How I Feel About My Body

This post is a rather scary one to publish. 

This post discusses negative body image. If that's a topic that would trouble you to read, please turn back now. I won't be offended.


*


I have spent over a decade** feeling bad about my body.

There is this voice in my head. Sometimes its louder, and sometimes its quieter; but it plays the same mangled comment reel over and over again. Sometimes, I try to drown it out, with healthy eating and exercise and concentrating- focusing really hard on what others say about it. Sometimes, I think I have succeeded.

Then I hear it. Judgmental whispering, 'look at those rolls', 'you're so much bigger than everyone else in that photo', 'how could you eat those things', 'Urgh your arms are disgusting'***. What its really saying is 'You Are Not Good Enough'. This is something I've talked about before but I wanted to cover it specifically in the domain of body image.

This kind of feeling can be incredibly difficult to communicate to others, particularly if they don't feel that way themselves. My partner- and others I have dated in the past- see beauty, cuteness, and sexual attraction. Therefore when I try and communicate this feeling to my partner, he doesn't really understand. To my knowledge, he has lived a whole life mostly free of thinking about his body. To him, his body is a thing that works. Even if he comments on getting chubbier in the tummy, he lacks the emotional connection that I have to my own weight progression- the highs when it drops and the depression when it rises. There's just not that emotional valence there. Others of course know exactly where I am coming from. As soon as its brought up they cling to it, 'Oh God I'm not alone. YES. THIS.'.

My friends see long blonde hair, green eyes, and an athletic figure. My parents and aunt tell me I'm beautiful sometimes. I have been lucky that a partner has never been cruel to me about my body. However the influence of others hasn't always been so kind. The comments on food, "should you be eating that?"; the food wariness, "watch it, those'll make you fat"; the perception of themselves, "oh god look at my legs"; and the implicit approval of the concept of skinnier being better. There are comments from friends and family that are part of the aforementioned comment highlight reel. Comments I will never forget. These are the comments that my brain chooses to use as guided missiles when I already feel down. I feel exceptional anxiety getting changed or trying things on in front of some of these people. There are people in my life that I never truly breathe out in front of. I feel secondhand anxiety in changing rooms, perceiving judgement in the eyes of other women I encounter.

Some of this body commentary is socially ingrained. I have been listening to women insulting their bodies since I was a child. Since I understood conversation. Not liking one's body is the status-quo in the groups of women I know. People exchange body-hatred cards- their stomach, their legs, their arms. I remember vividly hearing a friend shrug that she, "really liked" her body. I was floored. I hadn't realised, not really, that that was an option. I can count two people who feel that way in my group of closer friends. Two.

Honestly, I haven't perceived the media as being a huge problem. Whilst I sometimes look at picture spreads and think, 'Wow, I wish I looked like that', I don't think they fuel my personal insecurities. I'm sure they do in others. Many others have written very eloquently about how the media effects them. Everyone is different.

More important than the perceptions of others, are my perceptions. I wish I could take all of the nice things that people have said (and presumably therefore think) and believe them. But I just can't. I wish I could retroactively have these feelings wiped, sunshine-of-spotless-mind style, from my brain. Because the problem is in my head now. Its too far gone and too ingrained. Stuck in there through some kind of conditioning. When my brain catches something- a roll in a photo or an ounce of pinch-able flesh viewed in a mirror- I feel sad, and sick, and disappointed in myself. I actually tend to feel worse when confronted with my body alone than when I'm with someone. With someone I can see more of what they see, my perspective shifts towards theirs.

You see, my body and I have not historically been friends. I have treated it badly and called it names. Ostracized it in a way that has made me believe in my own criticisms. I have pointedly ignored it in mirrors, part starved it then fed it junk in secret. I have dreamed of bodies with pointed wing-like shoulder blades, and razor-edged hipbones, and slightly pointy knees, and a willowy insouciance. Because to me, my body shows off my inadequacies for the whole world to see. Advertises that I eat things that aren't Kale. That I don't exercise every day. That sometimes I eat chocolate biscuits and crisps. That I'm not as wonderfully, Instagram-ably, in control as I would like to be.

