Invisible Me

feeling-invisible

Although I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy thinking about my body, cultivating awareness of my body, and trying to love my body exactly as it is, I have a confession to make: If I’m in a good place, body image-wise, I DON’T think about my body. After I’ve been feeling good about myself for a decent chunk of time, my body becomes invisible to me. I get dressed effortlessly, see myself in the mirror and feel utterly neutral, give nary a thought to my physical self unless I stub my toe or get a paper cut.

And I suppose that’s acceptable. I’d certainly rather feel positive than neutral, but when I’m in this mode I’m comfortable with myself. I walk around the house naked a lot more. I don’t get hung up on cellulite or chin hairs. It’s quiet and relatively serene inside my head.

The unacceptable part comes when I shift out of invisibility mode. Because when that shift inevitably happens, it’s into nitpicking. I begin to see my body, but only as a collection of things that aren’t quite right. It’s typically during the colder months of the year. My hips get a little broader, my hair gets a little flatter, and my posture gets a little crappier. I start to eat heavier foods, feel lethargic and dull, put less energy into my personal style. The constant drone of self-critique begins to buzz in the background of all my thoughts, and passing the mirror becomes an exercise in disappointment.

And I want to change this cycle. I shouldn’t be invisible when I’m happy with my body, and visible when I’m not. I need to make more of a commitment to recognizing the beauty in my body at ALL times: Keep that positivity churning when I default to invisibility, and note the marvels of my figure even when I’m sliding into nitpick mode. And since I’m pretty sure the only way I can make that happen is to make it a daily ritual, I’m going to commit to that: Every day, right before I say goodbye to my cats, I will take 5 seconds to look in the mirror and express love and gratitude for the bounty of my body. No matter how good, neutral, or awful I feel, I will set aside one positive thought each morning for my physical form and see how it affects me.

Here’s hoping it brings my visibility extremes to level ground and reminds me that my body has beauty now and always.

Image courtesy Mike PD.

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  • Allison

    I can very much relate to what you are saying… I tend to cycle between neutral/positive and nitpicking/negative. If I take some time to reflect, usually the "problem" is not with my body, it's with something more abstract or obscure in my life but hey, a body is pretty concrete and easy to pick on. "Vulnerability and the Mask of Thiness" raises some good points about this too. I love your idea of a ritual. I think that's a great way to bring mindful awareness to everyday life and cultivate that whole mind/body connection 🙂

  • Cynthia

    I actually love being able to not think about my body — those days when everything feels and fits right and I can focus my attention on other stuff. I think that's how it's supposed to be. And that's not to say that I don't appreciate myself on those days, but it's more like an "OK, all systems go" kind of appreciation than any big demonstrative invocation. I don't consider that "invisibility" though. It's like me and my body gave each other the secret handshake that says "it's OK to just be".

  • Anonymous

    i know that feeling…
    when i step on the scale in the morning and the number is just slightly higher than what i expect to see, the day is ruined. i don't want to put on anything nice, i feel fat, i see flab on my body i didn't see the day before, and feel generally unattractive, invisible and dull.
    i hate that the way i feel about myself depends so strongly on a little number and on changes probably not even visible to others.
    blech!

  • Rachael

    I'm on the way out to work, else I'd comment more but I had to say YES, I KNOW EXACTLY what you've mean. I've had this thought before, several times (but never put to words so eloquently).
    Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, I know exactly what you've managed to put into words. I don't believe I have a terrible body image, but cannot say I've ever felt "neutral". I nitpick, especially my saddlebags and thighs. I need to embrace my body more and celebrate what it does for me. Two beautiful boys, no pain, carries me around the world, and a husband who loves me. What more should I want? Like I said I need to accept it, as I don't believe others focus only on my heavy legs.

  • Cara

    I have similar cycles; however, I find myself never fully visible. When I'm uncomfortable with my body, I am whatever one body part I've "nit picked." When I'm comfortable with it, I'm usually my shoulders. While it's most likely due to me having better posture, I'd like to embrace my full body, too! I find that taking mid-day opportunities to look in the mirror does help realize there is a body under those shoulders, I'm always afraid that it's leading to vanity.
    A lot of people get irritated with me when they discover I'm conscious of issues I find with my body because I'm on the thinner side, which makes me feel even more invisible. I would love to find the secret to loving any body at any shape and size!

