Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Body Image: A Snapshot Into My Story

This blog post is not an easy one for me to write, and has been one long in the making.  However, I feel like I really need to express some personal experiences that I have had concerning the topic of body image.  I am not always very open about this topic, probably because I find it somewhat humiliating to talk about, but I hope that these experiences might be able to help someone. So here goes...

I want to start out by saying that something I have learned over the years is that your body size is not a predictor of happiness.  This has not been an easy lesson to learn, and I feel that I am having to still remind myself of this, and internalize it constantly(several times a day).  Now let me see if I can explain.

As a child, I was always really healthy.  My mother says that I ate well, and that I was always in the "normal" size category.  However, I have a sister who has always been very, very thin, due to genetic discrepancies, and throughout my life I have been constantly compared to her.  One of my earliest memories is that of an aunt commenting on how skinny my sister was and then turning to me and saying, "Oh, and Annika, you're just big boned."  Other times I would hear adults commenting to my parents about how tiny my older sister was and then they would turn to me and make comments like, "Oh... you must have fed her more." Ouch! Even though I was very young when this happened, the message that I took away from these encounters was... "I must be HUGE!"  Now looking back, I know that I wasn't huge, and that I was, in fact, closer to the skinny side of normal.  However, because of the comparisons others made, I developed a very distorted body image.  This continued to develop into my teenage years, as I rapidly grew taller then most girls my age.  In 8th grade, I was my full height of 5'8" and weighed about 118 pounds.  Because I was taller then most of my class mates, I thought that I must be an elephant.  It was hard to be taller than most of the boys and to feel like all of my friends were so tiny.  High school happened, and even though most of the girls caught up with me or passed me height-wise, I still perceived myself as huge, due to past events.  I remember the day that my eyes were opened to the truth, when I was a senior in high school.  I was looking at some pictures of myself and some friends and realized that I wasn't as big as I had thought.  In fact, I was tiny just like them. I mentioned this out loud to my mother in a very shocked voice, and she looked at me as if I had been crazy to think anything different.  However, even though this was an eye opening experience, I still struggled with body image.  Because I had experienced body image challenges at a young age, I decided that I wanted to study something that would give me the skills necessary to help others be healthy and recognize their worth, despite body size.  I started studying nutrition and then switched to Exercise and Wellness.  I had a passion for what I studied, but that didn't change the fact that, due to my chosen major, I was surrounded by picture-perfect girls who were very concerned about the numbers on the scale, and about whether statistics said that they were healthy.  This was hard, because in this environment, I was constantly labeled again as "normal" while others were "thin"and "skinny."  I know many of you may be thinking, "What is so wrong with being called normal?  It could be a lot worse."  And you would be right.  But it doesn't matter what people said to me since I was struggling with being happy with who I was.  Even when people called me skinny, I still shrugged it off as that they didn't really think that, or that they were just being nice.   I had to, and still have to, constantly remind myself that the most important thing is to be and feel healthy.  It doesn't matter what other people think about my body.

Now, as a health professional, I still have to choose to focus on what is really important.  If I thought it was bad how people judged my body as a child, it is nothing to how it can be judged now.  Because of my chosen field of study, people feel that they are free to judge and comment on my body.  When I am talking with someone, and they find out what I study and do, often their eyes automatically leave my face and look at my body, judging it according to their own standards of what a health professional's body should look like.  And it leaves me feeling sick.  It still hurts.  But the truth is... This is never going to stop.  Because of our society's inappropriate association with health being synonymous with body size, there will always be people out there who will find fault.  No matter how skinny I become, I can never please everyone, which is ultimately why I am even sharing these experiences.  I want to help people understand that there is so much more to health than what reaches the eye.

 I found a quote on Pintrest recently that said: "Your fitness is 100% MENTAL.  Your body won't go where your mind doesn't PUSH it."  I am not sure who originally said this quote, but I love it.  I feel like there are many ways you can interpret this quote, but the way I see it is that we need to find health in our minds before our bodies will follow.  Again, I would like to repeat, your physical size is not a predictor of happiness.  Be healthy in your mind, and your body will follow.  We need to accept ourselves as unique and beautiful before we will feel and become so.  A favorite quote that I remember hearing in my childhood from the movie "Wives and Daughters" is: " Believe you are beautiful, and you will be."  I want to follow this with the disclaimer that being healthy in your mind is not a "cop out" for not working to have a healthy body, but the opposite.  As you have a healthy mind, you will want your body to achieve a similar health, based on appropriate expectations.  You are now not limited to what others expect, but can now achieve something unique to you and your body.

I know my experiences may seem simple to some, but I hope they are helpful to others.
Below I have posted some pictures of me experiencing things with my body that bring me joy.  The first is one of me and my son hiking, which is something we love to do together as a family.  The second is one of me after running a half marathon that I had the privilege of putting together.  The third is one of me and my small family enjoying the holidays.  Our bodies are such blessings. Instead of criticizing and finding fault with them, we need to love our bodies and show them our appreciation through being active and experiencing life.  My invitation to all is to find someway, every day, to show your body that you are grateful for it.  I would love to hear about your experiences.

No comments:

Post a Comment