For me, in my world, a skinny day is a good day. The leaves are greener, the sky bluer. I somehow am more acceptable to myself and others. A fat day is a bad day. It is dark and gloomy and there are shadows everywhere. The funny thing (or perhaps not so funny) is that I , by all normal standards, never have a “fat day”. Sometimes this happens while I sit in my size 4, “True Religion” jeans, eating a spinach salad after having just run 3 miles at the gym. I can be sent into this spiraling, self inflicted mode by the littlest offset of simply using an extra tablespoon of salad dressing or accidentally taking a bite of my son’s PB&J sandwich…oh what terror bread can bring.
This is my difficulty. No calorie is uncounted. No donut or cookie left unpunished. No feeling comfortable whatsoever in my own body. No walking past a mirror or reflective surface without criticizing myself. The skinnier the better. The skinniest the best. many days, it is my self-worth. That is sad but very true.
There is a fat little girl who lives inside of me. She has been there since the third grade when Bobby Winters told her she was fat in front of her whole class. Since she was made fun of and ridiculed time and time again for being chubby. She did not leave when at ten years old I went to weight watchers (my first calorie counting event) and lost some of the weight. She did not leave when I made the cheerleading squad and became wildly popular (and skinny). She did not leave when I went to college, met my husband, or gave birth to my child.
The little fat girl has stayed with me and probably always will because she was made to feel so terrible at such a vulnerable period in her life that she had to hold on. She is too much a part of what made the person I am today, unfortunately, she still hurts.
As I sat with a friend and discussed this, we began referencing an interesting concept in clinical psychology. The idea that at different stages of your life expressions of others are the way you see yourself. They are your mirror, so to speak.
At first, you find your “mirror” with your parents. The smile and encouragement on your mothers face after you say your ABC’s, makes you see yourself in a good light. The thumbs up from dad with his look of surprise and pride when you catch your first ball. All of these things are the “mirror” of your self image. Even the expressions used in frustration or disappointment, are important and part of the equation of creating a realistic “mirror”.
When you begin going to school, this “mirror” broadens. The reflection is now given back to you by your teachers and your peers. We will call this the “Peer Mirror“.
The problem is that my “peer mirror” was reflecting very bad images of myself. What I saw through the eyes of the children around me was not total acceptance but instead, ridicule and judgment about the way that I looked. I began to then see myself this way. I began to judge myself and ridicule myself. I was suddenly not OK, in their eyes or my own.
The other layer that has been added to my issue with this, is that conveniently this behavior is constantly reinforced by our society. The whole world seems to be agreeing to the idea that thin is “in,” thin is beauty. I see it everywhere – magazine covers, television, even walking down the streets. I have bought into this hook, line and sinker. My “peer mirror” is much older now and is now telling me that I am heading in the right direction. It is cheering me, praising me, giving me skinny advice. It has become my cheerleader in my game of Body Image Distortion (BID).
While reading an article written by Wendy Betterini about Body Image Distortion (BID), I was hit over the head by something she wrote, “I’m never sure if what I am seeing in my reflection is real or not. Sometimes I feel thin, sometimes I feel fat. My mirror image sometimes agrees with what I am feeling, and sometimes it differs greatly.” To me, that statement was profound. The harsh reflection given back to me at an early age (what we called the Peer mirror), has become the skewed reflection of me, rather than the actual mirror’s reflection.
If there becomes a time when I find some balance to this struggle with my body image then perhaps someday I will let go of that fat little girl, and add some extra dressing to my salad. I will give a little thanks to the harsh “Peer Mirror” that, after all, did help shape who I am. For now, though, I continue to co-inhabit this body with the little fat girl rearing her head and reminding me that I am still not quite there yet.