RheasOfHope

one girl's thoughts on life, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, and hope.

When you’re inundated with body shame March 31, 2017

no wrong way

Two images stare back at me from my computer. The one on the left portrays a sad, frumpy larger version of the person—so sorrowful you can almost hear Sarah McLachlan in the background. The one on the right displays a happy, half-naked thinner version–who most certainly has an amazing life and personal jet by now. These images typically have many exasperating hashtags, list the number of pounds lost/goal weight, and describe how much they hate the person on the left. I don’t even know this person, and yet I’ve fallen victim to their expertly- curated Facebook life and their thin-ideal proselytism. These images awaken the demon of insecurity that lives deep within us, and stirs the spirit of body-shame.

These before and after transformation photos are meant to sharply juxtapose the fat, unhealthy version of that person with the thin, happy version. These photos prey on our insecurities, and desire to fit into the cultural thin-ideal. This pervasive thin-ideal convinces us that—when we attain the perfect body—we will gain health, wealth, love, and happiness. It impresses upon us the idea that the thinner body is a “good body” and the larger body is a “bad body”—and, through the transitive property of equality in mathematics, the person living in the “bad body” must also be “bad.” When presented with these transformation photos that perpetuate the thin-ideal, the culture of body-shaming and normalization of self-hatred is perpetuated ad nauseam. This perpetuation has a cost, however, and that cost is self-destruction, self-condemnation, and devaluation of those of us who do not fit the ideal.

Society criminalizes and fears fat at the same time—leading fat to become the last socially-acceptable form of discrimination. The prevalence of weight-based discrimination has increased 66% from 1995 to 2006 (NEDA). This is likely why 42% of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner (NEDA), and 81% of ten-year-olds have a fear of being fat (NEDA). This is also likely why the dieting industry rakes in $64 BILLION annually—outearning the wedding industry and the baby product industry. Society conditions us to second-guess any of the confidence we’ve developed about our bodies and question how someone—with our less-than-perfect body—can be accepted looking the hideous the way we do. How much we weigh, eat, exercise, etc. is nobody’s business but our own. Our bodies belong to us—not to social media, not your friends or family, not your doctor, no one. The phrase “Compare and despair” comes to mind—thank you Jenni Schaefer.

Here are the facts: THERE IS NO “PERFECT” BODY and YOUR BODY ISN’T SOMETHING TO BE “FIXED.” Contrary to what society shoves down our throat every minute of every day, there is no perfect body. Have you seen the lineup of female Olympic athletes from the various events throughout the years? Each of them represent the peak performance level of their sport, and yet every single one of them has a different body size and shape than the woman standing next to them. Not to be outdone, men from various nations recreated a similar photo. Health, like our bodies, comes in all shapes and sizes. Thin does not always represent a healthful body, just as fat does not always represent an unhealthful body. Health cannot be measured on a scale or through the flawed mathematics of body mass index.  While weight can certainly be an aspect of health, it is not a sole indicator. Health is also measured through mental and emotional wellbeing, effective relationships with others, meaningfully contributing to society, and myriad other aspects. There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic women

There is no one right way to have a body!

Olympic Men

Remember, your weight does not make you any better or worse than anyone else. When we focus so intently on our perceived flaws, we will never be able to see the remarkable, astounding aspects of our bodies. There is more to life than food or weight—don’t let it become the central fixture around which your life revolves. The answer to our body and self-acceptance isn’t found in a fad diet, a new exercise trend, a pill, a cream, a tea, a detox regime, a cleanse, constricting shapewear, expensive exercise equipment, shakes, or anything else the diet industry/thin ideal perpetuators use a propaganda to convince you that you’re worthless while further lining their pockets with cash. As the amazing body-positivity activist Sarah Vance says, “Loving yourself isn’t going to come from changing your body.”

So how can we grow to love and accept our bodies—as they are in this very moment—in a world that is constantly conspiring to do the opposite? I’m no expert on body-positivity. In fact, I’m still working on it myself. What I can do, however, is recommend the celebration of a day of body love as a place at which to start. On this day, for every negative comment you say about your body, consciously counter is with a positive. Write a letter of gratitude to your body—sure it will be weird, and it will be worth it. Wear an article of clothing in which you feel great. Compliment yourself and others on their character, not their body or appearance. Respect your body’s needs: if it wants to move, move; if it wants to rest, rest; if it wants to eat, eat; if it wants a massage, get a damn massage. It’s your body and you know its needs better than anyone else. Having needs is not a weakness—though society will actively work to convince you otherwise—and denying ourselves of our needs is not the strength we are lead to believe that it is. I also recommend participating in some body activism projects. I’ve joined some body positive groups on Facebook, and blocked a TON of friends who consistently post body negative updates. I also turn around magazines that objectify bodies by promoting the thin-ideal—if people can’t see them, they can’t buy them or fall victim to their propaganda. If you’re feeling exceptionally brave, you can post body positive post-its on those magazines or on diet products. Be bold.

