I am exhausted about the discussion of positive body image.
It seems we go from one extreme to the other in the United States. The entertainment industry continues to show us what they think women should strive to be – perfect and dangerously thin.
However, the social media trend to the opposite extreme is no less dangerous.
The truth – no matter how painful it is – is that obesity is just as dangerous to your body as anorexia, bulimia, or any other eating disorder.
Loving your body begins with respecting it, protecting it, keeping it safe, and understanding that is the only place you will ever have to live.
Sharing photos that tout “beautiful at any size” isn’t doing anything about our relationship with our bones, muscles, heart, kidneys, brain, and more. It doesn’t address our toxic relationship with food (too much or too little). It does nothing to stop the manufacture and mass consumption of foods that are bad for us, bad for our bodies, and killing us slowly.
Something has to change and it starts with us.
Positive body image requires you to love your entire body – inside and out – in ways that are not always easy and are rarely addressed by the media. It means loving yourself enough to seek help for an eating disorder. It means accepting that being dangerously obese is hurting you.
I’ve struggled with my weight all my life and I’ll always be above what the medical community lists as “ideal” for my height, age, and build. I didn’t understand at the time that being a size 12 or 14 was okay. That I didn’t have to define myself by the size of the jeans I wore. That I should have been proud of my excellent cholesterol count, perfect blood pressure, and ability to perform a medical stress test little effort.
I know better now.
After my children were born, I gained a lot of weight. At size 22 and almost 300 pounds, I hated myself. I refused to look at my reflection, I bought tent-like clothes that I thought “hid” me from the world, and I wouldn’t even consider wearing a bathing suit, a skirt, or a pair of shorts.
I beat myself up constantly. I was vicious to me in ways I wouldn’t have dreamed being to another human being. I tried diets and pills and stressed constantly about the rolls, the ripples of cellulite, and the many imperfections of the woman I was.
Then one day, my three-year-old son looked at me and told me I was beautiful. He held my face in his hands and said I was the most beautiful mommy in the world. A phrase so many children say to their parents because they see it and they believe it. I wanted to believe it, too.
Positive body image is a process – for women especially but also for men. We are looking at the wrong things and it’s the reason our nationwide disease statistics are out of control.
I have seen the hazards of obesity as clearly as I have seen the dangers of smoking or alcoholism. I watched as my 30-year-old husband was diagnosed with diabetes. At 27 myself, I’d never heard about the disease. I knew my husband was heavy and I’d been worried about his heart since so many in his family died of heart disease.
He was stubborn but once I knew the stakes, I was far more stubborn than he was. I changed the food everyone in our house ate, and within two years, he was completely off the medication.
Sixteen years later, I watched him go through the terror of a quadruple bypass at age 46. His weight (like mine) has bounced around since he was a teenager. He has issues with cholesterol, high blood pressure, and so much more.
The medication they put him on to control the cholesterol caused him to lose bone and muscle mass – he lost two inches of height as a result. The diabetes rages out of control, making it difficult for him to heal. They worry about his teeth, his feet, and his internal organs. He has been hospitalized an average of three times per year in the past five years.
With all of that, he was more worried about balding than controlling his body weight.
He didn’t change his eating habits until he suffered a series of heart attacks that made doctors open his chest to save his life. He didn’t quit smoking until the morning he was rushed to the hospital. He rarely remembered to check his blood sugar. He listened patiently to my lectures over the phone spanning the ten years since our divorce and he would laugh a little and talk about what a worrier I tended to be.
He almost died. I don’t think I worried enough.
Over the last two years, I’ve lost sixty pounds. I’m a size 16 now. I still don’t work out because I forget to make it a priority.
I don’t eat enough but I’m fussy about the food I do remember by choosing organic when I can, avoiding things with a long list of ingredients I can’t pronounce, and cutting back on refined sugars and carbs. I try to remember water and most days, I’m pretty good and I even add lemon (so much better).
If I were to get a checkup, I’d still be considered obese and there is a good chance that poor habits, extra weight, and stress have given me high blood pressure. If that’s the case, my personal risk of dying due to heart attack or stroke has gone up dramatically.
Positive Body Image – A Balance of Outer Self + Inner Health
Positive body image to me means the understanding that my habits, my inability to make certain changes, and being more worried about my business than my body will catch up to me. I see that, I understand that, and I’m making small steps to change the way I love myself. I also realize that I’m 43 and my physical body isn’t in the spotlight.
It’s the young people that make me worry.
Side Effects of Anorexia
- Raised liver enzymes
- Abnormal blood counts
- Low blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chronic fatigue
- Dizziness, fainting, or seizures
- Thin or brittle hair and nails
- Lack of menstruation
- Dry skin
- Inability to handle cold
Side Effects of Obesity
- High blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke
- Cancer – uterus, breast, or ovaries (women)
- Cancer – prostate or colon (men)
- Sleep apnea
- Irregularity of hormone levels
- Insulin resistance
- Impaired pulmonary function
- Digestive distress and urinary infections
- Varicose veins
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver or liver failure
- Joint, bone, back, muscle pain, or migraines
- Deterioration of joints and cartilage
There are no “positives” to either extreme. Extremes in general are dangerous. Positive body image begins with finding a balance between your outer self and your inner health.
I don’t want to talk about body image anymore in relation to weight or what makes women “real” or even that every body is beautiful.
I want to talk about being at your best health, developing your intelligence, expanding your personal horizons, chasing your dreams, achieving peace, and experiencing happiness.
Those are the goals in my own life. As for being comfortable in my own skin, it’s a beautiful day, I (now) own a bathing suit, and the pool is calling my name.
Shayne McClendon is an author and positivity practitioner. Shayne believes love crosses all boundaries, social castes, races, genders, and belief systems. If you are lucky enough to find soul-deep love, you should fight for it. Life-certified, reader approved.