[Editor’s note: Over the course of our lifetimes, many of us will struggle with body image related issues – from battling with our weight through dieting to eating disorders, from compulsive eating to body dysmorphia, a mental illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. In this piece, guest writer Kylie Ora Lobell gives us a brutally honest inside look inside her head as she struggles with body image.]
I’m standing in front of my bathroom mirror. I lift up my shirt and examine my stomach. Right now, it’s huge. This morning, it was smaller. In the afternoon, it was slightly larger, but now, it’s disgustingly big.
I scroll back through the day to explain my appearance. My stomach looks this way because I had a burger for dinner. I’m probably bloated. I bet it’s because I didn’t go to the gym today or hit the 10,000 steps on my Fitbit. My body is rebelling against me, and showing me that it’s not happy. It needs to be fed right, to be taken to the gym every day, and worked on more and more and more.
Since I was nine years old, I’ve been doing this stomach-checking ritual three, four, five, 10 times a day. In my wedding photos, taken nine months ago, I noticed I had a double chin. Because of this, I’ve added checking the fatness of my face and the size of my double chin multiple times per day to the routine. I look through years worth of photos on Facebook at least a few times per week and compare how noticeable my double chin was in 2009 to how it looks now.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been overweight. My BMI has always been too high. I’ve been a “plus-size” 12 to 14 since high school. Basically, I’m too heavy according to personal trainers and doctors. My blood pressure is fine, and all my other health stats check out, but my weight is a problem. And I think about it so much and so intensely that it reflects in real-time. There are lots of pictures in family photo albums of me eating pizza and carrying around huge bags of potato chips and putting bad stuff into my little body. Since that started, I’ve been on a constantly failing diet and exercise program, and way too conscious of my weight.
Even though I am overweight, I haven’t been called fat since middle school. By American society’s standards, I am not obese. Heck, when I see girls my size or even bigger, I think a lot of them look good. They have curves and they’re confident. They enjoy food. They like life and they want to try things. As long as they don’t have elevated blood pressure or other medical issues I think it’s OK to be that big and to be proud of it.
But for me? No, I could never give myself that kind of validation. In my mind, I’m the fatso. I don’t have that confidence to flaunt my big arms and my double chin and my chubby stomach like they do. I don’t like to shop in special stores and be labeled “plus-size.” It makes me feel like I’m out of control, and that from here, as I keep growing older and will have kids, it’ll only get worse. One of the top thoughts on my mind every single day is how I look. It sometimes results in arguments with my husband, whom I nag way too often about my weight. When I start to think too hard about my face, I can actually feel the weight of my double chin. And it hurts, like an open sore you accidentally touch. One of my biggest fears is that by the time I’m 40, I’ll be 250 pounds, have overweight kids, and lose all my looks. I dream about just being able to get surgery, that “Freeze the Fat” kind, and cut it off. (If I had the money, I would pay for healthier foods and a personal trainer first, before resorting to that approach.)
I’ve tried programs like Weight Watchers and Compulsive Eaters’ Anonymous, and taken boot camp classes and hired a personal trainer. But even when I managed to lose those few extra pounds that I always think – as I’m experiencing these programs – will make such a huge difference, I still thought of myself as a cow.
I understand that it’s not entirely about the weight. People with issues with body image which can become severe enough to fall under a diagnosis of Body Dysmorphic Disorder always see their bodies as a certain way, even when evidence points otherwise. And the obsessive thinking about my weight and the compulsive checking of my body falls under Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I’m told.
So for people with these kinds of issues, change doesn’t come from the outside in. The switch has to be made in your brain. You have to build up your confidence and focus on the really positive aspects about yourself. In many cases, therapy and medication can help that switch happen, and medication can also help with the obsessing and compulsive checking I do. It’s a long process, though.
I’m sick of letting my body image issues get in the way of my life and my relationship. When I have the money, I plan to hire a nutritionist to teach me about how my body works, and give me tips on what foods to eat to feel good. I’ve been trying to raise my self-esteem and call myself a beautiful woman. I talk about my thoughts about my body in therapy, go to the gym to have fun and sweat through my stress, stay busy so I don’t have time to fixate upon my looks, and try to believe my husband when he says sweet things.
I also think about the things about myself that are easy for me to compliment: I have gorgeous eyes, nice hair, a great smile, and sexy legs. I’m attractive in many ways.
I can’t focus on losing weight with the end goal of being thin. And I can’t eat healthy just because I think it will prevent me from having a double chin. I have to frame it in my head that whatever measures I take to improve my health and fitness, I’m doing this because I want to be healthy and confident, live a long time, and get up every day and be proud of myself and how I look.
Nothing good can come from beating myself up. All I can do is love myself. That’s just what I have to keep in mind.
Kylie Ora Lobell is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles who has been published in The Jewish Journal of LA, Tablet Magazine, xoJane, and Time Out NY/LA. To learn more about Kylie or read more of her writing, visit: www.kylieoralobell.net.