Body image update

I've noticed something interesting over the past few days. I recently returned to Michigan for a short visit (and a reminder why I moved down South with the sub-zero temps), and so I was wrenched out of my usual routines. Perhaps one of the most interesting realizations has been about body image. It's a big woe of mine, and it isn't made any easier by the fact that I can't shake the feeling that I'm a vain, vapid idiot because I constantly check my body in any reflective surface. A mirror, a pane of glass, a spoon, the toaster, the car door, you name it. The body checking is an OCD-ish behavior, and I get that, but I feel terribly emo when I keep whining "But I'm so faaaaaaaat!" I got so sick of constantly blathering on about how huge my stomach/butt/thighs were that I stopped journaling for about a year.

My body image still sucks. That hasn't changed.

What has changed is how much I care. I don't go out of my way to find reflective surfaces (or to avoid them, depending on my mood), though I do still check if I catch my reflection. Usually, I will look, wrinkle my nose, and then get on with my day. I still think about my body a lot, and I am often acutely aware of the layers of blubber that seem to coat my body. It's not fun, and I often have vague thoughts of a do-it-yourself liposuction with a couple of bendy straws and my Dustbuster. But these thoughts and perceptions don't rule my day. They're just thoughts. They come and--more surprisingly--they go.

I'm still rather conscious of the fact that my body perception is tremendously off. I met with several former colleagues, both of whom said I looked very healthy and rather thin. I wanted to ask them if they needed a new glasses prescription because there was no way I was thin. None. Yet I'm more perturbed by the fact that I still can't provide an estimate of my body shape and size than the fact that I feel like a [insert favorite large barnyard animal here].

This was much of the way things were before the formal onset of the eating disorder- I thought I looked reasonably ginormous, but I didn't think about it all too much. In more despairing moments, I thought to myself that I'm going to be a fat loser, so I may as well just accept it. But mostly, it didn't really bother me on a day-to-day basis, perhaps because I only ever saw myself as the "fat girl" so it didn't matter. The irony was, of course, that my height and weight both tracked at the 60th percentile, so there was no way I was the school heifer. But of the many things that generated teen angst and despair, my weight usually wasn't at the core of it.

And it isn't really anymore. My body is what it is. I don't have to like it--and I frequently don't--but I don't have the kind of blind seething hatred and desperation to look differently, either. I know this isn't the end of the "fat days" and the curses directed at my thighs. But it's not everything anymore, either. It's not worth the effort to change.

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mariposai said...

You're so right - it's not worth the effort to change...I too still feel big and distorted often, but then I tell myself that although I may not like the way it looks, my body is at least healthy and functional, which is the most important thing. I'd still feel fat even if I lost weight, so I'd rather feel this way and be able to function.

I guess it's important to appreciate what we have....

Sarah x

Cathy (UK) said...

I have never met a woman who is happy with her body size or shape. My two closest (female) friends talk incessantly about their 'fat thighs' and 'bingo wings', how they intend to lose X number of pounds, how they have just discovered a diet that has 'saved their life' - and how life would be much better if they had a 'perfect body'.

Neither of these two women has ever had an ED, neither is overweight and it is only they, personally, who observe their flaws.

In contrast, I have a very long history of anorexia nervosa, am largely weight restored, and have far fewer 'body image' issues than my two closest friends. That is not to say that I especially like my body; rather, I just don't see a link between my 'body image' and my former ED behaviours. When my BMI was critically low, and I could plainly see my emaciation, I still had a tremendous urge to restrict food and to over-exercise.

Given that the majority of people have 'body image' issues, and some people with EDs have few such issues, I question the widely held axiom that EDs are disorders of 'body image' and could/should be treated using 'body image' therapies.

N.B. I recognise that you are not attributing cause and effect in your blog Carrie - i.e. you are not necessarily suggesting that EDs are triggered by body dissatisfaction, but I am interested in people's viewpoint...

Anonymous said...

Weirdly enough, given that my anorexia wasn't driven by bad body image, in recovery I have had a couple of dodgy moments with it. I finally got to my target weight this week and promptly freaked out! It's interesting to me because objectively I can see that I couldn't be visibly bigger than I was a pound ago, so I am able to put it down to some sort of OCD related magical thinking. Equally interesting is the fact that once I finally found the guts to write about it,, went away. I ended my blog post yesterday by saying that I HAD to find a way to deal with it because the anorexia had screwed my life up enough already, and today I am magically normal size again. Brains are weird. That's my highly scientific explanation!

I get what you mean about still not seeing yourself as you really are but just not caring as much though. I still get eating disordered thoughts and behavioural urges but I just ignore them now, tell myself that they are the product of an illness and I'm not going to buy into them anymore. They were huge deals when I was ill, it was like every food or weight related thought that drifted through my head was absolute fact, but now I just sort of mentally shrug my shoulders and move on. It's kind of cool :)

Anonymous said...

It definitely is worth the effort to change- I feel similar sometimes, sometimes shockingly though I find myself actually liking and appreciating my 'newer' body which is something I never in my wildest dreams expected would happen- let alone once gaining weight. But, in all honesty the obsessiveness I had before literally blinded me from everything else I'm experiencing now in life.

Anonymous said...

It definitely is worth the effort to change- I feel similar sometimes, sometimes shockingly though I find myself actually liking and appreciating my 'newer' body which is something I never in my wildest dreams expected would happen- let alone once gaining weight. But, in all honesty the obsessiveness I had before literally blinded me from everything else I'm experiencing now in life.

Kim said...

You know, I never used to appreciate this in-between state. I thought I'd either hate my body and do something about it, or I'd not hate my body. I didn't realize I could hate my body, but not care. Like you, I'm in a phase of not really LOVING my body, but I'm not abusing it either. It is what it is. I used to have very OCD body checks that I did, but I haven't done them in a while now, and the desire to do them does get less (though on anxious days, I find my hands moving, with minds of their own, to do the checks and measurements). I think it's important to recognize that your perceptions are off for now; one day, they will probably be more in line with reality (or that's the hope, right? I'm still not sure what to expect body image-wise with recovery).

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I'm a science writer, a jewelry design artist, a bookworm, a complete geek, and mom to a wonderful kitty. I am also recovering from a decade-plus battle with anorexia nervosa. I believe that complete recovery is possible, and that the first step along that path is full nutrition.

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nour·ish: (v); to sustain with food or nutriment; supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to cherish, foster, keep alive; to strengthen, build up, or promote


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