Monday, September 14, 2009

Body Image


Individual perceptions of our bodies are often problematic for many people, for reasons which can be as varied as the individuals involved. It is a subject close to my own heart, and one to which I return (somewhat obsessively at times) again and again. I find myself fascinated by insights offered by friends into their own struggles or perceptions of how they view themselves. A concept of self that includes confidence in appearance, a certainty of desirability and self-assurance or worth based on not just innate personality but on appearance, continues to elude me for reasons which continue to perplex and frustrate not just me but those who say they love me.

I follow with interest writings by friends whose inner perceptions of self have offered glimpses into mindsets that fascinate me and at times made me envious. For it seems my entire life I’ve struggled with an impaired sense of self that has resulted in most of my existence being caught up in a circle of self-loathing.

A friend once said in her own writings, she was taught to ‘look at herself through her Master’s eyes’ and in so doing, finally discovered her own beauty. How wonderful a concept! (What a wise Master!) And how true. I know that, I KNOW it and apply it generously and honestly to those whom I myself adore, but somehow I can’t seem to apply that same rule of thumb to myself.

Inevitably those of us who suffer from what is in truth, a type of body dysmorphia, think that changing our bodies to some dreamed off state of being will make our discontent disappear. We think if we exercise more, firm up the arms, develop washboard abs, get those calf muscles flexing ... if we whittle away the weight and somehow, magically, fit into that yearned for size 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 ...0.... pick a number ... pick a number ANY number – because when all is said and done our rational minds KNOW that simply squeezing into a given size is not going to – in the end- make us happy.

There will be momentary triumphs of course when we reach (usually) the next size DOWN but then, that won’t be enough. We barely give ourselves time to savour our victory, the achievement of our “goal” when our eyes are again looking ahead; again, thinking, if we got to THIS size, surely, surely, the next one will be even more wonderfully rewarding. Not just attainable, but won’t it make us SO happy. We’ll be content THEN, we KNOW that ... and we whittle away and we exercise obsessively and we get to that NEXT size and we’re barely there and the cycle begins again ...

And then, because ultimately, people like me are unbalanced when it comes to how we view our bodies, something will happen – often some emotional blow – or exhaustion, or demands so onerous it derails our carefully planned strategies, often, usually, it is emotional in nature the reason we use to derail our goals, to sabotage and undermine our quest for the “perfect” size – you know, the one that will make you happy, the shape that will make it all better, the body type that makes you, finally, finally, sexy, desirable, delectable, KEEPABLE.

Yeah, that size.

Then all our hard efforts, our hard work, our quivering, fragile pride in our accomplishment is shattered and damn, there we are at the bottom again, failures, losers, screwing up AGAIN ... not reaching our goals AGAIN...

And yet, and yet ... I KNOW that even reaching that random goal, that yearned for “perfect” size doesn’t bring peace, hell it doesn’t even bring a sense of validation.

At one point – a couple of years ago – I hit “the size” – yeah, the skinny one, the one where you go into a store, for once without cringing, and get a rush- a HUGE rush when you have to keep asking for ANOTHER size – yeah, ANOTHER size less than the one you actually tried on – and sometimes, even more exciting, you end up trying on one that is TWO OR MORE sizes less than you thought you would need.

Problem is, I wasn’t happy then either.

Oh, I was thin, hell at one point, skinny. But did I look in the mirror and say, YEAH SELKIE – you DID it! Nope- I looked in the mirror and thought, crap, look at that skin- so much of it! Crap- look at that, my boobs are so small now. Crap, ugly stomach or WHAT? Hell, look at my shoulders, how BONY are those ... YUCK.

Of course I realized, even then as I looked at myself with self-loathing that this was SO not about the physical realities and so much MORE about what was behind my eyes. Because I remember (before that skinny phase) losing just about half of the weight and being in such a wonderful space with D. that I felt lush, feminine, sexual and so deliciously desirable. The little rolls still left, the imperfections faded to nothing before his gaze and I felt confident, wanted, complete.

For a while, when things turned sour I kept losing ....losing, losing, losing... fading away, a skeletal wraith with gaunt limbs and sunken eyes until the emotional morass of my realities sought to fill the empty spaces with the momentary, fleeting and ultimately, deceitful comfort of calories.

