It’s All About Me

Disordered eating discussed.

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Recently, Linda left this thought provoking comment:

It’s always a little hard for me to get my mind around how many perfectly attractive (to my mind) women have these huge body issues. It makes me think that if they apply the same standards to other people that they do to themselves, I must look like a monster to them! But most of them don’t apply those standards to me, and neither do I (apply them to me–or to them).

I took a fascinating biopsychology class about a year ago. I’m ashamed to admit that I no longer remember the names and functions of the 16 hillion jillion neurotransmitters that we studied, but I will always remember this anecdote from the unit on body image: A group of anorexic women was asked to draw chalk outlines of their own bodies. Then, they were shown a lineup of other women of various shapes and sizes, and asked to draw chalk outlines of those other women’s bodies. Although the outlines they sketched for the lineup were remarkably accurate, the outlines they sketched for themselves added a good 20% to 30% more body mass than was truly present.

What with the no-cable, I still haven’t gotten a chance to watch “How to Look Good Naked,” but from what I can gather, that TV program runs a similar experiment on its non-anorexic contestants. Participating women are asked to pick their own body type/shape from a lineup of OTHER women who stand arranged from lightest to heaviest. They consistently choose larger – often, much larger – than their true figures. And yet, I’d wager those same women could correctly identify body types/shapes of total strangers, friends, family members.

In my experience, women who struggle with body image issues struggle internally. Our willful misjudgment of bodies is confined to our own physical forms, and seldom do we appraise others as harshly as we do ourselves. I can’t speak for everyone, of course, and I’m sure that some women hate the bodies of others as much as they hate their own. But my immediate experience leads me to believe those universal body-loathers are in the minority. My personal experience, too. For while I may criticize and berate myself for cellulite and disproportionality, curse the mirror for showing me a bloated and toneless form, I would never, EVER unleash such merciless and unreasonable judgment on anyone else.

And that has its upside, I suppose. What kind of a hateful wretch would I be if I poured that ruthless criticism on other women? Total strangers, friends, family members? On the other hand, why can’t I see myself more clearly, perceive my own body as plainly as I do theirs? I know that I deserve the same loving and accepting – or, at the very least, objective and reasonable – perspective. And I work and work and work at it, daily, hourly, constantly. But “deserve” and “receive” seldom overlap, and I feel like I will always suffer from some measure of self-blindness.

Perhaps toying with redirection could combat this self-focused body judgment. Next time I find myself in the thick of self-flagellation, I’ll chose a girlfriend at random and apply to her body the criticism I’m pouring all over my own. Even now, writing out that concept, I can feel myself recoiling! How could I be so harsh and disdainful toward my girls, my adored friends, whose bodies are lovely and beloved to me? How could I criticize and berate them for cellulite and disproportionality, curse them for their bloated and toneless forms?

Well, I simply couldn’t. And that could become a crushing blow against rampant, damaging body image double-standards. At least for me.

Image courtesy kT LindSAy.

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  • hoxtonmarket

    Have you seen a documentary called "Thin?" It's by this amazing photographer, Lauren Greenfield, and it looks at the lives of several young women who are in a center for Anorexia treatment. It's a really fascinating film.

  • Tibbar de Gniw

    When I look at other women's figures, I usually am looking at how nice they are, to "torture" myself. When I look at my own, I see where I could be better.
    I'm trying to stop this, though, because I see myself naked and I don't get to see them naked, so I don't know what they actually look like.
    Something that has helped me is the knowledge a friend gave me: Models suck in their tummies.

    All in all, I think my body image has improved since I started reading this blog. Thanks Sal. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Elizabeth Patch

    Great post.You are so right about this! We would never talk trash about our girlfriends the same way we do to our selves. We would never complain about our wrinkly eyes to our beloved grandmothers, or scold our cute little nieces for not being the right size. So why do we talk trash, scold and complain about our own bodies…?

  • KIRAFASHION

    We almost never see us how we really are…this can be a problem…well pointed.

