My Struggle with Distorted Body Image
You know those mirrors, right? The ones at the circus or amusement park that are usually in some creepy room or building they call a "fun house" (biggest lie of the century, am I right?) It would be one thing if it was just one mirror, but it's usually a room full of mirrors. All different shapes, sizes, and angles so when you look in any direction, all you can see is a hundred misshapen reflections of your image. We usually laugh as we look around the room at ourselves, but it makes us feel uncomfortable.
It's been a long time since I've been in one of those rooms. Yet I feel like I have that same experience every day of my life.
It's not something I talk about online, but I've lost 40 pounds over the last year and a half since my youngest daughter was born. It wasn't baby weight that I lost though, it was marriage/stress/let-myself-go weight. Actually, to be even more truthful, it was emotional baggage weight.
Since I've lost that weight, I've had a lot of people close to me tell me how great I look and tell me how proud they are of me for getting myself healthy. But there is usually something missing in these conversations... very few people ask me how I feel.
So I want to tell you how I feel...
I feel the same.
Now, physically, I do feel different. I have more energy and my body is working better. And even emotionally, I do feel radically different. I've learned to love my body and value taking care of it!
But I still don't "see" the difference.
I lost 40 pounds but I still have the same body: the cellulite on my thighs and the stretch marks on my hips that I've been self-conscious of since I was a preteen, the newly created squishy tummy of a woman who has carried 3 beautiful babies, my asymmetrically shaped eyes that I hope no one notices so long as my smile emanates through them.
When it comes to how I see my body, I've been self-conscious but never self-loathing. If you also have a distorted body image, you may understand how I feel: a love-hate view of my body, where one day you see yourself as fat and another day where you think your the hottest thing out there.
Because of this inability to actually see myself in accordance with reality, when trying on clothes, I used to underestimate my size and now I overestimate my size. It's like I never "saw" the weight gain or the weight loss. I've had to learn to listen to the salespeople who tell me what size I am. Then, now that I know my dress size, I go to a store and choose items in those sizes even though it seems completely ludicrous to me.
And let me pause and make this very clear: this is not a situation I put myself in to gain compliments or to brag on myself because "I'm so much smaller than I think I am."
That's the problem when we have distorted body image. We cannot trust the "reality" of what we see when we look in the mirror.
So how have I learned to love my body when I can't even be sure of reality?
1. I trust what God says.
I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I was created in His image.
When you can believe in your heart that you are loved completely and fully for exactly who you are, you can be confident in your beauty as a daughter of God.
2. I appreciate my body for what it does, not for how it looks.
I carried and gave birth to 3 beautiful baby girls. I can sit with them, run with them, play with them.
If you are alive and breathing, you have reasons to appreciate your body! If negative self-talk is ingrained in your way of thinking, start a journal and write at least one thing in it each day that you appreciate and love about your body.
3. I use my weight as a way to test my perceptions, not to determine my self-worth.
Having distorted body image means that I can't always trust what I see with my eyes when I look in the mirror. Stepping on a scale and weighing myself is useful at times when I think my body has ballooned up. My scale won't lie to me; if it says I haven't gained 10 pounds, then I haven't gained 10 pounds.
By doing this "test" every now and then, I've learned to understand how poorly I perceive myself. Now I rarely weigh myself because I can shift my mindset and my perception to the truth on my own.
It is important not to weigh yourself in order to determine how you'll feel about yourself that day. That number on the scale does not determine your self-worth, ladies! I don't believe that weighing yourself frequently is healthy for anyone, and for those of you who obsess over every pound gained or lost, then you need to get rid of your scale. Now, no excuses.
4. I trust those who love me.
My husband loves me and tells me I'm beautiful. God tells me the same. Those are the only opinions I trust on the matter. I don't listen to my own opinion or care what others think.
You need to learn how to filter what you hear--either your own thoughts or the voiced opinions of others. Only let in what is loving, helpful, and kind!