Coping Challenges: Body Shaming – Internal & External

Apologies for the late post…I slept late and then fell asleep after exercise and a phone call with my mentor yesterday.  By the time I woke up, it was time to go back to sleep again.

Body Shaming

It’s a big deal, especially in today’s world where anything can pop up in the mainstream media or on social media (on purpose or by accident) and anyone can comment.

I had another post in mind for this week, but Grant Gustin of CW’s The Flash spoke out about body shaming in this article on Digital Spy.  Gustin fights back and speaks out against body shaming – in general and by addressing comments directed at himself.

The Flash is one of the few TV shows I enjoy and follow via Internet news.  It addresses a lot of interesting topics from alternative and unique to me perspectives without a lot of bias or stereotyping.  My other favorite CW show is DC’s Legends of Tomorrow for similar reasons.

But back to the main topic – Body shaming is a form of bullying.  Depending on the circumstances, context, content, and perpetrator, it can also be a form of sexual & physical harassment or abuse.  It’s something I still struggle with as an adult and experienced from many people growing up.

Body shaming is more than talking about how physically attractive or unattractive a person is.  It goes deeper and can affect self-esteem, self-confidence, and one’s sense of self.  Body shaming covers a lot of topics.  Here are a few:

  • How I smell
  • A flabby belly instead of a flat one
  • Being short
  • Having slanted eyes
  • Being curvy and Asian
  • Wearing Glasses
  • Looking younger than I am
  • How I dress (style and type of clothes I wear)

And just for fun…since you already know my face…here’s a photo of me in one of my favorite summer outfits – no makeup as per usual.

IMG_0599

BODY NEUTRAL & BODY POSITIVE – Body Image alternatives to shame/negativity

I’ve mentioned these terms before.  And I try to stay true to them in real life – for myself and for the people around me.

It’s not easy to change the tapes in your head when the people who are supposed to guide, support, and protect you are the ones making these comments.  The person who body shamed me the most was my mother.  Being sexually and physically abused further damaged myself and made me hate my physical appearance to the point where I didn’t trust anyone who made a comment about me; positive or negative.

What helped me most was putting aside concepts of attractiveness and beauty in favor of learning how to love, accept, respect, and value my physical self for all of the positive blessings it provides me as I work to achieve my goals of overall wellness and independence.

Something else that helps is to stop making negative comments (in my head or out loud) about my own and other’s appearance, whether on purpose or by accident.  It took me many years to stop automatically thinking in the negative about bodies (etc) in general.

I still don’t see myself the way other people see me.  Looking in a mirror can be tricky depending on who is watching through my eyes.  Every alter has a different perception of our physical self.  And none of us really enjoy the attention we receive.  Our goal is to blend in, not stand out.

But I/we also want to feel comfortable, confident, secure, and happy with our physical appearance/body/self too.  And that means creating and using a personal style to guide how we present ourself to the outside world.

Maybe these concepts and tips will resonate with you.  Maybe they won’t.  but you are not alone in experiencing the body shame.

Thanks for reading

Life Changing Moments: Changing self perception

I struggle with being body positive and having a positive self-image.

  • Part of that is because of past experiences.
  • Part of it is because my body shape, size, and appearance do not fit any “ideal” standards, so shopping and feeling good about how I look isn’t always easy.
  • The rest has to do with looking like either parent or following “appearance expectations” – my rebellion against this

This struggle shattered my self-confidence, built up on existing shame, and gave me many reasons to “hide” from the world.

No matter what I did or how I tried, something about me always attracted attention.  Something always gave others an excuse or rationale to be mean/rude, etc.  And I believed them when they told me it was my fault for making them act that way.

I still believed that, deep down in a secret part of me, until last week.

WHAT HAPPENED?

An unexpected award at work gave me the push I needed to stop procrastinating about getting professional photos for business/school, etc.  Here’s the short version:

The company I work for in my day job has over 1,000 employees worldwide and a commitment to encourage continuous learning.  They promote this internally by giving employees free accounts to LinkedIn Learning and internal classes.  At every half-year, the people in “people teams” use some metric or formula to find out who took the most classes, etc. and gives them a small award using an internal award system.

I get a lot of down time between projects and hate being bored, so the online classes through LinkedIn were ways to me to feel like I wasn’t getting paid for doing nothing.  The award was unexpected, yet much appreciated.  But it wasn’t until after I answered the survey questions, that someone from “people teams” reached out with a request.  The company liked my answers and wanted to use them as part of a promotional campaign.  Would I allow this and also send a photo to go with the answers?