  • Anonymous

    Yes! I know the feeling. I'd be really curious to see if your new regimen helps you be positive about your body at all times. Please report back. And this is now outside of the topic of the post, but related to body image: have your negative body image issues ever affected your relationship with your romantic partner? This is what I am struggling with right now. I go through these cycles of feeling flabby, outright fat, you-name-it, totally unattractive. My partner loves my body irrespective of where in my body image cycle I am. But my body image issues affect me and by extension then him in terms of the physical aspects of the relationship. And it's a huge issue I am not really sharing with him: I mean, who wants to constantly hear their partner talk themselves down. We've talked about it a few times, but I don't think he really understands the extent of these issues. I mean, it doesn't seem to be very common for guys to engage in self-loathing every morning in front of the mirror because they think their biceps is too small. (Am I making any sense with this?)
    And on yet another unrelated note, I am so glad to hear yours and others journeys when dealing with body image issues. Although this sometimes makes me so angry and raged and I feel like I want to punch someone in the face (except there is no one thing to blame) – I can't believe so many of us have these issues!! How deeply saddening and troubling.
    Mar

  • bubu

    Excellent post and one I think a lot of people can relate to. I'm trying really hard this year to enter the winter months mindfully. First, by knowing I don't want salads when it's cold, so developing hearty but healthy meals to substitute (hello stews), because I know I feel better when I eat healthy, but need to satisfy those cold-weather cravings. Also, trying to resist disappearing in big sweaters. I think when I bother to pull together something more fitted and flattering, I feel better about my body when i catch a glimpse in a mirror, and that lifts my spirit. The changes in my body/weight is so small only I can see them, but the world definitely sees if I stand up tall and dress like I care about myself.
    Your blog is a big inspiration through these cold, dark months, Sal! I have a whole new rainbow of tights this year, thanks to your inspiration, and putting on the bright purple ones yesterday made not only me but other people smile too!

  • Sal

    Cynthia: Me too, in a way. It's a relief to have my body feel like a non-issue for a while. But I'd rather cultivate active positivity simply because I know where the cycle will go when I shift OUT of that neutrality.

    Anonymous (Mar): DEFINITELY. And I'm in the same position – HM loves me, is attracted to me, and finds me sexy no matter how toned/flabby, hairy/smooth, I may be. But sometimes my own hang-ups eclipse his support and affection, and I just feel disconnected and awful.

    The thing that helps me most? Remembering that, even though the images of women created by mass media are of a narrowly-defined type of beauty, the people who love us – be they men or women – really can see past that. On an individual basis especially, our lovers love us AS us … not as a substitute for a hot celebrity bod.

    Another thing that I bear in mind is that I need to trust that my husband tells me the truth. If he says he still loves me when I'm not loving myself, I should believe him. I don't expect him to look like Daniel Craig. Why would I dismiss him when he says he doesn't expect me to look like Penelope Cruz?

    I would encourage you to talk more with your partner if you can. I know that, "It's not you, it's me," is a horribly cliched phrase, but it would benefit him to know that what you're dealing with is internal and not triggered by something he's done wrong, or that your attraction to him as diminished, etc.

    I think this merits a full post, but hopefully some of those ideas will help a bit. I'm so sorry to hear that you struggle with this cycle, It's a killer.

  • Joy

    Am I familiar with this cycle? YES! I LIVE this cycle!!

    I wrote about nitpicking myself last week!!

    http://southerncomfortga.blogspot.com/2010/11/are-you-nitpicker.html

  • V

    Wow. This concept is so alien to me. I've never focused on my body in the way you describe even though I am a very visual person. I don't nit pick my looks because I can control them. I don't nit pick my body, because I can't do that while listening to it.

