Friday, June 29, 2012


Some call them "bad-body thoughts" or "Bad Body Fever" (Hirschmann and Munter).
Some call it "The Voice" (Geneen Roth).
Some call it the Devil.
I call it Helga.

It's that voice within you that you've known for most of your life. It's the doubter. The critic. The self-hatred. Commonly, in women, it's the voice that tells you that who you are and what you look like is bad, fat, gross, disgusting, ugly, or just plain wrong.

In reading When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies (Hirschmann/Munter), I realized for possibly the first time something quite important: that the self-hatred I feel toward my physical body is really just a reflection of the self-hatred I feel toward who I am. "A bad body thought is never about your body...Bad Body Fever and all of its symptoms divert our attention from real concerns and anxieties" (33).

This is hard for me to believe and understand, because I really have spent a lot of time directing disgust and hatred toward specific body parts that I find unsatisfactory (mostly because I've bought into the lie that there is only one correctly-sized thigh...).But there must be some reason that even the most beautiful women in the world, suffer the same debilitating, self-hating thoughts about their bodies. Thin women and fat women in equal numbers loathe their bodies.  Jennifer Aniston and Gywneth Paltrow have "I'm so fat" days too, even though they fit perfectly our cultures model of the "perfect" body. Why? Because what we criticize about our bodies is actually a reflection of something greater.

Stick with me.

I know this might be bending your thinking (and it's challenging mine too). Hirschmann and Munter tell story after story of hundreds of seminars conducted all over the country about women who use their bodies as a way to take out their anger or pain about something else. Like Jill feeling "so big" and realizing it had nothing to do with her waistline and everything to do with her new promotion. Or Ann feeling "ugly" when really she had just lost her temper with the plumber and felt like her actions were ugly.

I tried this for myself by making a list of my bad body thoughts, of Helga's regular attacks, of the specific things I spend time criticizing: my grossly large thighs and my too-big overall size. And I realized that with 90% certainty my self-consciousness about being physically built larger than some people (men or women), and feeling like certain body parts are just too big, fits directly with what I was blogging about yesterday: the fear that I will be too much for people to handle.

That I will be too loud.
Too competitive.
Too strong.
That I will annoy someone.
That I will beat a boy at basketball and he'll feel bad about himself.
That I will be too opinionated.
That I will be to confident.
That I will be too much.
That I will shine.

I've never attacked any body part for being too small, because I've never felt that I had a problem acting too small. No, my struggle has always been feeling too large, thus, I regularly feel like somehow I am overstepping my bounds as a woman, as a wife, as a friend, as a human being. This makes sense.

Now the temptation might be to just change your body and your inner pain will change too. Not so. It is the clothes job to fit me, not my job to fit into the clothes. My body size need not change. I need not shrink so that I'll feel better about my place in the world. No, it means that I need to re-frame my thinking, accept the size of my body, and accept the size of my spirit. They go hand-in-hand.

My playing small does not serve the world.
I am meant to shine.
To liberate myself, to liberate others.
Thighs and all.


Mindy said...

"Oh God, help me to believe the truth about myself - no matter how beautiful it is. Amen."

- Macrina Wiederkehr

Angela S said...

You could have written this specifically to me and it would not have been more on point. Great thoughts, thanks for being just right. What a blessing you are in your vulnerability.