  • K.Line

    OK, I'm going to say that I'm pretty realistic – with myself and others. As a yoga teacher for many years, I look at the shape of the body to understand mobility, symmetry and health. I apply that to review of my own form just as I would to students. Now, having said that, I don't walk down the street looking at regular peeps that way. If you want me to judge harshly by that stupid "harsh modern media" perspective, oh I can pick everyone apart. But I choose not to.

    And, I don't loathe my body. I actually quite like it – though I am very aware of its "flaws". It's in understanding them that I can play up the things I want to, while de-emphasizing the other stuff.

  • http://venusvision.com

    I did actually used to judge other women's bodies harshly. Not really so much those of my friends, but every stranger I passed on the street faced my inner scrutiny, especially in places like mall food courts where I would mentally take note of whether or not she "should be eating that". Of course, all of these thoughts (which filled my head 24/7) really were about judging myself. I worked so hard (and in my mind unsuccessfully) not to become fat, and every woman that didn't fit the ideal was a representation of my worst fears.

    Part of my healing process and learning to embrace my own body was to stop finding fault in other bodies. When I look in the mirror now, I think I have an accurate idea of what my body shape is like, but I embrace it rather than loathe it. And when I go to public places like the pool and see bodies of all different shapes and sizes, I marvel in their diversity and unique beauty.

  • futurelint

    I never harshly judge other women's figures… except (oh yeah I said it) two very close friends I had who were obsessed about TALKING about how fat they were, how they had cankles, how many zits they had that week, etc. And then I would notice, because they pointed it out. Repeatedly. I would always reassure them (which I guess is what they wanted?), and say they looked fine and only they noticed, but to be honest it did call attention to their flaws. And they did it constantly… in front of dates, at work, at parties, etc. I was amazed! I wanted to tell them – don't point out your least favorite parts of your physical self over and over! The reassurance you will get will be short lived and honestly no one will notice these things until you yourself point them out!

  • laurabrownart

    i am definitely harder on myself than on others–sometimes i even end up projecting my judgment onto them, thinking the thin woman in the locker room at the y is judging me for having pasty cellulite thighs, thinking the other people at the poetry reading are mentally chiding me for taking yet another cracker with goat cheese (real life examples from just yesterday!). i think this post, for me, closely relates to your post (yesterday?) about feeling good/looking good, because when i put effort into my appearance and feel good about how i look, i am less prone to go down this road.
    when one of us is being too hard on ourselves, my roommate and i will often say, half-joking/half-serious, "don't talk about my friend that way!" which dissolves the air or criticism and reminds me to not be harder on myself than i am on others.

  • LENORENEVERMORE

    I used to be harder on myself but as I grow older, I find myself to be less critical/self-loathing… I hardly judge others. My mom is heavy-set, I'm more concern about her health rather than image… Another thoughtful post Sal!
    ~XO*

  • Audi

    Fascinating post, Sal. It's interesting to note that eating disorders such as anorexia simply do not exist in poorer countries. Could this type of skewed body image be the same? Do we simply have so much comfort and leisure that we need to latch onto an idea over which we can obsess, even if the idea is completely unfounded?

  • Spandexpony

    I choose to downplay negative judgement. Some relic of religiosity in me tells me that thinking negatively of myself and others is the devil "tempting" me to have ill will against mankind.

    Everyone has something beautiful about them, and if you choose to see it you make your world a beautiful place.

    Whenever I get down on myself, I think of parrots who pluck their own feathers out because of their boredom. It reminds me to "stop picking", step outside of myself, find a way to put my body and mind towards something to feels good, is helpful, or fun.

  • Lemondrop Marie

    I've seen the "draw yourself" technique on a few shows, including TLC's What Not to Wear. It's made me realize that I do gloss over other people's flaws and identify their best features and focus on them (but don't as much for myself). I am sure that for those with serious body dismorphia problems it is so much worse! This is an important discussion- especially for young girls.

