O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us…
As Mary Jo Rapini discussed in her excellent post about body image, the way we view our bodies—our body image—is an inside job. It’s our own creation.
We construct our body image from childhood experience (comments, teasing, how our mothers viewed themselves), media messages, and social definitions of beauty. We also project our emotions onto our hapless bodies. (Passed over for a promotion? Look at those fat, ugly thighs.)
That’s because body image has nothing to do with reality. It’s the result of our own internal dialog, and I’m guessing that for most of us it’s pretty negative. That’s what Mary Jo was referring to when she said to knock it off. In so many words.
Body image is powerful because it affects our actions, including our sex life. “Women with poor body image don’t initiate sex as often, and they’re more self-conscious,” says Dr. Anne Kearney-Cooke.
When we’re distracted by our perceived flaws, it’s hard to be spontaneous with our honey.
Still the media steamrolls on. The ideal image of beauty has become thinner (American models are 11 percent below normal weight and only 4 percent above what is considered anorexic). At the same time, not only embroiled in an obesity epidemic, but most of us tend to gain weight normally as we age.
Weight is a huge component of body image. In a massive 1997 survey conducted by Psychology Today, participants were asked how many years of life they would be willing to trade in order to achieve their weight goal, 15 percent of women said they’d give up 5 years and 24 percent said they’d give up more than three.
That’s a high price for weight loss. And guess what? You can do it for free!
In the interest of bringing hope and perspective to the issue as we prepare to welcome a new year, here (and in the next post) are some thoughts and suggestions that make sense to me:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This covers a lot of ground. For one thing, your partner probably sees you as more beautiful than you see yourself. People who love us tend to do that. All you have to do is to trust it.
It also means that standards of beauty are different throughout the world and that Americans have very narrow standards. After all, this is the culture that brought you Barbie. The French, for example, have much broader notions of beauty. Here’s one French woman’s reaction to American beauty: “The women all had thin bodies, big breasts, long blonde hair, and white teeth. Boring.” Rejoice in your lack of boringness.
Your body is amazing. Be proud of what it can do. Stop obsessing about weight and start working on health. Exercise to make yourself stronger and more flexible, not to lose weight. That Psychology Today survey found that moderate exercise was the most direct link to feeling good about yourself. (Good sex was another.)
You don’t have to get extreme—just get outside and walk several times a week. (Simply being outside feels good.) When you’re confident in your body’s ability to perform—when you can walk a few miles, move the couch, pick up the grandkid, not only do you feel better, but you feel better about yourself.
I'll continue this how-to list in the next post!
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.