Posts Tagged ‘self-image’

SUMMER IS HERE! TIME TO GET OUT THE BATHING SUITS:)

May 16, 2012

Source:sodahead.com

The sun is shining. The birds are chirping. The temperature is rising. Summer is officially here. Spirits are high. We wait all winter for this season. We look forward to time outdoors in the parks, in the mountains and at the beach. Perhaps the only downside is that summer = bathing suit season which for us women can cause more dread than running into an ex boyfriend while at the grocery store in a sweat suit with no makeup while he is with his gorgeous new girlfriend.

There really is no greater pleasure than the search for a new swimsuit, whether for the summer season or a mid-winter vacation. There are many ways to embark on this quest. I have tried them all with differing levels of success. There is the tried and true try and buy method. No woman looks better in a bathing suit than she does under the fluorescent lighting of a department store change room. Pasty white from the winter, unshaven legs, bathing suit tried on over top of her underwear and viewing herself reflected in the funhouse mirror that seems to make its way into every change room.

Source:whohidthedonuts.blogspot.com

Buying and trying on at home can mean more flattering lighting but can lead to the depressing realization that your age is not the only thing that has gone up in the last year. Then there is the catalog or internet order method. Buying a bathing suit you admire on a swimsuit model and then guessing your size, only to receive it in the mail 4-6 weeks later and SURPRISE it doesn’t look quite the same!! Does wonders for the self esteem. Magazines this time of year will tell you that there is a bathing suit for every body type. The problem is that the models in these magazines range from 5′ 8″ to 6 feet tall and 100 pounds to 125 pounds. Their definition of curvy does not exactly represent the average woman. Most of us looking at these articles aren’t encouraged. But not to fear. There are three times as many articles telling us how to get our bodies bikini ready in 6 weeks or less. Thank you crunches! Ugh.

If you hate swimsuit shopping or donning a swimsuit you aren’t alone. A new study has found that even imagining trying on a swimsuit can put women in a bad mood. In the Journal of Sex Roles in May, psychologist Marike Tiggeman and her colleagues ‘wrote four scenarios to test the impact of clothing on self-objectification: In one, women were asked to imagine themselves trying on a swimsuit in a dressing room. In another, they imagined wearing a swimsuit while walking down a beach. The other two scenarios had the same settings, but instead of a swimsuit, the women were asked to imagine wearing jeans and a sweater.’ 102 female undergraduate students filled out questionnaires regarding their mood and feelings of body and self-objectification after imagining these scenarios. As you could imagine, imagining wearing a swimsuit made women feel worse than wearing jeans. But wearing a swimsuit in a dressing room made women most likely to self-objectify, not wearing a swimsuit walking down the beach. This shows how much self-objectification is an internal process. A 2006 study by the department of psychology at the University of California published in Body Image found that 31% of women had avoided wearing a swimsuit in public.

When it comes to attire, there is nothing more revealing a woman will wear in public than the glorified underwear that is the bathing suit. It is really no wonder women feel self conscious in swimwear. Adding to this is the mounting pressure women feel to not only have, but also to look perfect in their beach wear. Bathing suits are no longer just for the water. Victoria’s Secret fashion shows and designers have made swimwear high fashion. Couture bathing suits are found poolside at the most posh resorts and the most exotic beaches. They are a billion dollar a year business. In every magazine we see gorgeous, airbrushed women with perfect bodies modelling tiny bikinis. Tabloids determine who has the best and worst bikini bodies and call out those celebrities who have let themselves go each summer, as well as those who have (gasp) unsightly cellulite. This sends the message to us lay people that image is of utmost importance.

There are many options for swimsuits, from the bikini:

Source:telegraph.co.uk

To the tankini:

Source:modeikon.se

To the birkini:

I myself have my eye on one that I first spotted at H&M in London:

Source:www.h&m.com

It was sold out everywhere there, which tells me that I’m not the only woman that is feeling a little more modest this summer season. Or perhaps a little less interested in getting bikini ready in 6 weeks or less. But realistically, on the beach no one is airbrushed. Every woman has perceived flaws, no matter how perfect she may look to others. The important thing women need to learn is to be happy with who we are and to not obsess over every thing we want to change.

Have You Met Your Mark?