  • Anonymous

    I'm trying not to take offense, but when you say: "What kind of a hateful wretch would I be if I poured that ruthless criticism on other women?" – it discounts those of us who *can't help* but criticize other's bodies as harshly as we do our own because we are currently struggling wth anorexia or other disorders. I am fighting it, but calling me a hateful wretch doesn't give me any positive support in the right direction – just more guilt.

    I'm not trying to be disrespectful – just throwing in another opion.

  • The Budget Babe

    i'd love to learn more about the science behind how we see ourselves.

    and i agree with Tibbar de Gniw, reading this blog is a daily reminder to be kinder to myself.

  • Sal

    Anonymous: The point of this post is to encourage women who judge their own bodies harshly to consider how aiming similarly harsh judgment at others might make them feel. And the meat of my theory is that most women judge themselves MORE harshly than they judge others.

    I can only imagine that anyone struggling with an eating disorder would have a tougher time with body judging, on all levels. But I assume that if you are in a place right now where you hate both your own body and the bodies of many – if not all – other women, that you're seeking to change those thought patterns. You don't want to feel like that forever, correct?

    And if you've read this blog for any length of time, I'm sure you realize that I would never intentionally lay guilt on my readership. This is meant as a kick in the pants, not a stab in the back.

  • Meg Baxter

    Ditto to Lemondrop Marie. I see the worst in myself but the best in others, and then proceed to covet their best features. Sad.

    I am also 8 months pregnant and although I get compliments ALL the time on how great I look and how it's "all baby" and my husband thinks I'm a "MILF" (lovely, I know), I can't help but envy the younger girls (early 20s – I'm 27) who work at the spa next to my office whose bodies have not yet been challenged by this process of creating life. Then I feel guilty for wanting my slim body back even though it's currently performing a job MUCH more important than looking good. Seems no matter what stage I'm in, there's guilt for not looking as good as I "should," but more guilt for feeling that way when I know in my head that being naturally "slender" (not "skinny") in my non-pregnant state is already a blessing.

    Ugh. Body image sucks.

  • Neira

    i totally agree with this..many women have such high standards for themselves, build up expectations that they could never meet because theyre ridiuclous! But all women do this (unfortunenently) sometimes we do put this against other women as well, and sometimes we dont even pay attention, since were too busy criticizing ourselves.. its really sad. Every day I try to look at women and see the good qualities they have and I show a bit of envy, but most of it is for flattery! All women should appreciate how other women look and not judge them

    awesome post girl

    xoxo
    neira

  • Becky

    After a little bit of a trip, I've really started to love my body (I still have the occasional hangups and the "omg I go to the gym 3 times a week, why can't I just lose another 15 lbs?!" moments). I still have the habit (bad habit?) of comparing myself to other women who seem to be the similar sizes to me…when I wasn't as body positive, I would frequently ask my sister: "Am I THAT size?" and point to a fellow curvaceous woman, but not with hopeful anticipation of being told, "yes, you're that size". I usually perceived myself as being the same size as women who were actually bigger than me (kind of like the "How to Look Good Naked" experiment). Not exactly the nicest thing to do to other ladies, either, looking back. My mind set is a bit different now, where I see a voluptuous woman and appreciate how beautiful she is and hope I look as beautiful as they do being the size 14/16 that I am. I am not critical of other women, but I tend to play that experiment of comparing more often than I should. Something to work on! Thanks for this post, Sal.

  • Rosie Unknown

    While I don't talk trash about other people, I do worry about them. Are my friends who are super skinny actually eating all that? Do they have secret eating disorders? Should I try and help them? Is my over weight friend endangering my health?

    I also worry that people are seeing everything that I see in people. Me: OMG she has such bad muffin top. Do I have muffin top? Will people notice that I'm wearing this skirt higher than it supposed to be worn since it doesn't fit properly any more?

  • Cupcakes and Cashmere

    i actually try to remind myself that i need to be kinder to myself and treat myself like i would a friend. why do we all struggle with this? even though i'm quite well aware that i do it, i can't seem to stop!

