Body Image and Children: Five and Feeling Fat in a Normal Body

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“Mommy, do these jeans make my butt look big?” my friend’s daughter asked her.  After assuring her five year old that she was exactly the way God wanted her to be, Sandy (not her real name) called to tell me.  She knows I’m writing a book on body image, and thought I would be very interested in the comment although it certainly created a wave of guilt and confusion in Sandy’s heart.

“Where on earth did Cassandra (not her real name) get this kind of thinking?  I’ve tried so hard not to verbally bash my body in front of her, and I try to praise her on what she does instead of what she looks like.  What on earth is going on?”  I could tell Sandra strained to hold back a floodgate of tears.

After letting Sandy vent, we talked about the fallout of living in a culture in which we see over 250,000 ads before the age of 17.  The ads, for the most part, scream out to women, “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is almost everything.”  That lie infiltrates our thinking and invades our souls to the point that we feel that a great deal of our value comes from how thin we are.  Due to this environment, women often talk about the triad of subjects that can easily lead to self-contempt.  Those are food, fat, and fannies.  Women are easily swept into the whirlpool of stinking thinking about their bodies.  If we are not careful, we can get pulled into the undercurrent of negativity.  Comparing ourselves with mannequins who appear to have such a low percentage of body fat that they would not menstruate if they were real people is certainly stinking thinking.

What would happen if women supported each other in stamping out stinking thinking concerning body image?  No more complaints about our fannies and other unassorted body parts.  No more talking about diets and fat and saggy, baggy eyes and breasts that hang to your knees.  No more stinking thinking, period!  (For more on this subject, check out my blog entitled, “7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter or Son from Eating Disorders.”Let us focus on the positive, and lightly sprinkle our conversations with a focus on health rather than obsessing about our various body parts that gravity is gobbling up.  After all, God knows our hearts and tells us to focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).  So let us focus on using our gifts, talents and stories to help create beauty in the world instead of focusing on our so-called body imperfections. Be thankful you can walk and move and breathe without pain. I know what it’s like not to be able to do those things, even though I used to run six miles a day and swam competitively for years. (See “My Story “at the top.) The greatest beauty lies in giving thanks for what you have instead of focusing on our society’s insatiable hunger for the so-called perfect body. After all, the perfect body is the one God gave you.~

Want more? Read my book, Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit.

 

 

Body Image: Stop the Negative Thinking (and heal your body image)

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You’re waiting in line at the grocery store, and can’t help but checking out the fannies of the gals in front of you.  You’re in the “12 items or less” line, but the guy at the front of the line seems to have 350 items.  Man, is his gut big, you think.  He really doesn’t need those chocolate covered raisins.  Oh, and look at the next girl.  She is skinny.  Probably a size 4.  But even so, she looks kind of disproportionate.  Oh, I wonder what the people behind me are thinking about my tooshie?

You can’t help it.  Since you live in a culture in which you were exposed to 250,000 ads by the time you were seventeen, you have been brainwashed.  This sick tsunami of messages that scream, “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is almost everything,” has brainwashed you and caused you to be hypercritical of your own body as well as other peoples’ bodies.

All of this negativity and comparison puts you back into the sick merry-go-round of dieting, bingeing, purging (for some) and over-exercising (for some).  What would it look like to stop the sick cycle and get off the merry-go-round forever?  The first step is to stop the poisonous habit of comparing your body to other peoples’ bodies.

But how can you do this?  It has become such an ingrained habit, it is almost as natural as breathing.  The first step is to recognize that it is doing a great deal of harm.  Women who put up pictures of thin celebrities and/or models often binge after looking at them because they feel like a failure in comparison.  The same thing happens when you compare yourself with anyone else’s body.

The next step is to picture a big red stop sign, and to picture screaming, “STOP!” whenever you catch yourself comparing your body to someone else’s.  Keep doing this over and over again.  You may even want to think of something else, such as a peaceful place like a beach.  Or else you might say a prayer to ask God to help you with your body image, or even recite a verse.

Although this won’t be easy, you will begin to notice a change from this “stinkin’ thinkin’ ” pattern.  You will notice that your eyes avert from looking so intently and judging your own and other peoples’ bodies.  Instead of feeling depressed and like your body is not good enough, you will begin to feel the truth:  You are a masterpiece – a unique and beautiful person, and you will begin to celebrate your uniqueness and see your true underlying beauty.

