Monday, July 31, 2006

How Far Back Do You Have To Go?

I think it’s helpful to ask the question: How far back do you have to go to arrive at a time when you weren’t aware of your body? 12 years old? 10? 4? One woman I asked this question to once said, "I can’t even remember a time."

If you can recall a time, can you remember how it felt? To be naked, or in a swimsuit (or even clothed, for that matter), and to NOT be aware of your body. . . to have built a sandcastle on the beach and focused on the sand and the tide and not your body. . . to have run through the sprinklers and focused on zipping through the wet grass and your friends and the heat and the drench, but not your body. . . to have showered or bathed and focused on the scent of the soap or the sensation of the water striking your body, but not your body.

And, have there been any recent moments (even fleeting) when you recaptured this unawareness and reveled in the experience, without a thought of the size of your stomach or the width your hips or the dimples on your thighs? What variables contribute to your ability to ignore your body (or its appearance) in these moments? I’d guess it has something to do with being fully in the moment, absorbed by a connection, or a feeling, and that it’s impossible to be completely focused on this and your body at the exact same time.

31 comments:

Jennifer said...

It's taken me almost two years of therapy to remember that place...but you can pick anytime between birth and a cool spring day in 1988 when I first remember being called "fat" by a group of cruel kids. Funny, I never had any body image issues until that day, and thus began the emergence of the binge eating disorder that I'm still receiving treatment for (nearly 20 years later).

psychbaby said...

hmm, that's a tough one. Mainly 'cos the earliest memories that I have from my body, if any, are tied to the sexual abuse from my father.

So. Nope. Just don't remember a hellova lot of anything positive about my body. Or any positive thoughts about my entire being for that matter.

bummer.

PalmTreeChick said...

Off the top of my head, the first time I remember noticing my body was when I was 14. It was the summer going into my freshman yr in hs and I was swimming in the pool when my brother said to me "you can stand to lose a few pounds." Now, I probably was not fat at all, but at that age where your body changes and you put on a few lbs and shed the baby fat at the same time. Well, after that comment it was "all downhill" i guess. Haven't stopped thinking about my body since.

There are sometimes that I am totally involved in something and not thinking about my body, like when I am playing with my nephews soometimes, or playing sports. I definately was not thinking about my body when I was riding the waves surfing, except for making sure my bikini top stayed in place. Once I got out of the water was when I would think about it.

ps22 said...

Seeing this post makes me sad. I admit that like most women, I too have body image concerns. And the last time I was probably totally and utterly unaware of my body was probably some time in middle school. But I don't think I have ever been so focused on my body that I have been unable to experience many of the sensations you mentioned. If I lost those, I would feel so empty. I hope your blog helps women to regain those moments, they are so important for our sensuality.

FatMom said...

Hmmm...well, I'd say it was sometime around 9...kids at school would call me fat. My family called me fat. And you know what? I was NOT fat. I would have called myself slightly chubby, but I guess since I wasn't stick thin, I was fat. Thanks, everyone, for the dysmorphia. Now, guess what? I AM fat!

Anonymous said...

I remember being about 7 years old and riding bikes around the neighbourhood with my best friend -who was a boy - topless and LOOOOVING it. Just the freedom of it.

I think around 5th grade I started feeling strange about my body.

But I honestly feel pretty good about mine now. I am a competitive ultra-distance open water swimmer, and so every day I get to feel the strength of my body - and meditate within the peace of my training.

HaileySqueek said...

The first time I remember worrying about being fat was when I was 11. Before that I had no problem running around in a swim suit at the beach. I never thought about looking fat.

The only time in the last 9 years (at least)that I didn't feel self conscious about looking fat was at my wedding 3 years ago. I felt beautiful and full of joy that day.

Haley-O said...

I don't remember a time when I wasn't aware of my body. I see pictures in which I'm in a bathing suit and sticking out my little tummy. But, I actually remember being aware of that tummy....even at the young age I was when the picture was taken....

wading through recovery said...

I think it would be around 5 for me.

I remember in kindergarten we were measured in front of the whole class and I was the one of the tallest (and therefore heavier). I was definitely quite normal for a 6 year old, but I remember it registering in some part of my brain that it would have been better(?) to be smaller.

Anyway, after that, I remember being distinctly conscious of my physical self.

I've been trying to remember when I'm less aware or focused now, and it just occured to me--swimming! I've done a lot of it this summer, and I hardly think about it at all (until I get out of the water).