April 14, 2012

Source: healthkicker.com

Today I am having a fat day. I am bloated and puffy. I have PMS. I have a pimple. I am overly reactive and emotional. When I looked in the mirror this morning, I was all stomach and thighs, and my arms jiggled like Jell-O in my sleeveless shirt. I tried to pull on my most form-fitting jeans, but it felt like the waistband was pushing against my belly causing flesh to form a roll over the top so I opted instead for shorts with an elastic waist. I went for a walk in the sun to clear my head. I have had these thoughts before. At one time I would have let them consume me, setting the tone for the entire day and resulting in self-destructive rituals. Today I have finally found the will to put them in perspective and push them out of my mind. I am no longer a prisoner to my eating disorder.

Many women I know have “fat days”. Days when body image is lower than usual, and you feel like you are a giant in a sea of pixies. Such feelings can be brought on by any number of things; Emotional issues, hormones, guilt from overindulging in food, etc. Whatever the case, these thoughts can significantly affect a woman’s mindset and negatively affect her day to day life. Some women avoid social interactions, romantic situations, or even work when they feel they are less than attractive. The sad part is, in most cases the problem is purely psychological. A woman may feel extremely different physically from one day to the next when in fact she has not changed at all. The only difference is in her perspective. If there are any physical changes, they are usually slight, and have to do with things like salt or water retention. A person can gain or lose a few pounds in 24 hours simply due to water gain or loss.

Many women I know have certain articles of clothing that they consider markers of fat gain and loss. A common example most people are familiar with is their “skinny jeans”. If a woman can fit into her skinny jeans then she is at her own  ideal weight. If she cannot, she has a goal: to lose enough weight to fit into the skinny jeans. Conversely, a lot of women have “fat pants”. When a woman feels she has gained weight, has eaten too much, or in general when self-confidence is low, the fat pants come out.

Right now, I don’t know my exact weight. At one point in my life, I could have told you my weight to the decimal place on any given day. When I was a teenager and I first recovered from my eating disorder, I stopped weighing myself entirely. I knew that if I started to focus on numbers on a scale again, it would be difficult for me to stop. At a vintage sale one day in university I bought several items of clothing. I tried nothing on because there were no change rooms. One of the pieces was a pair of shorts, which I learned when I got home was a child’s or youth size. For some unknown reason I did not get rid of these. When I had a relapse of my eating disorder a few years ago and lost a significant amount of weight, I had no scale and therefore did not start weighing myself right away. This was one reason I was able to remain in denial about my eating disorder. But at one point, I found and put on this pair of children’s shorts and discovered that they almost fit me. From that point on, these shorts became my marker for weight loss. Eventually they fit me perfectly, and at one point even became too loose. No one besides myself has ever seen these shorts on me. I have never worn them outside of my bedroom. It wasn’t until I went to counseling that I found out this was a common practice for women with eating disorders, to use clothing items as markers. I guess this is an extreme and more destructive form of the ‘skinny jeans’ idea. I have long since parted with the shorts and the desire to be the size of a child. But I still find myself averse to clothing that is of a rigid material or too tight in the waist as I know I will constantly be gauging whether it was tighter or looser the last time I wore it. I work on myself every day, but I know it will probably be a lifelong battle. My plan of assault is to try to be open and honest and ask for help if I need it. I have found it is a lot easier to stay healthy when you can admit you aren’t perfect. I am having a fat day. But I feel better already, and tomorrow will be better still.

I fit into children's shorts at this point in my life. I thought I was fat.

Who’s that Green-Eyed Monster in my Mirror?

April 4, 2012

Your best friend starts dating a gorgeous, rich new man.

A colleague gets a promotion.

Your sister loses 10 pounds and looks fantastic.

Your new yoga instructor looks like a younger, hotter, fitter version of Giselle Bundchen.

Congratulations, right? So why do you have to smile through your teeth while fighting the urge to rip off her head? Welcome to the emotions of envy and jealousy. Wicked feelings that can creep up on you and turn even the most demure woman into a raging, irrational lunatic.

First, let’s distinguish between the 2 terms.

Envy: To bear a grudge towards someone due to coveting what that person has or enjoys.

Jealous: Apprehensive or vengeful out of fear of being replaced by someone else.

