Thursday, July 25, 2013

The First and Final Word On: Body Image

I technically can’t write a final word on a topic I have yet to cover with one word, but it felt crazy to go through six years of writing about my 20s without discussing one of the things I thought about most of the course of those six years: my body.

I feel like I owe it, to both every woman who has ever existed and myself, to explain my feelings about body image based on the image I have of my own body. I’m sorry. I should have included “every man” in that sentence too. Men are not void of body image issues, at all.

I’ve read plenty of articles about having a healthy body image, loving your flaws, understanding what an average body looks like, and even instilling body confidence in today’s youth. But I can’t remember reading an article that actually explains what goes through a person’s brain when they think about their own body. So I’m going to try to write that piece right now. I think it might be therapeutic for me, and hopefully helpful for you. It will probably end up being mortifying for me and somewhat therapeutic for you, but I’ve already written this whole long intro now, so there’s no turning back.

I don't know what a healthy body image is, but I'm pretty sure I don't have one. 
I am a thin person. I have always been a thin person. There have been times in my life where I was closer to average than thin – those times being that year of high school that I ate a French toast bagel with butter every day before school and those four years of college that I drank a Busch Lite (or six) every night before bed – but on the whole, I am thin. In size speak that’s a 4 or 6 on the bottom and a small on top.

And yet at least once a week I lie in bed before falling asleep and tell myself that I’m going to start a very strict diet, tomorrow. Sometimes I decide I’ll be vegan before breakfast. Other nights I promise to stop eating carbs and cheese all together. Every so often I decide the Special K Diet is the way to go. I’m not kidding. This happens weekly. Sometimes I wake up and follow that plan. Most times I don’t. But the dialogue does not change. Ugh, if I just ate less that part of my thighs that I hate would slim down, and the little side chunks of belly fat that piss me off when I’m wearing a bathing suit would go away, and I be really thin and really sexy and all the clothes I want to wear would fit perfectly, and I WILL FEEL SO GREAT. I can do that. I want that. I will do that. Nothing will stand in my way of doing that. Tomorrow.  

Why? I do not know. I have a loving partner who has said on several occasions that one of the things he appreciates most about me is that I actually eat. He also regularly compliments my body – no matter its size on that specific day – and has said, “you’re getting too skinny” enough times for it to sink in that he prefers me at my more natural size.

So really, why? Why do I want absolutely perfect thighs, zero chub around the middle and perfectly toned skinny arms? And why do I want this at the expense of things I really enjoy like cheese and not running? 

My honest answer is, doesn’t everyone? That's literally the first thing to comes to mind - not because I have an unhealthy ideal of what a woman's body should be, but isn't this normal? Doesn’t everyone want to look like a perfectly sculpted model that inspires jealousy wherever she struts? Doesn’t everyone want to be the skinniest girl in the room, even if it means egg white omelets without cheese? Isn’t everyone bothered to the point of Special K-dieting their extra skin away? Doesn’t everyone hate themselves when they eat more cheese and meats from the cheese and meats platter at the cocktail party then promptly promise the never eat the party meats and cheese again?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. In my head, all the answers are yes. Maybe in our body-obsessed culture, the answers are all yes. But I also know, despite the fact that I commonly answer yes to all those questions, that the answer to many should be no.

I like myself - some days a lot. But I know I'd like myself a lot more if I could get over always wanting to lose those extra inches that piss me off when I try on bathing suits. It's exhausting to beat yourself up about standing in your own way of pool party domination. What is pool party domination? Why being the person with the best body at the pool, of course. How could you not be aware of such an important and universal competition!

So what do we do about it? I’m not sure, but I can tell you a few things I do about it. For starters, I don’t have a scale. Aside from my annual physical, I have no idea what I weigh. I can tell you if my pants don’t fit, but I can’t tell you how much less cheese-eating it takes me to lose five pounds. That’s really helpful to me. 

Next, if I’m feeling particularly hateful toward my body, I stop looking at pictures of perfect women. That’s hard right now because I write about celebrity fashion and enjoy watching television, but I try not to sift through SELF magazines or COSMO if I’m down. No amount of telling myself that those people aren’t real or that it’s their job to look that good talks me out of wanting to look exactly like them. That is human nature. 

