Our body image is formed from a very young age. It is heavily influenced by family, friends, and the outside influences such as billboards, magazines, TV, movies, social media, more.
Womenshealth.gov states, “Women with a positive body image are more likely to have good mental health. But many women in the United States have negative body images, which can put them at higher risk of depression, eating disorders, or other mental and physical health problems. You can take steps to develop a healthier body image and get treatment for mental health conditions.”
In It’s Not Just Girls. Boys Struggle With Body Image states, “TooDespite public perception, body image issues and eating disorders are not exclusively female problems. The oft-cited figure is that about 1 in 10 eating disorders occur in males, but according to Raymond Lemberg, an Arizona clinical psychologist and expert in the area, newer research suggests that the real ratio is probably closer to 1 in 4.
Therefore, people with a positive body image are more likely to have good mental health, but it is becoming more challenging to have a positive body image.
I don’t remember every having a good body image. From a young age I was self-conscience of my size. I was taller and bigger than my older sister, and little comments caused me to hate my body. In Elementary School, I was made fun of for my weight, which only got worse in Junior High. In High School, it improved as I got involved in sports.
A few months in to my first marriage, my ex-husband started making degrading comments about my body. At one point he stated that he wanted me to look good in a bikini by summer, or he would find someone else who did. As the physical and sexual abuse got worse, the more weight I gained. I was able to loose some of the weight while I separated from him, but I was still overweight.
Through the last 27 years of my life my weight varied. At my heaviest just under 300 lbs and a size 22. At my lightest I was 170 lbs and a size 10. No matter what my weight, I received unwanted outside attention.
When I lost weight, I was proud of all the work I had done and I wore clothes that made me feel beautiful. When I would dress up I would have men make comments or flirt with me. I was not dressing up for them, it was for me, but the attention made me very uncomfortable. Thought of running into my ex-husband at the smaller size caused me a lot of anxiety. My body image was so tied to my safety that I could not keep the weight off.
I know my body image issues run deep. Some of my body image issues are inherited or learned from my family, but many of them are a product of the physical, sexual, and verbal abuse from my ex-husband. These issues get triggered when I hear and see other women hit on or given a complement in a way that is only about their physical body. So because I am trigger by it I have asked of friends to share their experience as well.
The question was recently asked of me, “As a woman in her 40’s…what would your advice be to a woman in her 20’s?” The first thing that popped into my head was, “Don’t obsess over your body.” From left to right, those pics are of me in my 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. I’ve put on weight and taken it off, but it has always been a priority and a fight for me (I put on 60 lbs. with my last son and weighed 200lbs).
Being healthy is a good thing. Emotionally beating yourself up over not looking perfect is another. I have said horrible things to myself. Even when I’ve been in incredible shape…stretch marks…saggy boobs, huge ass…you name it…I’ve tortured myself over it. I have been so mean to myself. That is what I mean by don’t obsess. Strive to be healthy and to feel good, but let the rest of it go. Be grateful for what your body can do and end the conversation with yourself there! Change the way you think about your body. It can do incredible things. Mine made and fed 3 people! It has climbed crazy mountains and swam in oceans and consumed delicious foods and healed from spills on my bike and hugged hundreds of people and snuggled. Shift your focus to that!
Growing up, my mom projected her body image issues onto me, and I thought I was overweight despite being 5’10” and 115 lbs. My mother was a large woman, easily over 300 lbs., and she was very critical of me. She would pinch my skin and tell me I had too much fat, and tell me that my butt was too large.
I have had a hard time learning how to pinpoint who has good intentions or not, due to a child molester “trying things.”
During my marriage, I was shamed for my body. I was not allowed to go toe the gym, which caused a lot of self-esteem issues, as I was a “Gym Rat” prior to getting married. I would be called fat on a regular basis. I was told I was the wrong size, despite weighing less than him and being slightly taller. I was called muffin top, and other names that I don’t care to share.
One big step that I took was getting a divorce. I know, I know. Sounds stupid but to be honest, he was the reason I had body image issues. To be honest, I did realize that I needed to lose some weight and it was very easy to lose once I was able to get rid of the stressor that caused the weight gain.
I have been raped twice. Not that this type of stuff doesn’t happen to others, but after losing weight and gaining a lot of confidence again, I was raped by someone whom I thought was a good friend. It was actually 2 people that did it. I never had problems with that previously. I wasn’t raped when I felt bad about myself. I was raped both times when I feel like I was more physically attractive.
On dates, men have a very difficult time keeping their hands to themselves. A friend told me that the way my body and personality are, it evokes something primal in men. Wish I knew how to change that. I am approached about things that are vastly outside of my comfort zone and go against my internal compass on a VERY regular basis. These types of encounters are very uncomfortable for me and I didn’t used to get approached for “strange sexual encounters” for a lack of a better term.