If you are envious of someone, you want what they have. If you are jealous of someone, you believe they can take something from you. For example, you may believe they are a threat to your job or your marriage.

Why am I writing about this topic? Because this blog is devoted to issues that affect women, and to put it frankly, women are jealous bi***es! This realization came to me a couple of days ago as I miserably complained to my fiancée that a colleague had enjoyed a career success that I felt was undeserved. I admitted I was envious. I admitted I was being irrational. He said I was being petty. PETTY?? Now that is just… Well ok, I was being petty. I thought about other instances where I had been jealous or envious of others women. When I really thought about it, I had to admit that I begrudged people success, happiness, beauty, talent, popularity etc. an awful lot, and had been doing so for years.

There are many types of envy/jealousy. You can make adversaries of strangers on the street, your friends, and your colleagues. And we have all heard of sibling rivalry. I have experienced them all. I don’t want to make it sound like I resent everyone’s achievements, prosperity and good fortune. I root for the people that I care for. But intermingled with the pride and joy I feel for them when good things happen in their lives, there is a tiny yet uncontrollable yearning for them to fail miserably (or at least flounder a little).

I clearly have a problem. But I know I’m not alone. I hear the way women talk about other women around me all the time. Bullying between girls as a result of envy/jealousy/insecurity starts in elementary school and continues well into adulthood. A group of women see a beautiful woman walking down the street, claws come out and she is immediately shredded apart. Her hair, her outfit, her makeup, her shoes, anything is fair game. My grandmother still gossips about her friends, and is still competing with her twin sister. Feminist Germaine Grier said at the Fem08 conference that what worried her ‘about the future of women’s equality and feminism was women’s own misogyny”. Is it true? Do women hate other women? Gender expert Susan Shapiro Barash, author of ‘Tripping the Prom Queen-The Truth about Women and Rivalry’ has conducted research and interviews with 500 US women. She has found that 40% of women say they have had another woman steal their boyfriend, lover, husband or job in their lifetime. 25% have done the stealing. 90% of women are or have been envious and jealous of other women in their lives, with 65% saying they feel that way about their sister or best friend. 80% have been victims of another woman’s envy or jealousy.

So why do women treat each other this way? One reason is likely insecurity. If a woman has a negative self-image or poor self-esteem she may not believe herself to be worthy of obtaining what the other woman has that she covets, or she may believe the other woman superior and able to steal what she has. If the other woman is someone like a good friend or a sister, then the feelings of envy or jealousy can cause a lot of guilt, thus contributing to poor self-image. Susan Shapiro Barash believes that women create rivalries with other women due to “scarcity of goods”. She says “We (women) are taught winner takes all — the sense that there is only one (glass) slipper, one crown. And therefore, if she has it, I cannot have it.” Apparently men are immune to this practice. They may be competitive by nature, but “because men have always competed for what they do, and women compete for who they are” they are able to shout obscenities at each other on the basketball court and then shake hands afterwards. To women, being the thinnest, the most beautiful, the most successful, the richest, or smartest will help to define them and so these titles are so coveted that they are willing to push each other under the bus to achieve them, and if they cannot they will sure as hell resent the hussy who beat them out.

Envy and jealousy are natural human emotions that everyone has experienced at one time or another. But where do they get you? Wishing somebody else ill will for something that they have just wastes time that you could be spending making good things happen for you, and could potentially damage important relationships in your life. More importantly, isn’t it time that women started lifting each other up instead of holding each other down? Perhaps if we start cheering each other on and celebrating each other more of us will have the self-confidence and drive to love and believe in ourselves and strive for what we want out of life. And then we will have less to begrudge others for.

Thanks, Guilt and Pity (But no thanks for guilt or pity)

March 31, 2012

My Oma-Would you want to make this woman sad??

Working in a hospital I am surrounded by the ailing and afflicted. I can’t say I am desensitized to suffering. I feel for many of those who are battling painful, frightening, and possibly life-threatening  conditions, as well as those who love and care for them. However when everyone you come into contact with has some type of malady, you do begin to reserve your sympathy and emotional energy for those who are truly in agony in order to preserve your sanity. Every so often I meet a person who touches me and I can’t help being drawn into their pain. My father once told me never to feel sorry for other people. I understand what he was trying to tell me. He isn’t a heartless person without concern for his fellow man. But rationally speaking,  feeling sad for others can accomplish nothing but just that: making you sad. Feeling pity for another person is passive rather than active, and actually can harm someone more than it can help them by further validating and solidifying their role as a victim when in fact most people don’t want to be viewed in this light at all. However it tends to be human nature for our hearts to go out to the weak and the suffering.

