Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Body image realization: I don't feel one way, all the time

Photo from the Walt Whitman archive

Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.
-- Walt Whitman
 I realize that a lot of my posts have been dancing around the idea of body image and how I feel, think I should feel, or how people seem to be telling me to feel, about my body. You can see a bunch of them if you click on the body image label.

There was yesterday's post about the friend who brushed off my suggestion that losing weight might make me feel better.  There were the posts about HAES and the idea that weight loss is not a good goal. There is the eternal question of how self-love fits in with a desire to change.  It's not just me -- this is one of the central issues, if not the central issue of weight-loss blogland.

All of this discussion about how we feel, how people think we should feel, how we should feel, etc., are missing one big major thing: we don't feel one way all of the time. The other thing that seems to get left out of body image discussions is that we don't feel a certain way because we decide to feel that way.  Emotions aren't logical. As humans our "feeling brain" is a completely separate system from our "reasoning brain," one that is not accessible to it.

I guess I shouldn't drag everyone else into this, because I can only definitively talk about myself. I don't feel one way all of the time. I can be feeling great about the way I look, and seeing an unflattering photo can throw me into self-doubt. I can be feeling bad about myself and someone can compliment me and brighten my outlook.  What doesn't seem to work well for me is telling myself how I should feel.  I can try to look for evidence that my gloomy outlook is unrealistic, but I can't change my body image by sheer force of will.

I'm sure I've quoted this before, but I was deeply delighted when I read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life and realized I wasn't the only one listening to the kind of craziness she calls "KFKD:"
f you are not careful, station KFKD (K-F*****) will play in your head twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, in stereo. Out of the right speaker in your inner ear will come the endless stream of self-aggrandizement, the recitation of one’s specialness, of how much more open and gifted and brilliant and knowing and misunderstood and humble one is. Out of the left speaker will be the rap songs of self-loathing, the lists of all the things one doesn’t do well, all the mistakes one has made today and over an entire lifetime.
 I think it's wrong to expect that a perfectly consistent rosy self-image is the norm and the rest of us are all screwed up.  I would really be uncomfortable around a person who never, ever experienced a moment of self-doubt. I would probably suspect that person of being a psychopath. Or at least, it would make it hard for me to be my real, flawed, human self around them.

12 comments:

  1. Self acceptance should not mean just be ok with yourself. Self acceptance means to accept that there are always ways to improve ourselves, to accept that it takes effort and to love yourself through the process...to find ways to make change acceptable.

    Self-acceptance doesn't mean complacency. It doesn't mean that you always feel fantastic about yourself. Some days you will feel ugly. Some days you will say and do things you aren’t proud of. Some days you're cranky. But that doesn't mean that you don't accept yourself any more. It isn't dependent on how you feel. It means you believe in yourself...whether you're having a good day or a bad day.

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  2. You had me at the Whitman quote, that's one of my favorites. There are lots of good points to consider here, thanks for dredging these things up. Now I'm off to ponder them and (no doubt) create my own contradictions.

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  3. Lindsay R11:24 PM

    I don't believe I've commented here before but I had to finally comment to tell you that I am completely identifying with everything youve been writing about in the last few months. Your ups and downs, roller coaster of ideas and emotions is refreshing and honest!! Keep up the good inner work, I will be reading faithfully. :)

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  4. Lindsay R12:02 AM

    I don't believe I've commented here before but I had to finally comment to tell you that I am completely identifying with everything youve been writing about in the last few months. Your ups and downs, roller coaster of ideas and emotions is refreshing and honest!! Keep up the good inner work, I will be reading faithfully. :)

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  5. I'm okay with my literal image when I look in the mirror straight on. My profile, though, sends me into a tailspin. And what goes on in my head is hardly ever okay, I'm very self-conscious about the amount of space I take up. Thanks for more to think about.

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  6. Your post is very timely for me. Just yesterday I posted about my reaction after viewing myself (without clothes), perhaps at a different angle than usual, in a mirror. I had a minor "freak-out," that I had to talk myself through. I like your comments, and I think you're "right on."

    I also love the Whitman quote. We all contain multitudes, as human beings--feelings, ideas, behaviors, just to name a few. We are complicated, to say the least, but most interesting. Have a great day!

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  7. You're speaking my language, sister. I can't seem to stop writing about my self-image. It is obviously an issue with me. Through research and writing I have discovered that much of what we think is habitual. Those habits create pathways through our brain with chemicals and it's all very scientific, but the point being that to change those habitial, addictive thoughts that bring you down, you have to practice changing your thoughts. In other words, you have to be conscious of them, highly (exhaustingly) self-aware of what you're thinking b/c much of it is unconscious. I know, probably now that you wanted to hear. I certainly dodn't like it because I've spent a lifetime in a dysfunctional relationship with my body. Somedays, I actually think I'm making progress. It's slow going, and still undulating in ups and downs, but I have hope now that I won't be mentally bashing myself forever. http://shannonlell.com/2012/03/07/not-a-day-over-34/

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  8. I've battled my entire life with body image. I've been healthy weights and unhealthy weights and no matter where I was I didn't like it. Now, looking back, I see myself at lighter weights and think "why wasn't I happy with that?" This time around, I'm working to improve my body but learning to accept how it looks along the way. It's really hard!

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  9. You hit the nail on the head when you touch on the ephemeral nature of self-acceptance. There is no constant in how we feel or in how we measure our worth or beauty. Sometimes I think it would be a lot better if we were never given the idea that one day we would accept everything and just be ok. It's the teeter toter of emotions and confidence that move us.

    I hope in writing this your are lessening just how dramatic the swings are for you.

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  10. Can meditation improve body image? I am conducting research for my dissertation on meditation and body image and am looking for women to participate. If you choose to participate you will:


    Answer questions at the start and end of the study online that ask about your background, thoughts, emotions, and eating behaviors. It is expected that each set of questions will take you about 20-30 minutes to complete.

    Receive free meditation podcasts that lasts approximately 20 minutes. You will be asked to listen to them once a day for three weeks.

    At the end of the study you will be provided with an email address to enter a lottery for a chance to win 1 of 5 gift cards (one $100 gift card and four $25 gift cards). Participation in the lottery is optional.

    To participate please visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/meditationwomenshealth

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  11. I also have battled with body image issues for a large percentage of my adult life. I have found meditation, by boosting self acceptance, can really help improve body image.

    I am currently conducting research for my dissertation on body image and meditation. I am looking for women to participate. If you are interested in being part of this work please visit the study link https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/meditationwomenshealth

    ReplyDelete
  12. Can meditation improve body image? I am conducting research for my dissertation on meditation and body image and am looking for women to participate. If you choose to participate you will:


    Answer questions at the start and end of the study online that ask about your background, thoughts, emotions, and eating behaviors. It is expected that each set of questions will take you about 20-30 minutes to complete.

    Receive free meditation podcasts that lasts approximately 20 minutes. You will be asked to listen to them once a day for three weeks.

    At the end of the study you will be provided with an email address to enter a lottery for a chance to win 1 of 5 gift cards (one $100 gift card and four $25 gift cards). Participation in the lottery is optional.

    To participate please visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/meditationwomenshealth

    ReplyDelete

"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