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Struggling with body image

Friday, April 19, 2013

It doesn't really matter what size I am. I've struggled with body image my whole life. I know the reasons why (my mom had body-image issues; my sister was built so tiny that I looked huge next to her even at 125 lbs; I grew up in an area where the norm was a lot shorter/smaller-boned than me), but that doesn't make the struggle any easier. There's this one picture of me from my senior year of high school that, to me, is the epitome of my struggle:

I hated this picture. In it, I'm 5'6 and 125 lbs, and thought I looked sooooo fat. My upper arm! (Um, that's just what happens to an arm when you sit in this position, Amanda...) That crease in my thigh! (Hello, sweetie - you were a swimmer! That's muscle, not fat!) Yeah. So my body image issues go way back, and are completely independent of my size/weight. Still, despite feeling fat at 125 lbs, I just sort of accepted my size as inevitable back then. I didn't try to diet or anything, and I remained steady at 125 lbs until November of my sophomore year in college. This was several months after my first tooth procedure, and I gained 20 lbs in three weeks with no change in my behavior/habits. For a girl who didn't even gain weight when she left home for college, this gain was disconcerting. Worse than that, it increased my negative body image. I felt disgusting, fat, monstrous. For the first time in my life, I became hyperfocused on my weight and size.

(125 lbs vs 145 lbs - personally, I think I look better in the 2nd pic!)

For years, through my infection-induced weight roller coaster and multiple pregnancies, I tried to get back to 125 lbs, but was never able to get below 131. I was completely blind to the fact that I actually looked better in the upper 130s/lower 140s. I was blind to what I looked like, what my actual size was, etc. I had an incredibly poor self-image.

Then, in 2007, I had a revelation. I realized I found curvy more attractive than super thin, and decided that I no longer wanted to reach 125 lbs. Instead, I wanted to be more like 155 to 160 lbs. I didn't care that technically a healthy weight for me was 154 lbs. I thought my body would look best at 155-160. As I've lost weight and gotten back to 155-160, however, I've changed my mind. Now, my goal is to get back to the upper 130s/lower 140s - the place I think my body and face looks best when I look back at photos over the years. However, who's to say that once I get back there, I won't change my mind again, and push for lower? I don't believe I will, but it's not like my struggle with body image is going to just get better once I hit a magic goal weight.

Over the past week, a couple things have come up that have made me a bit more aware of how blind I can be about myself:

1). Dove's latest in its Campaign for Real Beauty ( realbeautysketches.dove.
). If you haven't seen it, it's well worth your time. Seeing the difference between how women see themselves and how other people see them made me cry. It reminds me of something I learned about in psychology courses a decade ago, where doctors tried to help anorexic teenagers gain a better understanding of their true size. The teens would lie down on drawing paper and someone would draw their bodies' outlines, so they could see, outside of a mirror or photo, exactly what size they were. The teens often didn't believe the body outlines and thought the person who outlined them cheated - they were that blind to their own body image. Just how blind am I?

2) Just the other night, Jason and I were discussing something, and I mentioned that I didn't carry my weight well when I was overweight/obese. He shrugged and said that he knows I don't agree, but he thinks I carry my current weight really well. Our whole marriage, he's told me that this size - right around the 150s - is where he thinks I look best. Of course, he's more concerned with me feeling happy/satisfied than with me staying at the weight he personally likes best, but I know that he worries that I'll just keep striving to get lower and lower, that I'll never be satisfied. Maybe, given past experiences, he has a right to be worried.

Back in the fall of 2001, I got to the low 130s, the closest I'd come to 125 lbs since my tooth infections had messed me up in 1998. I was happy with my body and the way I looked. I was confident and satisfied. Yet, I told myself that I was just being complacent, pointed out flaws, told myself to keep working to get those last few pounds off, until I reached the magic number on the scale. I never let myself be happy, even when I could have been.

I don't want to do this again. Right now, I'm conflicted between a desire to take the next six months off trying to lose weight (and just maintain instead), and the desire to lose the last 15 lbs. But even then, will I be satisfied? Will I be able to stop obsessing? Will I ever feel thin, healthy, or normal? Not if I don't do some serious work on the way I see my body, I don't think. I may not be satisfied at my current size (most of the time, anyway), but I'm getting close to where I want to be, and I don't want to get there and fall into a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction. I want to be able to accept my body for what it is, flaws and all. The time to start doing this is now, but I have no idea where to even begin. I'm struggling. How does someone change the way they see themselves??

