THE TRUTH ABOUT BODY IMAGE
Only a few people have heard me admit that I remember having anxieties about my body shape at ages as young as 7 years old. It varied from things like worrying that the knuckle at my big toe was going to turn into a bunion, to the spider vein that appeared by my nostril after a particularly sniffly winter season, to something as simple as the shape or size of my fingernails. Honestly. And although most of these anxieties faded over time after reassurance from my mother, there were some things that didn’t, and still haven’t shifted. The tops of my thighs, the roundness of my face… my stomach, always my stomach. The fleeting moments that I did ever find a feeling that resembled ‘confidence’ were mostly masked by a numbing illness that drained the colour from my face and broke my body down. The small flickers of content as I functioned in an almost drugged-like state, tunnel vision focus on attaining the change in whatever part of me, physical or actionable that would make me ‘good enough’. Running on an addictive high of pure adrenaline and cortisol as a life meant for living turned into a hollow existence.
I will not let myself hide my struggles for fear of judgement or for the impending embarrassment or discomfort of raw, flawed vulnerability, as I know deep down by doing so I am recycling myself back into the system I have worked so incredibly hard to break out of. I have broken out of it, but I want to break it; crack it in any way possible in hope that it might shine light for even one woman lost in it’s encompassing darkness. In hope that it might ease the way, knowing that the barren land on the other side isn’t so desolate. That there are many of us, recovering from the self-inflicted destruction that we never initially wanted to inflict at all. We can’t blame ourselves for falling prey to the virus that we are surrounded with inescapably day by day. The sugar-coated, toxic cupcakes we are fed since day one.
We can’t blame our mothers, or their mothers mother’s for passing down these false truths. They fed us the information they did with the purest intentions of protection or love or beauty or success - anything and everything that would make us happy in this world, that might even make us the things that they strived to be. The things they always wished for, or maybe did achieve for a split second - but usually not for much longer, as most of these ideals were never achievable or sustainable in a healthy way. Whichever flavour you were fed, it most likely had the main ingredient of ‘fat = bad.’ A rule that seems to not really have a true definition, that doesn’t leave space for the grey area or clarify it’s subheadings - what really is ‘obese’?, and what is ‘puppy fat’, and which one do the rolls on your stomach or the squish of your thighs equate to? And whatever the outcome, what is the cure?
When you’re faced, as a teenager, with the reality of your changing body from a child to a woman and the uncomfortable cocoon you find yourself in; when your mind is the most influential and most insecure and most unsure of who you are, we look for guidance, and the guidance we find comes from the only source there really is. A source that so cleverly masks itself with a grandiose that to the young eye seems so scientific, so believable; backed up by all the visual evidence we would ever need.
The media. The industry composed of modelling and dieting and fashion and fitness and whatever else that seems harmless on the surface, but sends cryptic, toxic messages that brainwash on a level sometimes so invisible I question whether it’s really that bad at all.
Whether the blame can be placed on anyone but myself.
But this isn’t about blame, really. Blame doesn’t solve issues; it only allows us to sit in the stagnancy and become addicted to the emotions that leave us within the comfort of there not actually being any change. Because shifting deep roots is going to cause a lot of mess, and leave you with empty holes that your mind will scream like a toddler to fill.
This is about questioning.
Why would the world lie to us?
Why would the world want anything but it’s women to be comfortable and confident in their own skin, no matter what shape or size?
Can’t make much money from true health, can we. When we realise that health is more important than image, then that health does not correlate to image - natural health, intuitive eating, yeah, maybe some products can still survive, but big, multi-million dollar industries?
The minute we stop viewing our bodies as objects, the minute they no longer have a product to analyse, to market - to create the next upgrade for - whether that’s the next desirable body shape, the newest fashion trends, beauty products or magic diet plan.
Things are better? We don’t have to be skinny anymore, you say? The thigh gap might be out, but ’slim thicc’ is in, alongside beach-ball bums and hourglass waists and carved muscular arms and washboard abs. Be curvy, but in the right places. Be strong, but not too strong. Lean, but not too masculine.
The diet industry doesn’t even seem like an industry anymore, because it no longer has to try and convince us of why we need the results. The want, the need to change and mould our bodies is so, so deeply engrained that until you become aware that you too have been poisoned by this toxic water, the parasite will lay undetected as it eats away your self-esteem, your thoughts and your actions. Even when you learn of it’s presence, you are left treading water as you try desperately to re-wire your entire belief system and catch yourself from committing to the reflex actions that occur. Saying you accept your body but still deleting photos as you criticise how you look at that angle. Wearing a crop-top on a good day then hiding the next under baggy clothes. We all fight, and continue to fight the inner battle as we consistently are trying to figure out how exactly to function in a world that doesn’t support this mindset shift at all.
We become aware of these lies yet we still live behind them. Why? We convince ourselves that we’re alone, or that our voice is not powerful enough, our message strong enough to be heard. That no one will listen. That we’re not entitled to an opinion so controversial, in a world still so dependant on the diminishment of the female - the very thing we’re trying to fight for.