And then there's the secondhand guilt- I feel embarrassed; and stupid; and pathetic; and shallow for caring. I'm intelligent. Someone loves me. How can I allow myself to feel this way? Its near boring thinking about this kind of thing, no one gives a damn about the width of my arms. I'm a feminist for feck's sake- everyone, quick! Love your body right now! [However, see this excellent post about that dichotomy] I should know that since I eat reasonably well and exercise its all fine. That I am a healthy person. That I should accept my body. I am also conscious that there is no way I could look that would make me go, 'Great! Totally sorted! I feel fantastic now!'. That there could exist a perfect body for me is nothing but grown-up form of magical fantasy.

Recently, I have got so much better. I have no specific reason to feel better but have noticed that this has a direct and obvious correlation with my fitness level rising. My SO has noticed my confidence climbing slowly upwards. I feel the strength in those arms that I have spent so much time and energy hating. Those arms can pull me off the floor onto an incline bouldering wall. My powerful thighs propel me up hills and drive forward effortlessly in sprints. I can hold a 2 minute plank. My abs may not be beautifully visible, but they can do 200 reps with relatively little pain. That core holds me steady.

Some of those emotional words are starting to lose their hateful sting. Am I fat? No. Do I have body fat? Well yes, of course. I'm a human being. Does it even matter? No, not really. Would I be a little better at running if I had a little less weight to carry? Yes I would. These statements are factual, like they were before. But they have lost their hurt. They aren't currently a weapon I and others can use against me. I have also embraced other actualities: my back size will always be a 34, that's just the size of my ribcage. Even if I wanted one, I'll probably never have a thigh gap. My pelvis just isn't angled that way. I will never have underarms that are as fat free as a VS model's. Firstly, cause they photoshop those... secondly because my body loves storing fat there and spot reduction is a myth.

Does this change of heart mean I love my body now? No. But, I'm not sure I want to love my body.

Think of it this way: I'm not sure I want to be that emotionally invested in it. I'd prefer to quietly respect my body, which I think I'm moving towards. Respecting its abilities. Respecting it by giving it good food. Challenging it with motion, then giving it a break with relaxation and recuperation, We can have mutual respect without loosing sleep about it. I still get the whispers in my head. I still get caught out by a perception or a comment that makes me feel terrible, and feel like I've been kicked in the gut. But I'm also noticing that these moments have clear correlations with the times I feel out of control or sad in other ways. Or a clear correlation with eating badly or being tired. I talked to my SO about my upswing in mood and he added, "Well, you are happier now". That explains a lot. The bad parts of my psyche like to kick me when I'm down! Makes it a little easier to say, "You lot, shut up."

I don't love my body. But I'm starting to respect it.

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I don't have any specific questions. Thoughts?

* I felt pretty dang powerful bounding about in the snow with someone who understands me.
** A decade. Jesus.
*** Throughout this post I used quotation marks " to reflect things I have literally heard said, and inverted commas ' to show general concepts.

21 Comments:

  1. Not a lot of women unfortunately escape feeling like this at some point in their lives (for longer or sorter depending on many factors). I felt like that from the age of 18 to 25 a lot, less from then on because I started to do sport (road cycling) and my body became something that could DO something instead of something that just was there to look like something... From then on the more active and fit I became, the more I started to love my body. Now at the age of 38, I finally love it. I happily walk around in a bikini even though I have no boobs :) and no waist. I don't give a f*ck though - my body can DO amazing things these days and nothing else really matters.

    Of course I have 'fat days' just like every woman but these pass fairly fast these days.

    My tips - stop reading magazines, stop people when they criticize you, even family, by responding to comments about eating something with "heck yeah I should eat this, I'm carbo loading" or "no, eating this muffin will not make me fat, please get back to worrying about your own body only."

    (God I hate everything the media and other women are doing to women's self esteem :| I could blog and shout about it on and on and on... )

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    1. Thanks for your reply MrsB!

      "my body became something that could DO something instead of something that just was there to look like something" - I love this line! Absolutely true.

      I do now stop people commenting on my body. If I get too frustrated I just repeat "I am healthy, I eat well and exercise" until they stop talking!

