Day 4: BODY IMAGE (The July “I Believe…” Challenge)

by Dani Fake Webb on July 4, 2010

(If you’re new to this challenge, take a look at the intro video explaining the concept.
You can get more details on how to participate.
And click here for the daily categories.)

Today’s Category: Body Image

I encourage you to comment on this post about what you believe about body image . 😕

What I believe about body image:

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When I selected this category to be a part of the July Challenge, I had all these grand ideas of how wonderful it would be to talk about body image and how distorted it can be in our culture; how the media feeds us an unattainable ideal; how we should all just be happy with our bodies; how our bodies don’t define us BLAH BLAH BLAH…

Now that I am here actually writing about it, that’s what all of those above ideas feel like to me…BLAH BLAH BLAH…

NOT because they are not true. They are.
NOT because they are not important to address. They are.
NOT because I don’t care. I do.

Maybe that’s why I am less than excited about this topic: What I want to believe and how I actually live are not in alignment.

Let me explain with a story…

Chapter One

I have weighed pretty much the same my whole adult life. I am not super skinny, petite, model-like or any of that. I am just “normal.” (I put that in quotes as I wonder what normal means. Maybe it just means normal for me. But, I digress….)

I used to think I was the only woman in the world without body image issues. I’d see people struggle and hear their painful stories, and, quite frankly, be relieved that I did not have that issue! I’d look at my own body and feel thankful. At 5′ 8″ and 140 pounds, I was at a healthy weight and I looked pretty good in a bikini. 😀

Then, something happened.

I lost 16 pounds. It was not intentional. I was going through what I now know to be the most traumatic time of my life, and my body responded by shedding pounds. I had to buy clothes 2-3 sizes smaller. For the first time in my life, I had no butt, no hips, and teeny weeny arms.

Friends were telling me I was too skinny. “Eat!” they’d beg. I received a box of Luna Bars as a birthday present from a friend trying to make it really easy for me to eat something! And in the concern of my friends, here’s the part I hated: I felt a certain sense of pride in my new-found skinniness.

WHAT!?!? I had never had “body image issues” before, so where was this pride coming from?

And then something even worse happened.

I was living in Seattle at the time of this weight loss, and I took a trip to Denver (where I am from) to see all of my old friends. Most of them had not seen me for two or more years. The reception I got was, well, enlightening.

I had arranged a big group gathering at a local restaurant with about 30 people. Nearly every one of these people commented on how good I looked. And it wasn’t just the normal, “I haven’t seen you in a while and you look great.” No, it was a surprised holy-cow-you’ve-lost-a-lot-of-weight-and-look-AMAZING version of “you look good.”

It devastated me.

Here I was, a woman who hadn’t ever struggled with her body, being told how fabulous I looked 16 pounds lighter with no ass or hips or arms!

Well, what the hell had they thought I looked like before!?

I filed away both the sense of pride I had and the devastation I felt in an “I can’t deal with this now” box.

Then life got less traumatic. I ate normally again. I regained those 16 pounds. And I also gained body image issues. Like a disease I had avoided my whole life, I was stricken.

Even though my weight was the same as it had been most of my life, I now saw imperfection.
Even though I had always worn a size 8-10, I now missed the size 4’s.
Even though I hardly gave a thought to comparison, I was now aware that I was the biggest of my closest group of friends.

Even though…

Chapter Two

I have learned to deal with being a “woman who struggles with body image.” But I have done it mostly in isolation. Given that I am not overweight, I feel a barrier to talking about my struggle with friends who are. And other friends tend to brush off my concerns because I think most people would say I look ok.

So, it is a lonely struggle. A struggle that is getting harder as I age. See, I just turned 40, and despite running lots of miles and eating healthy, my body seems to have naturally readjusted its normal weight to be heavier than before. I find myself in the new place of having to accept more weight and even a little bit of a tummy (which I have NEVER had before!)

I WANT to be in a place of total acceptance.
I WANT to believe that I am healthy and look good (which my husband tells me all the time).
I WANT to never have a judgmental thought about my body.
I WANT to be in a place of gratitude.
I WANT to not feel envious when I see the bodies of my two size 2 friends (and I remind myself they are both 26 years old!)

But in the spirit of yesterday’s post on authenticity, I must be authentic and write my truth:

What I believe about body image is that I struggle with it, and I am angry that I do.

I want something different. And I am hopeful that in writing this and telling my story, I will begin to really face my struggle. My hope is to be able to move to a place of a) knowing my body does not define me and b) loving my body just how it is.

I’m just not there yet.

Until next time, may you love your life (and maybe even your body) today.

