Blog,  Musings

Body Image and The Power of Words

This week I engaged in a conversation with a young lady about body image, specifically her body image, in which I challenged/encouraged her that the words she had heard from childhood were not true. This led to reflection upon my body image, perceptions I have held over from my childhood. It highlighted to me that the words that are said to a young girl/boy linger long into adulthood, in my case decades.  What others say to us help form our thoughts about who we are, how we look, and these images may actually be not true.

Firstly I wish to emphasis that I have a reasonable healthy sense of self, I’m mostly happy with how I look and my body shape is not something I have more that fleeting thoughts about, even as a teenager it wasn’t something I agonised about but the words of two pivotal family members (both now deceased) were said and they were believed.  I thought that I was a “big boned girl like my grandmother” that I “was chubby” and had “big thighs” and that I was often “putting on weight”. Whilst I didn’t allow these comments to overly bother me, nor were they a major focus of my teenage years, I heard them and they were believed.  For decades I had a perception of myself that wasn’t true!

The ‘story’ I believed was, ‘I was a chubby child and teen but when I meet my husband to be and fell in love the weight fell off and I became a slim woman’, because I was told so. Over 20 years of married life with a man who loves me and my body has been wonderful for my self image, I believe what he has to say about my body. Over time I’ve given fleeting thoughts to my younger self image and had niggling doubts that I perhaps my perception wasn’t correct, particularly as none of our children have body shapes that tallied with my younger self image and surely statistically with ten children they can’t all be like their father, some must be ‘like me’?  As time passed I came to believe that my bone structure changed, that I once I was ‘bigger boned’ when a child/teen and then my bone structure changed and became thinner when older. (cause well, yeah your bones can change. eye roll)

I initiated a conversation with my mother on the topic this week and she alternated between being horrified that unbeknownst to her I had held this perception of myself for all these years and the ludicrousness of my younger self image.  “But you were a skinny child and a skinny teenager!” she kept exclaiming.  “Why have we never discussed this?” she wanted to know.
“Because there wasn’t anything to say” I answered, “I thought it was just obvious I had big bones and fat thighs”. She is torn between being bemused and horrified that this “skinny child” thought she wasn’t.

As a teen with my baby brother

The words of others, whether intentional or of a throw away nature have power, a power that lingers. Today my challenge to you is to ask yourself, is the image, past or current that you have of yourself true? Comments that have had a negative effect, that were said about your: hair, ears, eyes, forehead, nose, chin, face shape, arms, shoulders, breasts, hips, waist, thighs, calf, feet etc, are they really true?!

*I wish to clarify I see beauty in all ‘shapes and sizes’, this post is more in the nature of addressing mis-perceptions of one’s image.

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  • Mary @ Better Than Eden

    This is so challenging and true. I still remember comments made to me in middle school about my appearance. And in both cases I can look back and see from an adult perspective that it was probably a case of an awkward boy having a crush and teasing. But they stick with you for so long even if they're not true. I'm dealing right now with body image issues that I've never actually dealt with before. I've gained more weight this pregnancy than ever before and it's showing plus my hair and skin are worse than they've ever been…even though I'm doing mostly the same as I was with the others. It's sometimes tough to swallow this getting older thing and I never really thought I would have an issue with it. Thanks for sharing this <3

    • Erin

      It is true, and amazing really how those words can impact for so long without you sometimes even realising.
      Oh hugs{{}} it is a surprise when we 'get older', somedays I look in the mirror and think 'who is that person?' not how I picture myself.
      Though I read a saying a couple of years back that helped me 'come to terms' it said, "Getting older is a privilege only granted to a few" it put it all in perspective for me

  • Mary

    Thank you for this and your previous mentions of getting in front of the camera.
    It's a struggle I have and has been on my mind as its influenced my kids.
    I love your smile and those dimples!

  • Laura Pearl

    It's so true that we believe what we're told. When I was about 11, a female classmate said, "You know, you wouldn't be that bad looking if it wasn't for your nose." I had never given my nose a thought before that comment, but I went home and studied it in the mirror and thought, "You know, she's right! It's ugly." After that, I always wished I had one of those cute, pert, upturned noses and was never happy with mine. It's all SO SILLY! What a waste of time, worrying about the shape of the perfectly fine nose God gave me.

    You were such a slim teenager–it's amazing, isn't it, that you didn't believe that about yourself?

    And aren't husbands who love us, in all our shapes and sizes, pregnant, post-partum, you name it–aren't they the BEST?! Don't know what I'd do without my Prince Charming!

    • Erin

      No! and yet, I get it!! One word and impact!
      I've been going through photos the last couple of days and looking and shaking my head at my previously held belief. Sad thing is I've even said it to my children.
      Ah we are blessed indeed with our husbands:){{}}

  • Anonymous

    I heard a talk once where the lady said one of the ironies of reaching middle age was looking back at photos and saying to yourself "what was I worried about? I was looking GOOOD!" Hilarious but true. Cheers Sherelle NQ

    • Erin

      Very true. Have been looking at photos of myself this week and totally amazed at how GOOD I looked!! So in another decade will I think the same about now?;)

  • Sarah

    It's very rare, but growing up nobody said one negative thing to me about my shape/features (even with teenage acne and all the awkward gawkiness of those years). I only realized as an adult that this is because my mother grew up under an onslaught of negative commentary about her appearance, build (too thin), "lack of curves", etc. Sadly that criticism came primarily from her own mother and aunt. She made a fierce determination to set a different example for her daughter in the words she said to me, the things she exposed me to, and her cheerful embracing of her adult body. There was never any question that she'd pull on a swimsuit and play in the pool or at the beach with us, post-childbirth body, adult thyroid issues and all. Lucky for me, my circle of friends also happened to be families and other teens who did not make negative body commentary – it's impossible to shield from just one negative false comment, and those words can stick for life. It never even occurred to me until adulthood that women might try to hide their physiques or that peers and adults could be negative about it. It is so sad seeing my teen sisters-in-law who are lovely and fit, but already feel compelled to diet and constantly criticize their own appearance because of social pressure. Many of the girls in their high school even smoke to stay slim! How do you approach this with your own daughters?

    • Erin

      How wonderful!:):) Your mother achieved her goal, fantastic and good on her!
      So sad that your s-i-l's are experiencing this:( Fortunately our girls aren't having these issues, homeschooling allows us to miss some of this. Our teens aren't on social media, so perhaps that eliminates another potential area of issues. And we constantly are giving words of affirmation.

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