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  2. I think finding a balance with your body is one of the hardest things to master; I’ve had a terrible relationship with mine, from being very overweight (but content for many years) to obsessively dieting and hating my for not looking like the girls in the ‘Fitspo’ adverts.
    Now the older I get the more accepting I am; I understand I’m not built in a ‘slight’ way and I’m never going to be ‘light’ but I love my strong legs, I may not have visible ab’s but my tummy is flat. My lack of boobs mean’s they don’t get in the way when I run and unfortunately people have to talk to my face…

    I loved your summary about what your body CAN do, I love how my leg’s carried me up huge mountains, how my fingers where once strong enough to grip a flaky/tiny hold and that my legs can slowly but surely carry me along half marathons.
    Personally I hate it when people feel entitled about to make comments about other peoples food; I do eat a lot because I train a lot and I need the fuel however I don’t want a ‘you’ll get fat’ comment thank you very much!

    One thing I do know is that the diet industry would die if we all woke up and said ‘You know what, today I am just going to accept ‘me’ and love ‘me’…

    If you respect your body and enjoy its capabilities then I’d say you were in a good place.
    I know you’re not looking for compliments but from an outsiders point of view you have an excellent figure and make sure you keep enjoying all the wonderful thing’s it can do.
    Katie
    x

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment Katie!

      I love your list of what your body can do too :)

      People seem to feel very entitled to comment on bodies and diets of many other people. I do now challenge people if they talk about me, but think I'm gonna start doing it when they talk about others too.

      Also thanks for your compliment :) x

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  3. As a guy (to get a different perspective maybe?), I know I will never look like one of my religiously gym-going contemporaries. However, I am also never completely satisfied. I am merely (or gladly?) content.

    Part of what leads me to exercise is the knowledge that by doing so, there is a chance my body may improve as opposed to the improbability of it doing so with a sedentary lifestyle. Likewise, when I am in a bit of a slump with exercise and I am not feeling the love of sport, the thought of warding off decline in image can be enough to coax me along every now and then. That said, these are not my only motivations. When I think about it, I am also pushed by the knowledge of the health benefits that I am aware that I will gain later in life by staying in good physical condition now (note: not necessarily 'in shape').

    I'm sure it was not always this way and that this train of thought has come out of a certain maturity. I have become less worried about things like core definition over time and am just happy to be at a level of fitness greater than average.

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    1. Absolutely love hearing a different perspective, thanks Anon!

      I love the idea of just appreciating the chance to better yourself, and look to how you're helping your future.

      Thanks for commenting!

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    2. I was going to pretty much post this reply myself; it generally sums up how I feel, and I totally understand where you're coming from in your post SS, especially the highs & lows bit.... I'm a skinny guy, and my legs are PROPER chicken like, but because I'm skinny (part genetics, part exercise) people think I should be happy with my body.

      I guess it just goes to show that we all have things we don't like about our bodies no matter what shape or size we are. Finally, I think you're very brave for this post :)

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    3. David- loving hearing some guys responses too!

      Absolutely, I think the crazy thing is for most people there's no way they could look that would magically make them happy- we gotta embrace our genetic and social diversity! (Science nerd alert!)

      Thanks for commenting :)

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  4. Love this. It's like you've broken into my brain and stolen my thoughts. Like MrsB, I now look at my body as something that can DO stuff rather than how it looks. I started my fitness journey because I wanted to lose weight to 'get that bikini body' and look good in skinny jeans. But now it's so much more than aesthetics. And also, yes, we might run better if we had a bit less weight to carry, etc. but really... I want to live my life and enjoy exercise and everything it gives me, not strive for a view of 'perfection' that is quite frankly, unattainable in my normal, busy, chocolate-eating, occasional sofa-sitting life.

    Beautifully written too, chick. Well done.

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    1. Glad it resonated Tess! Thanks so much for reading my little corner of the internet x

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  5. Great post and beautifully written. Great point that you made about not realising that it was an option to love or really like your body. It seems to be a women's rule that you cannot 'love' your own body, that because it doesn't match up to those in magazines, on TV, it is somehow flawed.

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    1. Thanks sarah- yeah I can't believe how much that hit me. It almost seemed IMPOLITE to like your own body. Its like the scene in mean girls!