Dani-Signature

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Renae C. July 4, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Here’s the link to mine… reading yours now: http://is.gd/df4pH

Laura Neff - Life Leadership Coach July 4, 2010 at 5:37 pm

PHEW, Dani. GREAT post. You made me remember the moment I first felt shame about my body. I was 19 or 20 years old and had gone to Brooklyn to visit my boyfriend of three years. He was cheating on me left and right, which I didn’t know at that point, and (I’m sure unconsciously) decided that the best way to deal with that was to point out my flaws. We were lying in bed one morning when he said, “Hmmm, looks like someone needs to do some situps.”

I was immediately flooded with shame and fear. Shame that my body wasn’t “perfect,” and fear that I’d lose him if it wasn’t. UGH! Prior to that? I’d been proud of my tiny physique, which is likely proof (as you point out above) that I’d been sucked in by the body image beliefs our pop culture spits out. But this was the first time I felt shame and fear as a result of what someone else saw. I’m tempted to write, “Bastard!” about that guy and what he said, but truth is, it would have happened at some point. Still, it was a turning.

Anyway, I could go on and on. Just know that you don’t have to feel lonely in this issue. I’m right here with you, sitting here with my belly pooching against the waistband of my shorts, which no one else but me would ever know!

xoxo

Dani Fake Webb July 4, 2010 at 6:00 pm

You make me smile Laura Neff!

Renae C. July 4, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Wow Dani, powerful post. It’s a trigger for lots of emotions – no matter what size we are. Thank you for sharing so honestly.

Rick Hamrick July 4, 2010 at 6:09 pm

Dani, your story is illustrative of the struggles we all have, in one area of our lives or another, with getting sideways with reality. That gap between what we believe and what is consensus reality is nothing but a garden with perfect soil, light, and weather to grow stress, self-esteem doubts, and mistreatment of self.

In my case, I probably need to develop stronger body-image issues! I’m way overweight, but thanks to my wife’s converting us to a green-smoothie drinkin’, raw-food consumin’ house of vegetarians, I feel better than I have in years! I’m not sticking strictly to the program and am certainly not vegetarian, though, as I do eat meat away from our main shared meals, and I eat chocolate a lot–a big contributor to my weight.

Because I feel good and don’t have any issues with movement or malfunctioning parts, I’m not as motivated as my wife was when her rheumatoid arthritis had gotten so bad she could not walk.

Now, she is 55 lbs lighter, walking just fine, and maintaining the lifestyle changes which have worked so well for her over the last 8 months.

My goal is to get some urgency around the issue before I hit rock bottom and am forced into doing something out of concern for self-preservation.

I have chosen a guy solution: I’ve taken up kettlebell training. I figure if I burn enough calories, I can cut back on my consumption sins without having to eliminate them, and I will still move in the right direction with my weight.

To be fully hamrick about it, you look great, Dani. I was nodding as I read your post above as you talked about not having body-image issues, as I would not have expected you to. Of course, that’s based purely on external evidence, not the complete picture.

As you continued and described how, with the help of your Denver buddies, you came to see your too-thin self as right, and your regained-health self, back at your normal weight, as bad and wrong, I was saddened. You are a determined athlete, a powerful coach and mentor, a delightful person to know, and I would not wish such a turn of mental events on you! Your self image is so far from how others see you! Not that any number of people telling you that you look great (more importantly, you ARE great) can overcome the well-rooted memory of that time when others raved about your look, but I had to testify anyway!

Loving this series, by the way. I’ll be back to see what comes next.

Kirk Webb July 4, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Body Image
I believe that our body and soul are profoundly intertwined. The image that we have our body points to the respect that we have for our being (our soul). The health of one effects the health of the other. Treating our bodies with kindness and compassion is reflected in an always growing ability to be kind to ourselves and to others. Likewise, strengthening our respect for our souls (through activities like meditation, prayer, and loving others) is reflected in how we treat and maintain our bodies.

C. July 4, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Thanks for posting this. I’m glad you really dug in and found what resonated for you.

I have to tell a story about a friend who had a similar experience.

My friend Elizabeth is a primatologist. Her specialty is studying the mating habits of lemurs. (She is super smart.) A couple of summers ago, she got a grant to study lemurs in a very remote jungle in Madagascar. She lived for three months in a tent in Madagascar, doing her research and eating meals of beans, rice and peanuts. Conditions were so primitive that she didn’t even have access to a mirror while living in the tent.

After three months, she flew back to the States. When she stopped in the airport bathroom to wash up, she saw her reflection in the mirror and immediately burst into tears. She had lost some 20-25 pounds over the summer. (She was a size 8 to begin with; she didn’t really have 25 extra pounds to lose.) She was emaciated and pale.

She called a few family members and friends to say, “I’m back, and just FYI, I lost some weight while in Madagascar this summer, so please don’t be scared when you see me.” But inevitably, every time she ran into one of her friends, they responded in the way that yours did. “God, you look FABULOUS!” Even her mother praised her for her “new look.” It was profoundly upsetting to her.

