Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Why Do I Feel Fat?

Dearest readers, there is something that’s been bothering me lately, and I’m not sure what to do about it. You see, as much positivity as I try to radiate to myself and to others, I’m finding that some negativity is still leaking its way through. As good as I feel about attending regular yoga classes and eating healthy (most of the time), I still find myself internally criticizing my body.

I look fat.
I need to lose weight.
I wish I had [flatter abs, smaller boobs, better arm muscles, etc.]

And at the back of my brain, a nagging voice that says things like

You’ll never get there.
She’s just prettier than you.

Jennifer Lawrence
I admire Jennifer Lawrence's outlook on body image.
Image: Jaguar PS / Shutterstock.com
Why do I keep thinking these things? I tell myself everyday that I am proud of the progress I’ve made and the active lifestyle I try to live. I tell myself to do the best I can but that if I am just too exhausted to go to yoga every once in a while, it’s ok. And I believe it is, I really do, but I keep finding myself feeling bad afterwards. I don’t like thinking things like You shouldn’t have eaten that cookie today or No more bread for awhile not because I want to be healthier, but because I feel fat. But I have to fight the urge to think them far more often than I'd like.

Why does this keep happening? Is it just me, or does this happen to any of you, too?

Many people would be quick to blame the media and the unhealthy body image it so often cultivates, and maybe that’s part of it for me. But, to be honest, I have way more envy of women like Jennifer Lawrence, who has been referred to a “fat actress” in Hollywood because she has a few curves. In other words, she’s not stick-thin and doesn’t torture herself out of food like many others. She's fit, but doesn't have the same obsession with eliminating every ounce of body fat from her body.

A while back, I watched an inspiring poetry slam entry from Lily Myers, who participated in the 2013 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational. She put into beautiful images what I think is really the root of the problem: accidental behavioral inheritance. We pick up the habits of those around us, whether we mean to or not. Myers talks about her mother in her piece, “Shrinking Women,” who seems to take up less space each time she goes home to see her:

“I never meant to replicate her, but spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits—that’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades.”

After watching this video, I realized that I grew up this way, too. Show my mother any photo of herself, and no matter how beautiful she looks, she is never satisfied: she always says she looks fat. My sister does the same thing, pointing out “neck rolls” that I never even noticed and that are actually just natural folds of the skin.

Me, I’m stuck somewhere between where I want to be and what I learned to tell myself. No matter how many times my mother tells me I am beautiful, I still find myself struggling to truly internalize it because I have never heard her call herself beautiful. Some days, I believe what she tells me, but other days I wear baggy sweatshirts to cover up the imagined fatness.

So how do we end this circular cycle of viciousness against ourselves? I think it’s something that we’re going to have to work on for a long time. I’ve already promised myself that I won’t put myself down in front of my children. Because as much as I might think that what I say would only hurt me, it would hurt them, too, in the end.