Today as I was sitting and eating lunch in the foyer of the hospital, a lovely elderly lady started to chat me up about nothing in particular. As we continued to talk she told me that her husband had just had a stroke and was getting out of the hospital that day at 4pm. He would require a home care nurse since he couldn’t walk properly yet, he had difficulty swallowing, his speech was garbled and it was unclear how much function he would regain. She teared up a little as she spoke, and I must admit my eyes got a little watery too. She wasn’t asking for sympathy, it was evident she felt alone and was reaching for someone, anyone to talk to. It was right about then that a young man about my age in a wheelchair approached a ramp leading up to the café. He was attempting to maneuver himself at the correct angle to enable him to go up the ramp and was having quite a bit of difficulty. He finally realized this feat, only to have to get up the actual ramp, which seemed to give him some trouble. I saw that there were many people watching him, and it seemed as if quite a few looked poised to jump in and push him. No one did though, and I believe it was because he looked so determined wheeling himself up that nobody seemed to know if this was the right thing to do. I assume they were afraid of embarrassing him or insulting him by insinuating he was unable to make it himself. The old woman and I watched him fight his way up the ramp silently, and then I felt her touch my hand with hers. “We are very fortunate” she said. I looked at her, this woman who felt blessed though her husband would very likely never say her name again, and I felt humbled. No, this woman didn’t need my pity. In many ways, she may be better off than I. I’ll explain.

On my way home, I started thinking about all of the little things I take for granted on a daily basis. The fact I have friends and family that love me, I live in a great city, I have a secure job and a roof over my head. I take for granted my health, and that I have enough food to eat. It may sound repetitive to talk about how deplorable it is that in North America portion sizes have increased 2-5 times since 1970 while obesity rates are epidemic, and at the same time there are people in the world still dying of starvation. But regardless of how often you hear it, it is still wrong. I am a second generation Canadian. My grandparents lived in Europe during WWII when people often didn’t have enough food to fill their stomachs. When they moved to Canada, they were extremely poor and had to work harder than I or my children will ever understand to make a life for themselves. To people like them and countless others who came to this country for a better life, being able to feed your family well was no small blessing, a validation for all of their tribulations. There was a time in history when being plump was a sign of high social standing. The poor could not afford good food and so were thin and wasted looking. It is alarming how things have changed such that now “thin is in”. In fact, with fast food and pre-packaged food usually costing less than fresh fruit and vegetables and lean meats, those in lower socioeconomic classes are more likely to be overweight than the middle and upper class in today’s day and age.

When you ask people what’s really important in life, one of the most popular answers is being healthy. Another is having enough food to eat. However, at any given time it is estimated that 45% of women are dieting.  At some point in their lives, most women will actively deprive themselves of food. While not all diets are harmful, and in some cases losing weight will improve health, many women engage in practices that are potentially dangerous under the guise of health, such as fad diets, detoxes, fasts or juice and soup diets. In the poorest nations such as India and northern Africa, the average caloric intake is between 1400-1900 calories daily for women. The daily requirement for most women is about 2000, with about 900 being the amount needed for human functioning. Many diets today recommend caloric intakes of 1500 calories daily or less making their devotees at least if not more malnourished than many “starving” women in 3rd world countries. When you think of the focus we put on our bodies in this light, it seems so shallow, doesn’t it?

