Sunday, February 21, 2010

Life in front of the funhouse mirror

Earlier this month, Greta asked for some advice. People were telling her to stop losing weight, and she knew she still wanted to keep losing. She wanted to know how others respond to this kind of comments. I knew there was something important in this question but I wasn't quite sure what. Then I realized that people in the process of losing weight are especially vulnerable to body comments from others, because we're not always quite sure what we look like. We're always looking for some outside data to help us make sense of who we are and who we are becoming. BlogHer writer Mir posted a great reflection on her own shifting body image, in which she tries to see herself through the less-critical eyes of her daughter.

I know that I walk around with a constantly-shifting image of how I look in my head. It's like walking around in front of a funhouse mirror -- suddenly my thighs feel huge, or conversely, I feel suddenly smaller than I thought I was. I don't know that I really see myself when I look in the mirror. If I did, I can't imagine that my perceptions would be so fluid and bewildering. Sometimes when I am feeling sad, I experience it as a sense of bodily heaviness. On those days I have to follow Geneen Roth's advice to wear a belt just to remind myself that I am not, in fact, expanding in size by the minute.

Sometimes seeing myself in a different mirror in unfamiliar clothes can help me to recalibrate. This is why it sometimes helps for me to go out and try on clothes -- in a dressing-room mirror, I can sometimes really see myself. When I like what I see, I tend to buy the clothes. Hence my jeans purchase the other day.

Public undressing situations, though, always bother me. I hate locker rooms. My swimming practice is about the worst -- there are a lot of people in a small space, and most of them are thinner and fitter than me. I'm already a little claustrophobic, and adding nakedness makes it much, much worse. I just try not to look at anyone. I even hate getting undressed in front of the retirees at the YMCA. I especially get annoyed when someone takes a locker right near mine as I'm getting changed when there are plenty of lockers far away from me. I have tried choosing lockers in different spots, but someone inevitably brings their stuff in and plunks it 3 feet from me as I'm putting on my underwear. Seriously, why? I need a 10-locker clearance on each side, or better yet, a private dressing room. I Maybe on the far side of the moon. When I was about 20 pounds thinner, I don't think I needed quite so much personal space.

The sad thing is, I don't think my body image is especially bad. I think this is the "normal" for most women I know, at least judging by some of the things they say. LBTEPA at "Now the plan is this" might have an incomprehensible blogger name, but she makes a lot of sense in her latest post, "WTF am I thinking?"
foremost in my mind, blotting out all of the hard work and coolness of the last five months with its ludicrously inaccurately inflated proportions, is the fact that I've gained 5kg. Eleven pounds. That is pretty much all I have been thinking about in those 2 a.m. wake-and-fret fests. That one thing is the criteria by which I have been judging myself. That is MESSED UP and I'm NOT STANDING FOR IT.
Her strategy is listing all of her accomplishments as a way of countering this fat-centric attitude. I hope it works for her, but it doesn't work for me. Things that fit in my job-accomplishments box or my talent-and-abilities box or my family-and-friends box don't fit into my body-image box. I need body-specific things to fill my body-image box. Doing something physical helps -- taking a walk or a yoga class. Seeing myself in cute clothes helps, so the worst thing I can do on my bad-body-image days is to put on a schlumpy sweatshirt and baggy jeans. Wearing things that are tailored puts sharp edges onto a body image that threatens to bleed out into the universe at large. The new-mirror trick can help. Getting a pedicure or a massage is great if I have the time and money. Sometimes taking a nap can help, especially if lack of sleep is part of the problem. A weight loss is, of course, the body-image jackpot. The bigger the better. Compliments from family and friends, especially compliments in response to a negative comment from me, really never work. Compliments only register if they are unexpected and come from a disinterested stranger. Otherwise, I just feel like the complimenter is just being nice and trying to make me feel better.

It's funny, because problems with a relationship or problems at work can withdraw from the body-image account, even though they can't deposit. Maybe the body is just where pain and sadness live. Obviously I haven't figured out this weird banking system yet.

Like I said, I know that this all sounds crazy but I also know that I'm not alone in playing this losing game. I'm just trying to describe it and explain how some of the rules seem to work. If you've figured out any cheats for this system, I'd love to hear them.


  1. does not sound crazy at all. Your post made total sense to me. (well...I s'pose I might be crazy....which is why it made And I just happened to be in a swimming pool locker room this afternoon...and know just what you mean!!

    It is amazing to me how tied up it all is....body image, self confidence, mental wellness, physical wellness, nutrition, exercise, strength. I liked Diane's post resonated with me. Did you see it?

    Food for thought. Errr, maybe food is the wrong

  2. I have recently lost 64 (still going) pounds and have struggled so much with my internal image versus my external image. I've been overweight for most of my life and my external image, I always tried to hide and my internal image was SOOO FAR off! Since I've lost this weight I sometimes surprise myself when I look in the mirror because internally, I'm still big (thinking myself small). But now I'm smaller and thinking myself BIG! Does that make ANY sense??!! It's all very new and different for me but I totally understand what you're talking about. Maybe if I can figure out the secret, I'll let you know!

  3. Body image is such a confusing thing - i was slim growing up, so i tend to see myself as a slimmer person than i am.


"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07