Are you aware of how you look, physically? How does it make you feel when you see all of you in the mirror? Are you reasonably confident and at peace with what you see? Can you go about the majority of your day without negative thoughts about bits you don’t like creeping in? If so, you probably have a positive body image. Notice that I’m not talking about any ideal body shape, because beauty is not one fixed perception. We’re not even talking about beauty, more the awareness that you accept what you look like, and you’re not on that forever path chasing a certain body type that you hope to achieve.
Apparently, it’s not until puberty that hormones are released in us that make us more aware of how we look, and of other people’s bodies. It makes sense then that most of us, at least I can remember, didn’t have an emotional connection to our body parts, or a physical self-consciousness until at the very least about 9 or 10, many later. But the concern of course is that eating disorders are now affecting those as young as 6. Frightening. Back when I was young, I was still fussy about food, hiding my sandwiches in the garden that my mum made for pack-up, but I wasn’t actually aware of ‘fat’ on the body or what I didn’t like about myself physically.
From the end of primary school onwards though, I became aware of this new sensation. My body feeling wrong and ugly in parts, and not fitting in the world. It certainly escalated through secondary school and then by sixth form hit me hard, when I began to take dieting seriously because I was desperate to alter this horrible outer shell I always had with me. This is when the following things started to make life feel really difficult, increasing up until this day…
- Mood – although I have low self-esteem installed in me already, the fact that I felt trapped in a body that I felt was messy, podgy and ugly dipped it down further. And currently, it does and it has been at the worst since about when this all started 10 years ago. Although I’d try and go about my day, getting things done, going to college, doing the usual errands, I’d feel (and still do) followed by this dark ghost, like a dementor from Harry Potter, which was my negative body image. It’s so difficult to shake off, so quite often, as again I do now, I felt low and unable to enjoy things that I beat myself up that I should be grateful for, because I am distracted by this ugly monster. Sometimes this makes me snappy or frustrated, which will make sense as to why as you read on. But because I’m not able to enjoy things or get things done as I should, I feel disappointed in myself, and further behind with life.
- Paranoid – like ten years ago, and as I do now (mainly due to the weight gained due to Bulimia, but I am now thankfully getting some respite from this recently) I would pick up on things said, by strangers walking past, or by family and friends, that may relate in some way to how I look, and how fat I feel/felt. This could be down to some strangers walking past and laughing, and so assuming they are about me, to feeling like the reason other people are happier around me is because they know I am fatter than them, or an innocent comment or question from someone I love, that makes me think they must be concerned at how fat I am getting. This then leads me to feeling my next point (like a domino effect)…
- Disconnected from family and friends – this becomes the consequence of a combination of things – my mood and not feeling like I am good enough to be around, to feeling paranoid about the way people look at me or talk to me that may indicate I am fat, to then feeling guilty for the way I am and the way this impacts on others around me and the disappointment I bring. I also begin to feel like I’m not good enough for my close friends, because I’m so preoccupied with my body image and the daily haunting of it that I’m not able to truly enjoy their company or be in the moment, that I start to believe they will be better off without me. Especially when I know they have other positive people in their life, so they couldn’t possibly be missing much. When I’m with family, sometimes I’m quiet and ‘off’ because of this, which comes across as frustration because I am conflicted between wanting to spend time with them, but when I do just feeling low and not good company. And feeling like I should be further on with my life, instead of worrying about this so much.
- Losing enjoyment for buying new clothes or wearing nice outfits – this one thing I have enjoyed more-so through certain periods of this last 10 years, seemed to die completely the past 2, since things went tits up after my last eating disorder inpatient admission palava. There’s something in buying nice clothes that I feel should only come with feeling accepting of my body, which I’m a million miles from. The main thing for me with this though is trying to hide as much shape or figure as I can, because otherwise I feel exposed and vulnerable. Fat. So this summer and last, I have only felt reasonably comfortable wearing baggy hoodies with leggings – which I find really sad to be honest because I wish I could be embracing the season, wearing shorts, basking in the sun and eating ice-cream down the seafront. But one step I have taken this year compared to last, is not wearing woolly hats. Slowly but surely ey?! I just bloody miss the excitement of mixing and matching clothes with accessories. Going into a fitting room in a shop and smelling the new fabric of a top, new items all lined up on the hooks. I really do miss this and I’m determined to get it back. I will.
- Developing and battling Anorexia and Bulimia like a fucked up game of ping-pong – all of these consequences down to having a negative sense of body image (along with other emotional difficulties too of course – as eating disorders and not all about weight) have led to a very fluctuating relationship with food. The scars of which I still live with, and continue to fight although people don’t see it. I hope if there is anyone reading this that hasn’t had an eating disorder, but feels very troubled by their body image will reach out and speak to someone they trust about how they are feeling and what they can do to help change the way they see themselves, that doesn’t involve drastic dieting or alterations to food and exercise. Because it doesn’t have to be that way, there’s other ways that will lead you to longer-term acceptance and happiness instead of years suffering from mental health.
- Making me feel suicidal – it’s usually been down to the Bulimia that has done this, due to the distress caused by feeling out of control, both with food and my body. When you’ve battled body image for most of your adult life, and binging and purging behaviours take you over, it is absolutely crippling and it’s hard to see a way forward. At least with Anorexia, as distressing as that was too at times, it empowered me with a sense of control and in that way it protected me from any suicidal thoughts. My body image troubles never fully went away though, as I was always on alert as to how what I was eating was making my body feel, but it still took the edge off the torment.
- Losing ambition – for many people that struggle with negative body image, it can be hard to concentrate on your long-term future when you are haunted by these thoughts and feelings about yourself day-to-day. So in a sense it sometimes makes you lose hope in your ambitions. Because when you set dreams and goals, they sound realistic in your head and your heart, deep down, but when it comes to trying to get there whilst followed by the bloody evil body monster, it becomes too hard a battle. However, I do have dreams and ambitions, and despite how long it’s taking me to get there, and make a life for myself I will accept it won’t be an easy journey but I will continue to learn how to be comfortable ‘enough’ in my own skin, and drown out the familiar haunting that keeps holding me back. I do have hope, but sometimes I have to accept just doing a little bit a day that will help me towards my goals is enough for now.
For anyone I’ve ever shut off, shut down or mentally disconnected from even if I’ve been physically there, I’m really sorry. But thank you for not giving up on the person I am and could be without this thing haunting me.
Here’s to becoming a person I can live with.