Recently I’ve been suffering quite a lot of ‘bad body image’. If you have an eating disorder you probably know what I’m talking about, if not let me break down all the thoughts that are filling my mind.
Although my anorexia nervosa didn’t come as a direct result of wanting to be thin, the more I fell into the depth of the illness the more this desire grew within me and everything I did revolved around trying to achieve it. Personally I find the need to be ‘skinny’ ridiculous and unnecessary- I’ve always been a firm believer that the body you are in doesn’t define you as a person. Yet! Here I am pondering how I can prevent looking ‘huge’ or ‘monstrous’ as my mind likes to call me. How both these perspectives can be in my mind at the same time is still a mystery to me.
It’s kind of funny, in the most terrible way. To someone who has always cared about their appearance I can see that their anorexia can thrive on that and make them stop eating because otherwise they won’t look good, but for me it’s not like that. I can’t really explain it because I’m not too sure myself what’s going on. My therapist and I established that anorexia nervosa is, for me, a symptom of my anxiety disorder-I felt in control, I didn’t have energy to overthink things etc… So why do I want to be ‘skinny’? Why do I want my arms to be smaller? My thighs to be further apart, my bones to be more visible? Even typing this makes me feel disgusted; why would anyone want that? What will anyone achieve by having these things? Like I said, for someone who believes there is such a thing as ‘ugly’ they may believe this will make them less so… but for me?
Why do I stare at myself constantly in the mirror and start shaking because my waist looks bigger? Why is it that when I see a glimpse of my reflection on a shop window I stop laughing and feel like my heart drops? It got to a point when I avoided mirrors completely because I knew it would just ruin my day. But is this all because I think I’m ‘ugly’? I’ve always thought that word to be quite superficial: beauty is not something that can be defined (it changes over time and in different cultures) so no one can be ‘ugly’ in my reasoning. And here I am, scared of the proportions and my knees! My nose, my lips, my smile…Perhaps the fear of looking ‘big’ stems from feeling like I’m losing control over myself and hence connects to my anxiety. This I guess could make sense even though the control initially was on just the numbers, not how I look.
Now, even though you may not suffer from an eating disorder but do suffer of being scared of/ disliking your appearance here’s a few things I’ve been trying to do to help myself out. I must say the thoughts are much quieter now then they were just two weeks ago.
- Look at yourself. Do not avoid it. Avoiding anything just increases the anxiety of doing that activity . What I’ve noticed is that previously, when I just couldn’t stand to look at my body, I wasn’t really looking. My mind was foggy:it just saw what my disorder wanted me to see. Depressed and angry I would turn away and that horrible sight would stay fixed in my mind for long after. So I only managed to spot the bad things before turning away. Now I force myself to stare long enough to start seeing more and if I cry at the start then so be it. And suddenly look! See that scar that you don’t like on your forehead? Think of how many people think about Harry Potter when you show them it! Quite hilarious! And those eyes… how much have they seen? So many experiences, so much beauty! That alone makes them beautiful. And yes, your thighs are bigger than they used to be but think about how much more they can help you do now that they are a much more normal size. You see, you can spot these things if you really try.
- Don’t let those unhelpful thoughts take over. Its terribly hard to do so but practice and time is all you need. Let me give you an example: just a few weeks ago I attended my end of school prom. The preparation beforehand was agonizing. After my friend did my makeup I looked in the mirror and froze- ‘It’s ok, you are just concentrating on your nose, it’s not really as odd as you think it is right now’ I remember telling myself. Just a few moments later I was bawling my eyes out, having seen my body in my dress and my finished look. I can now see that I had let my guard down and let all the thoughts flood in my head again. You really have to keep that strength going all the time until you’re really, really sure of yourself i.e. after calming myself down I started reminding myself that nothing was really happening, everything was in my head. So keep reassuring yourself and combat that negativity.
- Look at pictures of the beauty standard around the world and across time. See how different they all look, is there really one definition of beauty for a person? No. Be your own definition of beauty.
- Talk to someone. Using prom night as an example again, I was very lucky to have my sister, my friend and my my mum there to calm me down (THANK YOU).I expressed my fears and thoughts which was both a release of the tightness I felt inside but it also allowed the people around me to help me discard some of the irrational fears which would have remained if I hadn’t spoken about them.
- Why does it matter? It’s so hard, during these episodes, to come to terms with the fact that actually looking good or bad isn’t important. It’s so hard to just let that feeling go because at that moment it feels like the whole world revolves around your appearance: why would you feel so horrible if doesn’t matter? Well, remember that when you were little you’d cry and throw a tantrum if you weren’t given a toy you really wanted. That seemed so important back then but now? You can’t even remember what toy that was.
So here you go. 5 ways to help you through difficult episodes of having a bad body image. I really hope these help some of you!
I must admit I still have times where these thoughts pop up out of no where; but let me tell you, I am getting there- and you can too.