Body Image: You’re Not Just a Number on a Scale

The Mountain Farmgirl is getting back into shape and has been told she’s lookin’ good ... but now she’s thinking about a more important kind of beauty, the kind that’s on the inside: the way we see ourselves. Why is it that for many of us, what we eat and what we weigh is such a complicated, emotional issue? Join her and other farmgirls as they weigh in on body image...

For those of you who don’t obsess over how much you weigh or every little bite of food you eat, I salute you; you have no idea how much freedom you enjoy without even knowing it! I say this because there are some of us – and I’m up right up there on the list – whose body image is so intricately and emotionally tied to that dreaded scale, and yet, somehow weirdly and intellectually disconnected from the reality of it, too. Let me explain.

Let’s start off by looking at the concept of ‘weight’. Obviously, each time we step on the scale it gives us a concrete number of the pounds that we weigh, so on one hand we can say that weight is a definite, real, tangible thing. But oh, were it just that simple! For example, my weight has hovered around 105 pounds for years. That may sound skinny to some, but I’m not tall and have a small frame; it works for me and has kept me in excellent health. However this spring when I suddenly discovered that I had reached 110 pounds and was heading towards 115, I felt horrible!! There was a lot of negative emotional baggage tied up with those numbers that went much, much deeper. It involved not how I actually ‘was’ but how I saw myself. Some people might have looked at me and seen a thin person. I, on the other hand, felt fat, slovenly and positively awful about myself for letting my guard down and losing the edge (control) I had over this part of my life. Since I’ve been on a fitness regime these last few weeks, I have lost five of those pounds and am once again on the down-side of 110, heading for my goal. But suddenly, this number – the very same 110 pounds I was so distraught over on the way up-- is now something to celebrate over and feel great about on the way down! Obviously, the actual number wasn’t the culprit; something else was going on. Regardless of the number on the scale, either high or low, self-esteem is intricately involved in the mix.  What is this all about?

Before you suggest that I just ‘Get A Life’ and start worrying over something even remotely important, let me assure you that I already have a great one. My family is amazing and one I’m really proud of; my business is personally fulfilling and doing well, my community involvement plate is full-to-overflowing, I have several deeply ‘kindred-spirit’-type friends. My hobbies are many … and my future retirement years look very bright. It’s not as if I don’t have enough to think or concern myself about besides the narcissistic details of how gravity affects my body mass!! But with weight and diet products being a billion dollar, global industry, I know for a fact that I’m not alone in this. There are some deeply personal, psychological elements at work here that affect our relationships the people we know, with our selves, and with food in general.

When I look back now to those growing-up years when I was living at home with my parents, I believe I had a fairly normal relationship with these issues. I was of average weight for my height, my mom was a great cook, and eating back then was as natural as breathing; I never even thought about these topics. It wasn’t until after high school though, when I left home (and not very gracefully, I might add), that things got out of whack. Perhaps equating ‘food with love’ from my childhood experiences and wanting to recreate that feeling now that I was out on my own, I suddenly found solace for my raging teenage emotions through eating. Food seemed to assuage an emptiness, feeding my feelings more than my body. Consequently, I gained weight. (Not unusual; enough first year college students gain weight so that a term has actually been coined for it: The Freshman Fifteen). While I’ve never been what could rationally be defined as ‘fat’ (I’ve never even gotten close to 150 pounds at my highest, most pregnant weight); I have felt obese much of my adult life, and have had a life-long battle over eating and body image.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
When you look in the mirror, do you like what you see? When we have a positive body image, we feel comfortable with ourselves, have a real perception of our size and weight, and don’t get hung up emotionally about it. When the opposite is true, we have a distorted perception of our bodies, comparing them to others around us, feeling anxiety, even shame; and this can lead to how we feel about ourselves as a person. Poor body image breeds emotional stress, low-self-esteem, unhealthy dieting, depression and even eating disorders. Developing a positive body image and a healthy mental outlook is critical to a woman’s happiness, wellness and self-worth. Fortunately, a healthy Farmgirl lifestyle and attitude is conducive to these things. More on this in a minute.