Body Image Stories: My Body Image Story, Part 3

            I never did reach the “magic number” of 105.  But this is probably a good thing because even when I weigh 134 pounds, I have a body fat percentage of 17%.  That is quite low.  In fact, the models in Europe are now required to maintain a body fat percentage of 17% or more.

At different times, depending on my life circumstances, I have varied in body fat percentage.  Like almost all American women, I have felt better about my body when I am at a body fat percentage less than 24% (23-24% is considered the high end of healthy).  I wish I could tell you that this was not the case, but I have been strongly influenced by the tsunami of advertisements that have come across my eyes since the day I was born.  The good thing is that since I love to exercise so much, I have always been pretty fit, even when I have been my heaviest.

I can honestly say that I do not want to be ultra thin.  I don’t think that is beautiful, but see it as a sickness.  And yes, most of the top models, many actresses, and some popular singers are ultra-thin.  (I don’t want to give examples because I don’t want to slander.)  I have always preferred a more fit look, with a degree of muscle tone as opposed to the skinny, bony look.  We have to remember that if a person does not keep her weight at 80% of the ideal, she is anorexic (unless she has a medical condition which causes her low body weight).  But anorexic women almost always deny they are anorexic.  That is the nature of this eating disorder.

Like most of you, my body has varied in body fat percentage depending on many factors.  I am glad to realize that if I weighed 105, I would be anorexic and I have no desire whatsoever to be anorexic.  At various times in my life I have achieved a low body fat percentage, but due to my curvy figure, this brings me a lot of attention that I dislike.  I sincerely believe that I carry about ten to twenty extra pounds to protect myself from this unwanted attention.  But okay, I will also admit that I really enjoy food!  (Friends and family are seeking a 12-step program for my chocolate addiction at this very minute!)

After struggling for years with SLE lupus and ankylosing spondylitis, I have developed a great appreciation for my body.  I remember a whole month when I could not walk at all due to arthritis.  The whole month I spent on the couch.  To use the restroom, I had to roll off the couch and crawl on my knees.  I had steroid injections in my feet and went on methotrexate (a low dose of chemotherapy) so I could walk.  At one point, I moved to Phoenix due to my arthritis.  My heart cried many tears because I had been athletic since I was about seven.  For a while I could hardly use the bathroom myself.  I was 28 years old, didn’t drink much or use drugs, and always treated my body well.  At one point I was nutrition major and ate much better than most people.  So developing two chronic illnesses sent me into emotional shock.

Nowadays I feel extremely blessed that I can move well and walk.  I can’t ski or hike or backpack much anymore, but I am so grateful that the Lord has given me the ability to swim, kayak, and take part in many other fun activities.  My latest passion is water aerobics.  If you thought it was for old ladies and sick people, think again.  Princeton researchers discovered that competent swimmers can burn 420-700 calories an hour doing water aerobic (25% more than land aerobics).  But the real deal is that water aerobics is so fun, I start to get giddy every time I think about it.  And that is what it’s really about, isn’t it?  Not so much the end result as the joy in the journey.

Water Aerobics Class

As the sun sets on my forties, I still struggle with body image bandit but often win the battles.  As far as “getting there,” I realize that will not happen until I go to heaven and live with Jesus because we live in a fallen world.  Part of this fallenness, in America, means that we are saturated with images that scream “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is everything.”  In the meantime, I invite you to join me in the war against the body image bandit, who is the father of lies and tries to get us to believe that we are ugly.  We can do many things to fight the bandit, and I will offer helpful suggestions along the way.  The first is to make a commitment to stop looking at beauty, fashion, and celebrity magazines which poison our minds with people that are so thin, they are actually sick.

I thank God that he has created us all in his image, and that we are all beautiful, unique works of art.  Let’s celebrate this and embrace the bodies the Lord has given us, and thank him for what our bodies can do.

“Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

I Samuel 16:7

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My Body Image Story, Part 2: The Magic Number

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About two years after moving to Maui, my family moved back to the Mainland. But the bubbly, outgoing teen that landed back at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport had changed forever. The new version had been ravaged by daily harassment until she grew into a shy, depressed young woman who had only a fraction of the confidence she had two years prior. Stepping out of the plane that blustery November day, we drove to Southcenter first to buy some warm coats. We no longer owned any. All we had were windbreakers, and the Pacific Northwest weather laughed at our flimsy attempts at warmth.