I may sound judgemental but that is not my intention. I do not mean to be the pot that calls the kettle black. As a woman who has battled an eating disorder since a teenager I am no stranger to body image issues or depriving myself of food. I have likely binged and purged enough food to feed a small starving village. When I think about how important I once thought that being thin was or how happy I thought that losing 5 more pounds would make me it seems so irrational now. I know that an eating disorder is a disease and I have the insight now to understand that it isn’t really about food or how you look, but I still carry around a lot of guilt about the damage I did to my body and what I took for granted during the time I was abusing myself. One image that stays in my mind is the look of concern and pain on my Oma’s face whenever I would go over to her place for dinner and I would avoid eating the things she would prepare for me and try to shovel onto my plate in true mennonite fashion. For her, cooking for her family is showing love. I’m not sure how much she knows about my eating disorder, or even if she could fathom such a thing, but I know she realized I was sick by how frightened and sad she looked. Even now, every time I go there she is so concerned about what I can and can’t eat, and if I’m OK. I was relieved when finally the last time I saw her she deemed me “good and healthy”. Someone like her could never understand why a person would deprive themselves of food on purpose. She has seen what real hunger looks like. Her idea of a light meal is Rollkuchen (fried bread made of flour and whipping cream). Food nourishes your body and keeps you alive. It is vital to survival. It also can be an excuse to bring family together. My Oma grew up in a different time, but as I was reminded today, it seems we could all learn a thing or two from our elders.

The Skinny on Fat-Talk

March 31, 2012

“Ugh. I look so fat in this”

“Look at this roll”

“I have a spare tire in these jeans!”

“I think I gained 10 pounds over Christmas!”

“I look like a stuffed sausage in this dress!!”

“Look at my thunder thighs, I can’t leave the house in this skirt!”

Sound familiar? If not, you’re probably in the minority. Research shows that most women at one time or another have engaged in this type of self-deprecating banter, which has been coined “fat-talk” by Dr. Mimi Nichter, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona and author of ‘Fat Talk:What Girls and Their Parents Say About Dieting’ . Why do we do it? According to Nichter, it is most likely to gain a sense of solidarity with our peers. She also says that it can be a way of expressing frustration about a bad event or bad day. “Saying, ‘I’m so fat,’ is not just about your weight, it’s really a statement about your sense of self at that moment.” It has been well documented that s woman’s emotional state of mind can greatly impact her self image, and that this can change even within a single day.

A study in the March 2011 issue of Psychology Women’s Quarterly showed that 93% of college women engaged in fat-talk with their peers with most believing it made them feel better about themselves. The results of the study showed the opposite. Rachel Falk, the study’s lead author said that “several participants remarked that they want their friends to tell them they’re not fat, but they don’t really believe it when they hear it”. Say something out loud enough times and you’ll start to believe it. This behavior is almost exclusive to women of normal weight or below, most likely because women who are overweight do not necessarily want to call attention to it. So why would “fat-talk” have negative consequences on thin women? Because according to Falk it “results in more body monitoring, which women are already spending too much time doing.”

A more recent study published March 2012 by study researcher Analisa Arroyo of the University of Arizona showed that “the ritualistic conversations about one’s own body or others’ bodies “predicts lower satisfaction with ones’ body and higher levels of depression”. So while the intention may be to seek approval from ones’ group of girlfriends to feel validated, constantly dwelling on perceived or even fictitious flaws may have the opposite effect of convincing oneself of their existence. As a matter of fact, we would all be better off to focus on the positive instead of the negative. Research shows that faking a smile makes you feel happier. Maybe forcing ourselves to reflect on our assets and give ourselves positive affirmation instead of criticism will finally allow us women to feel comfortable in our own skin and believe in our own brand of beauty, even if different from what we’re taught to aspire to. We have better things to talk about with our friends, like who Ryan Gosling is dating now 🙂

Are you skinnier in the morning?

March 19, 2012

Can your body really change in one day??

A friend said to me yesterday: “I think I’m skinnier in the morning”. I can’t tell you how many times I have been on the receiving end of some variation of this sentence. “My body looks better in the morning before I eat anything”, “I look skinny in the morning, but then I’m fat again at the end of the day”, “I think I gain 10 pounds during the day”…..It begs the question: Is it these women’s waistlines or their self-confidence that is fluctuating so wildly throughout the day?

