Our Body Issue Problem

It is widely known that there is a body image epidemic running rapid across the world. There are many academic studies on this very issue. If you are interested in finding out more facts and statistics about body image, just check out your favorite search engine and you will find hundreds of websites dedicated to educating the public about body image. However, lets start out by defining body image.  About-Face.org says body image “refers to the way we perceive our own bodies and the way we assume other people perceive us.” 

The “ideal” body design differs from country to county, but for my post I want to focus on the American idea of the perfect body. I’m positive that just reading those words “American idea of the perfect body”, many of you have conjured up that image in our mind. To ensure we are all on the same page, here is what I have put together. For a woman, America idealizes a thin and slender frame, somewhat large breasts in comparison to the body, gentle curves through the waist, and a lifted butt. Men should have broad shoulders, defined abs, large biceps, strong legs and just all around strength and agility. 

Is this the body that most people have in the US? No! Where are these unrealistic expectations coming from, and how did they become so deeply ingrained in our culture. I’m not an expert, but I believe body envy has been something the human race has been suffering from since the very beginning. In more recent years, Photoshop has become a huge advocate for the ideal body. Advertisements, movies, magazines and countless other mediums show men and women with perfectly sculpted bodies and clear skin. As a whole, we know that these images are false portrayals, however, it seems that we cannot stop obsessing about trying to be like these fictional photographs, regardless of our knowledge of the lie. Something deep within us craves to be seen by others as being perfect. Perhaps it is because we have always felt so imperfect when we compare ourselves to others. Or maybe we believe if our bodies are flawless, our lives will follow suit. I do not know the answers to these questions, but it is something that I often ponder. 

These issues with body image often leads to mental disorders such as body dysmorphic disorder, anxiety, depression, anorexia, and bulimia. DoSomething.org says that “95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25” and “only 10% of people suffering from an eating disorder will seek professional help.” As a culture, we are sick because we know the truth. We know the statistics of the harmful effects unrealistic body lust, yet we continue to saturate the media with these images of “perfection” and damn the consequences.

I am most worried about our younger generation. The current pre-teens and teens. As a middle school teacher, I hear a lot of boys and girls discussing their bodies. I hear many girls talking about being fat, when they are only a size 0, and I have even hearing other people calling other kids fat! I see Girls who wear size 2, looking in the mirror and sizing up themselves and finding themselves wanting something different, when in truth they are already perfect. It truly breaks my heart because I have been in their shoes, and even after 29 years of life, struggle with my own body image issues. 

I have never been stick thin. I am a curvy woman and always have been, even as a teen. I wear a size 10-12 and I have the hour glass body type that many woman actually covet. However, those who do not have this body type do not understand that buying clothes in a store can be impossible. ESPECIALLY as a teenager. I recall countless trips to the store with my mom where I would just sob in the dressing room because nothing would fit. My waist looked “small” but the pants never would fit over my hips so I would have to go up several sizes to just reach my waist. Once I was able to button the pants there was almost always a huge gap right above my bum because they weren’t designed for my body type. I deeply thank whomever invented the curvy pant design because now I can actually wear pants that fit me! Now shirts were not as difficult, but they weren’t easy either. I have always been chesty so those little, tiny shirts everyone wore around were out of the question for me, and I found that deeply unfair. Needless to say, I hated shopping. I hated seeing cute clothes that I knew would never fit me. I hated my body because it couldn’t conform to what I thought was normal. I always thought I was fat, and because of that fact I believed that a man could never love me. I only thought skinny women could find true, head-over-heels love. How sad is that!?

As I have grown, I realize that no matter our size we can always experience love. I have also come to be proud of the body I have. I actually even love how I look! I use to ask God to change my body so I could be pretty, but He never did answered in the way I expected. He changed my mind so I could see the beauty I already possessed. I don’t always think I look amazing, and I still find myself wishing I was thinner, but I am no longer ashamed of being curvy. 

It is vital we start teaching our youth that they are perfect, and the perfect American body only exists in very few. We need to educate them about embracing who they are and being proud of being curvy, round, thin, apple, pear and every other shape! We cannot continue raising people who will spend their lives missing out on their own true beauty. 