The first days of school are somewhat of a blur. All I wanted was to fit in. I was certain I would be able to find my place in the middle school, and greatly looked forward to belonging, just like in the days before moving to so-called “Paradise.” Belonging is something all people crave, but young teens crave more than other age groups. Our hearts long to be assured that we are connected and loved. I had always been very well-liked, and a leader. So I assumed I would pick up where I had left off.

But I had forgotten one important detail. That is, my skin now glowed with a deep golden bronze tan, and my hair had been painted white-blonde by the paintbrush of the Hawaiian sun. Just as I did not fit in living on Maui as a haole in a school with only a handful of white students, I now did not blend in because of my deep, dark tan and white-blonde hair. Since it was November and tanning salons had not been invented, most people were very pale – kind of like my legs right now, which almost glow in the dark! Also, my body had blossomed and now appeared athletic but full-figured. This sparked interest by the boys, and jealousy in the girls, even though I didn’t want a boyfriend. All I wanted was to fit in like I used to do so well, before we moved to Maui. Thankfully, another girl moved from southern California at about the same time, which took some of the pressure off.

Over time, the tan faded and my hair darkened until it reached “dish blonde” color. (That’s such a weird phrase. I think of after Thanksgiving, when the dish water looks grody and gross, with little food particles water-skiing on top of the muck!) Even so, my soul had been changed forever and now felt heavy and dark. But my entire Maui experience is another book for another time. I have several parts written, but for now it hangs out under my bed with the dust bunnies. Overall, I felt good about my body. I liked the fact that I was strong and able to swim and run. I didn’t worry too much about what to eat until I started looking at a lot of beauty and fashion magazines, such as Seventeen. How could I help but notice the tall, thin models? Not one of them had a curvy figure like mine, and not one was under 5’9. So I decided, for the first time, I needed to lose weight. I was fat, I thought, and baffled because I had never realized it.

I told my dad I was going to go “on a diet,” and he said he thought I didn’t need to. “If you want to lose 5 pounds or so, why don’t you just cut down a little each time you eat?” I could not believe how out-of-the loop he was. I looked at him as if he had three heads, and told him, ”Dad, I have to go on a diet. Nobody just cuts back a little – dieting is how everybody does it.” I sighed at his ignorance on the subject of beauty. He definitely needed to spend more time reading beauty and fashion magazines, and less time working, hunting, and fishing. I wondered if he would ever get a clue. How could he be in his late thirties and be ignorant to one of the best inventions of mankind – dieting?

I decided to start my diet on – drum roll please- Monday. Of course you already knew that, because after all, isn’t that the way the cookie always crumbles? I think there is an unwritten eleventh commandment, “You shall start all diets on Mondays.” But as soon as I began to even think about my first diet, I started to crave almost everything. Except Brussels sprouts. Food, food, food was on my mind what seemed like 24/7. I craved chocolate, chips, hamburgers, donuts, and even white cake. And the weird thing is that I had never really liked donuts or white cake much. So why was I craving it? Because as soon as I limited the foods and categorized them into “good” and “bad,” the cravings began. And that is how I started a cycle of going on and off diets, throwing my poor body into a tailspin. (Years later I realized that God doesn’t even categorize foods as good and bad. So if he doesn’t, why should I?)

During high school, my family moved once again (we moved about every two years, so I never had the chance to establish roots)and I became good friends with Diane. She had a lot of friends and had been elected ASB president. Diane was athletic and brilliant, but she continued to get gnawed on by the Body Image Bandit because her brother and sister were models. Not long after we met, she did some number crunching and informed me that I should weigh 105, based on a chart she had discovered in one of her beauty and fashion magazines. Because I had been brainwashed by the fashion and beauty magazines, I believed she was right. And so I hyper focused on food, fat, and my fanny. Day in and day out, I thought, read, and studied about food, calories, and how to look good. I started to believe that my value was mostly in my packaging, and based my value on whether or not I could weigh 105. I had a new formula for a perfect life- 105. The magic number.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.