My Body Image Journey

If you asked me today how much I cared about/thought about my appearance, I’d probably give you the same answer I would’ve a year ago: far less than the average American. Sure, I had things I was sensitive about. When I was a kid someone made an off-handed comment about my thighs being fat, and to this day I still only wear jeans or longer shorts that cover that area. But once I put those on, my thighs were out of my mind. I thought about my appearance almost solely when I got ready. Even several months ago, I’d look in the mirror to make sure I was presentable in the morning, and that was about it. I liked my body just fine because it did most of what I asked it to.

I had intentionally disassociated myself from Thin modelthe Twiggy media definition of beauty.  Women on the runway and in commercials were never the models for what I wanted my body to be. After all, my rounded calves and thick thighs helped me to sprint and maneuver around other rugby players, my moderately bulky arms let me carry heavy objects, and my wide hips and ample chest gave me the ability to give and sustain life. I didn’t need to be thin because I was powerful.

So, when I started seeing posts proclaiming “Strong is the new thin!” I was naturally stoked. That was me. I was strong! As I began to workout more and more, I also started reading more online blogs about the best exercises to build a six pack, how to improve your chest muscles, and proper training nutrition. These posts came with pictures, and unlike the pictures of Twiggy-esc models, I really wanted to be like these women.

I started thinking about it a lot. What had once been about improving my athletic ability slowly morphed into wanting others to see how I was improving myself. I would look in the mirror before I ate breakfast and see almost the abs I wanted. I just needed to do more sets. During the morning I would worry about whether I was exercising enough and whether I’d be able to stave off my desire to eat excessively.

Little MeAh, eating. I have an interesting relationship with food. From a young age I’ve been proud of the fact that I can eat a lot. Like really, a lot. When I was in third grade and weighed a mere 43 lbs, I managed to beat all of the 5th grade boys in a pancake eating competition.  My eating abilities haven’t changed since then.

And I don’t just eat a lot, I relish it. Food is one of my favorite things. I could wax on for hours about the beauty of properly roasted asparagus, the joy of freshly plucked fruit, or the correct amount of cayenne pepper to add to everything (a lot!)

But my new interest in my body has produced a lot of guilt in my most enjoyable activity. Now when I go for the second helping of chili and cornbread or help myself to a piece of tiramisu, I always do so with a nagging feeling that I am ruining myself. Not my body, myself. Then I have the guilt of feeling undiscplined. I should have been able to resist that donut. Was that third bowl of soup really worth it?

This post was hard to write for a couple reasons. Firstly, it is just generally difficult examining something about myself that I’m unhappy with. I just began to consider this a couple days ago, so I’m still having those moments of pain when I recognize how I have changed. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, several of my friends read this blog. That might not seem like a huge deal, but I have a very specific image of myself that I try to put out there: a young woman who is self assured as has progressed beyond such superficialities as physical appearance. So, this is an exercise in radical honesty with myself, my friends, and, well, anyone who happens to read this.

On a more positive note, I really do like some of the changes I see in myself. I’m developing healthier habits and exercising a good amount. I’m just struggling with how to maintain these habits and this drive while giving myself the love and allowance that I need. After all, reducing my calories and increasing exercise are by no means health necessities for me. At 5′ and 105 lbs, my BMI is solidly within the healthy range and I also have a good amount of muscle. This work I’m doing is to feel fulfilled. So I need to figure out how to let myself feel that.