My thoughts on body image, the words we use, and what I wish we’d stop doing

Well-Being

I can vividly remember the moment when I first was introduced to the notion that my body, as it was in a given moment, could be considered “unacceptable.” For whatever reason, when I was in middle school, I attended a doctor’s appointment with my dad. It was a routine appointment.

While sitting in the office, the doctor, who also happened to be a family friend, attempted to awaken my dad to some of his health issues that stemmed from being overweight. The doctor informed us that if you could pinch an inch of fat on your stomach this meant that you were overweight, and that you must take measures to rectify it, if that were the case.

I felt the tone and the judgment that came along with being overweight. I felt the underlying truth that he was insinuating that it was “bad” to be this way. And as I sat there, taking in that information, I froze in panic, wondering if I fell into the category that the doctor was talking about.

When getting into the car to go home, I reached over to buckle my seatbelt, and noticed as I looked down, that I indeed had a roll of flesh, that folded over my shorts, and that fell into the category of this newly learned “one inch rule.” My heart sank, and I would never think about my body and my health the same way again.

It was at the same time that we, the collective middle school girls that I knew, had deemed Jennifer Love Hewitt the absolute “it” girl. She was in all the cool shows and all the best movies, and appeared in all of our fashion magazines. All of the girls wanted to be her, because she seemingly had it all. Fame, success, beauty, boys. And she had the body.

I remember one day flipping through one of my magazines, and coming across an ad with Jennifer. I stared at the ad trying to figure out how I could make myself look more like her. I could do my hair like her, wear my make up like her, and then it came to how I could make my body look like hers.

In that ad I noticed so distinctly, how visible her collar bones were. I raced to the mirror, checking to see if I, too, had that same quality. I was dismayed when I realized that my collar bones, had a little extra skin, and didn’t in face show in the way that my idol, Jennifer’s did. It was from that moment, that I installed the belief that if I could see my collar bones, I would be as skinny as Jennifer Love Hewitt, and in turn I would be considered as beautiful and as acceptable as she was.

These two stories are the most impactful moments that shaped my relationship with my body, my health, my relationship with myself, my self-worth, and ultimately my ability to love myself. I had concocted completely distorted beliefs of what it meant to be healthy and beautiful, all before I could even drive a car.

Since that time, I have spent minutes and hours and days (maybe even more) of my life consumed with being thin enough and pretty enough. It would be fascinating and devastating to learn how much of my time and energy has gone towards wanting to make myself smaller. I’ve held firmly the very gross but very present belief that skinny equals good, successful, desirable, and worthy. I never believed that who I was, or how I looked was ever good enough.

I’ve probably attempted every single weight loss gimmick. I’ve gone to every workout class. I’ve read every trendy nutrition book. I’ve emanated celebrities and mentors in hopes that if it worked for them, it will work for me. I’ve battled disordered eating, binging and purging, and maneuvered my way through a chronic illness that left me feeling completely disconnected from my body. 

The time and effort that I have spent in my life, trying to fit into a mold of health and beauty, truly overwhelms me. I used to think that I was very unique in these disordered and unloving thoughts about myself. I thought that there was something very wrong with me because I was wasting so much of my time and energy worrying about appearances, when I could be doing so many more productive things with my time. Over the past year, I’ve become overwhelmingly certain that every single woman has these kinds of thoughts, at least at one point or another. 

Isn’t it insane to think about the fact that every woman living on this planet has entertained thoughts of self-loathing and self-hatred? I believe that every woman has felt like they aren’t enough at one time or another because their bodies don’t fit a certain societal norm. Millions of people feel unworthy and unlovable because of it all. Who hasn’t wished at some point in time that she were born into a different life and/or a different body?

It leaves me so sad and mad and frustrated thinking about this. I wonder why and how these beauty norms came to be. Who made these rules and standards? And why? What was the motive and intention? What would life be like if none of us, ever felt the pressure to be smaller or skinnier? How would life be different if we didn’t place our value on our appearance? What would our world look like if we never felt like we have the pressure to change our physical appearance, and if it was just completely status quo to be accepting of yourself?

I speak to all of this from a vantage point of a woman, because that is my experience, but I know that men experience this, too. We’ve been taught to believe that skinny is good and beautiful is valuable. We speak to it, every day, to our loved ones and those around us. We reinforce it, all the time.

How often do we catch up with a girlfriend and our first inclination is to make a comment on how skinny and subsequently, amazing she looks? How often to do we make judgments based on the fluctuations of the appearances of others? How often do we control and manipulate and ensure that photos are taken from the good angles that make us look the skinniest? How many of us have edited or photoshopped ourselves in photos to diminish aspects of our bodies that we just can’t stand the world to see? 

These values and our language when it comes to body image and health are so incredibly damaging. Just this past week, I was at an event and was approached by a woman. She looked at me in surprise, as if she didn’t recognize me, and blurted out, “Michelle, is that you? You’re skinny!”

Based on my reaction, which was a blank stare and a dropped jaw, she continued to explain that perhaps I couldn’t be me, maybe I was someone else, because she hadn’t remembered me looking this way. And then of course, went on to say that this was all meant to be a compliment.

We, as human beings, have to start taking responsibility for the words we use when speaking to one another regarding body and image and appearance. We have to put the onus on ourselves to right these very damaging and dangerous wrongs. We have to break these archaic patterns of what is deemed beautiful and acceptable, and see the world through a new lens.

Please, think twice before making a comment about someone else’s looks, appearance, body or health, even if you believe it to be complimentary. Women (and humans in general) are so much more than the external. There is so much more we can compliment. There is so much more we can discuss and find value in.

Please remember that you never fully know what is happening for someone else in their lives and in their own battles with self-acceptance. Had I experienced that conversation from this week, even a year ago, it would have utterly devastated me, and it would have propelled me into a dark and dangerous spiral. Please, stop comparing yourself with who you think society wants you to be and just own and love exactly who you are.

These days, at almost 34 years old, I intend every day to love myself, no matter what. I work every single day to untangle the messy, disgusting messages that were fed to me so many years ago. I make immense effort to be mindful of the words I use when describing myself, and others.

I place so much emphasis and intention on rewriting these lies that I’ve believed for so long, and I strive to take care of myself in a way that feels aligned and healthy for me and my journey. I’m not endlessly attempting to achieve some sort of external perfection, but rather a state where I feel comfortable, happy, and at home within myself. Where my inside feelings match my external appearance. 

I believe that we are in a time and place where we can shift the way we talk about health and body, and that we can change these biases and beliefs. We as a society, don’t have to live this way, and we have the power and ability to change it. 

Who wants to join me?

xo, Michelle 

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