Remember, you are beautiful! 

Why Can’t We Talk About Mental Disorders?

I want to go on a small tangent for a few hundred words, so please bear with me 🙂

If you have read a few of my earlier posts, or my bio, I have talked about my struggle with anxiety. It is something that has been apart of my life since I was young. I struggled for a long time trying to figure out what was wrong, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When I was in college I finally realized what it was, and I will admit that I felt relieved, or even happy, to be able to put a name with what was happening to me.

My internal struggles did not end with a diagnosis. I continued to try and keep my affliction private because I was afraid of what people would think of me. I had (and still have) wonderfully supportive parents, but it was new territory for them so they weren’t always sure what to do. Whenever this would happen, I would end up getting HUGE hug, which looking back on is hilarious and amazing all at the same time! I have had close to a million hugs over the years 🙂 Thank mom and dad! I love you! 

There were not many people who knew about the internal battle that was waging inside of me everyday. My ex-boyfriend, of seven years, was obviously one of the individuals who knew about what was happening. However, he was not entirely supportive. Let me be clear here, he was not a bad person, he just did not understand anxiety. It is very difficult for someone to understand the pain and embarrassment of fighting anxiety unless they have been directly affected, either through a family member or themselves. He would become frustrated with me when I would have bad days. He did not understand why I couldn’t stop “worrying” or “get over something”. For someone with an anxiety disorder, there is nothing more painful than hearing “just stop worrying about it” or “just get over it and move on”. Wouldn’t the world be a better place if anxious people (myself included) could just say “Hmmm I’m going to stop having anxiety and move on!” Show me that world and I would LOVE to visit  🙂 People with an anxiety disorder cannot just get over it. Anxiety is not a switch that can be turned off by sheer willpower. It is a disorder that takes time to understand and practice to control. 

Needless to say, my ex-boyfriend and I broke up shortly after I moved to Arizona. I have no feelings of discontent towards him, he did the best he could with what he knew. There were dark days when he was there for me, and I fully appreciate that and am grateful to have had him there. After we broke up he called me one day and apologized to me for not understanding my struggle. I will always treasure those words and I am eternally grateful that he expressed them to me. 

When I moved to Arizona, I knew no one, had no connections and had to start my life over from scratch. I had such an amazing adventure! I met so many new people and traveled to places I never knew existed. I ended up meeting an amazing man, who understood my struggle with anxiety and he ended up being who I ran to during my hardest days. He would talk me through the anxiety and help me to focus on other things so I could keep my head above the water and not feel like I was drowning. He knew just what to say and he made me feel like I wasn’t crazy. Four months later, I ended up marrying him! (I know, crazy right? Quick!) (WARNING: Corny gushing will be present for the next few sentences.) My husband is a treasure I can hardly believe I found. Without his guidance and encouragement, I don’t think I would have been able to fight my anxiety head on. I would still be afraid of it and living in denial. He taught me that it is ok to live with anxiety. It is ok that I am afraid. He also taught me to try and be bigger than my anxiety. He often tells me “You are in control, not the anxiety.” Recently I have had terrible struggles with this disorder because of a birth control pill I took that sent my anxiety into hyper-drive. I didn’t realize what was going on because I was so lost in my own fear. As I have gotten back on track, he has held my hand every step of the way and encouraged me, in his own ways, to work to fight back. He often coerced me to leave the house when I didn’t want to (I think I needed a little coercing at that point) and he always listened when I needed to vent. On my roughest days, he encouraged me to go to God in prayer. There is no way I would have been able to come so far in my healing without him by my side. 

Anyway! Enough with the googly stuff!

Now that I am a few months away from being 30 (ahhhh) I am finally completely understanding what is going on. I have learned so much over the years and I am so glad for the support system that I have in place now. I no longer am ashamed of having an anxiety disorder. It’s not my fault. I am not weak. I am not lacking in faith. I am the opposite of these things. A Mental Illness is no different than any other physical illness other than the fact that it is in the brain. It is as simple as that. I lived for years in fear of what others would think, and even what I would think of myself if I admitted I had a it. Now I feel empowered by knowledge and understanding. 

We should never be ashamed. We are strong!