I’ve been told many times that body image is the last thing to change when it comes to recovery. Body image problems don’t start at the beginning of an eating disorder, so it’s no surprise that it doesn’t end when symptoms are no longer a problem. We develop our body image very early in life and it continues to develop through the years. My earliest memory concerning my body is when I was only three years old. I specifically remember worrying that I was fat, although, I’m not sure how a toddler knows exactly what “fat” means. Family, friends, environment, culture, and society all play a big role in how body image is formed. Those who grow up around people who are more aware and concerned about their bodies are more likely to have a heightened awareness. For example, a young girl who grows up with a mother who is constantly on diets and comments about her body, is more likely to have negative feelings toward her own body.
The picture above is a painting I made in art therapy while I was in IOP. The date on the bottom is 4/30/08, a little more than three years ago. I made it in order to remind myself to learn to love my body, and it’s been in my room ever since the paint dried on the canvas. While I can’t love my body just yet, whenever I see those words, it makes me stop and think. Sometimes just reading a motivational statement affects your mood and puts things in perspective.
I often wonder if I will ever be able to love my body and accept it as it is. It seems to me that there is no one in this world who is completely satisfied with how they look. But maybe that’s just being human? The grass is always greener on the other side. There are things that cannot be changed, no matter how hard you try or wish (unless surgery is involved). I have lighter hair and fairer skin than a lot of people and I’ve wished that my hair and skin were darker. While I could dye my hair and tan in the sun, my natural self would still be the same. I’ve also spent so much time wishing my hips were more narrow. Even while at my lowest weight, I wasn’t wearing the smallest size clothing, though my hipbones were very prominent. I can’t make my bones shrink; my hips will always be that size no matter how much weight I lose.
So how do you learn to accept yourself as you are? Flaws and imperfections included, whatever they may be. While there is no magic trick to cure poor body image, it is all linked to self esteem. My body image may have been the worst when I didn’t value myself at all, which was ironically also at my lowest weight. Body image is also affected by mood, and it’s more likely to be negative while in an anxious or depressed state. It may change day to day because of those mood swings, regardless of weight, and even when weight stays stable.
When you “feel fat” could it just be an uncomfortable anxiety? Stress? Anger? Not feeling good enough? Worthy? Fat is not a feeling and there’s something else behind it.