Emily Jolie said...

For me, the self-consciousness really started at age 14 - when I first started getting my periods. Although I do remember some instances at a slightly younger age, sitting on the edge of the pool with my girlfriends, arguing over whose thighs were fattest ("mine are MUCH fatter than yours!").

A couple of years ago, I lost a bunch of weight, and, for the first time since age 14, I was able to go about life without constantly feel self-conscious about my body. It was a mixed blessing, because it was, in a sense, what catapulted me back into the bulimia that I'd only experimented with temporarily at age 18 (I'm now 27). The reason I'd lost the weight was because I'd been on an emotional high where I hardly thought about food, as I was so absorbed in my life experiences that food really became a secondary concern. Unfortunately, I came crashing down from that emotional high pretty painfully. The ONE thing I felt I had going for myself at the time was feeling good about and IN my body. I wanted to hold on to that at all cost! But I also knew there was going to be no way to avoid emotional eating, because I'd hit a major depression. So I ate, and I purged. I restricted whenever I wasn't planning to purge and would only allow myself to eat minimal amounts of food. As soon as I'd eaten just a BIT more than I thought was acceptable, that was it. At that point, I went on eating to make the purge worthwhile. In the beginning, I didn't binge so much for the sake of bingeing. It was only if I'd overeaten at mealtimes. But, as time went on, I'd go on binges away from mealtimes. Before I knew it, it had beocme an addiction, and I was craving that sugar high...

Nowadays, I've put some pounds back on. I'm eating more "normally", in a sense. But I'm also back to that old, uncomfortable self-conscious feeling in my body. As I am sitting here typing, I am very aware of the uncomfortable feeling of my stomach. It feels distended and tight.

Starving myself really messed up my system. I stopped getting my periods, and I think it drove my depression much deeper, because I wasn't getting the nutrients I needed to keep my brain chemistry stable. BUT... I was COMFORTABLE in my body! That was such a thrill! It really isn't so much about how I look. It's all about how I FEEL! And I just want to feel GOOD! Or even neutral. The absence of feeling "not good."

Another great, thought-provoking entry, Dr. Stacy! I loved reading everyone's comments to this one! Isn't it amazing how one little thing someone said to us when we were young can still haunt us YEARS and years later?!!

much love,
Emily

Anonymous said...

11... A year ago.

Donna said...

Gosh! I really do love visiting your blog. You always ask the most thought prevoking questions.

I know you're looking for comments, but I have to tell you, that when you said:

"...to have built a sandcastle on the beach and focused on the sand and the tide and not your body. . . to have run through the sprinklers and focused on zipping through the wet grass and your friends and the heat and the drench, but not your body. . . to have showered or bathed and focused on the scent of the soap or the sensation of the water striking your body, but not your body."

Your words just hit me square in the face.

In any case, I was probably 7 or 8 years old. I can remember spending hot summer days in my suimsuit, while roaming around the neighborhood on my bike; it was my standard summer attire! Looking back, I never thought once about my body -- I just remember the fun.

How great it is to recall that I felt like that at least one time in my life. Thanks!

hannah said...

at three or four years old, i'm standing in my mother's pristine white bathroom and she's getting out of the tub, slapping her legs and making jokes about her jello butt. i wondered in an abstract fleeting way what was wrong with her bum and legs. on the morning before i went into the hospital for the first time, twelve years later, i fitted my hands around my upper thigh and flashed back to that memory.

this forum is so helpful for me to read. the thoughtful people who comment here put words to what i don't like thinking about. thank you for your honesty and insight! =)

drstaceyny said...

I'm compiling a list of these trigger moments/experiences (e.g., a family member's/friend's comment, abuse) for another post. If you think of any others, feel free to send my way.

As for now, I'm with Emily and Hannah--these comments are so helpful to read, and I thank you all for writing in. . . .

PalmTreeChick said...

I once got "moooed" at by some guys when I was laying out outside my dorm in college. Like I didn't already have enough issues. I'm sure it was over my big field hockey legs. blah!!

I also hate when people touch my arms and my sides. ugh.

Jinniyah said...

I started doing ballet at a very young age.
My first perfomances when I was 4 or 5 was when I first remember worrying about me being fatter than the other girls.

littlem said...