That’s the problem. This industry has become so successful because it has tricked us into thinking our external appearance is linked, in any way, to our self-worth. That we can control how we look, and by choosing not we therefore are lacking the discipline and drive required in order to succeed. That by sacrificing our choice to change ourselves, we are sacrificing our ability to be liked, to be loved.
How is that fair?
And we don’t question it. The markers of attractiveness in our world, what it means to be beautiful, desirable - it’s just the way it is.
We all hate the way it is; we see how much pain it causes every single human being, how it causes physical illness, triggers mental illness - yet we just swallow the lump in our throats and get on with it. Be strong like a man - no room for emotion or feeling. Convince ourselves we just need to change our diet, or exercise more. Convince ourselves that we’re weak for feeling so disconnected from our outer shell, that we’re weak for not designing it like you would your dream kitchen. Forgetting that we’re sentient, complicated creatures and that there is not a one-size-fits-all blueprint for a beautiful body.
It seems so obvious. If dieting worked, if any of this bullshit held any ounce of truth, wouldn’t we all look like that Instagram model by now? Despite what everyone is trying to tell you, is not because you don’t have the discipline, it is not because your ‘metabolism is broken’, it is because this is an INDUSTRY, a BUSINESS, one that has grown larger beyond the means of any one CEO and one that has infiltrated it’s way into the foundations of our society. It is corrupt, and it is dangerous, and instead of recognising this truth we continue to compete with ourselves and with each other and forget why this even mattered so much in the first place, forget where our intentions came from - because the intentions were never really ours to begin with.
It seems to matter so much, the way we look, because we are creatures that are naturally drawn to aesthetic, and are undoubtedly recognised by our outer shell. As primal creatures, we recognise the threat that lies in not being regarded or received in the way we want to be, and I can’t deny that there is some ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ in the midst of all of this mess. There lies this perceived risk, this possibility that our outer shell might fail us; from forming those relationships that make life so full, that make us the race we are. The more I think about it, the more I believe human life is about connection. But it seems that the more we engage in the very things that we think will bring us more connection, the more we distance ourselves from one another.
Connection is not created through the external, but through the internal response. And yes, this has to be carried through external mediums, but at the end of the day, it shouldn’t really matter what that is or what it looks like. What matters is it’s authenticity - the more artificial a construct becomes, the more it blocks, the less it conducts the truth. The frequencies no longer match up and you find yourself surrounded by people that don’t hear or see you for what you internally are. In turn, we find ourselves latching on to whatever external thing can numb that pain - the unconscious grief of having achieved something that wasn’t what you wanted in the first place at all. Finding the key to case of empty promises, that leave you with a hollow existence.
This idea is one that, unfortunately, ripples into so many other facets of the human experience and the idea of ‘society’ that we find ourselves born into.
But when it comes to healing our body image, the answer lies not only in connection to others but most importantly, the connection with ourselves.
We need to remember that our bodies are just as, if not smarter than our minds, and that there is currently no way we can understand fully and holistically what goes on inside us and how that differs from person to person. We can begin to heal slowly by learning how to be intuitive with how we move and fuel our bodies - freely, not forceful. Reminding ourselves that an external achievement will never create long-term, sustainable internal happiness, or help you find the authentic relationships in life, or with yourself, that you truly want.
It is time that we stop believing what we are told, and start questioning and unravelling the ideas that we perceive as true. We need to stop looking to others, to external imagery to try and grasp the meaning of health and how our bodies work. The only discipline we ever need is to stay strong in our enquiring and inquisition. The strength to disengage from the surface chatter and delve inwards to investigate what makes us feel good, and what feeling good actually feels like - that it’s not some pre-conceived idea we implement and convince ourself of.
We need to re-claim our bodies - because the real control lies not in the resistance to, but the acceptance of what is. The surrender as we decide to re-learn how to truly listen to ourselves, our hormone driven signals and the wants and desires that are naturally sequential. I can’t promise that it’ll be easy, but I can promise a new-found mental freedom that leaves you frustrated and angry, yes, but also leaves you with a sense of relief that you are one step closer to finding peace within your mind and the vessel that carries you on this earth. That you are one step closer to waking up to the beauty that seeps from your external inwards, and simultaneously emanates outwards. That you are no longer shackled by the way you once were conditioned, living - or more so, existing - solely in accordance with the drive to fit the mould, that on reflection, did feel so foreign and disjointed but was one that you never even dared to question.
The time of women staying silent, doing what they’re told, hiding in the corner, putting themselves last in order to please others - is over.
With each person that takes a stand, we are slowly finding a new, real, sense of connection that uncovers a layer bringing us closer to ourselves. Together we will rise, until no woman is left buried under the mask of protection - a twisted protection from ourselves - from our true, insurmountable power. And we won’t stop, until the little girls that question their reflection do so not to question their worth, but only to make sure that through their outer shell, they are not accidentally shrinking or dampening their radiance.