Member Comments About This Blog Post:
TINAJANE76 5/7/2013 8:07PM

    Boy, do I know this struggle well and bouncing around between 140 and 260 in my adult life certainly hasn't helped. I'm still a work in progress where body image is concerned, but two things have personally helped me. The first is being at a stable weight for the longest period in my life ever. It might not be the lowest weight I can achieve, but it's a healthy one and one where I look and feel pretty good. The confidence I've gained in being able to do that is worth so much more to me than losing an extra 10 pounds could ever be. As my time on maintenance continues to grow, I find that I'm becoming less and less critical of what I view as my flaws. The other thing that has helped me a lot is doing a better job managing my stress and anxiety, which often lead me to be more self-critical and to have a generally negative outlook. When I can keep those two things in check, I tend to make better choices, exercise more, eat better and have a better body image.

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HOLLYS_NEW_LIFE 4/22/2013 7:14PM

    That is an excellent video, thanks for passing it along. I have more body issues now, than when I was fat. When I was that big I didn't see it. I didn't let people take photos. So when I DID see pics (the only ones I have, I put on SP) I freaked out! I had NO IDEA I was that big. NOW, I see floppy arms, saggy belly, non-existent boobs, the list goes on... but, I have to say, I'm ok with clothes on. That's the only time I'm 'ok' with it. I've been 'maintaining' my weight for the last year, and I may be finally ready to move forward. You know whatever you decide to do, I'll be behind you!

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TMARIAANN 4/22/2013 11:42AM

    Thank you for sharing the dove link, it was so beautiful.

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CASTIRONLADY 4/22/2013 9:22AM

    I agree and can really tell a difference in before and after. Keep it up - it is good for you and encouraging for me. emoticon

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MJ-SHE-BEAST 4/21/2013 5:13PM

    How much we weigh and how we carry our weight are often at odds. I know a few women most people don't think of as overweight because of how they carry it/themselves. I think body image plays a key role in how satisfied we are at any weight. I loved the Dove experiment. It made me cry, too.

Jason is one smart fellow...after all, he married you, didn't he? emoticon

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SHAR8676 4/21/2013 12:44PM

    I can relate with your relation to body image. In 2008 I weighed 55 pounds less than I do now and even then I felt I looked as I do now. I find that to be crazy. So when I was gaining weight I wasn't suprised as my body size increased.

My advise is take the baby steps and focus on the positive changes you make along the way. I think at some point we have to learn to not focus on a number but look for a feeling of wholeness because even when we obtain the number we haven't dealt with the emotional side of our struggles and we don't feel we achieved what we were looking for.....

Lets stop and smell the roses, celebrate our little victories, and listen and hear what other people say....

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LOTUSFLOWER 4/21/2013 10:38AM

    I love Dove's campaigns and especially love this one, it made me cry, too. YOu are not alone in your body I image, unfortunately so many if us go through this, including me. I love what your husband said, and know you will find the answers you seek, within.

Comment edited on: 4/21/2013 10:40:12 AM

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KARENLEIGH32 4/20/2013 10:17PM

    You sound like a real smart girl Pookie! So use some of your smarts to work on your mind and figure out a way to learn to 'be happy' with yourself. I know you can! You say you have had low self-esteem most of your life, its time to work on that so that whatever weight you decide looks best you'll be happy. Remember part of this journey to being healthy is being happy!!! You CAN do this Pookie!

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BUBBLEGUM_FAIRY 4/20/2013 3:58PM

    I I can so relate to your post. Body image is something I have struggled with for much of my life as well. I saw the dove commercial. It made me cry also because it was so true, and yet so sad how as women we tend to judge ourselves so harshly. I think the key is just found in finally letting ourselves off the hook, looking beyond society's ideas of what beauty is, and practicing self compassion and being kind to ourselves. I am currently reading a book called "When women stop hating their bodies" and it's very helpful. It talks about sending positive messages out to ourselves, how we wouldn't judge our friends the way we do ourselves, and loving our bodies for being strong and keeping us alive. emoticon emoticon

Comment edited on: 4/20/2013 4:00:01 PM

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TANYA602 4/20/2013 10:24AM

    I got so much from not only your blog, but the comments here. I believe that the changes we've made with better nutrition and exercise are what we need to focus on from here on out. After I am done with the 5% Challenge I am going to change my ticker to maintenance and focus on staying within that range. If I lose more weight, great. If I don't then I will know that this is where my body recognizes it needs to be to sustain my lifestyle. I know I will still need to track - but that's just me. One of the weirdest things about getting to a healthy BMI and weight is convincing ourselves that we do not need to continue to see the scale move each week. Celebrate the changes you've made, and embrace how fabulous you look and how great you feel.

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    Both my Mom and Dad were overweight when I was growing up. Mom was over 300 pounds. It was never discussed - but I watched her try this diet and that - WW - everything. She always ended back where she started - or more. Dad was just as overweight - but much taller so it wasn't as noticeable. It never seemed to bother him. Growing up - even at 125 I thought I was fat. I know what you mean. When I look at those pictures of me back then I am amazed at how good I looked. However, I ALWAYS thought of myself as fat. I guess it is something that I learned through my mom's struggle. I don't know.