I leave you with this: appreciate your body, it is yours and you get only one. Your body is a masterpiece of creation and there is no other body out there like yours…none. Live your life on your terms in your body, and appreciate all the wonderful things it does for you.

 

 

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” 1 Peter 3:3-4

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When a kindergartner makes you think March 5, 2013

“Pick a color” she instructs while holding out an origami fortune teller mere inches from my face. I look at the four squares with blue, purple, brown and black hearts.

“Blue” I reply. Blue is my favorite color.

“B-U-how do you spell blue?” she asks as her small hands fumble with opening and closing the paper between her fingers.

“Let’s sound it out. Buh”

“B” she opens the paper

“Luh”

“L” she opens it the same way; she cannot make her fingers open it in the opposite direction.

“Ew.”

“I don’t know.”

“U-E.”

“U-E” she says, confidently opening and closing the fortune teller again, in the same direction. “Now pick a number”

“8” I say, knowing I can only pick an even number.

After she counts to eight while opening and closing the fortune teller in the same direction, “Pick another number”

“2” it is the only even number left.

 

She struggles to lift the flap to reveal my fortune. Finally, she gets her finger under the paper, “You are pretty.” As I stand there in somewhat stunned silence, she bounces off with a wide smile to tell the fortune of another one of her friends. After she leaves I absent-mindedly pick up some trash on the floor; I am supposed to be teaching after all.

 

All I could think of was my “fortune”. Every time I look in the mirror, ED tells me I am not pretty. She (yes, my ED is a girl. She has my voice—which is feminine—so why can’t she be a girl) goes to great lengths to prove to me that she is right. As long as I can remember I have listened to ED; her tempting voice whispering in my ear—luring me towards self-destruction. I want to please her, but I know it will come at the expense of my own life. When I think about my fortune, it reminds me that I do not have to listen to ED.

 

We live in a world where beauty has become a way to categorize ourselves. As in, “she is the girl who is short, with black hair and green eyes.” Not, “she is the girl who likes to take photos, who works with the kids in the room down the hall, who always shows up obnoxiously early.” We have become a world obsessed with looks, clothing, and overall appearance. And, while sometimes describing people by appearance is helpful (for example if I were in a room of all red-heads, it would be easiest to say, “the brunette”), it should not be the be all, end all of each individual. In fact, the messages with which we are bombarded every day in the media of western “beauty” are often unattainable. Why is it that we feel we must conform to these ideas of beauty? We cut our faces and pull them tighter, inject poison into our wrinkles, we put plastic bags of saline in our breasts to make them larger, we inject silicon into our lips, we have the fat sucked out of us like a vacuum, we have our noses broken and molded back into a more desirable shape, and so on and so forth until we look less like a human being and more like an alien…all in the name of conforming to society’s vision of beauty.

Having never fit into the “ideal western beauty”, Ed has turned me towards believing that I am worthless. But a simple kindergartener’s paper fortune teller has reminded me of the truth. I am pretty. I am worth thinking well of myself. I am better than the negative things Ed tells me. I may not always believe it because I am still under the spell of Ed’s lies, but I, Rhea, am going to tell Ed no by learning to accept myself. I will accept that my scoliosis leaves one hip higher than the other. I will accept the jade green eyes that I got from my father instead of envying the blue eyes of my sister. I will accept that my stomach, stretched by years of overeating, will always be a little saggy. I will accept my wonderfully olive skin. I will accept my scars; including the one I got when my neighbor pushed the fertilizer spreader into my eye. I will accept me. Only by accepting me and acknowledging the truth that God made me beautifully imperfect, will Ed shut up.

 

I absolutely love the band Seabird. I have seen them live several times and am consistently amazed by them. I also love that they are local boys (coming from just across the river from me).  “Don’t you know you’re beautiful” was filmed entirely in my hometown of Cincinnati, has the most amazing imagery I have ever seen in a music video, and is full of inspiration. This song is a reminder to everyone that they are beautiful in the eyes of those around you, but especially in the eyes of God. You are beautiful. You are worth recovery.

 

Hebrews 6: 18-19

“So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”