I got to thinking about body image the other day. While standing in front of the mirror, of course, and contemplating my…shape. Was I a little thicker around the middle these day? It *looked* that way. But perception is unreliable. The scale told me I hadn’t gained any weight, and my clothes are fitting no differently. Most likely, my body shape hadn’t changed any in the past few months. Why was I suddenly so discontent with what I saw in the mirror? And then I came to a realization: I was discontent because that’s the normal reaction for me looking in a mirror.
I was a skinny little kid, but looking at my family, you could tell what shape I’d end up with. I remember my mom dieting occasionally when I was a kid, but it really left no impression on me beyond how gross a lunch of saltines and cottage cheese was. I had no body image at this point. I didn’t even bother categorizing fat and thin.
Puberty wasn’t kind to me. Around the time my metabolism slowed with my increased hormones, I also discovered I loved to read. I spent less time outside doing active stuff, more time inside reading, and I gained a bit of weight. What I saw in the mirror was the same as the rest of my family. I had become fat along with the rest of them. It was displeasing, but seemingly inevitable.
College was more of the same. As I strove to eat a low fat diet, I kept gaining weight. It seemed obvious: no matter how unhappy I was with how I looked, this was how I was. I liked food, and if it came down to food or being pleased with what’s in the mirror, food would win every time.
Post-college, I started getting smart and educated about how my body works, what it needs, and how I could actually change what’s going on. I lost weight. Started seeing muscle definition, and the occasional knob of bone. And I’m pretty proud of maintaining my weight for well over a year now. For a while, the changed body I was seeing in the mirror was pleasing. Until it lost its specialness. It was no longer my new body, it was my normal body. For 14 years (puberty through college), my normal body image was displeasing to me, and that had led to the perception my normal body is the fat one I’ve always had.
That’s a somewhat disheartening thing to realize: I could weight 90 lbs and still default to that way of thinking about myself. There is power in the realization though. I’m otherwise happy with my lifestyle. Clothes fit, my body works (well enough), and I am generally happy with what I can eat. I just have to tell my perceptions to shove off.
Speaking of, it’s time for lunch.