At first, I freaked out and said “absolutely not” on the inside.  But then I paused.  This was an opportunity, a big one to help me reach the next step of “not hiding” and achieving outside goals.  If I said no, I’d be going backwards.  If I said yes, I’d have to face a whole lot of fears, including putting my face out on the Internet.

I said yes and asked for some time to get them a decent photo.  We agreed on a date, and I booked my first photo shoot in 14 years (since college graduation photos).

WHY IS THIS A LIFE CHANGING MOMENT?

My style group friends have been cheering me along on my journey to self-discovery and being my authentic self always, but especially in how I present myself to the outside world.  With their help, I chose an outfit and makeup that felt 100%, authentically me.  Surprisingly, I didn’t see

  • a little girl playing dress-up in the mirror
  • A woman dressing to look “like a lady” according to parental expectations
  • My mother, father, aunts, cousins, or grandparents looking back at me
  • A clown or over made-up woman trying to be something she’s not

I saw myself – all parts of myself expressed as a single, adult woman wearing a dress & blazer with fun accessories and subtle makeup – as I got ready for the photo session.

The photographer was amazing.  She helped me feel completely at ease and comfortable posing outside.  The whole experience felt like chatting with an old friend and taking photos for fun.  Never before had I felt so relaxed with a stranger taking photos of me.  Part of it was location – we took photos in a beautiful park – and part of it was the overall feeling of rightness that stayed with me throughout the day.

I got to see myself through the photographer’s eyes and camera lens that afternoon.  She accepted my quirks and even appreciated some of them.  Before her, I’d not met many people who also talked to ladybugs or openly expressed a reverence for nature.  We connected over a mutual love and respect for trees; some of my favorite “fun” shots are of me sitting on exposed roots or posing against trees.

Together, we narrowed down to 3 photos that fit the main purpose of this photo shoot: business headshots for work & professional networking profiles.

But I also chose one for school and “fun” profiles too.  My current day job is segregated from my other hobbies and work choices on purpose.  They do not play well together, and I am very private.  Not many businesses want someone with my kind of mental health issues working for them, no matter how good I am at my job.  So 3 photos:

  • One for internal work/business (like email, profiles, messaging, etc.) that showed me and my “professional” personality with hints of non-work life
  • One for business and networking or job hunting profiles that expressed my business professionalism, creativity, and unique personality
  • One for school and personal profiles (personal email, WordPress account, Facebook, etc.) that showed me in a happy, confident, relaxed, open way.

WHAT CHANGED?

My self-perception, self-image whatever you want to call it.

When I look in a mirror, I finally see me.  A beautiful (inside out kind), confident, secure-in-herself woman.  An authentic, person with many alternate personalities who thrives in her chosen life style with family of choice, a support network, and a fulfilling life in spite of many challenges.

MY HOPE

For all people, with and without mental health or trauma issues, to experience a positive change in self-perception too.  I share this story with the hope that someone can relate to the experience, realize he or she is not alone, and have the courage to make positive steps too.

Thanks for reading.

Coping Challenges: Body Shaming vs Negative Body Image

Trigger warning: Please take care of yourself and only read if as long as you feel safe/comfortable

Objectification

For most of my life, I’ve been objectified.  First as chattel, then as a sexual vessel, a soldier, a toy, an extension of my mother, a skinny girl/woman, a curvy/feminine/sexy object, a doormat, a “nice girl”, delicate, weak, etc.  People looked at me, listened to my voice, and made assumptions.  Hardly anyone ever took me seriously, and someone always tried to take advantage.

Years of therapy and spending time with positive, supportive people have helped me realize I am more than an object.  Part of my recovery is changing the objectification into a positive sense of self – including positive body image and healthy self-esteem – where people see me first instead of my body.   I used to think that body shaming and negative self-image was only connected to my eating disorder.

Now I know the truth.

That a negative body image and body shaming are separate, but related issues and do not always have anything to do with an eating disorder.

Negative Body Image

I used to hate my body, my face, my appearance.   I blamed my face and body shape as the reason for past traumatic experiences.  So I hurt myself – starvation, self-harm, compulsive exercising, not sleeping, making myself sick, reckless/dangerous activities, not caring for physical or mental health – often and in various ways for decades.

These days, I love my face and my body.  I accept all of its quirks and am grateful to be whole and healthy in spite of the pain.  I dress according to my personal style, comfort needs, and daily tasks.  The colors, the fabrics, the shapes, and the accessories help me feel safe, confident, grounded, and happy.  The textures and weights act as self-soothing and grounding objects.

