Body Image vs Self Image

Image via Jørgen Schyberg's Flickr photostreamI stumbled across a whole cache of articles (thank you, Psychology Today) which tangenitally prodded my thinking on wanting to lose weight, but the more I read, the more I didn’t feel they were addressing me.

You see, they were largely focused on how to love your body.

And I already do that. It’s about a dress size larger at the moment than it is when I’m happiest with it and it’s correspondingly less fit because half the reason I’ve gained weight is because I have lost fitness. But I still love this body of mine. It works (mostly) pretty well and I happen to think it looks pretty good with nothing much on it. I don’t, as I would have ten years earlier, look at my fleshier self in the mirror, focus only on the wobblier-than-usual bits and mentally operate a lever for the Horrible Feelings About Myself gunge tank.

So that’s pretty damn cool. Turns out that whatever I read years ago that contained the same sorts of things as those Psychology Today articles plus a little (ok, a lot) of self-work involving conscious redirecting of thoughts did the job. I am cured! Yay!

But… I am still berating myself about my weight and I am still struggling to get my body back to where I’m happiest. Turns out that even when you think you’re cured, there might be a whole other layer underneath that needs fixing too.

Image via slgckgc's Flickr photostream.It’s not, it transpires, the weight or the visual appearance of me that is at the root of the issue. That was true a decade ago, but now I’ve found another one. How very Inception/Cloud Atlas/onion. I am, basically, beating myself up for the slipping of self-perception as A Sensibly Healthy, Motivated Person. I am cross with myself for allowing my three times a week running habit to lapse so far that I’ve not touched my kit since October. I feel like I’ve thrown away fitness and allowed myself to wallow. I feel stupid and inadequate for not managing to prod myself out of bed and onto the pavement the way I used to, like a failure for loafing with a book or in front of yet another re-watch of LOTR instead of doing a Jillian Michaels DVD or pressing play somewhere on the Yogamazing YouTube channel. If I manage it one day, I give myself a guilt trip about not managing it the next day.

In spite of a hundred articles and suggestions about motivation and a thousand mental pep talks, my good habits are as resistant to re-forming as roadrunner was to coyote. They are elusive beasties. In none of the useful tidbits and helpful articles I have attempted to apply have I found the ACME bomb kit for my brain that will catch the motherfuckers instead of exploding all over me while I look, smokily defeated once more, to my mental camera with a wry smile.

It’s not as if I don’t know that my current patterns are destructive. It’s not as if I don’t know that I have a pretty good set of reasons for retreating inside my brain for a while these past few months – starting a new job, ending an old relationship and putting your house on the market while looking for somewhere else to live and crashing your car into the bargain are mentally draining things. I know perfectly well, too, that one slip does not a disaster make, that it’s just a question of prising myself off the sofa and getting it done each time, as many times as it takes to feel healthy, that no-one who matters gives a toss how often I exercise each week – it’s only me who’s being all judgey with me here.

All of this is another way for us to feel shitty about ourselves in relation to weight – if you don’t feel bad because of the way you actually look, well hey, here’s a handy way to still feel flawed for not meeting whatever artificial standards you didn’t even know had been set! Bonus points if your brain folds in on itself at this point because clearly there are More Important Things and as an Intelligent Woman you should be Above This.

Image via Mike Rastiello's Flickr photostreamBut body-image and related thoughts are the self-image equivalent of those urban legends involving spiders laying eggs in people’s brains. Nastiness we don’t wants sneaks in there through the tiniest crack and the death of a thousand cuts that is every screwed up attitude society has about health and appearance and How To Be A Good Human nurtures it until it hurts us. Every time someone says ‘ooh, I shouldn’t’ about a custard cream or comments about someone’s weight that’s not just evidence of an internalised standard of being, it’s a tiny bit more reinforcement for the rest of us of the way we’ve been taught to approach food, weight and health.

And here I am knowing all of this, knowing the mentally and physically healthy things to do but not feeling them, and all the time I’m not feeling them I’m struggling to get the anti-venom into my brain and so the poison seeps further in even as I am uttering forgiving statements and motivational platitudes to myself.

So, back to the conscious thought rewiring. Not to lose weight, not even to prod myself into exercise. But rather, to tripwire all those ‘I really should….’ thoughts before they build to a run, to reroute my thinking away from this swamp I didn’t even realise it possessed. For every ‘I can’t believe I sat there all yesterday doing nothing, that’s useless’, I’ll supplant a ‘yesterday was a day to relax and regroup, which I clearly needed. Today can be the day for physical health.’, until it sticks.

Because the thing with brains is that if you can teach them all the spider-supporting stuff without even knowing it, just imagine what you can teach them when you really try.

This post was written by a RWL Guest BloggerCat Widdowson makes a mean cheese scone, has just watched Lord of the Rings for the umpteenth time, and spends far too much time trying to disentangle her own brain. She tweets as @koshkajay and tried really hard not to end this article with ‘meep meep’.

Images via Jørgen Schyberg, slgckgc and Mike Rastiello‘s Flickr photostreams.

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