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.

 

Shame: Being Kinder to Myself Helps Remove Shame

Introduction

This time of year I think about (read obsess over) my body and its “flaws” as told to me by others.  My body is in pain – joints, muscle, skin, sinuses, bone, etc. – and prevents me from enjoying the fresh air that comes with warmer weather.  March and April are months when people first noticed my body start changing with puberty 20 plus years ago.  It is when the body shaming started.  And the body violence increased.

Between 7-15, the perpetrators who liked to use me sexually started being physically violent too.  The violence got worse as my body matured and clients needed to find other ways to “get it up” or “get in the mood” depending on gender.  With the sex and violence came shaming phrases: you want (fill in) because of the way you look; you’re asking for (fill in) with your body language and clothes; I wouldn’t have to (fill in) if you looked like you did before (child body); you are a slut; if you stopped fighting, I wouldn’t have to hurt you so bad…

Epithets like: thunder thighs, big butt, fat belly, flat as a board, big boobs/small boobs, bad skin/nails, hairy legs, vain child, arrogant, self-centered and so on dogged me as I tried to understand the changes happening inside me.  Comparisons to my female cousins made me feel small and worthless and nerdy – invisible and shamed for taking attention away from them – when compared to their popularity and style and social skills.

Being told I was dumber, uglier, quieter, and less adept at anything than my parents and brother with words and actions by everyone reinforced my body and self shame.  In every possible way, I was taught that my body was inferior, unhealthy, ugly, worthless, and not mine.  Basically, I should be dead.  I don’t deserve a healthy, slim body with womanly curves when the rest of my more worthy female relatives are less blessed in those areas.

The Meat of It

I spent high school and college avoiding relationships as often as possible and hiding my body with clothes that did not flatter or suit me.  I spent time around people who hated and made fun of me under the guise of being friends.  I wore hand-me downs and clothes that were decades out of fashion (given to me by my aunts and mother).  Any clothes I bought for myself had to be approved by my parents – I couldn’t shop alone for fear of what I might by.  Grooming wasn’t allowed; not the way most teenagers are allowed to experiment and spend hours in the bathroom or alone in the bedroom trying out makeup and hygiene products.

And I was always on a diet.  Because my parents thought I was fat.  I wasn’t fat – in fact I was dangerously underweight at less than  or equal 90 lbs. for most of high school – but I had curves that both my parents hated and wanted to not see.  Basically, they tried to stop me from going through puberty.  It didn’t work though.  I eventually made 100 lbs and stayed close to that the last two years of college unless I was in a downward spiral.  In college, I gained the freshman 15.  That summer, I dropped down to less than 90 lbs. again.

Senior year in college, many concerned people (none who were friends, just good people who cared enough to help out troubled peers) stepped in and convinced me I needed help.  Free counseling got me through graduation, but didn’t prevent the weight loss or attempted suicide.  Professional counseling after graduation started me on the path to be kinder to myself by getting healthy and rebuilding my sense of self to start.

Conclusion

Being skinny and weak kept me safe.  Being strong and healthy made me a target.  Looking like a woman made me less valuable to the cult (only wanted and paid for child-like bodies) and worthless to my parents.  My father hated my body and made me cover up all the time.  My mother was jealous of my body and liked to criticize my body for her own amusement.  She also liked to hurt me under the guise of “checking for wounds” or “helping me clean hard to reach areas”.

My only thoughts from that time until about 12 years ago were to hurt, punish, hide, destroy my body and feminine parts.

Then I decided that I wanted to stop feeling ashamed of my body.  And I wanted to be healthy.  Every time I tried to do something positive, family stepped in with the shaming.  Then the voices in my head triggered shaming thoughts and compulsions driven by an obsession to look a certain way or not look a certain way.  In all honesty, I thought I was 170 lbs with rolls of fat hanging down everywhere and that I had secretly had breast augmentation surgery because how else could I have large breasts when everyone else had small ones unless they were overweight/obese?

And even some overweight family members (mother included) still didn’t have large breasts to go with the extra weight.  And that was extra shame.  Because I never, ever wanted to have that kind of surgery.  An overtly feminine body would get me unwanted attention and keep me from being invisible.  But every year, I’d be obsessed with thoughts of breast implants, butt implants, feminine curves, padding, etc. and compelled to find information about it.  And I’d look down at my body or in a mirror and see rolls of fat, jiggly body parts, and stretch marks.  Then I’d feel shame and hate.

Until one of my early therapists started questioning me about my thoughts and compulsions.  Together we reality tested each of my beliefs.  Not really assumptions because these were my “set in stone truths” as taught by life.  Little by little, she forced me to look at each body part and decide how much “fat” really existed.

Then came nutrition therapy and the concept of loving kindness towards myself.

And every time I heard a “body shaming” thought, I had to stop and rephrase that thought to something “body neutral”.  Then rephrase the thought to “body positive” after a time.

And every time I felt the urge to hurt my body, I taught myself  to stop and understand where the compulsion came from.  Then remind myself that I like/love my body and don’t want to hurt it.  Hurting my body hurts me too.

Eventually, I started reminding myself that it’s ok to make mistakes and relapse sometimes.  That’s my mind telling me some part is in trouble; time to step back and think before moving on.

These days, being kind to myself means the following:

  • Stop criticizing myself when I experience backlash and shame for using “last resort coping strategies”
  • Remind myself that I am doing the best that I can; it’s ok to give in to the compulsions and obsessions sometimes
  • To feel gratitude that I am coping with the shame and making positive changes to my body image
  • To remind myself of the positive steps I am taking to be body positive – and how much fun it is
  • Making sure I take care of myself no matter how crazy work gets or how depressed I feel when the pain and memories overwhelm me.
  • And to not feel bad when I have to post before or after Wednesday and Sunday because of work and personal deadlines.

Thanks for reading.