Even though wearing clothes that fit and flatter shows off my feminine body shape and draws attention, I feel secure enough in who I am to ignore all that and enjoy myself.  Most of the time, I can ignore people criticizing my clothing choices or commenting on my weight changes.

But sometimes, the comments hurt or bring out anger.

Body Shaming

Have you ever been told you are too short or tall?  Maybe your eyes bug out or are slanted?  Your hips too wide?  Your butt too big?  Your chest not muscular enough?  Your body stick-like?  You look too masculine/feminine/boyish/girlish for your age/gender/size?  You are flat-chested or large breasted?  Your man-boobs are too prominent?  You stomach is not flat enough?  Skin too flabby?

Has anyone ever criticized your clothing choices?  Your accessories?  Your posture?  Shoes?

These are all examples of body shaming.  Many of them I personally experienced.  Some I have heard told to people I care about.  Others from comments made about celebrities.  The comments from my parents, sibling, cousins, and relatives are the ones that hurt most.  Second place goes to friends, co-workers, mentors, supervisors, and other people in authority positions.  Finally, the random hate from strangers and people posturing for acceptance were the least harmful.  It’s hard to take people who don’t know me seriously.

What brings this up now?

Summer time means wearing less clothes for one thing.  July 1st is a double anniversary with lots of meaning.  July 4th is another anniversary.  I remember spending most of my summers locked up and away from friends, relatives, etc. except on certain occasions for most of my pre-adult life.

Added to all that, I’ve been talking with my aunts more often to coordinate my 2-week visit back home later this month.  During a conversation, one of my aunts proceeded to body shame me, criticize me, and then act like she forgot I was visiting.  No, I am not sure why she decided to cross my boundaries and talk to me this way.  I could speculate, but why bother?  She is who she is, and I should have expected something like this to happen at some point.

Why is this time more of a challenge than past experiences?

My reaction was different.  My feelings were different.  My perspective had changed too.

Instead of feeling hurt or guilt or shame, I felt outrage like “how dare you treat me this way” and pushed back instead of retreating or defending myself.  My response was simple, non-aggressive, and direct.  Then I told her that these days are available if she wants to spend time with me when I visit.

But I still felt angry.  The anger scared me for many reasons.  Different feelings bring out different reactions and impulses.  Anger tends to bring out my rebellious and reckless sides.  It also clouds my thinking.

During that phone call I realized the body shaming and criticism did not trigger any negative feelings about my body.  It did however knock at my self-esteem a little and bring on some nasty flashbacks complete with physical pain.  I felt defensive and uncertain about wearing dresses again.  And part of me was justifying my clothing choice for the day on the inside.  So I made a plan.  When I realized I couldn’t execute the plan on my own, I asked for help.

That was Friday.

The Plan

Go out for a walk in my neighborhood.  Play with friendly dogs.  Eat good food.  Go home and watch a movie or sleep.  Go to counseling the next day.  Have fun and enjoy my 4-day weekend even if that means spending a lot of time sleeping.  Do some packing for the future move.  But most important: RELAX

Thanks for reading.

Recovery: not wanting to be pretty or beautiful is okay

Busy day tomorrow so posting early…

iris-apfel-1225701

Introduction

When I first started recovery, I did not want to be pretty or beautiful.  In fact, I went so far as to look as awful as possible on purpose.  Words like “pretty” and “beautiful” and “attractive” were my version of four-letter curses.  “Stylish”, “fashionable”, and “trendy” were included as I got older.

Growing up, all I received was contradictory information about physical appearances.

On one hand, it was a good thing.  I got lots of attention and compliments.  My parents got compliments and praise.  People gave me leeway when I got into trouble.

On the other hand, it was not so great.  People made assumptions.  They tried to take advantage of me.  And used my appearance as one excuse for abusing me.

Through the Years of Recovery

After a few years of therapy, I think it was with my second therapist, the anorexia and negative body image coping techniques started to resonate.  And I realized that my aversion to certain words was making recovery difficult to impossible.  I had to make peace with the curse words and what they meant to me.

  • That’s how I discovered three important phrases:
  • Body negative (me at the time)
  • Body neutral (what I strove for in that phase of recovery)
  • Body positive (my future goal)

This is where being an avid bookworm and English major in college helped a lot.  My love of words, meaning, and research provided the tools to redefine what “Beautiful”, “pretty”, “attractive” and similar words meant to me.  Took them from having negative and toxic connotations to positive and healthy ones.