Yeah, Jinniyah -- ballet will do it every time. I didn't start lessons until I was 7, and it didn't occur to me until my teacher said something that not only was my body different from the other girls (because I was apparently a decent dancer; once they introduced jazz into the curriculum, I even got a solo), but the difference was BAD.

And my teacher (of course, in the interest of tact - yah, whatever) didn't explain exactly what the problem was; but he made a point of saying that ballet would not help any of us lose weight ("us" -- although he looked quite pointedly at some of "us" and not at all at others of "us"), AND he couldn't, or wouldn't, tell us what WOULD work to lose weight (an attitude which I think is reflective of the type of thinking that pushes eating disorders underground. It's perfectly OK to starve or barf to get the weight off, as long as we don't talk about it. Shh.)

So at 4 or 5 or 7, you're left thinking that not only is something horribly wrong with you and you are an outsider, but there's nothing in the world you can do to fix it.

Sigh.

I think if someone had taught me something about nutrition when I was a lil' bit, and the boys hadn't taunted and teased me out of the weight room when we were all in high school, I might have a really different body image today. Where the HELL was Michael Thurmond when we were growing up?

Kelly said...

When I was 9 I hit puberty and went from a skinny little girl whose mom had to buy her clothes in "slim" to a pudgy gangly girl who didn't look like any of her friends anymore. I got little bumps on my chest and my hips and thighs spread almost overnight. The difference between my 3rd and 4th grade class pictures is dramatic. A year later I started my period, well before any of my friends (but right in line with the rest of the women in my family). Add to that two playground bullies who relentlessly called me "Blubber" and I don't think I've been comfortable in my own skin since then.

Over the past couple of years I have made a bit of peace with the body parts I've always hated - most notably my bum. But I'm still trying to lose, still hoping that I can be a size 10 or 12 again someday.

Amy said...

I have to go back to 4th grade.

I am now a junior in high school I've suffered from an eating disorder for over a year...

Lola said...

I've been bulimic since I was about 17, but I was on my first diet at age 9. (I put myself on a diet because I thought I was fat - I was skin and bones).
I don't even remember a time when I was not selfconscious about my body, but I guess when I was a preschooler maybe.
I would really love to know what that feels like though...

koopiapaber said...

I was probably five or six the last time I wasn't aware of my body at all. I had my adenoids cut out when I had just turned seven and my weight skyrocketed. Of course, that gave other kids the right to call me names.

Surprisingly, though, I went to a public pool about a month ago and I'm pretty sure I only had one thought regarding my weight.

(I'm fourteen now and I weigh 93kg/205lbs and I'm 165cm/5'4".)

Femaleclaws said...

I know this is a very old entry, but I was reading through your archives and this caught my eye. Somehow, it made me cry.

Call me a big softie, but when I do remember such times where my focus isn't on my body and on the experience, I miss those moments so much.

I look upon those moments and think, "Why can't I feel like that all the time? Won't it be so wonderful to not have the intrusive, obsessive thoughts of my body restrain me from enjoying myself - especially when I'm with friends - to the fullest?"

April said...

I'm actually happy with my body right now. And I wasn't always. But now I am. And it's a great feeling, that I wish for everyone else!

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Fi Fo Fum said...

Same with me, i only discovered this post now even though it was written ages ago.

I remember at 6/7 trying on swimming suits in a store, and my mom and dad making fun of my 'boobs' and 'potbelly'. (I was not fat at ALL - a bit chunky, maybe, but a very heathy little girl UNTIL their comments.)
Then, when school started again, I refused to attend swimming. I hid in a bathroom cubicle EACH and EVERY time we had class.
And at the same time, i started idolizing (idealizing?)some of my peers with their 'perfect' (read skin-and-bones) physiques.

At the same time, my mom took our dog to the vet due to an "inexplicable" weight gain. (I could have explained exactly how our poor dog got so fat if anyone cared to ask me. I fed my dinners to her!)

But this is getting to long for a comment to an old post, I guess.

So yes, this is sad, but I'm CONSTANTLY aware of my body in a negative way. Mirrors do not help, of course.

Samantha said...

I, sadly, cannot remember a time that I wasn't preoccupied with my body.

Samantha said...

Sadly, I cannot remember a time in my life that I haven't been acutely aware of my body/physical appearance.

leah said...

it really does make me cry. because i have so many good memories. i'm practically tearing right now. (warning this is a long post.) i think it before fifth grade. but i could be wrong. i long for the days, i pray for them every night.

