I have a secret. I wonder if anyone else has the same secret. Or perhaps not a secret, but more of a hidden truth, one of shame and of embarrassment from potential ridicule.
My shameful truth is that I am a fat person trapped in a thin person’s body.
In her fabulous book ‘When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair,’ which deals so eloquently with the issues of body image and our own personal relationships with food, Geneen Roth says “You can be a size 20 and feel thin. Or you can be a size 8 and feel fat.”
I am a size 8, sometimes even a size 6 when life gets particularly stressful, overwhelming or sad. And I feel fat most of the time.
There is a ‘million dollar industry’ focussed on weight-loss—books, DVDs, TV series, bespoke programmes, products and professionals—focussed on helping the many lose a few pounds every week, reach their ideal weight by a specific date or even just to look good in a selfie. I feel we have created a society that is so focussed on body image being picture perfect with the right stats and figures that, shockingly, we have bound it to our self esteem, our own value and feeling of self worth.
The Real Issue
We have created a culture and a community around conversations about weight and it feels that even as a skinny person, I have to trap myself in a fat person’s body because I want to belong to that group too. I want to join in the conversations on how to lose a pound or two as it feels good to be part of the group sharing tips, ideas and recipes.
But if I am really honest, I just want someone to reassure me I am not fat; counteract all the years I was told I was. Because the real walls of my ‘fat cage’ were built slowly over time, from a very young age as seeds were planted from comments like ‘You have the family’s fat gene,’ ‘You need to be careful what you eat,’ ‘You are the fat one, you can’t have that to eat,’ ‘You need to watch your weight, young lady,’ ‘Are you really going out in that, you don’t have the legs.’
No amount of running, exercising, or eating healthily has ever helped me recognise that I am not still that fat little girl. It is no longer a weight issue or a size issue. It is a mental health issue.
As a Holistic Health Coach, I have also learnt that the clients who approach me to lose weight often find the same; that even making behavioural changes with food and exercise only make a small impact; their weight is often a mask to the real issues. The food they eat is filling a ‘hole’ for something missing in their lives. They over compensate with exercise or use diet as a distraction so they don’t have to face a painful truth, using diet and exercise as control mechanisms for a situation beyond their influence. Sometimes even self-sabotage—either over-eating or deprivation—plays a part in a deep-rooted self-loathing for something they have done or not done.
I would love to see a shift from this obsession of weight, size and dieting to one focussed on mental health. It’s time to undo the basis of self esteem on the outward and physical aspects of ourselves and to one of internal, spiritual being and what we have to offer as a person, whatever our shape, size or number on a scale.
When it comes to mental health issues, I have found that spirituality, love and creativity all have their own part to play in building a positive body image and boosting self worth.
Connect with Yourself
Who are you? I believe understanding this is the true essence of spirituality. Imagine yourself without the pressures and influences of your life today, what would you be doing? Who would you be being? That is your spirit and that is you.
Brene Brown talks of vulnerability and courage in her inspiring book ‘Rising Strong.’ Connecting with yourself is a time of vulnerability and bravery as you expose your true self, open yourself to comment and opinion. From experience, I have found there is no vest more bullet proof than one of authenticity. Furthermore, there is no longing, no gaping hole to fill, no feeling of continual hunger for more, no more self loathing or sabotage when you live a life in your own spirit. Your image becomes less about what you look like, but who you are and in turn, that mental strength boosts your confidence and self esteem.
I had lived with the baggage born of the words others had said to or about me for years. Each year they became heavier and the voices louder in my mind, and with each year I believed them more until I became that person, even if not physically, in action and belief.
80% of women have self-deprecating thoughts about themselves.
It dawned on me, one day, that I could put those bags down and I could choose not to listen to the voices in my head. I began to create a new image of myself in my head, one that I wanted to be and that I liked.
In his book ‘The Miracle Morning,’ Dan Elrod talks about daily affirmations and gratitude as being life saving practices. He shares that 80% of women have self-deprecating thoughts about themselves (body image, job performance, etc.) and an affirmation is a way to turn those thoughts in to a positive and build self-esteem. The repetition of affirming who you are or want to be in the present leads to belief; saying them out loud makes an impression on your subconscious mind and takes you steps closer to who you want to be and who you truly are. Take a leaf from Mohammed Ali and his daily mantra of ‘I am the greatest’ and get creative!
Gratitude is the birth place of joy; for what you are grateful for, grows. When thinking about my body, I am grateful daily for my strong, healthy, self-healing body that allows me to love, laugh, run, hug, kiss and live! Gratitude is a way to reframe and refocus the mind on what you have rather than what you lack or would rather change.
Creating a new image of yourself in your mind, drowning out the old voices with the new and start becoming and being that real version of you.
Yes, love yourself. All parts of yourself, even the bits you don’t like. Be patient with this process, it takes time to undo all the hard work you have done to dislike yourself.
I used to stand in front of countless mirrors and pore over photographs of myself finding every little thing that would confirm what I had been told—that I was ‘fat;’ the shape of my thighs, knees and calves; the loose skin and stretch marks over my belly; the rounds of skin that hang over the top of my belt and under my bra. My self-image became so bad and my self esteem so low that I stopped looking in mirrors. I didn’t even look at myself on my wedding day for fear of taking off my beautiful dress and wearing a baggy tracksuit down the aisle.
Years of self torture later, I saw my 8-year-old son dancing in front of the mirror, pointing at himself. I asked him what he was doing. With a big smile he said, ‘I look so cool, Mum, don’t I?’ It was in that moment that I knew I had to change and become more childlike, see reality honestly and not through the lens of society. Now when I look in the mirror or at a photograph, I see myself as if I am meeting a dear friend and I compliment her, tell her at least three things that are wonderful, fun or even amusing about how she looks and what she is wearing. I even started an Instagram account (@reflecting_pineapples) to hold myself accountable to the practice.
I practice daily to quieten the voices in my mind. I admit that some days are harder than others. I still have “fat” days. However, on the whole, I have found that when you love yourself, live in your own created image, connect with your spirit and who you are, you want to live. When you indulge on life, there is no need to indulge in food. When you want to live a full life, you respect yourself enough to look after yourself in a way that means you nourish yourself with the right food, the right people, the right environment and the right thoughts. And that is when the key appears, the trap door opens and the cage walls melt away and your mind is free. You are the one and only, uniquely perfect, you.