Mental Health Awareness Week runs from 13th - 19th May, and the focus this year is Body Image. Studies have shown that over 30% of adults - and with young teenagers and children having access to the internet from such a young age, I worry what this statistic would reflect among these age groups too - are so stressed about their body image they are overwhelmed or almost unable to cope. This is such a sad story. This year’s theme is particularly resonant for me, having just come to the end of months long therapy to treat my 20 year battle with eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Coming out the other side of therapy never means we are cured, but that hopefully we have gained insight, tools and a little self-empathy to work towards a healthier state of being. This is certainly my experience. And in openly talking about my process, I find there are not many people who don’t relate in one way or another to eating, food and body disorders. Indeed, this 30% may be the tip of the iceberg. I feel the human world suffers from mass dysmorphia… I write because I want to explore two questions. In this first piece: What is causing this phenomena? And subsequently: What can we do about it?
Everyone’s journey with their body and how they physically, emotionally and spiritually relate to it is so unique, it is impossible to summarise a root cause. However, there are always common themes that lead to a distorted or unrealistic definition of what your body should be. On a world wide scale, we can probably all agree that social expectation and idealised bodies portrayed in the media are highly damaging. Women should be thin yet curvy, untouchably desirable, flawlessly natural, the Mother-Madonna complex in which set personas are mutually exclusive, and play out in how women show themselves to the world. Men are ruggedly chiselled, beardedly groomed, efficiently unemotional, present and absent in a perfect balance. And maybe we feel we move through this consciously, grow intelligent and worldly enough to know better, really. However, when you grow up saturated with images of Kate Moss’ ‘heroin chic’ and JLo gyrating her bountiful butt yet tiny waist on your Box screen, these jarring perceptions of beauty we strive to run deeper than cognitive awareness can allow. These ideals meander and take different forms, indeed “The Victorian woman became her ovaries, as today's woman has become her beauty” as Naomi Wolf intuits in The Beauty Myth. They are always there. Having worked in fashion I can say with all honesty that these powerfully influential industries instil falsity and fear around looking like yourself, and congratulate you upon becoming so thin you can no longer fit into clothes, they simply hang from your frame, drowning you. Yet this is so normalised, it took me many years of struggle, anorexia and therapy to recognise how abnormal these ideals truly are. We’ve come a way since ‘heroin chic’, but all you need to do is scroll through instagram to see that the hunger for skeletal frames has morphed to a thirst for flawless perfection. The power of editing out a person’s life story told within lines, curves, freckles and spots has passed from the few hands of the editors into the hands of the masses. Is this a good thing? Are we taking control? No. In the homogenisation of image we are losing the stillness of freedom in being our true selves.
And this is just the social impact. Deeper still is the affect of unspoken trauma, and spiritual/communal disconnection. In her truly insightful and empowering book Women, Food and God, Geneen Roth recognises that “we are walking, talking expressions of our deepest convictions; everything we believe about love, fear, transformation and God is revealed in how, when and what we eat.’ Basically, if there is a place within you, a space created by a traumatic event, or perhaps a lack of connectedness or belonging, whether in a relationship, family dynamic, or community (which let’s face it, we all do or have experienced), then this void is wide open and crying to be filled. And more times than not, food is a natural source of comfort for this void. I’m feeling lonely; I’ll eat. I’m feeling confused by all these choices; I’ll eat. I’m feeling low, emotionally and energetically; surely eating will pick me up? But that’s where the problem lies: food as a source of comfort for hunger, yes, but as a source of comfort for anything else does not work. Yet we are programmed by culture, sugar, exhaustion, lack of stillness to be fully aware of this all the time. So we develop disorders, we get too fat, we get too thin, we lose the real joy of eating that food should bring, because it is being unwittingly abused. I have spoken about these things in a blog post on my youtube channel (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1h4tVUPeDFU&t=50s), so please do go check that out if this subject resonates with you…
There is just so much to write on this subject, but I will stop there. My follow up post will be on methods that I have developed on how to recognise these symptoms and what we can do to not succumb, to move past that binge desire or restrictive tendency to a gentler place.
For now, much LL xx