There’s a mirror in my bathroom that I call “the skinny mirror”. I probably shouldn’t call it that because I know the boys have heard me refer to it that way, but whatever, I’ll work on it. This mirror is awesome. I’m not sure how it works, but it’s a little like a fun-house mirror and it seems to slightly elongate one’s shape and therefore makes one appear, well, skinny. It’s done wonders for my self-esteem. Even if I know it is an optical illusion.
I’ve laughingly joked that I almost have body dysmorphia, except in reverse of how many people seem to experience it; I walk around thinking I look better than I actually do because of this damn mirror. If I need a dose of reality, I have other mirrors which are happy to give it to me.
But I know body dysmorphia isn’t funny or to be joked about. This is what leads to lifetimes of unhappiness. Eating disorders. Addiction.
Our society is so flooded with negative messages about body shapes and sizes that way too many people obsess over their perfectly normal, healthy bodies. Or maybe society is so flooded with messages that a certain body shape or size is desirable because that body shape is what is used to sell stuff, whereas other shapes are not as good.
I had a sad discussion with a friend today whose 13-year old daughter was in tears over the “extra skin” on her belly. This girl is beautiful, her body is perfect, and there is no extra anything on her anywhere. And yet, she was determined to do an “ab challenge” to make her stomach perfectly flat (or probably concave) as modeling ourselves after models will make us wont to do.
I say, “I’m so glad that I have boys” and yet, that is false too.
Boys are just as susceptible to these body image problems as girls.
I’ve had to stop my boys dead in the track of their conversations on several occasions when the talk turned to “diets” and “six-packs”. They are not even ten, yet! I am careful not to talk about losing weight and to only stress “being healthy” and “making good food choices”. Everything in moderation, I tell them.
Last year, I changed my diet and I explained to the boys I was doing it to be healthy, not too lose weight. I was trying to change my body from being a “sugar burner” to a “fat burner” and I explained that fat was the preferred fuel for the body. Too many carbs, and too much sugar, just makes the body ultimately slow down and become unhealthy. They internalized this and I think they are more conscious when I tell them that something has too much sugar.
But imagine my dismay at hearing my (rather skinny) young son talking about how he shouldn’t have too many calories. Or my other son comparing himself to his brother and calling himself the “fat one”. He is not. Not by a long shot.
I continue to reiterate how they are extremely active boys and don’t need to worry about anything other than getting enough healthy foods and plenty of water to keep them growing. And yet, they still seem to be getting the message that they need to have a certain kind of body to be attractive and worthy.
This bothers me on so many levels.
I know I am not passing these messages on to them. I do not talk about weight. I do not own a scale. I do not count calories. I do not talk about “six-packs”. However, these messages are still coming through to them.
I’ve struggled most of my life with being happy with the way I looked. When I was very young, I was super skinny. People called me skeleton and skin-and-bones…it wasn’t particularly pleasant. Then when I hit puberty, I grew a set of hips and an ample butt and I had people pointing out my thunder thighs and fat ass. Seemingly, I couldn’t win.
My weight has been all over the place. I’ve been skinny and in bad shape fitness-wise, plump and in good shape, ridiculously enormous with pregnancy, and now, I’ve sort-of settled into my “mom” body, which is pretty average. Certainly, I was in much better shape last year when I was eating better and exercising regularly. Oh, but how I love ice cream. And french fries. And…I digress.
Last week, I was lamenting with friends about how hard it is to try to eat healthy and lose weight. No one had sympathy for me because they perceived me as not having a problem with my weight or eating healthy. Yet, I could sit with a different set of friends and I’d be the biggest and unhealthiest of the bunch, and they would still feel unhappy with their bodies.
I think the problem is we have all become so programmed to believe in an idea of beauty and health that essentially tells us only rail thin or super muscular people are beautiful and healthy. And that is simply not true.
Our minds have become a fun-house mirror of their own. We see ourselves through distorted lenses. We magnify our flaws. We don’t see the truth in front of us. And we pass it on to the next generation.
My sister is a beautiful woman. She is super petite. She has a body that most women would cut someone for. But even she is not satisfied.
And finally, at age 40, I’ve accepted that I will never have my sister’s body. We are just not made the same way. Yes, I’m petite (read: short), but I’ve got those hips (maybe twins were in my design from the beginning) and I’m fuller all around. That’s OK. Some people are tall, some people have an enormous rack (I do not), some people are naturally stocky, some people are super skinny; there are so many different body types. Why do we continue to compare ourselves with one type?
Being comfortable in our own skin, accepting our differences, making healthy choices when it comes to food, exercising regularly, and having that damn piece of cake without guilt are what we ought to be striving for.
Letting our children, girls AND boys, know that their bodies are GIFTS and that they should love them and feed them and make them strong and resilient is more important than ever in this age of over-saturation of advertising and emphasis on the young and beautiful and the tendencies of models to only represent one body type.
Maybe more of us should get “reverse” body dysmorphia. I’m not suggesting we all become morbidly obese, eat whatever we want, never exercise, and then look in the mirror and say, “Damn, I look GOOD”. But, I do think everyone could benefit from a skinny mirror. The thing is, it’s all an illusion anyway. No mirror is an accurate reflection of how you look. It all has to go through the filter of your mind. Which is why we have the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”.
More of us need to open our eyes. To behold ourselves in a different way. Perhaps to behold ourselves the way we look at our children, or someone we love. Without critical judgement, without comparison to another. Simply hold an alternate view of ourselves that says, you may not be perfect, but damn, you are one fine, beautiful human being who deserves to be happy. And no, those jeans don’t make your butt look big.