It breaks my heart every time I recognize that someone is struggling with their self-image. Society/media is very hard on women and men and none of us can live up to the constructed and false expectations. I do think that women tend to absorb these negative messages more and pass them on unwillingly to other women. I also believe that all parents need to be careful of how they pass along these messages to their children in all combinations; children also reinforce the social norms they are taught – we are not born with these expectations/thoughts. I think the hardest recognition on my heart is when this struggle with self-image is so visible and in the form of a struggle with weight, particularly when it trends toward deadly: when you can count the bones.
On my way to work today, I saw a woman on a morning run. She was in shorts and a tank top and thus, her body shape was clearly visible. Her legs were unnaturally thin, as were her arms. She was running in the same direction I was driving and as I passed her, I glanced to my left across the street and quickly scanned her face. She appeared to be older than her mid-twenties and ranging all the way up to her forties. For those who have struggles with weight, known or not, often the
malnutrition is something that unnaturally ages the victim of unrealistic-social-expectations. The strain that eating disorders put on ones body and mind are numerous and, ironically, cumbersome. It can be difficult to muster the strength to get through a full day when you’re not getting enough physical or spiritual/emotional nourishment.
A former student and sorority sister of mine died recently and the cause is most likely complications from a very long battle with anorexia. I did not see her Facebook posts very often, so when I heard the news of her death, I visited her page to pay tribute and remember her. I was shocked to see how thin she was. I was shocked to see that in the past year or more, she faded out of existence more and more. I felt a pang of guilt for not having viewed this progression before it was too late – despite the fact that her family had done all they had the capacity to do and despite the fact that she was just a short time away from real help. Her body, however, had already carried too much stress.
The runner this morning reminded me of her. Another photo I saw on Facebook yesterday of someone I do not know reminded me of her. They all remind me of a dear family member of mine who won the war, but who I’m sure still struggles with the demons from time to time. They all remind me of a colleague’s daughter who lost the war. They all remind me of my own struggle from when I was a young college student – a battle I won and a war I still wage from time to time, but one for which I am well-armed and for which I built up the confidence to look in the mirror, with all my imperfections, and still love myself. This reality only signals to me that with intervention, support, and a growing self-confidence, change is possible. Sometimes it is more difficult than others.
Please do your duty to society and stop putting each other down. Please do not critique (and for some, this means not complimenting them either) someone based upon what ze looks like. Please stop critiquing yourself so harshly. “Aim for healthy” and if you’re unsure of what that is or if your self-image is a mis-match from what others see, please seek professional help. Visit the NEDA website for resources.