This is the series in which I agree to honestly answer any question my husband puts to me (I wrote about it in more detail here). This week we’re discussing body image and body dysmorphia which I’m confident is very common; if you suspect this is something that may affect you, you can check with the link I’ve included to a body dysmorphia test. This is a great question from Dan, especially as it’s one of the things most important to me when it comes to the way in which we raise our girls.
Hubby: What’s with this skinny = perfect nonsense? (Although, Babe, have you noticed that strong is becoming more desirable?! A good thing, I’m sure you’ll agree.)
Me: I definitely agree, I think most women will too. Confused? Okay, here goes…
Why are women body dysmorphic? There has been an obvious trend for decades (since Twiggy probably) – emaciated equals fashionable. And, as with all things heavily portrayed and perpetually reinforced by the media, we have become indoctrinated to subscribe to the same ideology. (At this stage, I’m not giving my personal views, I’m simply stating facts.) Of course there are some exceptions, but generally that has been the case.
But yes, the magazine covers have started to listen to what we’ve been saying since we found our voices, and things are gradually beginning to change for the better.
Now I’m going to talk a bit about my own thoughts, because this very issue has concerned me since we discovered the first little toadstool growing in my belly was a girl… (Disclaimer: I’m aware men can also experience body dysmorphia, but I think girls are more at risk, if not more susceptible.)
Do I Have Body Dysmorphia?
I’ve been too fat; I’ve been too thin; I’ve been everything in between. And that is my undoing.
Far from making me accepting of all body types, it has made me anxious and critical of myself no matter my size. It’s made me sometimes obsessive, and always cautious/paranoid. (Besides which, though it may be an unpopular opinion, I think it’s important to educate about the health implications of being under or overweight, rather than making the priority the preservation of feelings.)
Oh, and of course there’s the other thing which is all too easy to forget, but undoubtedly impacts my relationship with my body.
Prior to being big, I never gave too much thought to my size. I was a slim and healthy teenager, though I always felt invisible – until suddenly boys started paying me attention. At that point, I realised I was not unattractive, and had a reasonably good relationship with my body. Unfortunately, teenagers are very impressionable, and it took only a few immature remarks from silly boys for my self-esteem to falter: I became far more aware of my appearance and imperfections.
Fast forward a decade or so…
My Complicated Relationship With My Body
Ironically, despite having made peace with the idea of giving my body up to motherhood, I’m about the thinnest I’ve ever been. I was very surprised that I snapped back so quickly after delivering our daughters; but I like to think I put the hard work in to make that happen.
Before (and during) my first pregnancy, I was the healthiest I’ve ever been: I was lean, fit, and strong. Then I lost most of my fitness and muscle for a while (apart from my guns, they’re still there thanks to Princess Pixie and subsequently here sister, both of whom have demanded to be carried a lot). I always said I’d get it back though, and I finally have.
Despite not being ‘big’, I have my flaws. I was not exactly comfortable with being unfit, but I was accepting of it while it was not feasible to do any more. (That said, I swam when I could, and I always walked. A lot.)
I’m ashamed to know I’d be less accepting of being unfit if it were outwardly obvious. This is my legacy of having been overweight.
Yet those things I consider weaknesses in myself, I know I’d encourage others to accept and even embrace (subject to health).
A Distorted View of Myself
Since gaining and then losing an extra two stones or so in my early twenties, I have never stopped feeling overweight, irrespective of my size. Although I’m relieved to say that has eased since I became a mummy. I have a rather strange relationship with my body these days…
In contrast to my self-criticism, I have a new-found awe and respect for the female body, including – and specifically – my own:
Because I created the best things on this earth: I grew two human beings. I delivered them and nourished them from my body. How can I fail to be moved by that when they are my reasons for everything?
Basically, the relationship I have with my body is complicated, contradictory, and hypocritical. And I am fearful that from my vantage point, I will fail in teaching our daughters to have a healthier relationship with their bodies. But I know I want to, and I know I’ll need your help – which starts with explaining my foibles (as best I’m able to explain something that’s based on distorted logic).
Our rule has always been to not discuss appearance or weight, but to focus on health and strength, and so far it seems to be working okay. Hopefully school won’t undo all of our hard work.
So now that’s clear as mud, see if you can’t come up with a more challenging question for next week…
Addendum: Fast forward a few weeks and I had an epiphany! Read about how I inadvertently began the process of fostering positive body image in Pixie.
Body Dysmorphia Test
If you have a preoccupation with your appearance and you’d like to find out whether it tips over into body dysmorphia, check out this test.