It is not much different from the circuitous route taken when working with people who hate their bodies or are struggling with eating. It is not an endeavor for the faint of heart. Along the way, the terrain winds, steepens, levels out, and then sometimes plummets before another uphill climb. The journey of changing attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and finding self-acceptance sometimes leads us into places that we would rather not remember. And sometimes the process of waging peace with our bodies and our selves requires close examination of the hopes, dreams, and attachments we associate with how we look and how much we weigh. These are not easy to give up and there is no magical transformation. But one thing I know from my clinical and personal experiences with this trek is that it’s an easier road if you are traveling with others and incorporating humor and forgiveness along the way.
Forgiveness is vital. When we are born we are dealt some cards.
- One card is our genetic make-up. No choice there. It’s not our fault and it is what it is.
- The second card is our immediate environment. No choice there either. Parents, guardians, home — all dealt to us.
- The third card is our community. It will be years, if ever, before we are able to choose what neighborhood we are living in.
- And the fourth card is the society and the cultural, and generational group we belong to. This also is not a choice card.
When my son first discovered the Beatles, Woodstock, and Motown, he would look at me enviously and say, “You are so lucky to have grown up in the sixties, Mom.” All of these cards are dealt to us. This is no game of Go Fish where we get to draw a card and toss it out if we don’t like it. Until we are old enough to choose to move away from our immediate environment or community, we are playing with those cards. And those cards play a huge part in how we feel about our bodies, our weight, and how we establish our relationships with food.
For example, my genetics predispose me to being short, my family surrounded me with messages that the worst thing you could ever be was fat, my larger community was filled with billboards for weight loss programs and fast food restaurants, and my generation worships a very narrow ideal of beauty while simultaneously placing a strong emphasis on the importance of beauty. It would have taken a miracle for me NOT to grow up hating my body and confused about my body image and self worth. There was no miracle. I did and I was.
But there is a fifth card. It is the wild card. It is the choice card. It is the free space on the bingo card. This is the card that allows us to make decisions about how we are going to feel about ourselves and our bodies despite what our genes, family, community or cultural media messages are telling us. That is where the forgiveness comes in. How can you blame yourself when it wasn’t your fault?
Playing this fifth card takes courage. Most of us are hearing our inner voices and people around us telling us to “hold” and not up the ante by playing our choice card. After all, it’s easier if we just play along with the cards we were dealt or fold rather than gamble on forging a new direction or attitude. But the risk is worth it. At least it was for me. The leveling out of the ups and downs that came at the end of a long challenging road of searching for self acceptance has paid off with a jackpot of peace of mind and a healthier, happier sense of self. One that is NOT intrinsically connected to a number on a scale.
Remember February is Eating Disorders Awareness Month! Spread the word and help increase awareness!
‘Til Next Time,