I honestly don't know how i ever got this way. When i was younger, i was always the smallest. i was the shortest and the skinniest in my class. it did't bother me in the least. and then i only got skinnier as i grew taller. then one day i remember making a snide comment about an overwight boy in my fourth grade class to my best friend. i guess i sort of thought that i would just never get fat and since i was skinny then, i would grow up and be skinny too.

but then in fifth grade, i guess i wasn't still one of those kids who could eat what they wanted and stay stick-like people. but all i remember is trying to fit into a uniform skirt that was a lot bigger than the other kids in my new class. i had to go a size up. and no one ever commented. whenever someone would call me chubby, i would ignore them or just say "no i am NOT!" even though, i really was. i became the biggest girl in my school at fifth grade. that means i was bigger than the eighth graders too.

it wasn't until the summer before eighth grade that i told my own reflection "you are fat." it wasn't anyone else telling me this. it was myself. i stopped eating unhealthy foods. i lost twenty pounds. i was suddenly perfect. i really was. at 5 feet five inches i was 130 pounds. and i felt great. and i looked good. but then my father got on my case. he got all mad at me for losing weight. he made me (to be more accurate FORCED ME) to gain it all back. a million people thought i had anorexia. i didn't until i gained it all back. ever since, i have not enjoyed a morsel of food. i do things like fasts and purging. it is a most revolting life that i live. and it was all because of...it's still a mystery actually.

Esayer said...

I'm not fat, but I have giant boobs. I got them in 4th grade. I have been self conscious of them every second of my life since then. I was this rough and tumble tom boy playing baseball and football with the neighborhood boys, until one day they started acting differently towards me, and pushing me in the boobs, snickering, etc. Girls started hating me, boys only wanted to feel me up. People thought I was a 'slut,' not because I was, but because everyone thought I was since I had huge boobs. No dresses fit me at all, it's impossible to find bathing suits, and it's hard to run. Guess what my mom said to me when I was 12? 'You can get a reduction!' Great. So the only way I can feel better about myself is to cut up my body and deal with giant scars.

fighting_forever said...

Probably around 13. Before then, I'd been acutely aware that I was expected to get perfect grades in school, but it was only around then that my mum started suggesting I get more exercise and be careful with my food.

avi said...

Um, I guess I haven't really had major body image issues like it seems most women do (and no, I do not have "a model's body," ha ha) but I do have this memory of being maybe 4 or 5, seeing my body in our bathroom's full-length mirror, and thinking to myself "I'm a big girl! Not like my pudgy little baby sister. I'm turning into a woman."

As a young girl the only frustration I had with my body was that it got a bit muscular from gymnastics - I looked boylike, not ladylike. I was happy when during middle school I finally grew a woman's body. I didn't mind filling out a little more in high school and college, because I considered that very womanly.

A couple of years ago, soon after college, I realized that my bodyweight was in the "unhealthy" category. When I got my blood pressure checked, it was a little high for someone my age.

So I started getting exercise (hadn't been doing that before) and learning what it means to eat healthy food.

I never had an eating disorder, unless 'not really thinking about what you eat' is considered a disorder. I taught myself what healthy eating -as opposed to just eating whatever's available- is like, I learned how to take better care of my body through exercise, and lost some weight.

I love my body and I don't know what happened to so many people to make them hate theirs...

Anonymous said...

I was a total tomboy when I was a kid, climbing trees and riding bikes around the neighbourhood at breakneck speed. I was always skinny because of the sheer energy I burnt up, being so hyper. I started being aware of my body at around 12 or 13, because I couldn't climb trees so well, or do cartwheels and backflips like I used to, but I couldn't figure out why.

I was getting curvier and growing boobs - and attracting a lot of attention from boys and men. At 13 I was 5'5" and a size 10 (UK), and I looked much older than I was. My body issues started when my mother eventually told me that I would have to stop 'throwing myself around' and running, jumping and climbing.... I was heartbroken. She said it like I was doing something distasteful and wrong.

So I stopped with the tomboy ways, and wore big clothes to hide myself from male attention... of course weight replaced the clothes soon enough. My weight has see-sawed over the years - I go from thin to fat and back again, never able to strike a happy medium. If I'm thin, girls hate me and guys love me - if I'm fat, guys ignore me but the girls welcome me with open arms.

What's a girl to do?