Right now - I'd be happy to get back to the weight I was when I had my first baby. After that - I want to lose more. I just want to take it one goal at a time - one step at a time. I think that being overweight - it really showed me what being healthy really means - and what healthy body image really means. I know when I lost weight before my last baby - I felt beautiful and no - I was not at a healthy BMI yet. However, I was working out - eating healthy - and I felt so much better. I was on my way.

I think it just takes time - getting used to the new healthy lifestyle - and learning to like yourself each step of the way. Even if I only lose 10 pounds - right now I would be 10 pounds better off.

In my mind - when people are too skinny - it doesn't look any better on then than when someone is overweight. There is some weight where your body is just healthier for you - and you look better because of it.


To lose weight you must:

1. Eat healthy - so, it shouldn't really matter if you are going to try to lose weight or you are going to try to maintain. You should still have a healthy diet.

2. Exercise - I'm sure you know by now that you won't be able to keep those pounds off unless you still do it. Also - it is so much better for your body and your mind. Exercise is medicine!

So, either way you go - it seems like it is still the same path. If you continue to lose weight doing those things (not obsessively, I hope) - then it is meant for you to be at a lower weight. If you don't - and you just maintain - then good for you, you have met your goal.

You have a lot to celebrate - you have accomplished a lot. Contentment is something that you need to learn. You need to celebrate all the things that you can do - and stop focusing so much on what you can't. Go climb a mountain - and when you can do that - come back and shout to the world I CLIMBED A MOUNTAIN - ME! When you really think about all the things you have done - all the obstacles you have overcome - there is a lot of positive. Sometimes feeling comfortable in your body is not only a reflection of not feeling comfortable with your weight - but you also don't feel comfortable celebrating who you are - inside and out.


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CHANGINGSAM 4/19/2013 12:12PM

    I agree with the comments that have been posted. Ever since high school, I have struggled with my body image. However, just recently, I've noticed that I am pointing out the more positive features I have. I won't say that it's always like this as I have my days, but it's getting better. I don't really know how I switched my thinking. You'll get there. Don't stress over it. Begin getting up every morning pointing out a few positives features that you see. Do again every time you look in the mirror. Heck, smile at yourself as you are washing your hands! You'll begin to see the beauty. emoticon

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FORMYDARLINGS 4/19/2013 12:10PM


This is really interesting. I have heard so many people say basically the same thing as you. I ,personally, believe that in order to overcome this distorted body image, we mortals need help. I plan to continue with my therapist when I reach my goal, just for that very reason. Perhaps some sessions with a therapist or councellor might bring about ways to make that change. You do look wonderful as you are and 130"s is not too low but as low as you should go, I think.


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KBRADFORD88 4/19/2013 11:51AM

    Being satisfied has very little to do with weight. I am glad that so many of us can realize that. But how to be happy with how we are right when we are there. I don;t mean saying I weigh 200 pounds it's ok....I mean I have a lumpy bum but that does not have to define me... I like what the previous comment said...Find new things to appreciate...stronger arms, faster time. If all I have to value in my life is losing weight and being thinner that becomes a hard measuring stick. Maybe work on changing the measuring stick...not do I look "good" I mean what is that...all the people in movies can have someone fix their hair and makeup every 5 minutes if needed. Is good being kind today to my children, admitting failures...maybe we need to change what we like about ourselves. And as someone in her 40s, I am realizing that my life has to be bigger than what I look like. It has to be about my attitude and who I have to love on...things to consider..
1. What in my life do I value and that gives back to me besides food and eating and weight loss?
2. Do I take time to think on these things daily and see joy?
3. Do I have anything else that makes me feel important besides my looks?
4. Am I remembering this?
Best wishes... emoticon

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C8TSON 4/19/2013 10:46AM

  This is really tough. Extremely tough. I have gone over and over and over in my head how to overcome body image issues, and unfortunately I still don't have any answers. During my college years, I suffered with an eating disorder. I had lost a lot of weight in a healthy way my first semester of college and out of fear of gaining it back, I just stopped eating and exercised obsessively. I popped laxatives like they were candy and even binged/purged a few times. No matter how grossly skinny I became, I always saw a whale in the mirror. It wasn't until years later, about a year after I had recovered and was helping a friend move that I saw pictures of myself from that time and was finally able to see just exactly how skeletal I looked. I was horrified!

