I've recently been given the opportunity to give a presentation on beauty intelligence, the act of recognizing the beauty in ourselves, and body image and wanted to share a few things that really helped me in my journey.
According to the National Eating Disorder Awareness website, "body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:
1. What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
2. How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
3. How you sense and control your body as you move.
4. How you physically experience or feel in your body."
It's clear that body image goes far beyond our physical bodies and impacts every aspect of our lives, so having a healthy body image is not only an important part of mental wellbeing but also aids our ability to experience life to the fullest.
Perceptions of Beauty
Our beliefs, expectations and internalized standards of beauty impact the way we view ourselves and the way we view beauty as a whole. We get these from the appearance ideal, the media, entertainment, ads, social media, our friends, cultures, values, and many more places. Instead of making ourselves feel good and beautiful, our destructive and limiting beliefs about appearances only cause painful comparisons, bullying, or a fixation with appearances. I point out where beauty standards originate from in order to enhance your already existing awareness of these sources to give you the agency to continue falling prey to these beliefs or choose to believe something different. This post is not about dieting, our societal drive for thinness, or social media, but aims to introduce healthier ways of looking at yourself and your body.
Your Relationship with Your Body
Your relationship with your body is arguably the most important relationship in your life. It not only affects your mental and physical health, but also so much more than that. Your relationship with your body affects your mood, the way you take care of yourself, how you plan your day to your thoughts and actions. Ultimately, at the root of this relationship is self esteem.
In our society, it’s common to feel insecure about your appearances, want to diet, or want to change the way your body looks. We regularly (and maybe even unintentionally) conflate happiness, success, beauty, commitment and many other traits to looking a certain way. We are constantly bombarded with advertisements that profit off our insecurities -- they can’t sell products unless they are able to make us believe that we need it.
You are not alone. We all struggle with being constantly exposed to these messages of inadequacy and inferiority.
As a society, we place our sense of self worth on our appearances. We believe that if we look a certain way, then we are not only worthy of happiness, but are truly happy. We believe that if we spend time with certain people, we are worthy of love, and are truly loved. Placing so much emphasis on our appearances only sets us up for failure. It is a losing battle. Our bodies change with age, and to spend our lives fighting that is a wasted effort.
For some, body dissatisfaction develops into a range of psychological disorders such as eating disorders or depression and anxiety. First and foremost, I want to highlight that eating disorders do not discriminate - they don’t have to look a certain way to have an eating disorder, don’t have to be of a certain ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age, or gender. In LA in particular, the popularity of certain food trends, healthful eating, or obsession with food is making disordered eating increasingly problematic. Preoccupation with your weight, food, calories, exercise, dieting, and/or body image can lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or irritability. Even if you are not formally diagnosed with an eating disorder, disordered eating still can limit your quality of life and ability to enjoy experiences, and so you deserve healing too. Compulsive dieting, exercise, or obsessions with food is problematic when it begins to significantly interfere with your life, mental, and or physical health.
My experience and relationship with my body has been rocky to say the least. I have struggled with an eating disorder for almost 3 years, and have been actively pursuing recovery for the past year. I was fortunate enough to be admitted into all levels of treatment for a year, and through all the therapy and work, I’ve learned so much about myself, the way my body works, the way my mind works, and about how the world works. Because of the amount of time and energy I’ve devoted to working through my body image issues, this conversation and issue is extremely important to me.
I read a quote the other day that really stuck with me - it talked about our goal in life is not to mold and shape ourselves into a seemingly perfect version of ourselves, but to truly live our lives to its full potential. You don't need to waste time, effort, and resources pretending to be or chasing happiness. That is available to you, for free, whenever you want it. Life is so much more colorful, free, and happy when you choose to give up the battle of upholding an appearance-based existence.
I firmly believe that unless you want to work on improving your body image or relationship with yourself, nothing anyone says or does has the ability to cause change. That change must start within you in order to be sustainable and worthwhile, and I only hope that my posts and words can be a beginning resource to inform you of what's available to you.
The more I look inwards and begin taking note of all the ways in which I speak to myself, the more I am aware of the influence these thoughts have on my mood and actions.
The media often tells us what we should and should not love about our bodies, but at the end of the day, your body is yours and yours alone, so the only opinion that matters is yours.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate fatphobic or pro-diet content from your life, but to me, true strength and self acceptance comes when you are able to show up and take of yourself in the midst of all these triggers. Even when the media is telling you you're fat, ugly, can or can't eat this - to do it anyways because it's what you want is the most powerful statement you could make. To show up and take care of yourself to the best of your abilities is a sign of true courage, strength, and willingness to be vulnerable that is arguably one of the most beautiful things in the world.