This summer, many of us have been enjoying the weather, going on vacations, enjoying the beach or the pool. As Fall is approaching, we can enjoy pumpkin spice and Halloween parties. Year round, there are lots of opportunities for getting out, socializing with friends and making new friends.
What about those of us who deal with body shame? Those of us who are afraid to get into that bathing suit or afraid to go out and mingle, even though we might be feeling lonely and we really want to get out there. We see everyone else’s fun posts on Facebook and we sit with our envy and we think we can’t enjoy those same things.
This summer, I was busy recovering from surgery which meant no pools and no beach, but I made the best of it by socializing with friends and chosen family. I enjoyed reading outside. I chose to write. I chose to call people. I chose to focus on the positive and do as much as I am physically capable of doing. I haven’t always. I used to focus on the negative. I used to tell myself I couldn’t go swimming. I realize there were a lot of summers I spent cooped up on my couch instead of being outside, by my own choice, due to my own negative thoughts about my body, my body shame. So I started this writing.
In this post, I want to discuss where this body shame comes from and how body shame affects us all as a society and how it affected me personally. I would also love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Where did your body shame come from? How has it impacted your life? What have you done to overcome body shame?
Sometimes negativity about our bodies comes from family. Sometimes negative thoughts are cultural or from society in general. For me growing up, I was told from family members that I had inherited those “Car family thighs” when I was a little girl. I also received a lot of mixed messages around food from my family. I was being told over and over again, “You need to lose weight” or “Don’t eat so much”, “Try this diet”, “Try that diet”. Then I was told by the same people, “Finish your plate.”or “Hey here’s a piece of cake and some cookies.” In my Italian family, pasta was included in every meal. It was also often implied that it was rude to say “no” when offered more food or dessert.
Another source of body shame, unfortunately, is the society we live in. Society and the media can have a huge influence our own thoughts about our bodies. Think about what society tells us is sexy. Most of the time we see models or actresses who are young, extremely thin, tall, with huge breasts, perfect skin, long flowing blonde hair. We see these images and we think that these images are the only image of beauty, of sex appeal, etc. We start comparing ourselves to the images that we see in the media. Who can really live up to that? I would dare to say no one.
What effect does this body shame have on us a a nation? In the U.S, we have a growing obsession with getting cosmetic surgery because we feel we aren’t enough. As a society we are paying tons of money now on liposuction, botox treatments for wrinkles, labiaplasty and other cosmetic surgeries. Body shame can also affect any one of any gender. This idea that women should look a certain way or men should look a certain way can create damaging body shame not only for those who are cisgender but also for people who are trans or non-binary.
What effect does body shame have on us individually? It stops us from living. It stops us from doing the things we love and enjoy. It stops us from getting into a bathing suit and hitting the shore in the summertime. It stops us from getting into that fun, sexy Halloween costume in the Fall. It stops us from wearing that sexy outfit for New Years Eve. It affects our interpersonal relationships. It stops us from calling or texting that person we are want to go out with. It stops us from being intimate with our partner(s).
So what do we do to improve our body image so we can enjoy our summer, the fall and the rest of our lives? Here’s something I’d like you to consider that I have learned. It’s not always our imperfections that are keeping us from enjoying life. It is our negative thoughts about our imperfections. This has been my experience.
The two biggest things I had shame over have been my weight and my disability, particularly my feet. When I was young I loved swimming. Swimming is one of the few beneficial exercises I am able to do with my disability. As I got older, I missed many years of swimming, because of my body shame related to my weight and my feet. I didn’t miss out because of the fact that I am overweight and that I have a disability. I was physically capable of swimming but it was my negative thoughts that stopped me from swimming.
We often start with just one small negative thought that we keep repeating to ourselves or even repeating out loud about ourselves to other people. You know the phrases I am talking about here. “I am too fat. I am too skinny. I have too many pimples. I walk funny, etc.” Then we feed this negativity and it grows. The more you entertain negative thoughts, that is, the more you say these negative statements, the more negative your other thoughts become. It is a downward spiral.
I started off in college with this simple belief that I couldn’t wear a bikini until I lost weight. These negative thoughts continued and grew worse over time. Soon, my belief turned into “I can’t get into a one piece bathing suit until I lose all the weight. So for a while, I would wear a tee shirt and shorts in the pool. Then my negative thoughts continued to grow and all of a sudden I was too embarrassed to even get into the pool. The more energy I focused on the negative thought, the more destructive the negative thoughts became.
I also never liked to be seen barefoot. My feet are very small. As a result of Spina Bifida, I cannot move my feet or my toes. One toe sits on top of the other on my right foot. I have had many surgeries on my feet. I never wanted anyone to see my feet. I would keep shoes, my leg braces and socks on at all times without realizing that other people at the pool don’t care about my feet. They are having their own fun. This negative thought grew and eventually affected me when I would have sex with a new partner. I would be comfortable getting naked but I would still be uncomfortable taking off my socks. It wasn’t until a partner pointed out to me, that I realized how silly I actually looked being naked with socks on in bed. Fortunately, I can laugh about that today.
As I am getting older, I can no longer walk barefoot. That is something I wish I would have done more when I was younger. My biggest regrets have not been the things I have tried and failed, but the things I didn’t try and the things I missed out on..The relationships I missed out on… The pool parties I missed out on…. The intimacy I missed out on. Why did I miss out on these things? I missed out on them, not because of my weight or my disability, but because of my body shame and my negative thinking.
Think about when you get older or about when you are no longer here. Do you really want to be remembered for your perfect body or do you want to be remembered for the things you did with your time on earth. When you are older, do you want to have regrets of the things you missed out on because you felt too embarrassed to get out and try? If you are able to get out there and go swimming, go for a walk or roll in your wheelchair outside, go to an event and socialize, then today is the day to do it. Don’t wait for some day because some day may never come. Today is the day to get out there.
Although I have some regrets, I refuse to dwell on them. Today I am enjoying life to the best of my ability. I have learned to love myself. I have learned that I am enough. As I begin to have positive thoughts, the positive thoughts grow. I am wearing sexy dresses. Next summer, I will be in my bathing suit ready to go swimming, no matter what my scale tells me my weight is. I am planning my next tattoo which will be a tattoo of a tea cup with the expression “I am enough.” Instead of feeding my negative thoughts, today I choose to feed positive thoughts, starting with this simple one. I am enough.