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Author Topic: Body image issues
whilemyguitargentlyweeps
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For a while, I've vacillated between being comfortable with my body and disgusted by it. I'm a short female, with a relatively endomorphic frame. I have an extremely restrictive diet due to personal choice, medical problems, and food allergies (no dairy, no meat, low sugar, low fat and salt, and mostly fresh fruit and vegetables, etc.). I get plenty of exercise. I have also been on medication for most of my life which, as a side effect, has slowed my metabolism. I'm not particularly overweight, but I'm certainly not thin, not even average for my height. My doctors think I'm fine, especially given my medical and physical circumstances, but I'm struggling.

The schools I've attended and the friends I've had, particularly the females, have consisted largely of thin students, some naturally, some from sports, etc., and others, unfortunately, from eating disorders (high pressure, all-female environments can do that). Now that I'm at uni, I'm seeing more of the same. Regardless of the attention I do or do not receive, I still feel quite inferior to the thin people around me, even though I know that my body type is largely the consequence of genetics.

I should say that there are some things I am thankful for: I have good, clear skin, and nice hair (though it goes mad in the heat), among others. But those features seem irrelevant in the larger context of my body.

I think I feel worst because I'm far from the standard of beauty, and despite my efforts at taking care of myself and staying healthy, I still feel ugly in comparison to my peers. There isn't a lot I can do about my appearance, either. I have poor body image, and I'm not sure how to fix it.

Have you ever felt this way, or have you been in a situation similar to mine? How have you handled it?

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Heather
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Far from whose standard of beauty?

Or, perhaps the better question to ask is this: what's YOUR beauty standard? I ask that because when we talk about standards of beauty, we are almost always talking about our own; what we've taken in as a "standard" of what's beautiful.

It might also be worth talking a little bit about the value of looking a certain way, and what you think looking differently would change about your life.

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
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Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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whilemyguitargentlyweeps
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Forgive me if this is a bit of a ramble.

It's the pressure of society that has influenced me. Partly what I see around me, and partly what has been emphasized as "beautiful." I grew up in a very feminist, pro-woman environment (one would hope so from an all-girls school!) but many of the girls there, myself included, still looked to models and the media to define beauty.

There are women in my life whom I consider beautiful even though their beauty does not parallel the media's definition of beauty. However I find it hard to depart from societal standards when considering my own appearance.

To be perfectly honest, I would most likely struggle with self image no matter how I looked. But thinking I do not look good in most clothing, or, perhaps, in general, does not help my self-esteem. I suppose it's less about subscribing to a general notion of beauty, but more "I look ugly" translating into "society would deem me so because I have ____ and not ____," which only serves to lower my self-esteem.

I've been seeing a counselor for a while but have never raised this issue with her. I'll do so when I see her next.

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Heather
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So, you already know then that there are many people, including those who are thin, who also feel ugly or have a negative body image? In other words, you know that doesn't translate into yay-body! for people just because they're thin?

Do you also have an understanding about how standards of beauty in the media change? How the kind of what-is-attractive presented now, or in the last decade or so, isn't what the standard has always been? And also that this is cultural, not just for any one large culture, like the US, but cultural per groups within a culture too?

If you already know those things, does that knowledge make any difference for you?

I do think that it's important we both pay attention when you say that you think you'd struggle no matter how you looked. That's probably true because you're saying it, but it's also probably true because that tends to be true with body image: it doesn't actually tend to be about looks, and the way someone wishes they would look doesn't tend to result in radical changes to poor body image if and when they can change their looks to be like what they're coveting.

Should we maybe try talking a little about the idea of what 'society" deems, period, and how there are about a million things where any given person or people representing a culture might seem us certain things based on a given standard at the time? Including around many things most of us can't change, like our gender, our sexual orientation, or economic status, etc?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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whilemyguitargentlyweeps
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Thank you, Heather. Your questions are helpful, and they are making me think further.

Certainly culture and society have their constants: gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. And those can't be changed. And yes, society and social values are not static––what was "in" thirty years ago, or ten years ago, or even last year, may not be "in" now.

But "think thin" has long been a mentality in the Western world, and even if it changes during my life time, I'm still uncomfortable with my body in the present day.

I'm less interested in changing my appearance, provided that I'm healthy. I used to have an eating disorder mentality, and that messed me up for a few years. I just think a lot of bad thoughts about my appearance, and even though I know that it is largely beyond my control, I still remain disconcerted by how I look.

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Heather
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It has (this business of "thinking thin") for a while, but less so than I think a lot of young people think. For instance, I'm only in my early 40s, and around the time I came into my teens, the big focus was on muscle and fitness more than thinness. I also grew up in racially/culturally diverse neighborhoods. So, for instance, for my African-American friends, thin was very much NOT in, though it was for my Jewish friends: those were two groups I was in and around every day in the same space with wildly different beauty standards.

And I do think it's a lot harder to deal with beauty standards when you've not yet had time to see how they change, or been in other communities or cultures where they are diverse and much less monolithic. It's so easy for them to feel like they are How It Is rather than How It Is Right Now or How I Am Seeing It. You know?

Can I ask what you do where you feel great in your body that is about what it does, rather than how it appears? In other words, what your experiences have been like feeling great in it without even thinking about how it looks, or thinking about how it looks in a very different way than it being about sexual appeal to others?

--------------------
Heather Corinna, Executive Director & Founder, Scarleteen
About Me • Get our book!
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead

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whilemyguitargentlyweeps
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Good points. I seem to remember my mum saying the same thing now that you mention it. I suppose it's that I've been this way for about seven years, and little has changed (visibly) since then. Although I grew up in a relatively diverse community, the environment I spent most of my time in was dominated by thin women. I need to look around more.

I like features of my body. I have strong legs from running and bicycling, making both those sports more enjoyable. I like absent-mindedly playing with my hair as I read. I have long fingers suitable for piano. I like jumping.

This was helpful. Thank you.

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