So the other day I was having a conversation with someone about their body image an feelings of self worth – feel free to imagine me doing this all day everyday, as that is basically accurate.
The conversation went kind of like this:
“I just feel bad about myself all the time. I am fat and ugly and no one wants to date me. I’m getting to the point where I just don’t know what to do.” [Her]
“I know EXACTLY what you mean, I used to feel like that every single day and it led me to make all manner of terrible decisions because I was constantly on the prowl for external validation to fill the deep dark hole of my self loathing.” [Me]
“No – You don’t understand, because you’ve always at least been beautiful.” [Her, emphasis mine]
Huh. Now, this isn’t the first time that this has happened to me. The “but you’ve got such a pretty face” write off. As if my face discounts the size of my body, or my life-long struggle with weight. As if we are existing in some sort of hierarchy of fatness, where pretty faces sit at the top and everyone else has more of a right to hate their bodies than, lets say, I do.
Is there a hierarchy of fatness?
Now, as I’ve mentioned, many, many times before – actually body size has little to no impact on your mental processes of self worth and body image. The insidious and dangerous thing about having a negative self image, is that it can happen to ANYONE, and is very rarely connected with actual size. Instead, size is relative. Someone could very likely feel just as badly about their body at a size two as I have at a size eighteen – and the emotional patterns are the same.
It is almost unbelievable. But it’s true.
And those feelings of diminished self worth, the ones that dig down really deep and get caught up around your heart, threatening to take up permanent residence there if you don’t actively seek to starve them out – those feelings can happen to anyone. Those feeling are the ones that will get you. They are the ones that breed in shame and secrecy, and will bring down even the bravest person, should they be allowed any sort of acknowledgement or authority.
Sometimes, you have to dig down deep to scratch away at the layers and layers of hurt that you have accumulated throughout your life. And sometimes, even when you think you are entirely done eradicating all of the built up layers of shame and trauma, something will trigger you and you will realize just how much work is left to do.
Now, when I was younger. And fatter. And entirely consumed with self loathing, people would frequently address me in a pitying tone about my looks, say, but you have such a pretty face, and meaning, it’s too bad you are wasting all of that beauty in that fat body. So needless to say, this conversation was a bit of a gut-puncher for me. I relived, in typical dizzying flashback panic attack format, a slide show of mean spirited people who had said that to me during my life.
And what I wanted to say was [please insert 14 year old whine] – but I was still FAT! No one wanted to be my BOYFRIEND (or girlfriend or WHATEVER)! No one wanted to even be associated with me because I was so repulsive! I hated my body JUST AS MUCH AS YOU DO NOW.
But what I did say is – the actual mass of your body or your proximity to ideal beauty standards or your fashion sense or anything else – pales in comparison to how you view yourself. When I felt ugly, I was ugly, because I allowed myself to live under the thundercloud of my self doubt and anxiety. Once I decided [because yes it was a choice] to be beautiful – I started to be more appealing to people, and NOT because my physical looks had changed, but because my attitude about myself had changed.
You need an example, don’t you? I thought so…
Now. This is what I looked like in 2002. The point of this exercise is not that I was ugly. But I don’t really look like I like myself all that much do I? This picture actually hurts me to look at, because it brings me right back to a time in my life where I hated myself very, very deeply, and where I was causing myself harm due to the lengths I was willing to go for validation and “security.”
This photo was taken a month ago, at one of my friend’s wedding. I am at least 20 pounds heavier in this photo. HOWEVER – I look better right? This is the difference that loving your body regardless of it’s size makes.
People will be attracted to you if you love yourself. That is a fact. And it often has very little to do with your actual weight. Because when you love yourself: you stand differently, you smile like you mean it, you extend kindness and warmth because you can see outside of your little shell of pain, and you dress in a way that is both comfortable and flattering instead of trying to hide your body away or make it something that it’s not.
And it’s really not about having a pretty face. It’s about having a compassionate and loving heart, and teaching yourself to accept your perceived flaws and make the absolute best out of every moment.
Have you experienced this hierarchy? How does it make you feel? Do you believe that there is merit to the claims? How do you work to let your best self shine through?