Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Body Image: At what cost?

Many of you who follow me regularly know I write on a variety of subjects, whatever happens to cross my mind. Mostly I journal my family's lives for my girls and future generations. But there is this particular post that has been on my mind and recently this hit close to home as a member of my family is currently admitted in a hospital facility and battling for her life against anorexia, she is only a teen.

When discussing fitness goals the other day with a friend of mine, I mentioned my goal of weighing what I did when I was a teen. She lovingly gave me heck about how unrealistic that goal was, and that my "daughters needed some curves to hold on too and that I now have the body of a woman and a mother and that what my healthy size perception should be, should be reevaluated" I thank her for this as it has made me think a lot in the past few days about my fitness goals. About the stresses society puts on all of us to look a certain way.

All of my life I had always been extremely thin. Until I had my second daughter and developed some health issues which caused me to not be able to lose all the baby weight I gained with Kathleen. Some people back then thought I may have been anorexic, but in truth I was able to eat most anything I wanted and I maintained my weight. My Dr's even told me to eat mayonnaise on bread to gain weight (blech by the way!) Below is a picture of me my best friend took when we went camping, I believe I was about 16 at the time.
Never ever thought I'd post this for all the world to see, for I can pick apart many imperfections in this picture to me; but it does help to put more important things in perspective for me now. It's not healthy or realistic to reach this particular goal weight at this stage in my life. I have been dealing with some health issues that make maintaining the weight I want more difficult to achieve. But I exercise my butt off and watch my calories because I want to be healthy and live a long life with my children and husband.
In my teens I modeled a lot and I think that warped perception of what an ideal body type should be began.

Please take a moment and watch this Video

I work so hard to encourage my girls and raise them the right way in this world. I am careful not to mention my perceptions of body image to them because I want them to know how beautiful they are. Every single thing about them is amazing and they make me so proud every day. But as a mom I am also realistic about the influences of the media and other kids. What I see sometimes is quite shocking. We limit a lot of things for the girl's at their ages.I don't want them to grow up before their time just because everyone else thinks they are in a losing battle with the media pressures so they give up. What happened to good parenting? What happened to knowing who your children's friends are and what influences they are under?
Is life so busy that we are letting our young daughters and sons be raised by society?

Can I shelter my girls from all that is bad in the world? Certainly not, but I can give them a strong faith and teach them about these issues before they hear it from somewhere else. I play a huge and important part in building their self esteem. With over 20 years in the education field I have seen and learned so many things. Not all parents have this experience, they learn as they go and some seek advice and others just don't care enough. Learning about ages and stages in a child's development is something every parent should be aware of. It's part of the journey. I know that I do my best each and every day to set them out on the right path and as a parent that is all any of us can do, prepare them for the trials, tribulations and the joys of life. We set their foundations in which to grow into their own people and their own choices in life. At times all we can do is pray they stay headed in the right direction and if they stray we catch them when then fall and love them despite it all. Everyone makes mistakes, but having a loving, supportive network of family and friends can make a big difference in how they heal.

Unless we as parents, educators and the community work together to create positive changes, many of these girls will fall to the pressures of society and they will never feel "good" enough. There are young boys who also struggle with negative body images and we have to be aware of this and reach out to help. It's not just one family's problem, it's society's problem.

The goal should be to maintain a healthy weight to live a long life, but healthy doesn't mean you have to be a size 0 or 2 or 4. ( Again thank you Charity for our conversation and your insight) There is such a thing as being "skinny/fat"; a person may be thin but what they are fueling their body with is not healthy. So many things affect a person's size, genetics, build, hormones, diseases, self-esteem and more. We can not say that healthy is defined by a number on the scale or a dress size. For instance when I was skinny I certainly wasn't making all the healthiest choices and I was sick a lot. The amount of a person's muscle mass also will make a difference in weight and size. So how can the media throw these unrealistic pressures out there?
It is unrealistic, it is not real life and it is killing so many right now through starvation, suicide, disease and more.

We have to show our children how incredible they are, how beautiful, handsome and amazingly talented they are. That self worth is not measured by a number on the scale, the latest beauty fashion or makeup, etc. That sometimes it is best to focus on helping others and being involved in charities and life events than turning all things on one's self. There is so much more to them then their outside appearance, that the body is a wonderful and miraculous thing not to be taken for granted. Give them a good foundation and build their self-esteem early.

We need to tell our friends and family that they are beautiful, talented and worthy of so much. That a bad hair day or the wrong outfit is not the end of the world.

To the women and men who have lost boyfriends/ girlfriends or spouses and blamed their own selves for what went love will come, real love is worth waiting for. The kind of love that does not have conditions.

