You may remember that at the beginning of the year I wrote a blog post called ‘The Day the Universe Aligned’ which was, in part, about watching a screening of the documentary ‘Embrace’ which explores the issue of body image (you can read that original blog post here: https://wordpress.com/post/personnotdiagnosis.wordpress.com/383 )
After watching ‘Embrace’ I was so moved and inspired that I signed up to be an ambassador for the Body Image Movement who created the film and are using it to spearhead their campaign to help us all improve our body image. I’d almost forgotten about it, but three months later I received an email saying that I’d been accepted onto the team! On the same day that I started my internship!
My role as an ambassador is to commit an ‘hour of power’ every week to spreading the word about the Body Image Movement and promoting positive body image in general.
So, first things first, what does body image mean?
Body image has nothing to do with reality; it is our subjective perception of our physical selves, the dialogue that runs in our head every time we look in a mirror. In someone with an eating disorder, such as anorexia, their body image is extremely affected; they could be dangerously underweight and still perceive that they are ‘fat’. This is called body dysmorphia. Having a negative body image means focussing on the aspects of your physical self that you dislike and criticising them, criticising yourself. It means pinching and picking at yourself. It means feeling guilty about eating and worrying about fitting in your gym session. None of which is healthy. It is also very important to note that negative body image is not just a women’s issue. Men are just as affected as women are and need as much attention and support in developing positive body image.
Having a positive body image means accepting and embracing yourself exactly as you are, acknowledging that your body is an amazing vehicle that shows the signs of your journey so far. It means looking after yourself so you can achieve wellbeing, which can be defined as:
- Emotional health: the ability to cope with life’s demands without becoming too overwhelmed
- Mindful living: being able to be present at any given moment
- Healthy sleep: waking up feeling refreshed and rested most days
- Nurturing our physicality: appreciating and being aware of our physical selves
These four key characteristics seem like a tall order to me at the moment, but they are goals to work towards. I have certainly improved on them over time, for example, I am amazed and relieved that I am able to sleep more soundly now and I have a more balanced perspective on life.
So, if I am to be an ambassador for this amazing movement then I better practice what I preach! So where am I at with my body image?
My counsellor described me as an ‘ex-anorexic’ which she explained meant that although the illness doesn’t control me anymore it is still there in the background and will need fighting off again from time to time, just like an ex-smoker will always be fighting their addiction every time they smell cigarette smoke or are in a situation where they would normally have smoked. For years I have had a very negative body image. I would pinch my ‘fat’, pick at my skin and check my body in a mirror constantly. I would feel very disheartened looking at my pale, scarred skin and unruly hair. I would curse my body for being so weak and crippled. Despite having M.E. I would over-exercise if I ate too much food and feel guilty about eating certain things which I deemed to be unhealthy. But things have started to change. Knowing that people found me attractive helped, but then I cursed myself and my body even more when they left me, especially if it was for someone else. This was because I was relying on someone else’s perception of me to prop up my self esteem. When I saw the film ‘Embrace’ one quote stuck in my head “your body is a vehicle, not an ornament”. It changed the way I have thought about my body ever since. It really doesn’t matter what I look like, whether I have spots or scars or stretch-marks or cellulite, all that matters is what I do. I have to look after this body, this life that I have been given because it is the vehicle for me to achieve amazing things for myself, for other people and for the planet. It’s the only one I’ve got and it really doesn’t matter what it looks like because once I stop worrying so much about my exterior, my interior light will shine through and that will be more beautiful than any ‘flawless’ figure.
In my new accommodation I don’t have a full length mirror, which has been really liberating. My skin isn’t great but I stop myself from beating myself up about it and care for it with aloe vera gel instead. I have felt frustrated at my weak muscles as I have watched other women who are so much stronger than me, but I have endeavoured to improve my fitness carefully and healthily. I’ve been so busy I’ve been hungry all the time and eating loads, but feeling ok with it as I am living with people with healthy approaches to eating. I have been eating cashew butter from the tub… J
Here is the Body Image Movement Website:
And the section where you can see the trailer of the ‘Embrace’ film, download the first 3 chapters of the ‘Body Lovin’ Guide’ and sign the petition on photoshopped images: