This morning I read an article on The Huffington Post, When Women Hate Their Bodies, Men Suffer Too
, by Susan Harrow, author of How to Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul, that prompted this post. Susan told the story of Tawnya who even after 30 years of marriage suffered from such a poor body image that she became unreasonably jealous every time her husband looked a another woman. She had breast implants even though her husband loved her body the way it was.
In my experience as a life coach and massage therapist, I've learned that the reality of a woman's physical appearance is never as strong as a negative mental image. Like the article says, a woman's body image is constructed from past experiences and self-talk. In my experience it also comes from comparisons with an ideal set long ago by Barbie or beauty magazines.
Years ago a woman came to me for bodywork. She had a beautiful body by anyone's standards. During the session, she opened up and confessed how ashamed she was of her body. She was so ashamed that she never let her husband see her naked. It didn't matter how she looked in the mirror because in her mind all she saw was ugliness. Her husband could not compliment her enough to heal that insecurity.
When I was about nine years old, my brother-in-law told me I was built like a linebacker. I grew up in the rural mid-west playing with Barbie dolls. Marcia Brady was the girl to be. My body image was horrible! I was Asian. My hair color was wrong. My eye color was wrong. My breasts were too small and my legs were too short!
In my late teens I used to fast to try to lose weight for my ballet instructor. Cheryl Tiegs was the hot model of the day. It was before Asians were in beauty magazines or the media. The only thing that saved me from an eating disorder was my love of food and becoming a gourmet cook. Even so I hated my body.
Every time someone called me "tiny" or "petite", the image of a linebacker would pop into my mind, the negative image planted by a teasing comment in my childhood. I would not accept and love my body until I was in my early forties.
The first step to overcome my negative body image was awareness. I became aware that it was there and where it came from. I began talking about it and listening to how others recovered from the same problem. Slowly, I began turning my perspective on my body.
What finally saved me was soccer.
At forty years old, I began playing in an adult recreational soccer league. After only a year or so of playing, a man approached me after a game. He actually invited me to play on a team with him. As I drove away from that game, I was thrilled and grateful just to be wanted! In the middle of that state of gratitude, it came to me that my body was perfect for soccer - small breasts, strong legs perfect for sprinting, and a low center of gravity.
Oh, and I stopped reading beauty magazines.
How does your mental image effect your body image? Does it effect your relationship with your spouse or boyfriend? Do you have a story about how you changed your perception?
Photo by MCSimon on Flickr.com.
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