This article is based on my own experiences with body image issue.
“How do you think that makes ME feel?” That’s how most of us react when someone smaller than us complains about their body. How rude is that? If they’re too big, then you’re definitely too big. They’re basically saying that you’re huge and disgusting. How insulting, and more importantly, how should you respond?
I Obsessed Over My Body Image and Weight
Back in the day, I had some serious body image issues. Too better understand how bad it was, here is what my morning looked like:
The first thing I did when I woke up each day was roll onto my side and put my hand on my waist. Do I feel thin? Next, I’d head to the bathroom to examine myself in the mirror. Front, side, back, do I look thin? Step three was to weigh myself. Have I gained any weight? Finally, I’d get dressed and give my body one more full examination, looking for any reason to hate it.
With all the opportunities I gave myself to find a flaw in my appearance, it’s no surprise that I often did, and on those days, it was all I could think about. I would immediately begin making a game plan, plotting how I could distract myself from the hunger in order to eat as little as possible and ensure the “flaw” that I had found would be “fixed” by tomorrow.
I couldn’t be happy as long as I felt imperfect. I also couldn’t talk about it. I put being small above all else and regularly starved myself. As you can imagine, I was quite thin. I was on the verge of being underweight. If I mentioned that I felt fat, people tended to get angry and offended.
I couldn’t be happy as long as I felt imperfect.
I Ended Up Getting Very Sick Due to My Eating Disorder
Of course, the stress, negativity and pour nutrition eventually resulted in me getting very sick. I ended up bed ridden, so weak I could not crack the seal on a water bottle. I regularly experienced heart palpitations, developed severe acne and my tongue and teeth were turning black. I didn’t know much about nutrition and had eaten so little for so long that I had started losing my appetite. I didn’t understand that I was starving myself because I didn’t feel hungry, and doctors rarely ask about your diet or suggest lifestyle changes.
It took me months to figure out why I was so sick and even longer to recover, and it all could have been avoided if I had gotten help for my issues early on. Today, as an older, wiser, more stable woman, I remember the things I was thinking and feeling back then and realize how pour my mental health was. I clearly needed help.
I needed someone to monitor my eating habits, to tell me that I needed to see a professional, that my obsession was not the result of being driven or motivated, but a sign that I was not OK. No one said these things to me, because nobody knew what was going on. As a thin woman, I was not allowed to talk about my body image issues.
Did You Know?
1 in 5 of those with anorexia attempt suicide.
The Need to Talk About Eating Disorders
With the increase in awareness of mental health issues lately, I have seen a ton of Facebook posts from people claiming they’re happy to listen if anyone is struggling with mental health and needs someone to talk to. I can’t help but think, “Ya, right, as long as your struggle isn’t with your body image.”
Being thin does not make someone immune to body image issues. Anorexia, Bulimia and Body Dysmorphic Disorder are all real illnesses that can go unrecognized and untreated for a long time because we shame people for talking about their struggles and don’t realize that they need help.
According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, Anorexia Nervosa “has the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness: it is estimated that 10% of individuals with AN will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.” Dr. Kathleen Smith explains that “studies show that, overall, up to 20% (1 in 5) of those with anorexia attempt suicide.”
And Dr. Katherine A. Philips says, “Available evidence indicates that approximately 80% of individuals with Body Dysmorphic Disorder experience lifetime suicidal ideation and 24% to 28% have attempted suicide.” When a person is sharing that they are in pain and struggling to accept themselves, the last thing they need is to be attacked for it.
I was so weak I could not crack the seal on a water bottle
Body Image Is the Number One Shame Trigger for Women
According, to Dr. Brene Brown, a researcher specializing in shame and vulnerability, the number one shame trigger for women is their appearance and body image. As soon as someone mentions their body, our minds tend to go straight to our issues with our own bodies. Hearing someone thinner than you complain about feeling fat can feel like an attack on your insecurities, causing us to go on the defensive, shaming them for stating their feelings.
When I first got healthy, I was only doing it because I had become more scared of dying than of gaining weight, but the experience did make me appreciate having energy. I joined a women’s dance group, and I was pretty good at it. I completely fell in love with dance. Slowly, having energy for dance became far more important to me than the perfect body. I started channeling all that energy, that obsession, into being the best dancer I can be. The exact shape and size of my body became less important.
When I was obsessed, it didn’t matter if I was the thinnest person in the room or how many people thought I looked great or said they would kill to have my body. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t get better because people told me I was beautiful or that my size didn’t matter. My issues had nothing to do with other people. It was never about comparison or what other people thought. It was about me, just me. I was trying to fill a hole in my soul with the “perfect” body.
When Someone Shares Their Struggles, Listen
When a skinny person complains about feeling fat, remember that it’s not about you. Their issues have nothing to do with your body. If they said they felt too thin and wished they had your body, that wouldn’t make your issues go away. You might feel good about yourself temporarily, but it won’t last, because your body image issues have nothing to do with them. It’s a personal journey, that we all must take.
All women, and many men, have felt ashamed of their body at some point. This means that you can relate, so do it. In “The Power of Vulnerability”, Dr. Brown explains that in her research she has discovered that the best thing you can do for someone who is feeling ashamed is to empathise with them. Tell them that you’ve been there. You know how hard it is to look in the mirror and hate what you see. Let them talk about it. Listen, and if they sound like they need help, make sure they get it.
Brown, Brene. The Power of Vulnerability. Audiobook. Sound True Inc. 2012:https://www.amazon.ca/Power-Vulnerability-Teachings-Authenticity-Connection/dp/1604078588
Luscombe, Belinda. “10 Questions With Brené Brown”. Time. 10 Sept. 2015:https://time.com/4029029/10-questions-with-brene-brown/
National Eating Disorder Information Centre. https://nedic.ca/general-information/
Phillips, Katharine A. “Suicidality in Body Dysmorphic Disorder” National Center for Biotechnology Information. 14 Dec. 2007:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2361388/
Smith, Kathleen. “Eating Disorders and Suicide: 6 Signs of Suicidal Thinking” Psycom. 4 Sept. 2019:https://www.psycom.net/eating-disorders-suicide
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.