  • rb

    I'd rather not encounter teeny tiny short shorts or belly-baring tops on anyone, but I do admit an inclination to be more judgy when they are worn by women with a lot of cellulite and or flab hanging out. I often wonder if the woman knows just how much of herself is exposed when she's wearing that getup.

  • Denise

    Your best post so far. Honestly, I find myself judging (far more than is appropriate) other people's style, not their body size. I realize that doesn't make it any better, and I try to soften my judgment by thinking, "she's so lovely . . . why is she wearing (unflattering item)?" And you couldn't be more right: self-love, self-acceptance, high self-esteem and good self-image are attributes which we must constantly cultivate, on a daily basis. Once I accepted that fact, it actually became easier to be easier on myself, and accept the whole of me.

  • Rita

    I know that I don't hold others to the same standards that I hold myself to. I would NEVER speak to anyone the way I do to myself. It's a sick and viscious thing and I'm glad to see you calling us all out on this topic. I'm a bit hard headed though so I'll be printing this post to hang up as a reminder. Thanks Sal!

  • lisa

    I am definitely harsher with self-scrutiny than with scrutiny of others, and I don't think it applies just to body image. For example, as I spend more time in the working world, I've realized that I hold my work to higher standards than those that my managers and peers expect of me. I try to channel my self-criticism in a positive direction, though. If an outfit doesn't look good on me, I'll try and figure out why and fix it rather than berate my body for betraying me, or if I feel that I'm looking a little less than stellar, I'll try to take better care of myself by eating better or sleeping more or getting more exercise. It's more important to cherish what you have and take care of it than focus on your body's "have-nots."

  • dust

    What a great post!
    I never thought I'll quote Madonna, but too many people are "checking out the bodies". And too many people criticize skinny ones. Someone said that is because they look good, they can handle a wee bit of an insult and fat people are too fragile, sensitive, frustrated and insecure to handle their share of critics.
    What? Is that possible?

    If we are ready to talk trash about the others, lets at least try to spread our field of interest to ALL body types.
    I just can't listen to anorexia this and that any more,when one third of our civilized western world is obese and unhealthy.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great post and something I've often thought of because, I, myself tend to gravitate towards the fuller, curvier figure as being more aesthetically appealing. But for whatever reason, my body is exempt and I wrangle with the image I see in the mirror. Not everyday, but more often than I am ok with. I think for me a lot of it has to do with logic, (I'm not overweight) fighting (and so often losing to) with emotion and feeling, (But why must I have a curvy butt, thick thighs, nothing fits right, uuggh!!!)

  • Anonymous

    It's funny–I admire all kinds of bodies, but am distracted by self-criticism of my own. I try to think, let there be joy all around, tell myself not to distract myself from enjoying my own life in this body, and the beauty of others. It really is a killjoy to be thinking about how I look–no one else is. More important is, am I listening, present? And Sal, another recent post helped confirm my latest discoveries–wear colors I love, clothes that fit. It's okay to feel good! Why not? "Joie de vivre"

  • Eyeliah SS

    I filong as I am working out and eating healthy I have positive body image (no matter how I look). so I just make sure to always do my workouts three times a week. I love 'How to Look Good Naked', and the lineup is one of the best parts b.c yes. they always think they are bigger!

  • Diana

    This is so true. I've known so many women who complained about how "fat" they were when they were actually much thinner than me. It's so hard for us to not be critical of ourselves, but yet it's so very important.

  • AsianCajuns

    Oh I definitely do this! Though this gets tricky between Cath and I because we have the same exact body to start with, but we fluctuate between who is more toned and skinnier. I don't think we criticize each other so much as we look at each other and realize "oh that's what my body looks like when I work out more", etc. And it's not like comparing oneself with a model or actress- it's a copy of your genetic material. Tricky one, that.