And finally, I stop looking in the mirror so much. That’s the most helpful of all. When I don’t look in the mirror so much my body image is focused more on how my body feels. Are my clothes comfortable? Does my body feel healthy? Does my stomach feel too full or not full enough? 

I am one woman with a very minor struggle. You might be reading this and saying, "bitch stop complaining about five pounds. You sound like a snob."  But my size is not the point of this whole conversation. My world views is the point. It's skewed, and that's more frustrating to me than the way some bathing suit bottoms look on my butt. I'd like to work on it throughout my 30s. Maybe you do too? And maybe this little confessional will help both of us start.


  1. Hi Jessie - I've been reading your blog for a while even though I'm a total stranger and I've never commented (creepy - sorry - that's the internet). Anyway, I love your writing. And with this post in particular I feel like you crawled inside my head. I'm at a similar point in life and I've been noticing lately just how relentless my body-image-evaluation is. I think about it all. the. time. Those 5 lbs. My seriously-okay arms. The little droopy part of my chin. I am constantly comparing myself to other women - all of whom I look at and think are gorgeous - but I hold onto my own Wish List Fix-Its and Diet Goals and look enviably at women everywhere thinking "She is rocking that outfit. Is it because of her enviable hourglass shape [or lanky shape or whatever the case may be] or because she isn't consumed by insecurity?". My world view is skewed. And it's frustrating. There are just so many more interesting problems to think about. This got long and is imperfect, but... At any rate I'm just really grateful to you for posting this. It actually was kind of therapeutic for me. Maybe I'll finally even digest tonight's hamburger and fries without bartering tomorrow's breakfast. Thanks for the blog!

  2. In the past year or so I've become largely at peace with my body, and it's awesome. I think the day I realized that I actually don't have an obligation to be attractive and that I can wear clothes even if (or deliberately because!) they're not flattering was a turning point. Because seriously, it doesn't freaking matter. I cut my hair short and started wearing it curly (it's cuter AND it takes basically no effort at all) and even (gasp) quit wearing mascara. It's amazing. And then I started biking 60 miles for the fun of it rather than in the hopes of getting skinny, and hiking for 12 hours because ditto. And life is great.

    But yes, this is largely enabled by my almost complete lack of exposure to women's magazines and celebrity-focused media. I wasn't aware until college that people actually thought they could/should look like models. I always thought they were on a completely different plane. Like movies, where you suspend your disbelief.

    One nitpick: the image. Apparently you can be fat or short or whatever, but to be a beautiful woman, you still have to wear a dress. Meh.

  3. Hi Jessie - awesome post. I actually recently read something from Melissa McCarthy, and she said that even when she was at her thinnest, she was thinking about why she wasn't even thinner and didn't appreciate it. I'm not sure why that struck me so much, but I thought, jeez I better appreciate the many positives of my body, because there have been in the past and likely will be in the futures, times when it's not at the current level. Ya know?

  4. Thanks for your honesty. I, too, have been struggling for as long as I can remember. What you said about making nightly promises to yourself really resonated with me. I feel like if I could spend even half as much time thinking about my body it would change my life, but at 29 I am just not there yet. Focusing on strength gains instead of pounds lost has been helpful in some ways, but I definitely have a lot more work to do. I only hope that I can find some sort of peace with my body before I have children and unintentionally teach them, by example, to be so critical.

  5. Thank you for writing this, just nice to know other women feel the same way and make the nightly promises to eat less tomorrow.

  6. I actually just wrote a post about body image and disordered eating yesterday:

    It has been a big struggle for me to admit that I have problems with food and eating because I didn't have a "clinical disorder." I wasn't anorexic or bulimic, but my eating patterns reflected my inability to accept myself the way I was.

    I was was constantly judgmental towards other women, but most of all I was judging myself. I have finally been able to be ok with the person that I am and not try to fit into the mold of something I will never be.

    Thanks for writing this and drawing attention to this issue :)