January 30, 2013 by mybattlebuddyfitness
Last night I was watching The Biggest Loser with my best friend, Elisabeth. I’m currently in Missouri helping to make dreams into reality with the launch of our new business, My Battle Buddy Fitness. I have never watched this show in my life. Not for any reason in particular, though I guess I would have had to say it was just a lack of interest. But Elisabeth once helped one of the at-home contestants win, so she is a big fan, which in turn means that I was watching the show.
As we were sitting there, I found myself pulling for the last girl left on the white team – Danni. Man, that is rough going, no one else on your team left, no partners in crime to help get you going, no one to rely on, and the added pressure of if you don’t do well enough then you and the trainer are kicked off the show. And a train of thought ran through my head, subconscious initially but then creeping into my conscious mind. And then I realized, if I say this out loud, Elisabeth is going to think I am crazy. So I look over and tell her that I have the beginnings of our next joint blog post ready in my head.
NOTE: this blog post is about body image, and Elisabeth knew that was what I was going to write on when I tell her I am ready. I’ll get there, I promise.
So I tell her what I am thinking: there’s no real difference in what Danni looks like and what I look like. We are both more or less the same. Right? I mean sure, when her shirt is off, I can tell she has a belly, but I have a belly. Granted, hers is bigger, but with her shirt on, I feel like people wouldn’t notice that big of a difference.
Answer = wrong. When I look at the numbers, it is nowhere close. Danni right now weighs 213 lbs. I weigh 150 lbs. That’s 63 POUNDS, not a small difference. But I feel like I look like a big girl. In my head, I am a big girl. I mean, Elisabeth is small, a size 0 or 2. My best buddy from Phoenix? She’s a size 2. My roommate from San Francisco? A size 4. My mom? Size 0 at best. I could go on and on. I am not small like that, so I must be big. Maybe not that big, but I am not little. One of these things is not like the other …
Example of how off my mental image of myself is? My friend from Phoenix came to visit me when I was living in San Francisco, and told me I looked like a hobo in the jeans I was wearing. It was high time to buy me some new pants. So off we went, and I went in with the mindset that whatever she handed me I would try on. We go to J Crew (never going to fit), and she hands me some ‘Matchstick’ jeans (read skinny jeans) in (gasp) a size 29. I laugh, sigh, and go into the fitting room. Much to my surprise, they fit.
I had that moment where I thought, “Is this what I really sound like?” You know, when you hear your voice when it has been recorded, and you know it’s you, but it doesn’t sound like you? It is the you the rest of the world hears. Well, same concept, this is what the rest of the world sees, but I don’t see it.
So I bounce this over to Elisabeth . . . why do I see myself one way when the rest of the world sees me another way?
Let me begin my post by answering that question as honestly as I can: I don’t know. I have theories, and for every person, my theory on why their body image is distorted is different. Let me also begin by saying that I, by no means, am an expert on this topic. I know that my own body image is distorted at times. For example, it took me over a year to realize that my old size of clothing no longer looks presentable, and I still reach for the size 4 pants and the medium top before I remember what I am currently working with. When I relax on the weekends and have a couple of Belgian beers on vacation, I battle myself in the morning when putting on my workout clothes. The cute little Lululemon tank tops that I am normally confident enough to wear suddenly feel like they are stretched out over my enormous pot belly. And the double chin?! I swear it doesn’t take much more than two cookies and a slice of bread for both of my chins to come out to play. One weekend of “bad eating” has me wishing I never ditched those terrible “fat pants.” Which I KNOW is ridiculous, but sometimes it’s how I feel.
One of my best friends refers to my frequent inability to see myself as I really am as “body dysmorphia,” though I don’t actually think that it’s quite that serious. Body dysmorphia is defined as, “excessively concerned about and preoccupied by a perceived defect in his or physical features.” This is definitely NOT my issue. I simply prefer to buy and wear clothing that happens to be a size or two larger than I actually need…I mean, that’s not a big deal, right?
The interesting thing is that this is such a common issue among women. Fit women, fat women, skinny women, old women, and young women. I have rarely met a woman who is able to see herself the way the rest of the world sees her. Not that this is a problem that doesn’t affect men too—it absolutely does, though I dare to guess, not as frequently.
It’s so strange that we can easily look at our friends and family and see them for what they are. I look at Melissa and see a woman that is CLEARLY fit, healthy, and (gasp!) SMALL! So why can’t she see this? I think it’s all rooted in our perspective and our past. Having grown up in a gym, Melissa has been surrounded by super fit people her entire life. Not to mention the fact that her momma and one of her other best friends, are a couple of the tiniest women I have ever met. It’s also incredibly common for people who undergo a physical transformation to take a long time before they see themselves in their new body. Not that Melissa was ever very large—but I think she would agree that she is perhaps the fittest she has ever been right now. I, along with a hundred other people, could tell Melissa that she looks fit and small a million times a day, but until she FEELS like she is fit and small, she will never see it. It’s just so darn easy to lose perspective…
I can ponder reasons why we cannot see ourselves clearly all day long, but instead, I will offer a few suggestions. Again, I haven’t totally conquered this whole body image thing, but I’m working on it and I’ve made huge improvements in recent years, so I will share with you what I’ve learned.
I used to be much more preoccupied with my size and how the world perceives me, but after I lost the 60 pounds, I began to set goals for myself that weren’t appearance-driven. I found that I derive so much more satisfaction from knowing that I can go out on any given Saturday and run 20 miles, than I did from squeezing myself into a size 0. I know that I could be thinner, trimmer, more defined…but guess what? I don’t want to be right now! I am strong, healthy, and I feel great. I continue to set performance-based goals for myself in an effort to base my body image on how I FEEL, versus strictly on how I look. When I finished my first marathon, I was about 10 pounds heavier than I am now. But you know what? When I crossed that finish-line, you could have told me that I looked like Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider and I would have believed you…because I FELT like the thinnest, prettiest girl in the world. I was proud of myself, and no one could have taken that feeling away from me for any reason.
I urge all of you who battle your own body image issues to take a step back. Take stock of how you FEEL. What have you done lately to make yourself proud of YOU? Repair yourself from the inside and I promise that the outside will follow close behind.