But first, back to the $10,000 question: When you look in the mirror, do you like what you see? If the answer is ‘No’, you are not along by a long shot. Some statistics say that more than 70% of women are uncomfortable about how they look. Women are under a lot of pressure to measure up to a rigid, pre-determined set of social and cultural ideals of beauty, all of which can lead to poor body image. We are constantly bombarded by youthful, Barbie-like images in the media, an ideal that is not only difficult to achieve and maintain, it’s unhealthy; however it is enormously profitable for the diet products industry and that’s why it continues. Other pressures that affect us may come from sources closer to home in the form of negative or even innocent comments from family and friends about our appearance, that we somehow internalize and take to heart. ‘Self-esteem’ is all about how we feel about and value ourselves, and it externalizes itself in how we act. ‘Body image’ is how we view our own personal appearance. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look the best we can, of course; first impressions are important. Gone awry, however, wanting to ‘look good’ can eventually cross a line to become negative self-talk; and taken to the extreme it makes us see ourselves in a distorted way, disconnecting from reality. One example that I can relate to is being 110 pounds but still feeling ‘fat’.

The solution? As I mentioned last time, I have found ‘dieting’ not to work long-term. Instead, I never ‘diet’ and haven’t for years. I try to eat fresh fruits and vegetables, be aware of basic food combining, and not eat refined sugar or much fat. I can eat as much of these ‘good foods’ as I want and generally not gain weight if I keep active at the same time. I remember back to the days when my husband and I were building our own post and beam house. We worked like beavers and ate like lumberjacks … no kidding!! I was nursing at the time, and I think I figured once that I was eating about 5000 calories a day, and still losing weight. Those were the days!

It’s not easy to switch from a negative attitude about body image to a positive one, and I still struggle with it. Here are a few ways that I cope and try to stay on the right track:

·        It helps to have a friend or a partner you can trust who is going through the same thing, someone sympathetic yet also objective. You can keep each other motivated to reach your health and fitness goals, bounce feelings off one another, and keep each other in check if one of you starts obsessing over dieting.

·  Replace negative self-talk with a positive, loving and optimistic attitude. In the beginning, you might just be mouthing the words, but say them often enough and your brain will start believing them. For example, instead of saying, “I’m a loser” when you’ve made a mistake, say, “I’m human, today is another day.”

·        I have found that underlying all the body image problems we encounter is the issue of control … or our (sometimes unconsciously) perceived lack of it. Set up some rituals that are unrelated to food-issues that you can be in control of. Start small; each little victory contributes in a positive way to how we feel about ourselves. For me, walking every day is a discipline that makes me feel good. Some days it would be just so easy to stay in bed, but taking control has made all the difference. In fact, in my last blog I mentioned that I was just starting my walking routine again. As fate would have it, is has rained every single day since! With a good raincoat, however, it became kind of nice to walk through the misty mornings, though it would have been very easy to just skip it until the sun came out. I’m glad I didn’t give in. Journaling is another thing I do with regularity, but any activity that is ongoing until we reach the goal is great. (Of course we don’t want to become a slave to these things either; then it just becomes another unrealistic obsession, so skipping a day now and then is perfectly fine!).

The truth is, in most instances, we do not have to change the way we look in order to act or feel good about ourselves … we have just convinced ourselves that we do. All we really need to do is to change the way we see our bodies and think about ourselves. Our bodies are uniquely our own, no matter what shape, color, or size we may be. It is no one’s business but our own what our body is like; one type of beauty is not better than another, it’s just different. Ultimately, we have to be happy with ourselves, because unless we do, we’ll find that if we’re unhappy at 200 pounds, losing weight will most likely mean we are just a thinner unhappy person!

The next thing is to identify which aspects of your appearance you can realistically change and which you can’t, and gratefully accept them. Memorize and believe the message in the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Those things which you can realistically change about yourself, can be done by making goals and keeping track of your progress until you reach them. Meeting a challenge you set for yourself  (whether a weight-related goal or anything else) is a great way to boost self-esteem. But this is nothing new to Farmgirls! Whether we live in the country breathing in the fresh air and growing our own organic vegetables, or live at the top of a high-rise in a metropolitan area and pick our own veggies from the market,  we all know that “Farmgirl” is a state of the heart. And when we live in that healthy place – the one that emanates from our hearts -- we will find that a few pounds here or there are not what really matters at all!
So my friends, I would love to hear from YOU on this subject. Please ‘weigh in’ with your thoughts on body image and your personal struggles, successes and suggestions. This topic is highly personal for me and for many of our sisters, and we would LOVE to hear from you!