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  6. Following on from my twitter reply where I said :
    "I stopped worrying about my body after the age of 30, in the last year the voices of dissent have cooled it. I'm happy to live in my body as it is, and every time I start getting critical I'm able to tell myself to STFU - this body can carry you 73 miles in a race; give it some respect!"
    I think the stronger I get in my fitness/ultrarunning 'journey' (puke) the more I am learning to take my body as it is. I've been able to do some incredible things with it in the last couple of years and I think with the clarity of age I am beginning to finally recognise these achievements. Perhaps if I was skinnier I wouldn't be able to run 73 miles? Perhaps if I had those desireable skinny-muscley thighs and arms, I would have spent more time lifting weights and less time out on the hills. Do I want to do that? Nope.
    Secondly, something else I've been thinking about lately is how I will feel about myself when I'm older. When I'm 80 I will be inhabiting an entirely different body - I'll finally have those skinny thighs, but because of old age and muscle wastage. I will fasten trousers loosely falling around my hips and long for the days where I had junk in my trunk and big quadzillas built strong by hours yomping up and down hills. I will sorely miss the days of going out to run for hours on trails when I struggle to walk to the supermarket alone. I may pull my skin tight to stretch out the wrinkles and regret all that time in the sun, but I'll remember fondly what it was like to have beautiful, smooth, plump healthy skin and the feeling of the sun upon it as I enjoyed training outside.
    Our time in these beautiful, young bodies is limited, and I flat out refuse to hate them any more.

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    1. Wow Rhona I love this. What a beautifully written set of thoughts!

      As I age I hope to embrace that too but I also agree we should absolutely be embracing it whilst we are in this stage. Thanks for commenting.

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  7. We're about the same age, I think and everything you've written rings so true in my head.
    I've spent the past decade - despite always being sporty and never being fat - hating my body for not being the right things - not thin enough, not curvy enough, not tall enough, not petite enough... and it's only been really recently that I've actually been able to look in the mirror and appreciate the bits that are good, and not just focus on the parts that I really don't like, and will never look like I want them too (ie little legs and little boobs!). I'm still not quite in the headspace to be able to think "I love my body for what it can do - I don't care what it looks like", but I'll get there - we'll get there.
    Thank you for writing this, as it's nice/not nice at all to know I'm not alone. We'll get there!

    Cathy xx

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment Cathy! I definitely have days that I'm not in that headspace either, just hopeful im moving towards it. We WILL get there xx

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  8. This is an excellent blog and mirrors what so many women and men think about their bodies. Up until the age of 23 I was a size 14 bordering on a 16. One day I just had enough and knew I needed to start cutting down - I was never full or knew when to stop. I got down to a size 10 and have managed to maintain this (now 37 years old) but it's always hard work for me. I often feel that I have a love hate relationship with exercise - trying to balance doing enough but also giving my body a rest - I never get the balance right. If I am being honest I probably have an obsession with exercise and can never make my peace with not doing something everyday. I loved reading this blog and the comments as it reminds me how powerful, patience and loyal our bodies are to us. They turn up for us the next day no matter how hard we push them our how unkind the words and thoughts are that we put their way. There is no one I know that would put up with that continually and for that you have reminded me that I need to show mine some compassion, kindness and acceptance - thank you Scallywag!

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting Gillian.

      Congratulations on your maintained weight loss. I understand that that kind of balancing act could make it seem like an ongoing fight- you and exercise vs The Body.

      I absolutely agree that we say things to ourselves that we would never and could never say to another person. I am also trying to show myself "compassion, kindness and acceptance"

      Thank you for reading and adding to the discussion with this lovely comment :-)

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  9. I don't know why I haven't seen this before, but I've only just found it! What a brilliant piece - so well written. It's so empowering to know there are so many others out there who are starting to come around to looking at their bodies in terms of achievements rather than aesthetics. I hope the more of us who share this message, the more women will start to do the same :)

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    1. Thank you :) I hope to keep with that message, and also to keep believing it myself!

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  10. No shame anyway! Every girl is insecure about her body. Constant work and progress are the keys to everything

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