We can not base our happiness and self worth on another person's standards. We must believe in ourselves and our abilities and be a role model to others.

When guiding our children in the journey to health we must be conscious in how we word the journey. That exercise and good foods are what keeps our bodies strong and healthy to fight cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Not to strive to look "perfect" or super skinny. To nourish and strengthen our minds and be kind and generous to others, for those who may look "perfect" on the outside are many times crumbling on the inside.

I am blessed to have a man who loves me regardless of my bad hair days, sick days, stressed out days, wrong outfit days, feeling fat days, etc. It is the substance of a person that matters and the comfort of a strong love. He encourages my goals, but does not define them. He treasures our girls the same way and makes them feel on top of the world and important because he is there for them when they need him and even when they don't. I hope they see that this is the kind of man they deserve to have in life, one that treasures them for all that they are and to not settle for anything less than that.

Sometimes it seems we are our own worst critics. Sometimes we can get past those feelings and sometimes for some people it does take counseling and therapy. Like for my family member for whom I have been praying for because I know her journey is long and certainly won't be easy. Eating disorders like anorexia never really go away....they just get "managed" to bring people back from the brink. They need some extra love and support through their lives to know how important and valued they are by loved ones and friends and then we hope and we pray they realize it too and make a full recovery.

"Lack of trust in yourself, in your healing ability, can be eliminated when you learn to tune into your body and to tell the truth about your thoughts that are either supporting your health or denying it" --Asara Lovejoy

To all of you that may be struggling with body image, know that you are so much more than even you may realize. That your potential is within you and you can achieve amazing things by setting goals and living your life for each day. Find happiness within yourself and not look to others to make you happy, you will be doing yourself a huge injustice to live for other people. Create a daily journal of dreams and all you are capable of doing then develop your plan for change. So you may not be rail thin or blonde or brunette or have blue eyes or green eyes or the latest clothes, or the latest haircut or money etc. etc...... but you are unique and you are valuable to this world and can give so much back by just being you. Be the person you want to look up to. Lead by example and teach those willing to learn. This world can be harsh, unfair, unjust and downright crazy, but you can rise above that because your stronger than that, smarter than that, better than that. So who cares what so and so think? There are millions of people, thoughts, opinions in this world....are you going to let the thoughts of one or a couple steer you wrong? I think not! Are you going to fall victim to unrealistic, airbrushed images in the media? I think not! Are you going to embrace your beauty, light and confidence within yourself? I think YES! For you and only you have the power to change your thoughts. Changing your thoughts and actions will change your life.

"Don't let yourself be trapped by dogma-which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your inner voice. And most importantly have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary"   ---Steve Jobs

This is just the tip of the iceberg of all the thoughts I have in my head today and over this past week of reflecting, but it is in a nutshell what I wanted to try to convey. So take some time today to look in the mirror and say "I am worth it, I am beautiful, I am handsome, I am going to be the change I want to see in the world" Then go and teach it to others and believe that together we can all make a difference.



Annie said...

There is much I could say on this subject, but I often feel most people don't want to hear my thoughts on it, because they go against the norm.

I was very thin as a teen, like you. and I hated it. Nothing I could do or eat would make me gain weight. This lasted until my late 30s, when it was discovered I had an overactive thyroid (also now known to be common in my family).

When my thyroid problem was discovered and treated, I gained weight, going from 118 to about 160-165. It was a pretty rapid gain, but I have to say, I am so much happier now. This weight, at my height of 5'7", puts me at a size 12 most of the time. I now have feminine curves and I can buy clothes off the rack without either taking them in at the waist or letting them down at the hemline. I just love it! I always new there was a normal-sized body inside that skinny one somewhere.

I truly believe that if we, as a culture, would start paying attention to nutrition, exercise, and health, while not paying attention to glamour mag/TV ads and the number on the scale, we'd all be better off for it.

McVal said...

As a teen, I was so slender that my mom asked me once if I was anorexic or on drugs. Um nope. Just an incredibly high metabolism. That went away right after I got married and I gained 15 lbs the first year of marriage. Mainly because I only knew how to cook for at least 7 people at any given time... I came from a large family.
Paying attention to what we eat is important but I don't want my girls to obsess about it either. It's hard to raise girls these days with the kind of pressure they get from tv, mags, etc. Whew!

Eileen said...

Very well written Jill. Our family member had a weight issue when she was younger, now a beautiful teen she has taken the wrong road to look super thin and is paying a price for it. The counslors told the parents, no Glamor magazines, tv, etc.during her recovery. She is not out of the woods by a long shot. It has affected her heart and other organs. Hers mostly was caused by over exercising. Something that is now instilled at such an early age. We just have to teach our children and ourselves, don't go to extremes!! Life is precious, handle with care and with common sense.

