On Body Image

by Emily Morris

I will be the first to admit that I have some pretty serious body image issues. Serious, is of course, a relative term — and if I’m being honest, I guess I don’t know how serious my body image issues are compared with others. Regardless, they feel serious to me — because I think about my weight every day. And it’s not like a number-on-the-scale kind of thing for me personally. Instead, it’s just about how I feel in my body that day — heavy, light. And how I look — every morning, I can’t help but stare at myself in the mirror + scrutinize, criticizing parts of myself so quickly that I don’t even leave a second to substitute positive thoughts. And even if I did, I would barely believe them.

I am always, always striving to be thinner. When I feel thin, I have more confidence. I genuinely like myself more that day — I feel like I’m winning some weird contest that I’ve been fighting against myself, and I carry that pride with me.

I will be the first to admit that it’s not fun. And probably not healthy. I want so badly to love myself unconditionally — to love myself no matter what the scale says, no matter how big or small I feel. And I have made progress — I do love my spirit, my soul, my inner self. I do. I just also judge + dislike my human self — for eating too much, for wanting more, for wanting sweets, for eating sweets. For getting above a certain weight. The thing is that I know how silly this probably sounds, especially to people who know me. I know people would kill to be as small as I am. It’s just that when I feel lighter, or when I look the way I want to look, which is very thin, I have more confidence. I like myself more. And I dislike myself for eating those sweets.

That’s the truth. I have been using the mantra, “I am beautiful and strong,” or, “I am beautiful and intelligent” to combat these thoughts. A lot of times, saying that while looking in the mirror helps — or just saying it in my mind as I walk to work, or whenever I’m feeling insecure. I even force a smile and try to see myself through Matt’s eyes (the boyfriend), which helps too.

If anyone has any tips as to how to overcome these thoughts + frustrations, please comment below.

If you happen to be friends with or dating someone with body image issues, here are a few things you can do for them:

1. Avoid commenting on what they eat.

No matter what you say, it leads to the person who’s eating feeling awkward and usually bad. It just does. If there are exceptions to this, I haven’t found them. Just MYOB when it comes to meal time.

On the other hand, if the person reaches out to you to discuss food/body image/any of the above, do your best to be open + supportive. Listen intently and provide as much empathy as you can. If you feel ill equipped, ask them outright what they want + need from you. And keep reading below for more insight.

2. Be aware — know that what you see is not always what that person sees.

Be patient with your partner or friend. Know that their thoughts regarding how they look are at worst very negative and at best ambivalent on any given day. Just knowing this can help you understand where they’re coming from when they’re taking 45 minutes to choose an outfit or whining endlessly about their hair/jeans/top.

3. Tell them that they’re beautiful — inside and out.

When you feel like it, give your partner or friend a specific compliment regarding their inner beauty, i.e. “I love how passionate you are about social justice.” If it’s a romantic relationship, take time to compliment your partner’s physical appearance too — it reminds that person that what they see (their flaws) is not what others see, drawing attention to their own cognitive distortion.

Personally, when I remember that my negative ideas regarding how I look are not what others see/think, I realize those ideas are false, and that they are pretty much all in my own head. This makes me feel a little better.

4. Learn their triggers. And again, be patient.

After spending a lot of time with someone with body image issues, you may pick up on things that trigger them — a specific time of day, certain foods or comments, or maybe a conversation with their mother/father/friend/sibling. Learning these triggers and providing empathy + support when they come up can be very helpful.

This can be as simple as giving your loved one an unexpected hug after you can see that they have had a frustrating phone conversation with that person. Or asking if they want to talk when you notice they’re squirming at the dinner table. Just cultivating an attitude of genuine empathy can be life-saving.

At the same time, we may have random outbursts. That is the simple truth — when we feel like we are out of control (with our eating or with other parts of our lives), we often get upset and sometimes lash out. The thing that we’re frustrated with or crying about is often not even the root of the problem. So, all I can counsel is patience. If you have the patience to sit with us when we’re upset like this, then you are a wonderful friend + very strong yourself. So, here is a big thank you to all of the loving friends + partners out there of people like myself. We’re working on it, we promise. And we love you.