Body Image: Getting Work Done to Meet the Standard

I hadn’t seen my friend Rebecca in over a year, and as we sat sipping coffee, I prayed that I wouldn’t stare at her lips, which had quadrupled in size since the last time I saw her.  I could feel my gaze slipping from her eyes onto the pair of pink slugs.

Some people are born with full, beautiful lips.  But not Rebecca.  She always had thin little lipettes until today.  They used to just sit on her face, but now they had their own reality show.  Every so often I had to force my eyes up to meet hers, as mine kept getting hung up on the big shiny blobs that sat where her lips used to reside.  They looked swollen and took up about a third of her face.

Cotton candy colored sparkly lip gloss gave The Lips a larger-than-life look.  I noticed people shielding their eyes from the glare.  Bubble-gum pink lip liner gave The Lips a multi-dimensional reality.   Apparently she had slapped on a jar of Vaseline to finish off the look.  I could not believe that she could talk with all the gunk on her lips.  It was a miracle.  I half expected The Lips to get stuck together, and then I would have to call 911.  I slipped into a daydream…

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *

“Emergency Services.  How can I help you?”

Breathing heavily, I gasped for air.  “It’s my friend Rebecca,” I sputtered.

“What’s the problem, ma’am?”

“It’s her lips.”  There.  I managed to get it out.

“Her lips?”

“Yes, that’s right.  Her lips are stuck together, and …”

“Did she accidentally swallow Elmer’s glue?  That happens to a lot of first graders.”

“No, I think she wanted to have voluminous, movie-star lips, and had a lip job, then piled on truckloads of lip gloss, lip liner, and Vaseline to get the fullest look possible.  And now she can’t pry her lips apart.”

“Okay, this is obviously a prank call, and I’m gonna have to report you.”  Click.

“Cherrie, hello, are you listening?”  Rebecca rolled her eyes at me. “For a minute it looked like you were off in your own little world.”

Oops.  I guess she could talk after all.  I could barely track with Rebecca, even though I’m usually present with people nowadays.  I used to be off in my own head during conversations – thinking about what to make for dinner, where to go kayaking, or what color to paint my bathroom.   All the while people thought I was really tracking with them.  Then I went to graduate school where I learned the importance of being present with all people as much as possible.  Actually it’s a great idea, as Jesus was always present.  He wasn’t thinking about what color to paint his bathroom (oh yeah, I just remembered he didn’t have one), or what to build next while he was interacting with people.  Bummer I had to spend $60,000 to find that out. But it was well worth it, and I wouldn’t trade what I learned for all the Sweet Caroline’s truffles in the world.

I figured Rebecca had her lips inflated with collagen or whatever people do to fluff them up.  I admit I have tried to get fuller lips on several occasions using various over-the-counter products.  They worked well and made my lips dazzle.  The problem is it is impossible to eat or drink anything without the globby lip goo getting all over the place.   I couldn’t talk very well either without having the goop slide out the corners of my mouth.  So I could wear the lip fattener as long as I was not going anywhere that I would need to eat, drink, or talk.  My lips would look movie starrish, but I wouldn’t be able to talk!

The other problem I encountered after wearing lip fattener was that the next day I always would wake up with a big zit on the line between my lip and skin.  Ugh.  I usually refer to it as a “cold sore,” but everyone knows it is a lip zit.

Driving home from the coffee shop, I thought about the hundreds of conversations about body image that came up while I counseled women.  No matter why they initially came in, almost all women eventually expressed dissatisfaction with their bodies.  Only a few had issues with their lips, as in Rebecca’s case.  Some of them told of dissatisfaction with their hips or waists.  But many believed that if they attained a certain size or weight, they would finally achieve happiness and most – if not all – of their problems would dissolve.   Some of them exercised until their joints ached every waking moment as well as when they tried to sleep.  They fit our society’s standard of beauty, but their joints ached like a hundred-year-old woman’s from working out hours upon hours for years on end.

Still others had gained lots of weight.  Usually the weight gain started when they endured difficult life situations, and they had been roller coaster dieting for years and never addressing the underlying issues in their hearts that led them to food addiction.  They continued to wonder why they could sometimes lose weight, but could never keep the weight off. They were often shocked as they slowly lost weight during the counseling process.  This often happened even though we hardly ever not talked about food, eating, or exercising.  Instead, we focused on the roots of their issues and why they always went to food as their drug of choice for self-medication.  Issues with weight are much more about the heart than food.  People often try diet after diet after diet, losing weight, then gaining weight, then losing and gaining again until they feel dizzy.  But of course the weight almost never stays off because they are treating the symptoms only and not the underlying issues.

Some of my clients have lost weight and kept it off due to working through the issues of the heart that I am talking about.  I ran into a former client a few years ago at a grocery store, and noticed she had lost a significant amount of weight.  We started talking about it, and she said she had lost about eighty pounds.  I asked her how she did it, and she told me that most of her weight loss came from working on her issues in our counseling sessions.  This happened even though we had rarely devoted counseling time to food or weight issues.  The weight just gradually melted away as she worked the underlying issues which had brought her through the door in the first place.

Some of you may be thinking, “Oh, that’s the answer.  I’ll just go into therapy and work on my issues, then I’ll lose the weight I need to lose.”  While I am glad that some of you are considering this, I would like to tell you this a great start, but at the same time tell you that it will be hard work – something like climbing a mountain.   Some days you will get exhausted and feel as though you are walking in circles, covering the same ground.  Other times the therapy sessions will be exhausting and you will want to call a helicopter to get you off of the blizzardy mountain because it is so grueling.  Those are the times you will drive to Dairy Queen and order a gigantic blizzard, then  pull over to a lonely spot in the parking lot.  You will gorge yourself, shoving in the food as though you had not eaten in a week.  When you finish your last bite, you will feel a flood of shame drowning you in despair.

At this point, instead of giving up, my hope is that you will consider telling your therapist exactly what happened, as well as the fact that you want to pull out of therapy.  Then the two of you can process through the obstacles so you can recalibrate, just like your GPS says.  Notice that when the computer lady from your GPS says, “Recalibrating…” she does not say, “Recalibrating, you idiot!  I can’t believe you loused up yet AGAIN!  What is wrong with you, jerk?!”  She is always firm, yet gentle.  She is never shaming.  What would happen if you could take a lesson from her and be gentle and kind to yourself?

Don't be shy. What are you thinking?

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