Therapy has taught me that I can seldom change the behaviors of others. I spent years dating men who needed just a few minor personality tweaks to be perfect, years embroiled in friendships with people who would be awesome if I could just shore them up through one more massive crisis, years accepting jobs in toxic environments that would’ve been amazing if I could just have taught my superiors to appreciate me. And finally, one day, I got it. Maybe I could gradually affect certain minor behaviors, but I could not fundamentally alter anyone. Not directly through confrontation, indirectly through example, or passively through patience. I had to either find better relationships, or learn to manage my own contributions to my current ones more effectively. I had to change myself to react differently to people and behaviors that hurt me, and stop expecting those people and behaviors to change.
And I am trying to apply that same philosophy to my struggles with body image. Because as much as I want to convince casting directors that I’d love to see America Ferrera and Queen Latifah in addition to Renee Zellweger and Angelina Jolie, as much as I want designers to include bodily diversity in their runway shows, as much as I want companies to know that advertisements showing older women and petite women and curvy women DO motivate me to purchase products, I may not see these things happen in my lifetime. And I’d prefer to feel serene and fulfilled instead of frustrated and impotent while I’m here on earth.
So I must start with my internal monologue.
I can look at ads that tell me my eyelashes aren’t long enough, my butt isn’t firm enough, my cellulite and body hair are unsightly and repellent and acknowledge that those messages are manufactured to get me to spend, spend, spend on products that will never actually “solve” these “problems.” I can look at the models on the runways and acknowledge that they’re hired specifically for their height, weight, and shape to showcase clothes I cannot afford anyway, and that no one I know would ever expect me to look similarly. I can look at Jennifer Aniston’s gorgeously toned bod and feel a twinge of jealousy while acknowledging that she has an entire STAFF of people paid to keep her looking that way, whereas I squeeze in four gym visits a week in my precious free time. I can look at websites that trash-talk women for gaining weight or dressing badly or shirking makeup and acknowledge that bullies often use shaming language to secure power, but bullies are the most miserable, frightened, unhappy people in this wide, diverse world of ours.
I can use my internal filter and personal judgment to redirect the self-loathing, negative comparisons, unhealthy pressure, and demeaning messages that batter me from outside sources. I don’t have to believe them. And when I step back and consider the facts surrounding and motivations behind those messages, I can discard them more easily. Those messages shouldn’t be broadcast in the first place, of course. But since they are – for the time being anyway – I believe my best defense is to take control of what I allow myself to accept as truth. And while I struggle to sort out what I believe inherently and what I believe due to external repetition, I understand that making those distinctions is key to changing how I feel about my body. And I’m working on it.