And again, I sit here, feeling a failure, feeling defeated, despairing that I’ll ever get it right.
Yet I have learned.

I know that my physical realities are in my world, reflections of my emotional life. That I fill with food what I should be pouring out in words and gaining flesh is not the same as gaining insight. I understand that the diabolical dance I have engaged in a good part of my life has to end and the music stopped. I know that my self-worth should not be based on my pant size nor my self-esteem on whether I can get into a size smaller than I did before.

And all that is what I know rationally .. I just have to convince the emotional soul of me of its truth.

11 comments:

Sir Patrick's Lady said...

I really like what you said about looking at yourself through your master's eyes and seeing who you truly are. Awesome.

Lady

Sir J said...

~hugs~

and I will still open a door for you anytime.

Vesta said...

dearest selkie, you are so hard on yourself, sometimes! I know exactly what you mean, though. It is all about feeling desirable, being desired. One thing that might work right now is to put the emphasis on being your most healthy. In other words, look after yourself, be kind to yourself and nurture yourself. Good things will come. Sending you a big hug.

Jz said...

Oh, lord. I won't even get started on this. SP has scolded me about it for 28 years, to no avail. All I can say is if you ever find the key to convincing yourself, please, please, PLEASE share it!

Yours in dysmorphia...

greengirl said...

This sure as hell hits home for me. Horrible body image and self loathing started young, I don't know where they came/come from, and they impact almost every aspect of my life. It is such a complex thing. For too many years, I couldn't imgine how my husband could possibly find me attractive. I don't know about seeing myself "through my master's eyes," but I am starting to be able to suspend my disbelief and act as if my husband does actually enjoy my body. It certainly hasn't cured me, but it helps in certain situations.

I know all too well that no other person can say anything to change your underlying feelings, no matter how rationally and logically correct that person may be. But, for what it's worth, I have no idea what you look like (gorgeous red hair not withstanding), but your writing, insights and thoughts impress the hell out of me.

gabby said...

Selkie,

What a wonderful post!! I struggle with this issue all the time and I have for as long as I can remember. My Master is sympathetic about it and tells me all the time that he loves me just as I am but at the same time he supports my desires. He doesn’t support it in the sense that I want to be a certain number at all costs, but rather he expects that I will focus my efforts on increasing my health and if I lose weight in the process, that is a bonus rather than being my goal.

He holds me accountable to get exercise in each day and when he noticed that I was cutting my calories more than was healthy he instituted a spreadsheet I have to keep updated in order to log what I am eating. I have a minimum calorie count I must meet and he holds me accountable not only for filling in the spreadsheet but for meeting that minimum count as well. I’m also required to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 3 snacks a day. I realize he is absolutely serious about this too because I’ve endured some punishment for skipping a meal. I also know that if I lose too much weight in one week he will most likely up that minimum count so that is great motivation to keep my food intake at a proper level. He has also told me that once I get to a place where he feels like I’m getting too thin, he will make me stop losing. Personally, I don’t think I would ever get to that point but it’s nice to know that he will be watching for that. I am a curvy woman and I know I will be curvy even when I do get down to where I think I want to be. However, as you discussed in your post, I am concerned that once I get to that magical place it won’t be enough. I want to be satisfied, I truly do. But, is it even possible?

Like the friend you mentioned, he has also ordered me to see myself through his eyes. While I am able to see portions of my body through his eyes and can actually find them quite attractive on their own, it is when I try to put the entire package together that my eyes are mystically drawn only to those parts that I do not like. It’s almost as though my entire self is contained in that extra flesh on my belly or those dimples in my thighs for that short moment when I am facing that mirror. Like you, I know in my rational being that I am much more than the sum of my parts but getting my emotional being to accept it is so very difficult.

Like I said earlier, My Master is sympathetic and supportive but will not abide me obsessing over my body which in turns stops me in my tracks when I get on those negative self talk roads. I know he would be very disappointed in me for thinking about something he owns in such a negative way. He constantly impresses upon me that I am valued and cherished for exactly what I am and not what I think I should be. He sees in me things I’ve never seen in myself before – physical and non-physical. I know that he sees the real me and I tend to see first and foremost the outer shell. I just need to learn to look deeper like he does.