Until next time,
Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings,
Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl


By: Carla
On: 05/30/2011 07:57:50
I think you're on the right track and have it figured out!
The weight thing isn't the issue as much as perception.
I know that if I let those adverts and magazines get into my thinking I can pollute my thoughts with garbage just as easily as polluting a crystal clear stream.
I don't read these things and I don't watch TV shows that promote that kind of thinking.
When we where young and ate well [our mother's where taught that good cooking was taking care of her family] there was no "weight gain" issue. Why is it different now? Because Americans don't eat healthy foods and they don't get up off their rears and LIVE!
What we put into our heads is just as important as what we put into our mouths. And until people stop giving money and time to this "body image" stuff and the industries [vampires] that feed off of those inadequacy feelings, we will all have to do battle with those continuing self doubts and [untrue] self images.
How about some proper programing from now on?
What kind of products can we develop that make our very own body image and personality valuable, and reflect that to the world too?
By: Joan
On: 05/30/2011 08:07:09
Thank YOU!!!!!
By: Sarah
On: 05/30/2011 17:26:55
Hi from the Green Mountains of Vermont! This issue is a complicated one isn't it? I've always been told I'm overweight, according to the charts, but I look in the mirror and generally like what I see. My weight is evenly and proportionately distributed. I've learned how to dress my shape and size well, so in general I have a positive image. Of course, like most women, I have my bad days and feel fat, but they are generally passing and usually connected to too many days loafing about. As long as I am eating healthy and keeping busy, I don't worry about my size.
By: Carolyn
On: 05/30/2011 22:32:07
Thank you for writing this! It couldn't have come at a better time for me! I have been struggling with a lot of negative thoughts about my body/weight lately and have been really doing some thinking as to why I put myself through this. I have a wonderful life. We have 3 acres in a beautiful part of Texas. I have my own garden now, raise chickens and help my husband with his snakes. (he breeds them) I have 4 beautiful girls and work full time as an RN at a great hospital. I work nights and had a hysterectomy in January so between the two of those things I have put on about 30lbs. It has me feeling awful. Just as you said I feel sluggish and I basically just don't feel healthy. I have struggled with thoughts of feeling ashamed that my husband has to see me this way and I struggle with the thought that I am trying to teach my girls to have a positive body image yet I have so much trouble having one myself. Working nights has made it hard for me to get motivated to exercise. I feel as though I totally let myself down because I paid a bunch of money to go on nutrisystem and the food is still sitting in my kitchen. I think you hit the nail on the head with your post and I am going to begin setting small realistic goals for myself and also start writing in my journal again. I think I will start by telling myself that I am NOT a failure and that I can get myself healthy again! Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Please know that you have helped me get my mindset back on a positive track!
By: Bunny
On: 05/31/2011 09:40:47
We are bombarded every day with the health issues surrounding weight. According to most articles regarding weight, I'm obese. I have high blood pressure and see my weight has more of a health issue. Add the fact that I am now single at 53. Go onto any online dating site and see what a man your age wants as a body type. It will depress you. Image is the first thing someone sees and our society dictates that. If we want to fit in we must conform somehow. Having a "healthy weight" is a first line of defense in that area. No it's not good, but it is reality. I go between wanting to be healthy and wanting to be noticed.
By: JoAnn
On: 06/17/2011 07:09:42
Thank you Cathi for this uplifting message. I too have gained a lot of weight. Every day I step on the scale and want to cry. I had a hysterectomy a couple of years ago and it seems like no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to lose the weight. I have become obsessed with the weight gain and I have forgotten one my my most important rules. Embrace life and live it to the fullest. So today is the first day for me. I think I will start by taking a hammer to my scale and just move on to life. Thank you again. I really needed this message today.
By: Nancy
On: 10/03/2011 12:04:44
Thanks for the share!

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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