Author: Alex K.
I know first hand how it feels to never be satisfied with the way you look when you see yourself in the mirror. From as long ago as I can remember, I have never loved what I saw looking back at me. Following recovery, I have had even worse body image than before, due to the fact that I had gained to a weight I had never been at before because of the mixture of slow metabolism, binge eating, and drinking. Although I am no longer “anorexic”, I still get those disordered thoughts occasionally. Each day is a challenge, during which I experiment with different coping mechanisms. Some days are easier than others. It is crazy how each day or, even, hour, what I see in the mirror is something different. My mind morphs my body image depending on my mood or what I had eaten that day.
Why do we focus so much on the way our bodies look? Half the time, we try and change our eating and exercise habits to change the way we look rather than to change our bodies health. What makes our minds so obsessed with looking a certain way? Some say media has a huge role on body image for both men and women; however, eating disorders were around even before Photoshop and society’s obsessions with flat stomachs, thigh gaps, and whatever other crazy body modifications could be thought of. Is media making us continue to strive for an unrealistic body image? Or, is it something deeper? The reason will never actually be certain, but, what can be certain, is the ways we can cope with the negative body image.
Every time I look in the mirror, I pick out flaws: stomach fat, thighs too big, too much “extra” on my chin – whatever I can think of that will follow me throughout the day. It’s amazing how eating a salad or a slice of pizza can result in two different bodies appearing in the mirror afterwards. A lot of girls in the treatment program I went to would mention “feeling” the weight on their bodies after eating a certain meal, and that’s something I still struggle with today.
What I find confusing is when I am interested in a boy, his personality, rather than his appearance, will really determine if I like him. This goes for many other females I know. Although I am sure the same goes for men, I am unable to understand why, for me, my body needs to be perfect in order for men or, even, women to find me attractive or beautiful. Why do I and so many other people in the world put so much more pressure on THEMSELVES while failing to take into consideration how non-judgmental they are towards others? I notice flaws in myself that I would never notice in others. I “see” a two-pound weight gain when I look at myself in the mirror but will not even believe another person if they told me they had put on two pounds.
For the longest time, what I failed to realize was that with every year, or even less, comes weight fluctuation of a few pounds. It is inevitable. Yes, we can exercise and eat clean to maintain a healthy weight, but as we grow, hormones change, metabolism changes, women grow curvier and men get bulkier, and no amount of exercise or clean eating can change that.
I know, from losing almost four years of my life to an eating disorder, that life is too short to focus on what we can and cannot eat. Life revolves around food, whether it be holidays, meetings for work, family get-togethers, sleepovers, and any other event. Why spend hours, prior and after eating, worrying about something you ate that most-likely made no impact on your weight when you could sit and enjoy not only the food, but also the ambiance that comes with it? Memories and conversations are made at the table, and the food eaten at the time should not carry on with you to the mirror you look into afterwards. I cannot stress enough that I will never be satisfied with how I look body-wise. And I know that many other people struggle with that too. I can look at a person and think they look better than can be put into words, and they could think they look absolutely horrible. It is a mind game that we play with ourselves, and it is something that won’t change with weight loss or exercise and restriction; however, it will change if we learn to love the things in life that matter more than what we look like because, before we know it, the way we look will inevitably change.
I know all of this is easier said than done, but I can tell you that, although I put on weight in college, I LOVED every second of my experience in school and the summer before it. Without the eating disorder as prevalent as before, I enjoyed moments in life that I would have otherwise let slip through my fingers. Why look in the mirror and critique things that you can’t change in that very moment? Sitting and lingering over the stomach fat or arm flab you think you may have won’t make it go away in the next hour. I believe that we spend way too much time worrying about things instead of loving important things in the moment and making a change slowly if need be. A healthy body comes with time, and stressing over it will only make it harder to accomplish.
Wasting away vacations and events by worrying about an ice-cream cone or looking in the mirror, feeling 20 pounds heavier, is NOT realistic. Weight accumulates over time, the same way weight loss sheds over time. Instead of worrying about fad diets and looking for the quickest way to accomplish the “ideal” body, people need to work on making a lifestyle change. A lifestyle stays forever, and the more we work on it, the healthier our body-images will be.
In all aspects, obsessing over things exaggerates how we see those things. Obsessing over body image multiplies how negative it can be. If all we think about is how we look in other people’s eyes and in the mirror, our minds learn to know only that. If we spend days enjoying everything else (like I said, life’s short), then our minds will be healthy and open enough to correct the negative thoughts that come with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Almost everyone has good and bad days when it comes to body image, but learning to enjoy life will make more good days than bad. What if media and society didn’t place their major focuses on body image? Would we still worry about how we looked 24/7? Our minds are programmed to care so much about image, and with proper skills, we can learn to beat that.
We need to wake up each morning and be grateful for what we CAN do, be grateful that we are healthy enough to enjoy the beauties of life. Be happy that we have what God blessed us with and that, if we believe there needs to be change in our bodies for us to feel more confident and healthier, we can make change happen the proper way: by not obsessing over everything that may affect our progress. Making a change the healthy way will 100% make the image that reflects back at us healthier. It feels so good now to look in the mirror after eating well all week and staying active as much as possible, whereas when I was sick, I still desired more. I am healthy enough now to look in the mirror once in a while and see that change will come with time, and not just on our bodies, but also in our lives. Minor set backs are impossible to avoid, but I’m learning to deal with them, and although I may never be able to fully silence the voice in the back of my head telling me I’m not good enough, I am now working on making a permanent change without rushing and obsession. I am working on obtaining a healthier idea about how bodies work and how they need to be fueled in order to function. It will take time, as I, and many others recovering, can have a hard time understanding how to eat properly and not feel a sudden shift in weight; however, a variation in diet and a balance in exercise will teach us how to not let our minds blow our bodies up in the mirror after eating one meal. If we focus so much on eating clean at every meal, our disorders, body dysmorphias, and other insecurities will think one slip up backtracks our progress by 7 steps. This is when change becomes an obsession, and I think the reason why we are never happy with our reflection IS because of this obsession.
Start by looking yourself in the mirror, everyday, and learning to love yourself for YOU and not for others. Make a change because you WANT to, not because standards are telling you to do so. If you have a bad day and feel uncomfortable in your skin, don’t sit and nit pick at every flaw that shows up in your mind. Rather, distract yourself because our moods immediately reflect in our reflections. A positive mindset leads to positive body image, and everything else will fall into place with time.