Thanks again for this thought provoking post!

Hugs,

gabby

M:e said...

You know this post will touch me selkie. Its probably the biggest piece of 'learning' I keep returning to....that slow kindled glimmer of understanding that its not about the packaging its about the content, for its in the content the true beauty of any of us lies.

I think the biggest step forward for this with me has been to acknowledge that yes, I need to lose some weight for health reasons but that I've actually been able to start this time with no target weight in mind. No magic number. No 'right' size. I'm listening to my body and I'll know when I reach the best weight for me. The rest of the 'noise' around the weight loss industry is driven by so many other things than health, and I'm just refusing to buy into it any more.

love and hugs xxx

selkie said...

Dear Lady- that was actually a friend of mine; I thought it incredibly wise to be truthful –and wish I COULD do the same.

Sir J - as always, a gentleman and a friend – hugs back

Vesta – that is one of the things I really do concentrate on – as I have for several (like 6 or 7) been successfully fighting full-blown Type 2 diabetes through exercise and healthy diet, this is HUGE for me.

Jz - I absolutely WILL share – but as I’ve been working at this for even LONGER than 28 years, you may get there before I do LOL

greengirl - I’m with you, hun- its not like I came from an awful family but as long back as I can remember I have been unhappy with my appearance. Like you, I find myself amazed that D. ever wanted me – which in way is incredibly unfair and insulting to THEM. and thank you for the thoughts! truly! my writing IS an important part of who I am.

gabby - it always amazes me how many of us DO suffer such low self-esteem issues – and often, those who know us would never think that about us! Agreed to that there MUST be more incentive than the mere physical – that just doesn’t work in the long-term in making changes in our lives. And I know health is a huge motivator for me to NOT give up and keep trying.

Your Master sounds like a smart man – because he’s right –‘starving’ yourself is not just unhealthy but ultimately self-defeating as your body goes into starvation mode and starts CONSERVING calories. Also, curvey is GOOD – I have no curves on top of everything else LOL – skinny OR fat.

And yes, you’re right- when we write it out, there is an absurdity in seeing our entirely in one simple little section of our body. You certainly sound like you have an amazing support system and encouragement on your journey to self-love.

M:e I know you and I have talked about this before – in fact your thoughts on the subject have always inspired much thought in me. You pinpoint the importance of looking at the overall picture rather than focusing on one small part of it….

mouse said...

I know what you mean...

hugs,
mouse

Raheretic said...

This resonates here on so many different levels. We are, what with our radical weight loss here (cuttently down 117 pounds and counting since March), daily noting how many people respond differently ("better") to me now than they did last February. I wonder what it is about me that has changed that I am worthy of such greater credibility than previously.

I am not naiive. I too am aculturated as we all are, and am drawn to what I have learned to think of as an attractive woman. We went to a play party last spring which was made up of BDSM-ers who were almost all grotesquely morbidly obeese women, and I have no desire to go back there. It shouldn't matter but it does.

Then there are the struggles tnat swan and t each have about their body images. I think t is doing better what with her weight loss surgery effects currently, and swan cycles continually in and out of feeling she is not attractive enough for me. She has written ab out how she has come to see herself through my eyes, and how good that feels for her, but that is not a status that is continual for her at all, darn it. She is so attractive, they both are, but we are taught no woman can ever be beautiful enough to be "worthy."

For what ever help it is, selkie, I think of you as very attractive. I have no basis for this other than the perceptiveness and articulateness of your writing, and the pic on your profile (which looks wonderful by the way.)

M:e too you appear similarly attractive to me.

gabby I haven't known you previous to this, but you certainly sound and appear wonderful.

I know this may not help, and that knowing you look good is not the answer to this, but I didn't want this to go by without saying your self-perceptions are incongruent with the impression you create in others.

All the best,

Tom

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined.

Florida Dom said...

Selkie: Good luck to you (and the other women who posted) in accepting yourself the way you are. This is a tough thing to do for most women so you're certainly not alone.