I think the biggest thing is to see yourself for what you truly are. This is hard to do, because as my husband pointed out one day, we NEVER see ourselves the way others do because we can only see a reflection in a mirror or a photograph. And it's hard not to compare even to ourselves! I know that I looked back over pictures the other day from when I lost almost all the weight I needed to a few years ago when my DH and I were dating. I felt sick wondering how he could still love me regardless of gaining that back and then some. Body image is a horrible thing. And the mass media doesn't help at all. I recently received a blog link from my counselor who helped me with this very issue. I posted it in my last blog titled "Had to Share." You should check it out, because the girl who wrote it went through similar struggles and has really found great ways to love her own body. It was definitely an inspiration to me.

I wish I had a magic answer for you. Sadly, I don't have it figured out. I, along with many others find you to be very beautiful just the way you are; you have to find it within yourself to see yourself the way that others do. You will find a way. If nothing else, look at how much you have overcome to get to this point. emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

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LITTLETEALOVER 4/19/2013 10:26AM

  That video was amazing to see, but I guess I am a little cynical because I didn't entirely believe the premise. I understand the goal of the campaign, and I guess I just can't appreciate it completely without feeling like I'm being patronized or falsely complimented.

As far as you being unsatisfied with your appearance at a lower weight in the past, some of that can probably be attributed to your age and experiences at the time. For me, I know that I am much more appreciative of my body now (even though I weigh more) than I was when I was younger. Even 5 years ago, I would have described myself more negatively than I would today. I am also less judgemental about how other people look, and about my perception of their own thoughts about me (even though I may never know their thoughts).

I think the big question is this: If you never lost another pound for the rest of your life, would you be happy where you are now? Don't think in terms of ideal. Chances are, ideal is not acheivable. I mean, my ideal would be about 4 inches taller, with perky breasts, a bigger a$$ (yes, bigger!), and a smaller waist. But, the truth is that I'd be completely happy with something much less perfect.

You've come a long way since I first "met" you on this site, and you absolutely look amazing. But, only you can decided where you feel most comfortable.

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OMMAMA7 4/19/2013 10:09AM

    This was perfect timing - besides the dove thing I keep coming across things related to skewed body image over the last couple days (I'm nearing the end of reading Women, Food and God also for instance). I am taking it as a huge sign that that is what I need to focus on now more than anything else. We are s critical and view ourselves as if under a microscope, but only seeing the negatives, the supposed undesirables. 2 things I'm going to try to do...1 - when that mean negative gremlin inner voice notices things about myself that I see as negative, I'm going to tell it to put a sock in it. I'm going to say "shut up, that's not true, I'm beautiful and you don't know what you are talking about. I'm normal and I love myself" and 2 - I'm going to try to look in the mirror and see things that are beautiful. Do my cheeks have a nice flush to them? Is my "unruly" curly hair kind of amazing today? Look closely at my "boring" brown eyes - see the different shades of brown? that's kind of amazing and beautiful. I have a pretty smile.

I am trying to choose love over hate, especially for myself. Loving myself does not mean making me feel crappy, guilty, fat, not good enough, etc. Loving myself means saying "who cares if that shirt doesn't look amazing today. You are human, you look fine, you're the only one that'll notice so turn away from the mirror and get on with your day and hold your head up high!"

Yeah...can you tell this is my current area of focus? Thank you for posting and letting me know I'm not alone in this struggle and reinforcing that yes, this is what I need to work on right now. I'm loving the synchronicity.

Best wishes to you on your journey, as always, and especially in this body image struggle!

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ANONSI 4/19/2013 9:32AM

    Maybe as you get closer to your ideal weight, you can start to gradually shift your goal. Your goal has been fixed on the number on the scale for quite a while. Start making your goals be around your running time, or how much weight you can lift, or other healthy activities. I know you probably already have some goals in these areas, just make them more of a priority to you than the number on the scale....easier said than done!!

Also, try this. When you look in the mirror, do you find yourself thinking negative thoughts? (My ____ looks huge! I need to work on ____!) If so, then start telling yourself positive things whenever you look into the mirror. (I really like how ____ looks. My muscles are getting stronger and it's all because of my hard work and efforts. etc.)

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RUNNING-TURTLE 4/19/2013 9:29AM

    So true, I've posted that video to one of my blogs as well. I've suffered from poor body image thinking I was big all my childhood, when in reality I discovered now through my own kids that I was underweight. And I appreciate it that they may be small too, but are normal and healthy. I wish there was a way to change how we see ourselves overnight. Can we change it? I don't know but I sure would like to try. Very good blog.

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    "I may not be satisfied at my current size (most of the time, anyway), but I'm getting close to where I want to be, and I don't want to get there and fall into a cycle of perpetual dissatisfaction. I want to be able to accept my body for what it is, flaws and all....How does someone change the way they see themselves??"

Isn't this the million dollar question? I wonder if I'll be happier the closer I get, and know when to call it my maintenance point.

I wonder. Very good points.

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