 

First of all I would like to talk about the physiological. Overnight you obviously don’t eat or drink anything for the amount of time you are asleep, usually about 6-8 hours. So when you wake up you are in the fasted state and often slightly dehydrated. This is because as you sleep you lose water through respiration (small water droplets are lost in your breath) and transpiration (you lose water through your skin). Water weight loss overnight can be as much as 2-3 pounds or even more if there is a lot of perspiration. Also, a lot of digestion occurs overnight, and any food in the stomach moves further along the digestive tract, which can give the appearance of a “flatter” stomach. When dehydrated, a lean person’s muscles can appear more defined which makes them appear more toned (this is a common trick bodybuilders will use pre-competition). This may be a reason women like their bodies best first thing in the morning. During the day as food and fluids are consumed the water weight lost overnight is regained, Women may feel that their stomachs are no longer “flat” once it has been filled with food (whether this is true or imagined) and sometimes the food consumed, for example a high-sodium meal, can lead to water being retained and the appearance of a larger stomach due to bloating. Weight fluctuations throughout one day can be up to 5 pounds, and this is mainly due to water retention and loss. Certain factors, such as eating a very large meal before bed, constipation, and water retention can in fact cause people to weigh more or be very bloated in the morning. However, it does in fact seem as though some women may appear “skinnier” in the morning, even if this is only due to normal physiological changes that occur in everyone and in no way represent any actual fat loss overnight.

 

So are there psychological factors involved? Before looking at any data, I want to shed some personal light on the matter. When in therapy for my eating disorder, a recurring discussion theme was that of control. A theory about eating disorders is that often they are triggered by emotional or traumatic events and that women use the eating disorder as a coping mechanisms. If you can’t control what’s going on in your life, at least you can control what you put into your body. In group therapy, I learned a common goal for women with eating disorders (including myself) was to eat as little as possible, or that only certain foods were allowed. If you ate “too much” or something unacceptable, you had failed. However, each morning was a fresh start. In the morning you were not yet defeated, you had a new chance to stick to your plan and you felt revitalized. I am not insinuating that when a woman says she feels her “skinniest” in the morning that she has an eating disorder. My point is that I think that for all women, each morning is a clean slate. Ideally you are rested and revived, your mind is alert and the emotional tone for the day is still to be determined as no events have occurred to influence it. So whatever your goal is for the day, it seems within reach. Studies have shown that mood influences body image. A 1995 study in Behavior Therapy titled ‘Body image disturbance, memory bias and body dysphoria: Effects of negative mood induction’ showed that when women were induced to be in a negative mood, they perceived their body size to be larger than it currently was and had increased body dysphoria. A 1992 study in Behavior Research and Therapy showed similar data. So perhaps throughout the day, women’s body image worsens due to daily stressors and our emotional responses to them, and the morning is the only time we are free from this effect.

 

Another thing I learned in group therapy is that it for women with eating disorders, the feeling of having no food in your stomach is the feeling of success. It is a comfort. Even as I write this statement, I know it will be hard to comprehend and shocking to many. It’s almost metaphoric really, because when you are in that place you feel empty in all respects because you have isolated yourself and your whole life has become consumed by your disease. Even sometimes today after waking up with that hollowness in my stomach that I used to relish, when I eat my first meal, and I can feel my stomach filling up and pressing just slightly harder on the waist of my pants, I can’t help but feeling like I’m suddenly heavier. I no longer strive to feel hungry, but sometimes disordered thoughts like this interrupt my life. It makes me wonder if other women have these thoughts? When a woman says she feels “skinnier in the morning” is it partially because she hasn’t filled her stomach with food and when you feel hungry, you have an artificial feeling of lightness?  Does simply feeling satiated make a woman feel heavier?

 

As women go about their day, they are exposed to hundreds if not thousands of media images. Many of these images depict artificial, retouched models and actresses representing what the “ideal” woman should be, and it is an unattainable goal for most if not all women to achieve. There are over a hundred studies proving the negative effects of these extremely thin images on a clear majority of adolescents and women. Not only do women feel greater body dissatisfaction upon exposure, but they also report more depression, stress, insecurity, guilt and shame. Many studies have shown that when body image and body perception are measured right before and right after exposure to media images of very thin models, women will report a more negative body image and falsely perceive themselves as heavier than is accurate. So it’s possible that exposure to so many of these images throughout the day, can contribute to a more negative body image later in the day vs. first thing in the morning.

 

I’m sure there are many other factors that can affect why women may feel differently about themselves at different times of the day. Women are complicated, and body image and self-esteem are very complex, multi-faceted issues. However, it does not appear that beyond any normal physiological changes, women are any “skinnier” in the morning. However, sometimes by the end of the day a woman may feel like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders, so she sure may feel heavier at the end of the day.