  • Iheartfashion

    I think most women who complain about how "fat" they are are just looking for someone to contradict them. I don't like to engage in body trash talk with anyone else, but I do judge myself harshly and probably suffer from a bit of dysmorphia regarding my own body. I notice other women, but don't judge them nearly as harshly as myself.

  • Hanako66

    that is very interesting….I know that I have a bit harsher opinions of myself than my husband does….ie, I won't wear anything tight when I feel like my stomach doesn't look flat and I am what a lot of people would consider skinny. I am fairly active and work out a few times a week, but do not watch what I eat at all…which doesn't really make much sense I guess.

    I guess I just dress to make the most of what I have.

    I've now gotten totally off topic…I love how your blog makes me do that:)

  • a cat of impossible colour
  • Anonymous

    i've considered plastic surgery as a way to "correct" all of my flaws. the only thing that has prevented me from doing so is the constant nagging thought of: will i like myself better afterwards, or will i continue to view myself as disgustin, and perhaps more so because it's foreign to me?

  • Savvy Mode SG

    great post. i sometimes can become a little critical of myself when i can't fit into that 23 inch waist bustier from back in the days but then I will remind myself i am already skinny and need to work on being healthy via exercise and balance meals.

  • Imogen Lamport

    So true! Well put – why are we so harsh on ourselves? I wonder if there is some sort of 'anti vanity' thing that we do to ourselves, because we're taught that vanity is bad – and people who love themselves are 'up themselves'?

  • Anonymous

    You know, I wasted about two hours tonite feeling miserable. I've been in a sort of in-between stage of recovery from anorexia for four (ugh) years now. Some days this fear – literally, a fear – seizes me that I am hideous. Convinced my arms are twice the size they were yesterday. That I've gotten fat and nobody told me (but were surely whispering about it behind my back). That my face is full and a few more chins are soon to follow.

    Which is why I wish had read this entry a little earlier. I could have salvaged my evening maybe. So thank you.

  • smaro

    wonderful post! It is so true. We mentally or sometimes verbally abuse ourselves and berate ourselves, showering our self-image and body with comments and remarks that we would not make to our worst enemies. "The bad things are harder to believe" said Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman as Richard Gere told her she could be so much more. Why is it when it comes to our bodies and the saggy, odd shaped, bulgy bits we find it easier to believe in their unsightliness??? I find what helps me is to counter any negative thought I have with a positive one: pasty legs-but slender ankles, rounded tum-but cute butt,perceived saggy chin-but gorgeous smile.I do look at other women, but I am never envious, unless they achieve a sort of cool, clothes thrown on and made for me type look which is they way I would always want to look.

  • Casey

    First off, I would totally recommend the documentary another commenter mentioned called "Thin". I watched it a couple years ago and it was eye opening!

    As someone who was a full fledged anorexic, who mentally tallied up how bad I must look, and was sure that others thought the same, I never did fall into the trap of judging others (thankfully). All my dislike was focused on my perceived flaws–even when I was severely underweight and unhealthy! Like another woman mentioned the feeling that others were judging her, watching her, thinking she was "fat" (or something along those lines), I spent far more time focused on how my body looked to me or if I "felt fat" than doing that to other people. ๐Ÿ˜‰ lol. Even my overweight friends were beautiful to me, while I was most certainly flawed!

    I went around for years thinking I was much larger than I really was; looking back at those pictures I can't believe I didn't realize how (unhealthily) skinny I had become through my eating disorder! It's all a matter of perception; the human mind has a great capacity for deception, and I think focused and obsessive on one thing (in this case, body image), it can skew quite a bit of reality. My husband still tells me I'm not seeing reality (which yes, I have lots of days where I don't in regards to how I look… still!). ๐Ÿ˜‰ lol.

  • Aya Smith

    Wow… such a heavy subject matter… but as a victim of horrible self image, I can definitely find interest in it. I always wonder why so many of us torture ourselves like this, but for so many it is simply inevitable. For every woman/person the remedy is different… so it's really hard to help women as a whole deal with these issues ๐Ÿ™