The moment we enter this world our body image story is being formulated and written. I personally have struggled with an eating disorder, specifically bulimia and binge eating disorder, and have painstakingly agonized over my own body image issues for the better part of my life. Since I was a young girl around the age of 10, the relationship I’ve had with my body has not come from a place of love or acceptance but rather from a place of hate and intolerance. I was taught and have held an embedded belief that my body was something to be used, perfected and visually altered. Furthermore, if I couldn’t master the appearance of my body by the standards established around me, I believed I had nothing of real value or worth to measure me as a person. This resulted in me feeling scared and panicked that I would become invisible and that my very existence as a human being was at stake.
Allen Ginsberg, said, “Whoever controls the media—the images—controls the culture.” Every day we are inundated with systematic messaging from the powers that be in the mainstream media and the marketing culture. We are processing and taking in more information on any given day than in any other time in history. You may think that this stuff doesn’t bother me or have any effect on me. Whether you believe it or not you are being affected, you just may not be aware that it is occurring. You are in fact absorbing these messages subconsciously and your thinking and emotional perceptions have been and are continuing to be altered by the constant messaging coming at you full speed ahead. Each time we open up a magazine, turn on the television, listen to the radio, get on the internet or drive down the street we our constantly being bombarded with some sort of messaging that is seeking our attention to convince us that something is wrong with our bodies; AKA you are not good enough that plays on our shame and neediness. All brilliantly designed to make us think that we need to feel and look pretty by buying and doing whatever it takes to fix the appearance of ourselves in order to look great, feel good and finally be happy, happy, happy.
“ What a strange illusion it is to suppose that beauty equals goodness” – Leo Tolstoy
When it comes to our obsession about weight and the anguish over our body image we are trapped in a never-ending cycle of failure. With every failed attempt to alter and change our bodies with superficial and temporary quick fixes, we hope that this will finally be the magic formula to mend and heal our fractured souls. Consequently we are left more disconnected from bodies, ourselves and to each other. The real issue is that we are seeking to fulfill our underlying needs and find acceptance of ourselves through a generated version of awesome that has been created for us. As a result we find ourselves in a state of constant war with our bodies and ultimately ourselves.
In addition, we are now faced with the onslaught of the NEW “Positive Body Image” focused marketing campaigns.
Leading us to believe that they are teaching us something about our bodies and empowerment by trying to convince and persuade us that they have somehow widened the definition of beauty and body acceptance. Marketing to us by using trendy and empty catch phrases of body love and real beauty, while simultaneously endorsing images that still send the same age-old message that our true value and self-worth inherently lies only in the external and visual appearance of our bodies. And now, what women are really being asked is, if they truly love themselves, want to be heard, feel powerful and be authentically seen than they need to bare it all as some sort of proof that she has now received her secret club card to be deemed officially empowered. The danger of this type of thinking and messaging is that it has become socially acceptable since it “appears” that they are empowering women and advocating for a healthy body. As long as a campaign is all about “body positivity” and “body empowerment” this automatically makes it honorable and viewed by so many in our society as acceptable and a step in the right direction, but progress does not equal change.
The concept of our body image needs to move away from the visual to the feeling of your body, said Melanie Klein,
co-author of “Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body.” I recently
attended a yoga and body image workshop where one of the discussions centered around how body image perceptions that we hold and believe in, are the accumulation of experiences and messages received throughout one’s life; forming how we feel and what we think about are own bodies. Melanie then asked, how were your body image perceptions and beliefs formed? I started thinking about what is body image, what is beauty and by the way what the hell does, love yourself, love your body, even mean?
What is Body Image? Body image is defined by how you see yourself, how you feel about how you look and how you perceive others see you. It’s the subjective picture or mental image of one’s own body relative to those of others.
What is beauty? It is a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, which pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight. Beauty is subjective; two different people may perceive the beauty of a person or object completely different.
Love Yourself? An empty, trendy marketable catch phrase that pretends it’s teaching us something about our bodies and empowerment.
As a result, I thought long and hard about how my own perceptions and beliefs were shaped and formed in creating my body image story. First, I was an only child with a controlling father that objectified women and treated my mother as less than him. I had a mother who was silent, scared and uncomfortable in her own skin. I was subjected to a tremendous amount of trauma that included physical, emotional and sexual abuses that all left me feeling ugly, devalued, flawed and damaged. I was also a prodigal female athlete where my body was subject for constant ridicule and critique from coaches, trainers and family. I sought refuge in my eating disorder to avoid all that I was feeling, turning my focus and attention to only my body. Then slowly add in the exposure to the relentless toxic messaging of what femininity looked like, what pretty looked like and the idealized body media that perpetuated my self-loathing and combative relationship with my body.
“At some point you have to find closure. At some point, you have to make yourself believe that your body is a home and not a battleground.” – unknown
The intention of your body is not to be a vision of beauty that you decorate for the outside world to gawk at and critique with its relentless eyes. Then why do so many of us still buy into the belief that our personhood can only be measured by the total sum our body parts and that belief will enhance our lives and bring us true happiness. As I have mentioned earlier this message is being programmed into our thoughts so how are we to fix ourselves and fit in if this message is false?
Have you ever stopped and asked yourself, what is the purpose of your body? It is the vehicle and tool that allows you to communicate and share your humanness and without your body you would be emotionally removed from connecting with others. Your body is a gateway to human connectedness regardless of whether it conforms to superficial and arbitrary standards of beauty. When I stop to think about my body in this magnificent way it begins to let me see the significance of my own body and allows me to ask the question; what is it that I am really trying to fix?
“ Your Body is a gateway into connection and intimacy – into-me-I-see” Chelsea Roff
It is not surprising that girls, boys, women and men alike struggle and are imprisoned with misdirected thinking and perceptions regarding body image issues. Society tries repeatedly to convince us that something is wrong with our bodies by playing on our insecurities about appearance, weight and body image issues. We wage war on our bodies by repeatedly trying to visually alter, change, and fix it up through relentless dieting, exercising, plastic surgery, buying beauty products and denying it over and over again to achieve the fabricated, flawless, and idealistic body standards that only exist in the media.
Yes, I want for all of us to have self-love and body acceptance but we can’t continue down the worn out path where we believe that we can “think” ourselves into a real relationship with our bodies and that it comes from an external place. The language we use and the overall discussion we have has to change when talking about body image. I don’t want to associate a person’s authenticity by using words or labels (such as plus-size, skinny, real beauty, thin, average, pretty, handsome, muscular etc.) that categorize and strip down who a person is by visually defining them. Let’s start having conversations about body image in terms of what human beings have to offer such as intelligence, kindness, power, spiritedness, humor, intellect, humanness, empathy and compassion to name a few. When we talk about each other in these terms the body image superlatives start to disappear and take a back seat creating the necessary room to make connections to our bodies, others and ourselves. If the media can formulate a toxic and destructive message to sell products and make money they surely can formulate a positive, empowering and nondestructive message to achieve the same goal… but only if they consciously want to.
Tina Klaus is a contemporary artist living in Denver, Colorado with her husband, Jeff and her feisty dog, Tulip. She is also the founder behind Don’t Live Small, an award winning eating disorder recovery blog where she co-authors it with her therapist, Dr. Michael Maley, PhD. He is currently the Eating Disorder Treatment Coordinator at University of Colorado at Boulder and has a private practice in Boulder. We have chosen to speak out together about the chaos that eating disorders create for those who suffer from them and for their loved ones. We have both been affected by this chaos, and our hope is that our honest words and relevant topics help support you as you walk through your own imperfect road to recovery. We firmly believe that it is never too late to turn things around, no matter how many times you have turned them around before.