The journey started with accepting that I was “plain” or “bland” instead of “ugly” or “gross” at the time.  Skinny, underweight, bad skin, pale, with acne and rashes, ill-fitting clothes worked.  The real goal was “healthy” and to discover what “healthy” meant to me.  If “healthy” meant bad skin, boniness, bloating, and weight gain, I was all for that.

Then came the time I had to accept that weight gain meant “curvy” and “pretty” and “attractive” because the “skin and bones” look was replaced with “slim and strong”.  The bad skin cleared up as my eating habits improved.  And I realized that I didn’t feel safe in my body anymore.  It, my body, was attracting way too much attention.

Time to Hide Again

I went back to wearing frumpy, over sized, ugly clothes mixed with more fitted items underneath.  Except for pants…because I hated wearing belts and wanted my pants to stay up.  But that was the ONLY criterion – that they stay up.  So of course there are many unflattering styles of pants available.  And I indulged in all of them to hide behind.

Only, there’s only so much a person can do to hide when her backside is not straight, flat, or hipless.  Same with her front when the girls are not small anymore and wearing the wrong size causes pain.  I think that was the turning point,  the beginning of moving from viewing myself as “plain” to “attractive” to “pretty” and my body as “unhealthy” and “skinny” to “slim” to “curvy” and “healthy”.

Time to Stop Hiding

Thus began my obsession with body shape, femininity, fashion vs. style, and clothes that fit/felt good/flattered/reflected me.   I discovered the world of blogging.  That was scary.  So much contradictory information.  So many choices.  And so much frustration because nothing ready-made fit me or my body shape without alterations.  And alterations were a trigger.

I went back to my invisibility cloak for a few years.  But then I realized I was in a good place.  I was safe.  I had friends and connections.  I had a job and was financially independent.  I was strong enough to face my body fears.  I was confident enough to be me.

Most important: I wanted people to see the real me;  to have my outsides match my insides.

Present

And that’s when I decided to discover my personal style.  What did that mean?

I wanted to be viewed as beautiful in a timeless, unique way that only people who are comfortable with themselves can be.

It was time to make my insides and outsides match.  That journey started with visiting fashion and style blogs.  Then it moved on to defining what personal style meant to me and how it fit my values, lifestyle, and goals.

2014 marked the beginning of my style journey.  While I look and feel a lot better about my choices, this one will be ongoing.  As I change, my personality changes, my style changes.

Conclusion

I hope this quote from Iris Apfel helps you the way it helped me.  Before watching her documentary on Netflix, I didn’t realize some of the most important words in my life came from a woman who considered “pretty” less than interesting.

Thanks for reading

Resources: An article about Positive Self-Talk and Body Image

Background

I don’t often share information that can be linked directly back to the rest of my life.  As much as I enjoy blogging here and sharing resources on the website, I am compulsive about maintaining my safety and privacy too.  But some incidents happened in one of the private Facebook groups I belong to that had a rippling negative effect the rest of us are still recovering from.

The group owner/moderator wrote the following article in response to one member’s negative, bullying, and abusive comments towards others via the groups, email, and private messages.  It’s an amazing and beautiful article about how the messages we tell ourselves and internalize have an impact in how we treat others too.  And while this message is written about style from a female perspective, the contents apply to males struggling with self-esteem and body image issues too.

Personal Style as a Positive Coping Strategy for Body Image and Self Esteem

That said, I want to share an article from one of my favorite role models and bloggers whose style programs and free information have helped me learn to love and embrace my unique body through positive self talk and personal style.

This is the link: How Your Language Impacts Profoundly On Your Style

This is her blog: Inside Out Style Blog

I joined her programs a little over a year ago when I decided to stop hiding / being invisible.  She introduced me to a new way of thinking about myself, my body, my appearance, my sense of self and how all of this is represented in the clothes and accessories I wear through Evolve Your Style and 7 Steps to Style.  Both programs also introduced me to groups of amazing women and female role models who have become friends and part of a world-wide support network.

Conclusion

Through the kind words and examples in blog articles and comments on posts, I’ve learned how to be kinder to myself and others.  Positive self talk is more than encouraging statements and affirmations that one might not believe when feeling negative.

Positive self talk is as simple as saying: I am doing the best I can right now, and that’s ok.

I hope you all click on the link and give this article a chance.  The author is a survivor like us and speaks from a perspective of compassion and strength.

Thank you for reading.