Sex, Money, and God”, click HERE!
Photo Cred: Isaiah Stephens