How many times have you silently said these words in your head? Maybe you aren’t even discrete about your wish to be skinnier but verbalize this loudly and often. Would you believe the majority of people on this planet have had this thought flash through their minds at least once? Big, medium, small – even tiny people don’t think they are skinny enough. I first made this wish at 5 years old when I was told at my gymnastic class that I looked like a big fat tomato in my red spandex outfit. It was during Kindergarten that I became aware of the importance of body image. I never went back to my gymnastics class even though I loved it and my mother couldn’t understand why. If I was skinnier I would have gone back – if I was skinnier, no one would have called me a big fat tomato.
The desire to be thin plays into the need to be recognized, loved and accepted. Everyone wants a sense of belonging and affection, and affirmation that they are noticed. However, if our value and self-worth are defined by a number on a scale or clothing tag, then it is inevitable that we will fall into a long, tangled, chaotic, obsessive web of unhealthy eating patterns. Hating our body while standing in front of the mirror becomes a daily ritual. Welcome to the rite of passage for a teen-age girl with a low self-esteem, who is highly-tuned into other people’s comments about her appearance. As a 15 year old I began starving myself as a way to feel beautiful, which I knew would make me happy. I still didn’t feel beautiful five years later, especially with my head in the toilet bowl purging.
Eating disorders do not discriminate. They do not only happen to the white, middle-class teen girls who we keep hearing about in studies. We are all bombarded by the same messages within our Westernized culture, and the message is that being young and thin is desirable and will get you anything you want. It will bring you success, happiness, love, confidence and fun. Everything everyone could ever want can come from having the perfect body. Men are also buying into this pressure for perfection. Success, strength and six-pack abs are posted cover to cover in men’s magazines. Men are starting to become just as neurotic about their bodies as women are. Thin seems elusive, complex and difficult to achieve making us more obsessed with the unobtainable ideal. Our fixation evolves into out-of-control-compulsive behaviours which result in more self-loathing and disgust. Is there a solution to this madness? Can happiness really be achieved?
The answer is yes – but only if we use a different scale to measure happiness.
“If only I were skinnier I would be happier.” I don’t say this anymore because I am happier. Not because I am skinnier but because I am recognized, loved and accepted for what radiates from inside me. Instead of continuing to seek thinness, I sought out fullness. I started living fully, making hard life decisions and having to let go of the negative messages and people who I thought were working in my best interests. In order to live a more full life I had to start taking steps towards my goals and stop making excuses. I also had to challenge and erase those thoughts in my head that I was sure were guarding and protecting me from future hurts and disappointments. You know, that chattering in your head telling you that that you’re not good enough, don’t bother trying, you will fail. I had to stop judging and evaluating my body and start developing my character. The size and shape of my body does not create my destiny; In fact, thinking it does only limits my potential.
I had to start working towards my own self-confidence instead of putting all my efforts in building others. No longer will I give my attention and love to anyone who judges and criticizes me. I also stopped trying to please my inner critic. This did not come naturally for me but demanded a conscious effort. Today I am thankful that I don’t have to fake I am happy anymore, because I actually am happy. Happy because I learned to love myself.