If you asked me a year ago, I would have told you that my body image had nothing to do with the amount or type of attention I get. However, now that I’m divorced, single, confident, a model and genuinely happy with who I am and in love with my future…….body image is SO DIFFERENT!!
I get a lot of attention now whether I’m looking for it or not. If we’re being real, I have a lot of curves. If a guy is more into boobs—-I’ve got huge boobs. Same goes with my butt and long legs. I am finding that as my confidence and happiness has increased, I am hit on a lot more too. I wish people realized how welcoming and sexy just a simple smile is; a real, genuine smile!!
I find that it isn’t just body image. It is also about confidence, which I didn’t used to have much of. Confidence comes from loving yourself and who you are! I get a lot of wanted attention, but it does come with a LOT of unwanted attention as well. All the attention makes me very, very careful about who I’m hanging out with, and I am very careful about trying to figure out someone’s intentions when they want to be around me as well.
They say good looks are a blessing and a curse. I truly believe this! I go on dates and it is very difficult to know if the man is wanting me for my body and trying to get in between my legs or if they genuinely want to get to know me. I’ve gotten good at deciphering, but feeling good about myself, attracts men and women with all kinds of intentions. It attracts EVERYTHING!
All in all though, body image is very subjective. Yes, I am considered overweight BUT, I get more attention from men now that I’m “curvy” versus when I was skinny. It just goes to show that perspective is everything. I thought I was fat back when I was actually very skinny. Now, if we look at numbers, I’m considered overweight, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been. It all comes from the inside!!!! If you truly love yourself for who you are, that is all that really truly matters!
I think the issues I have had with body image has many layers. Starting at the age of 11 and through the time I was 14, I was bullied by a group of boys at school which along with the actions of certain family members have attributed to my own thoughts on my body.
I have always loved sports. I remember years of playing soccer, dreaming of being a figure skater, and then deciding I wasn’t a princess and that I wanted to play hockey. I have always been extremely competitive and when I was younger, I remember beating many boys at different athletic games. I remember feeling on top of the world and like nobody could stop me.
At age 11, when the bullying started, I remember being called a “Fat Pumpkin” among other nasty names. I remember being repeatedly told that I was fat, ugly, and unlovable. As the years carried on, the name calling and bullying got worse, I hated my body, suffered from anxiety and depression, and became extremely suicidal. When I look back at pictures of my younger self, it makes me physically sick to think that the little girl I used to be was convinced she was fat.
Once I hit puberty, my hips and boobs grew, I remember my aunt telling me that I had the same body type as her and that as I grew into adulthood, I would just gain weight. This only added to the effects that the bullying had on my body image. I believed I was fat and ugly, and only believed that I was going to get fatter and uglier. With that I also believed that I would also become more and more unlovable.
In Junior High School, I remember a guy I didn’t know walking up behind me after school and grabbing my butt. I remember him saying that he thought I was his girlfriend, then seeing his girlfriend walk up from behind him and noticing that the two of us looked almost nothing alike. I remember the uneasy feeling I had, realizing that his only intentions was to get the handful of booty that his otherwise gorgeous girlfriend lacked.
In other instances, I remember other girls commenting on my body. I would hear, “Sarah! I wish I had boobs like you,” or, “I wish I had a butt like yours!” I remember girls that I was acquainted with waiting outside of classes we had together for me to walk in the door just to smack my butt, following it up with the statement, “Damn girl you’ve got a nice butt!. I remember feeling uneasy and self-conscious.
I have always been more stereotypically masculine, yet I have always been secure in my femininity and identity as a woman. I have been asked multiple times, both by my peers and by family members, If I am transgender, simply because of activities I enjoy and the way I dress. Due to these questions, I must admit, I have often questioned weather there is a flaw in the person I am. Societies Ideals of what a woman should be, what a woman should look like, or what a woman should act like have proved toxic in my life, and admittedly effected my relationship with my body.
I had conversations with my grandma that didn’t have anything to do with my body that effected my body image. Things my grandpa would say about my personality also effected how I saw myself. My physical strength has been mistaken for aggressiveness.
It is only within the last year or so that I have learned to love my curves. I still struggle to look at old pictures of myself without feeling sick. I still question how that little girl had been convinced by so many different people that she was fat and ugly.
I believe that investigating and uncovering the layers that make up our body image issues is the the key to helping us create a better relationship with our bodies. Yes, body image is subjective and an individual battle that we all experience, but it does not mean that we have to fight it alone. I think the best thing we can do for ourselves, our communities, and our society is to open up space for conversations about body image and the way that it affects us. Our individual experiences are powerful and sharing them can help others to better understand their own struggles in their relationships with their bodies.