Some of the weight has come back on slowly. From a low of size 0 or 2, she’s now at a size 6. But what’s significant is that she is now plagued by really significant body image issues. She is as slender as the day is long, but she is trying hard to lose weight.

All this to say, our country/culture has a really, really messed up idea of what healthy femininity looks like. So I am grateful for your words. I think that by sharing your experience and your desires, you are opening the door to a larger conversation about this issue. Thanks for doing that.

Ellen Stoune July 4, 2010 at 6:41 pm

Excellent! I loved reading this. I can relate really well. See, back in “the day” I was a skinny little bird who had to work in order to get in enough calories to sustain my 100lb self. I also used to smoke. Then I started waking up, making changes – like not using cigarettes anymore – and suddenly, I was a size 8. You can imagine my initial displeasure at this turn of events! There are still days when I struggle. Absolutely. Every once in a while when my self esteem goes diving off the coral reef of my soul, I see those Alli commercials and I am actually tempted to buy that poison and ingest it so that I can be super skinny again. Thankfully, those days are few and further between. Which brings me to my thoughts on Laura’s post about how skinny women can have body issues too. Skinny does not equal perfection! I used to LAMENT over the fact that I had no boobies. I wanted implants. I really did. Not big ones – just enough to fill an A cup bra. Well, guess what! Now that I’m a size 8 not only do I have an ass that rocks the Casbah but I also grew a pair (both literally and figuratively)!

Dani Fake Webb July 4, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Ellen this is awesome! I totally relate with the “I still struggle occasionally” and you made me laugh out loud with your last sentence!! THANK YOU!

Dani Fake Webb July 4, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Oh, Carissa, this makes me so sad for your friend. And I totally relate. It is oddly comforting to hear that someone had a similar experience. I bet there are more than the 2 of us. And thank you for your last paragraph. I agree about the messed-upness and I’d LOVE there to be healthy communication and maybe even a community that supports what true feminine beauty is (although body image crap also applies to men…not to exclude…)

Dani Fake Webb July 4, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Wow, Rick. You are so kind. Thank you for your words. And I LOVE the idea of upping the workout to not have to forego the chocolate. Those are my thoughts exactly as I consume my yummy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies after running 9 miles – no guilt!! :) And yes, be healthy. Don’t let yourself hit rock bottom and have to fight your way out of unhealth. My dad has let his health/weight go, and is now facing 2 knee replacement surgeries that will necessitate his retirement. Very sad for him as he is not ready to retire (he loves his work!)

Thank you for commenting, sharing, and encouraging me. :)

Dani

Jennifer July 4, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Love the posts and the authenticity :). Coming from a heavier place, it is easy to forget that the grass is not always greener on the other side.

Laura Neff - Life Leadership Coach July 4, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Omg…Ellen, I so echo Dani’s post above. Your last line…CLASSIC and HILARIOUS! Thank you for bringing some smiles to this!!!

And Kirk, thank you for that perspective. I so agree and think about that often. My commitment to my own wellness is often shakey, though I can hear and feel the “north on my inner compass” so clearly. Some of that’s inherited, and yet all of it’s 100% my choice at this point. So, you’re right. “Treating our bodies with kindness and compassion is reflected in an always growing ability to be kind to ourselves and to others. Likewise, strengthening our respect for our souls (through activities like meditation, prayer, and loving others) is reflected in how we treat and maintain our bodies.” <– Diggin' it! An excellent reminder.

Jennifer July 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I believe body image is created by our thoughts.

I believe body image is an attachment to our manual about how our life should be.

I believe that our belief about our body image may keep us playing small.

I believe that all women, not just mothers of daughters, need to be concerned about the media’s role in influencing body image beliefs. My sons are being subjected to it daily as well. Is this where their belief about beauty is coming from?

Melissa Foster Cook July 6, 2010 at 9:32 pm

I believe body image can be crippling. Hermit-izing.
I remember the nights I would stay in because I hated the way I looked in my too-tight clothes and with my bulges.

I believe body image can produce a slew of thoughts that quickly turn to beliefs.
“I’m lazy.” “I’m gross.” “I’m hungry.” “I’m a mess.”

Some of my deepest work has been done in this area.
And I believe I have more to do.

I believe I’m just a soul…that was born into a time where body image is socially a big deal.
I have a mind that does what minds do and absorbs a lot of information.

Luckily, I know how to use my mind and not let it use me.

So, I will just keep working with that.

Unfolding the layers of beliefs.

Practicing self-love and kind self talk.

Evolving into myself.

Dani Fake Webb July 12, 2010 at 9:53 pm

Thanks for the courage to post this Melissa – it’s a tough topic, isn’t it?!

Dani Fake Webb July 12, 2010 at 10:21 pm

@Jennifer – good point about boys. They are certainly not immune! And I love your idea about body image causing us to play small. So true!

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