Changing my body image: what I see when I see me
Two weeks ago I ran The Eastern States 20 Miler in 2:33. That’s the fastest I’ve ever run 20 miles...in my entire life. I had a great run. The weather was beautiful, perfect even. I’d spent the weekend connecting with a friend. Everything was good. Until I saw this picture:
When the race photo popped up in my Facebook feed the night of the race and I instantly felt dissatisfied, everything that was good about the day vanished.
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I looked at myself and I saw: sluggish, slow and heavy.
Nothing like I’d felt during the race. I saw the ripple of cellulite in my thighs, arms that seemed to be sporting extra skin and the awkward drape of a too-small tank top. All I saw was this:
What I didn’t see was the smile and clearly happy face of a girl who is doing what she loves to do: run.
Later that night I showed my husband the picture. “I feel dissatisfied.” I said.
“Didn’t you have a great race?” He asked.
“Yes. I just don’t like the way I look.”
“Well,” came his response. “I think you look great.”
My outlook was hyper critical, I know that it is the remnants of the voice of my eating disorder.
But I know I’m not alone. We are all our worst critics.
Surveying photos of ourselves with a disdain that causes us to pick out every “flaw,” a sharp criticism we usually reserve only for ourselves. And sometimes for others. Some might look at this picture and say, "How could she be dissatisfied? I would be happy if I were that size." And others might look at this picture and think, "How could she NOT be dissatisfied? I would never let myself look like that." I've found that dissatisfaction is completely pervasive. It doesn't matter what size or shape you are, the majority of women at one point or another are dissatisifed when they look in the mirror. Or at a picture.
[Dissatisfaction and insecurity can often lead to disordered behavior. Being open and honest about exactly how you feel can break the power of those lies and help you gain perspective.The difference between who I am now and who I was when I struggled with an eating disorder is due in part to the fact that I am honest about these hyper critical, disordered thoughts. I used to keep them to myself, now I share them freely with my husband, with friends and sometimes here on the blog.]
I still didn’t think I looked great. Until I saw this photo:
And suddenly my perspective was restored with a healthy dose of laughter. I look effing ridiculous. So brilliantly, effing ridiculous that I’m going to have this photo put on a coffee mug, so that everytime I drink my coffee in the morning I’m reminded not to take myself too seriously. I love it.
I'm not the girl with the cellulite-rippled legs, I'm the girl with her tongue hanging out of her damn mouth. Yep. That's me.
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Often times we allow photos of ourselves to hold incredible power. We let them make us feel insecure or dissatisfied.
We put the full weight of our worth into a bad photo, and forget to look at the “good” photos.
Not the ones where we look “good,” where our hair is at its best and the angle is just right, and the drape of our clothes is perfectly flattering. No, not those pictures, but the photos that hold the most meaning, the ones that have incredible power because they should.
Like this one.
When I see this photo I see a broken hearted, but strong mother. It was taken the moments after the recovery nurse put my four month old son in my arms after his first surgery. My face is blurry, my eyes hold tears. I’m trying to smile, to believe that everything will be OK. But in that moment I was devastated by a feeling of helplessness and fear. I was heartbroken for my hurting baby.
Or this one.
When I see this photo I see a mama who made it to the other side of the most difficult time in her life. Sophia took this picture of Jack and I. And in that moment I held Jack in the same way I held him two years earlier on the night we came home from his surgery. You can’t see them in this picture, but there are tears in my eyes as I remember that night. Where moments before I sat with him on the couch I had gingerly taken my little four month old from his car seat, trying not to disturb his surgical wounds. But he screamed in agony anyway and so did I, because I hurt so badly for my hurting baby. And my Mom, who was there to help, stood behind the couch and placed her hands on my shoulders, leaned down to kiss my cheek and prayed.
Or this one.
I see a woman who has given birth to three children. A woman who has been surprised by the strength of her own body to nurture and deliver new life into the world. I see a woman who is overcome with love for her child.
I see a mother.
Or this one, which happens to be one of my husband’s favorites.
I see a very tired, but very fulfilled mama. Taken last summer when Liam was just a month old, I remember being so anxious leading up to his birth. How could I possibly be the mother to three children? I felt so incapable. But then he arrived and life went on and I didn’t screw it up (or I’m trying not to screw it up). And I give this mothering thing my best every day because that little girl next to me, she wants to be like me. And that little boy with the mischievous smirk, he is watching. And the little bundle in my arms...well, he might just always be mama’s baby;)
What I see when I see me matters, because it affects what they see when they see me.
We can’t say photographs don’t matter. They do. They just have to matter for the right reason, hold the right kind of power. It’s up to us what kind of power we give them.
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What do you do with the photos that leave you feeling dissatisfied and discouraged?
I’ve also written about the difficult balance of accepting your body, but wanting to change it at the same time. You can find that post HERE.
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com