Body Image: How Do You Feel About Your Body?
A poor body image has haunted me since high school. Throughout my childhood and middle school years I was very athletic, skinny and even sported the iconic Dorothy Hamill haircut. As a result, I was often mistaken for a boy. I’ll never forget my seventh grade social studies teacher who referred to me as “he” several times, so I was mortified and extremely self-conscious
every time I walked into his class. However, I also loved being athletic, especially when I raced and often beat everyone — including the boys.
Puberty didn’t happen until I was 15 or 16, and when it hit, I wasn’t ready. I was uncomfortable with my changing body, especially as an athlete, because the additional weight (even though it wasn’t much), raging hormones, and uncomfortable PMS made me feel awkward and I wasn’t able to perform as well. My changing body was a part of growing up but that didn’t matter to me because I was no longer rail-thin and able to beat the boys, so I grew to eventually hate it. My body was betraying me.
It wasn’t long before every New Year’s resolution of mine focused on losing weight — regardless of how much I weighed at the time. I was desperate for the curves and PMS and bloating to disappear. As I’ve grown older and wiser, I’ve learned to stop trying to control nature and accept what my body looks like, especially over the last year and a half when my entire body completely and suddenly rebelled against me. It’s funny because as much as my body hurts and I feel like an alien in my own skin, I’ve learned to finally appreciate it. It took my body breaking down for me to appreciate it regardless of what it could do or how much it weighed.
It seems crazy, especially when I reflect on the days when I could run a sub four hour marathon or finish an ultra. I was never fully satisfied with myself or how I looked at the time, despite my body being strong enough to accomplish really cool things. Today I can barely run 5 miles at an 11 minute pace (and all the while feel pretty terrible) but mentally I am so much stronger. I’m not exactly sure why. I suppose some of it has to do with experience and getting older, ultimately realizing what a miracle my body is. I value it now, whereas when I was younger and coming into my own I was never satisfied with the way I looked. I continually compared myself to others and never appreciated my body for what it could do. I generally hated it for what it couldn’t do — like win every single race or look like the models that graced the covers of magazines. Being a strong girl wasn’t in. Being super skinny was. But no one took into account how much the female body changes and how we’re all unique and how it shows and affects us. Just look at all of the professional runners sharing their struggles with eating disorders and how this mindset nearly destroyed them. Thankfully they’re hoping to change things by speaking up.
Throughout my years of teaching and coaching, I’ve witnessed too many young people (even some of the fourth graders I used to teach) trying to live up to unreasonable standards because of what they see online. Having a healthy body image, one in which we value and appreciate our bodies and take care of them, is uncommon. There are so many young kids and teenagers who are obsessed with dieting in order to lose weight in unhealthy ways, who become preoccupied with how they look compared to everyone else, and suddenly they’re in the throes of a full-blown eating disorder. At the other end of the spectrum, a shocking number of kids are completely sedentary and feast on junk food, and as a result are overweight and setting themselves up for long-term health issues. ( And too often, we fat shame instead of trying to compassionately educate.) There are too many young people (or people of all ages for that matter), who fall on either extreme.
We have to learn (and teach our kids) how to NOURISH our bodies so we can thrive. We have to view exercise and nutrition as a vehicle for good health. If we’re constantly striving to look like someone else, we are always going to fail. We will never be satisfied, and we’ll never be healthy — physically or emotionally.
It’s taken me decades to fully grasp this and there are days I still struggle. However, I’m educating myself so I can understand what’s happening with my body as it changes once again, and instead of resenting it for aging, I’m taking care of it so I can feel good and live a productive life. Thankfully more people, especially women, are speaking out and sharing their struggles with body image, hoping that their stories will help the younger generation (and us older folks as well) embrace a healthy mindset about how they approach food and fitness and appreciate what their bodies can do.
I’ve been reading books and listening to podcasts on this topic and it hits home. Falling into the trap of hating our bodies because of how we look compared to others, or because we’re frustrated with them due to aging, injury, or loss of ability, happens to too many of us. Hopefully what I share here and in upcoming posts, sparks reflection on how we view ourselves and how we’re teaching others to view themselves. We need to learn how to be healthy and regard our bodies as a temple created by God. We’re supposed to value it, not idolize it. We’re supposed to take care of it, not destroy it. By creating dialogue, we can find avenues to support each other and change the culture. I’ll be sharing my thoughts and experiences in the next few posts. I’d love to hear your experiences with body image. Let’s start the conversation today.
#BodyImage #EatingDisorders #Perimenopause