KERRY said...

What a beautiful, inspiring and encouraging post Jill!! I know all to well the pain of poor body image and have suffered with low self esteem my entire life :( I am slowly getting better, not thinking about how I look every waking minute and I always make sure I remind my daughter how amazing she is all the time and that looks in a person are not what is important. Everyone is so different in shape, size and health so you cannot possibly compare to others.
Thanks for sharing this, it is such a valid topic and a great reminder :)

Sweet Tea said...

You are so wise and so totally correct. No anorexia for me but the truth is I have not liked my body since entering menopause. After being "petite" my entire life I now struggle with the bulge and if I'm honest I have to admit that I long for the days of being thin. *sigh The issue of weight can be a a difficult thing regardless of age...We often judge people by their weight and that is so WRONG. Most of us need an attitude adjustment. When bad health enters the picture it truly does give one perspective. Life really is about so much more than weight. I know that deep down...Such a good, timely, articulate post. Good job!! BTW, such a cute photo of you. Can't imagine what you can find wrong with yourself when you look at the photo!!

Kris said...

Such wise words Jill. I have come to accept that I will never be skinny. And now, I am working on getting myself healthy and my numbers where they should be. If I am never a size 8 again, I am okay with that.

Jenny said...

Jill, you are one of the most beautiful women I have ever encountered (if only by cyberspace) and I never even thought about the way you look! No kidding. You have such a wonderful outlook and you are so positive all the time, that makes you beautiful.The way you care about your family, that makes you beautiful. I agree, we cannot talk about our own feelings about our "imperfections" to our daughters, it certainly makes an impression. They get enough of that from the media and peers. I have very bad memories of things my mom said to me growing up about "losing baby fat" etc and it has had a huge impact on me, not for the better. You just keep taking care of yourself and your family, be healthy and happy and everything else will fall into place. Big hugs from the web!

Mark said...

At the office, we take these on-line health tests(?) which are driven to keep us healthy. No one really cares about that but we do care about the $50.00 per pay that they take from us if we don't take the tests. Anyway, I currently weigh 193(down from 200). You've seen me, right? Do I look enormous to you? My goal weight, according to them, is between 150 and 159. Let me tell you something, I can't imagine ever being that weight. It's crazy!
My oldest has started to put on weight. I'm not sure why but it doesn't seem to bother him. And so far, it's not an issue.
Fantastic Post!

Simone said...

What an amazingly beautiful post, Jill! I feel the same way you do. I see how my ex husband's image of my body allowed my daughters (now grown up) hate their bodies. They heard the many times that he called me fat. That was the reason he chose to divorce me...because he felt I was fat. I won't lie and tell you that it didn't affect me. It did! But, I have learned to love me for me and in return, I have the most loving man in my life who loves his wife (me) just the way I am! I'm praying that your relative is healed from her eating disorder. I'm so proud of you for speaking out about this.

Celestina Marie said...

Hi Jill, What an amazing post you share. Perfect for today's world and women of all ages who are overly obsessive with their weight. Much to do with the way society says we should look. Just the wrong message for sure. So glad you wrote this, I could not agree with you more and how it starts at home and the messages we send to our children, girls and boys. Love and respect for one's self and others comes in all shapes and sizes.
While I believe in healthy living with diet and activity, I also think our hearts and minds need to stay in shape with healthy thinking and compassion. Society is too quick to judge on looks.
My son, as an adult,has a friend that for a long time we did not meet, although he would mention his buddy is conversation etc. One day we finally did meet him and he was a very large and overweight guy with a beautiful personality and spirit. Our son never mentioned his size whenever he talked about fishing trips, hangouts, work, etc. It was then I knew, he had learned to look within people and not only the outside. It did my heart good to know he made a friendship not based on the physical outlook only, or worried what others would say about a chubby friend.
What we teach and show our kids with our day to day actions does shape their character.

Thank you for this very well written post my friend. You are such a special lady and mother.
Have a beautiful weekend.
XO Celestina Marie

Nicolle said...

Thank you for sharing this. I was so skinny/tiny until I was about 18 years old. My mom also thought I might be anorexic. I wasn't. I just hardly ate and was so busy all the time. I moved out on my own, ate and gained weight. I have lost and gained over the years. I also just want to be healthy. I don't want to be thin anymore. I also don't even like the word "fat" and we don't use it in our house. I know Boyd will learn the word, but it's such a hard word and so powerful to a child. Such great words here and thank you for this post! xo.