    Because I live inside my body, I go by how I feel. Am I tired or rested? Am I feeling energetic or laid back? Is my mood up or down?

    If I'm tired or down, I get more sleep or do something that makes me feel good. If I feel good I don't keep it to myself. Happiness is infectious if you just share with the people around you.

    I guess it comes down to liking me and who I am. Sure my body changes from day to day, week to week and month to month. It's supposed to. I just pay attention to what those changes mean on a biological level. As long as I feel good, I look good. How I dress is driven by what I need to do that day, not how it will make me look. (What to wear is what I debate in stores when I'm actually buying clothes. I do all my thinking then. )

  • Steph

    Very familiar with this cycle. It sucks, doesn't it? Why does it have to be neutral or negative? Maybe because it takes more energy to be positive (for some people anyway). Although sometimes I manage to actually feel pretty great about my body, despite its many flaws. Bodies change on a daily basis, or weekly–it's inevitable. And there are times when I feel like total crap because I'm perceiving some of those changes are more dramatic than they actually are. Other days, I just don't give a flip and can go about my day without worrying that my belly flab is bulging over the waist of my jeans. It just doesn't register. It's pretty amazing on those days when I feel absolutely fabulous about my body and how comfortable it keeps me (bring it on impending Ice Age!), and I feel confident and strong and all "what–you've never seen a chubby girl feel good about herself?". I really think it's tied to my hormonal cycle. And now that I've come to that realization, I can keep that in mind, and that helps the negative feelings a little easier to push back.

  • orchidsinbuttonholes

    I'm also familiar with this cycle, and like some other commenters, I have liked just not thinking about my body one way or the other. But you've made me think about it differently, and this winter, I'm going to push my neutrality to positivity. Maybe if I were positive about myself more often, I would be less prone to nitpick and get to a negative place, mentally.

  • Kyla

    This reminds me of a comment I read by a romance novel editor. She said one of the ways she can tell when a manuscript has been written by a man is by his idea of women's fantasy relationship to their body. While male writers apparently usually have a scene in the first few chapters where the heroine looks at herself in the mirror and likes what she sees, in female writers' fantasy worlds, the heroine never feels the need to evaluate her looks at all.

  • Anonymous

    it def cycle between how I feel about myself I am much better now but a constant internalbattle

    XOXO,

    Find out all celebrity fashion and where to get it http://outfitidentifier.com/

  • K.Line

    You must be rubbing off on me because I'm trying to have that dialogue with myself too – even as I'm feeling quite conflicted about my shape right now. I'm also trying to take measures to restore myself to a shape I feel more comfortable with. It's not so much about being slimmer (though I'd be happy with a lighter weight) but healthier and more comfortable in looking just as I do right now. It's challenging – but so worthwhile.

    I will not always be my skinniest or most toned self, but I will always be living with this body that does so much for me and works so well. I owe it to myself to appreciate my great good fortune.

  • S.

    Oh goodness, Sally, I feel this way all the time, and I wanted to give you a huge hug when I read this. Oftentimes it has no relationship to the number on the scale or to how things fit (which should be a reminder to me that there are many aspects of my relationship with my body that are NOT rational or evidence-based), but at some point the neutral voice is replaced by a negative one. But I'll join you this winter in challenging myself to be affirmatively positive as often as I can — perhaps being intentional about this aspect of my lived experience will be as transformative as that kind of intentionality has been in other areas of my life!

  • Adult Beginner

    I don't know, maybe disappearing from yourself is ok: maybe it's like when you're so immersed in an art project that you're just gone from yourself and you, like, come to hours later with something beautiful in front of you?

  • Stevey

    I know only too well what you're talking about. With me it's the other way round. Spring and summer are the times I am most discontented with myself because of the clothes that tend to show more of oneself. Winter is the time to wrap up in shapeless stuff with the excuse of keeping warm and so looking shapeless.
    It gets ever harder to acknowledge the good things rather than point to the ones that are not accepted as standard. (I couldn't wiggle round the word "bad" any better).It is like being taught to say the glass is half empty when you want to think, hey it still is half full. Just one word, big difference.