The Tyranny of Body Image

A friend told me recently about a horrible experience she had with a doctor.  She was sick, went to an urgent care, and before she could finish reciting her symptoms to the doctor, he told her she needed to lose weight.  She left there feeling like all he saw was the way her body looked – not that she was truly sick, not that she was smart and organized, not that she was successful – and his reaction fed right into her own struggles:  She had trouble giving herself credit for any of her achievements because she had always been “fat.”

I could relate to how she felt.  And then the next week I read a New York Times interview with the humorist, writer, and producer Samantha Irby by David Marchese She writes about how hard it is to feel good about herself and be happy because she is overweight.   I don’t want to take credit for Irby’s words but here are some of her quotes that rang true to me:

I think there is a part of me that because I’m in this fat body that doesn’t work right… That is why I will never view anything I do as extremely successful, because there’s always, ‘Yeah, but you look like that.’ I don’t think there is a way — at least I haven’t figured it out yet — to both feel successful and exist in a world that’s like, ‘I don’t want to sit by you.’  I’ll always feel a little less than because of my size.”

Body image is a deeply personal aspect of our lives and it influences how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.  Irby goes on in the interview to talk about other people’s acceptance of their bodies and the idea of body positivity. “I was born too early to get on the “I don’t give a **** if you see my legs’ thing. I have never had that relationship with my body… My brain is good; she’s never let me down. The body has always let me down. It would feel dishonest for me to be like, ‘I love my body, and you better love it too,’ because I don’t.”

For many of us whose body image does not meet the standard for beauty that so many American women aspire to, it doesn’t matter if the overweight amount is 20 pounds, 50 pounds, or 200 pounds. The media bombards us with images of airbrushed skinny models and celebrities who represent an unattainable standard of beauty, so many women feel that they can never measure up.  And by not measuring up physically, they dismiss or reduce the pride they should have in their achievements, and feel less happy overall.

How do you develop a good self-image when you let your weight outweigh (pun intended!) everything else about you?  How do you learn to look at all the evidence of who you are, instead of selectively choosing only how your body looks?  And how do you fight this battle when our beauty culture so strongly diminishes you.  If you struggle to come to terms with these issues, know that you are not alone, and please give me a call if you want to work on the effect that your body image has on the rest of your life.