Name: Erin J. Green
City: Albany, NY
Occupation: Information Specialist/Yoga Enthusiast (https://www.facebook.com/theyogilibrarian)
Please describe how YOU see your body in general, when you look in the mirror.
I’m going to just be upfront about this: I hate my body, I’ve always kind of hated it, and I don’t know if that will ever change. That may stem from being a perfectionist, where even when things aren’t so bad, I look for ways that they could be better, but no matter how good I may be feeling about my body, I always seem to focus on the “flaws” instead of the “good” parts. This, like everything, is a work in progress.
I’ve often tried going without looking in the mirror because I tend to always hate what I see. There are days when I will be feeling great, totally confident in myself, but then one look in the mirror will ruin everything. When I do find myself standing in front of a mirror, I find myself spending a lot of time in front of it, trying to point out all of my flaws and thinking of ways that I can fix them. As brutal as all of this may sound, this is kind of how I’ve always felt about myself. Very rarely, it seems, do I look in the mirror and feel completely satisfied with what I see. Even then, I always have to ask myself, what can I do to improve on this?
Mostly what makes me feel like this is my stomach. I have always hated my stomach, and feel that it will never be flat enough. Whenever I exercise or try to lose weight, that is the area that I want to try to focus on because that is where I gain weight easiest. More often than not, I feel like I have been cursed with this body type because I have a wide frame, not many curves, and a flat ass. Whenever I look in the mirror I always catch myself spot checking my stomach, to see if it sticks out too much. Usually, I think it does. The shape of my body looks like a box, a rather unflattering box, in my opinion.
Overall, I would say that my body is not terrible, but I feel like I would enjoy having a different body type, one that made it not so difficult to lose weight and didn’t have the risk of getting a huge gut whenever I eat.
What do you consider beauty to mean? What is beautiful to you?
To me, beauty equals confidence, because without it, you can never be comfortable in your own skin. I have never necessarily thought of myself as beautiful, but some of the most beautiful people that I have ever known are those who know who they are and don’t try to be someone they aren’t. The most beautiful people are always glowing with self-esteem, even if it has to be forced sometimes, and try to pass some of it along to everyone else. This type of true confidence is the contagious kind that inspires others, not to be mistaken for overconfidence.
To me, what I see as beautiful is a person whose inner beauty can easily be recognized on the outside, not just in their physical appearance but in their actions as well. Beauty to me also synchronizes with happiness, because I don’t think a person can feel truly beautiful if they are sad, lonely, or depressed.
What does a healthy body image mean to you and what are your body image goals?
To me, a healthy body image means that you know what you want out of yourself and your body, and even if you have not achieved that yet, you at least have goals and are working towards them.
For me personally, I am trying to relax my definition of what I consider to be “healthy,” because I think that I have been misled for many years to believe that a healthy person is only the thin and/or muscular type that you see in “health” magazines. (I put the word health in quote marks because I don’t really think those magazines are looking out for your best interest when it comes to health.)
In order for me to achieve a healthier body image, one thing that I have been doing is not believing everything that I read in magazines or on the internet, because that definitely can give you the wrong idea of what it takes to be healthy. I am trying to listen to my body more and do what feels right, don’t push myself past any limits that feel uncomfortable. As a person with a history of wanting to cover up my body because I believed it to not be as attractive as others around me, performing burlesque has been very terrifying in some ways, because I know that everyone will see my body, and I can’t help but wonder if they will see it as being as ugly as I feel sometimes. That’s one reason that I started doing burlesque though, because much to my surprise, I have gotten very positive responses when I “bare it all” onstage.
Can you talk about a time in your life where you felt body confident? When you didn’t? What shaped your feelings?
Sadly there really haven’t been many times in my life that I have felt body confident, which is one reason that I have turned to things like yoga and burlesque dancing. Both of these have helped me see the good things about my body, and in some ways helped me see the body that I am supposed to have, as opposed to the one that I think I’m supposed to have.
Some of the lowest moments of my life concerning my body image have come from negative comments others have made about my weight, starting from the time that I was a young child. My best friend growing up was incredibly thin, skin and bones, so naturally I always felt pudgy beside her, and her mother even went so far as to call me “the chubby one,” even though she was the one who was more unhealthy. My friend’s mother was proud of her daughter and how thin she was, so that was something very hard for me to digest when I was under 8 years old and getting comments on my weight.
It didn’t help when years later I had a boyfriend who indirectly said that I was fat and made fun of my body fat; he even went as far as to grab a piece of fat on my body and laugh at it when we were sharing intimate moments, which just made me more self-conscious. It ended up turning me into being obsessive about my weight because I was wondering who else thought I was fat, if he did.
Have you had issues or challenges with clothing in regard to body image?
Of course! I can’t tell you how many times I have dreaded going shopping because I feel like nothing fits me! And I’m sure we’ve all been here, but I hate it when I go shopping and I see something that looks great on the mannequin, but when I try it on it looks atrocious on me. That skinny bitch…
Up until the last few years, I always wanted to hide my body, especially my torso, because I just hate the way it looks and figured that no one should see it. That’s kind of why when I look at myself now, wanting to dance burlesque and strip in front of people, I wonder why I’m suddenly doing this. But to tell the truth, it’s very liberating to finally say that I don’t want to be restricted by my clothes anymore. I’m also trying out new styles of clothing that I wouldn’t have seen myself wearing years ago.
Wearing things like a bikini never came easy for me, and I’ve often been distressed by jean sizes when a certain size doesn’t fit me. Don’t even get me started about when I was in Japan, where I struggled to find clothes my size, which were usually the biggest size they had.
Does your body image affect how you eat?
Absolutely. It influences it too much, I hate to say, though I’m constantly working on it and it’s gotten better over the years.
Years ago I began struggling with binge eating disorder, an inner demon of mine that still rears its ugly head sometimes. Food always made me feel better, ever since I was a kid, so when I underwent some major life changes in my early 20s, that was what I turned to. I would often find myself locked up in seclusion, eating all alone because I didn’t want anyone to see the massive amounts of calories that I was ingesting. When I get nervous, food is still something that I turn to, and I still often get nervous about going out to eat with friends.
For better or worse, I have no gag reflex, meaning that I am unable to make myself throw up, no matter how hard I try. This is the only reason why I was never bulimic because I physically couldn’t be. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise because bulimia is certainly not something I ever wanted to go through, yet also whenever I felt sick after a binge there was no way to relieve it, until I waited for my poor stomach to digest everything. Looking back I think that maybe my lack of gag reflex saved me from something worse because after a while the constant stomachaches following my food binges were too much to bear. The weight I gained when I was at my worst also made me look at myself and ask if I really wanted to endure any more of that.
On the contrary, though, my body image also made me go in the other direction when I decided to try to stop binge eating. I often found myself obsessing over my body and what I ate, and exercising like crazy. When I was at my worst, I would weigh myself at least twice a day and scold myself if I had gained even a pound and reduce my portion sizes to be so small that I was still hungry right after I finished a meal. This obsessive behavior didn’t last long, and even though I did manage to get to my target weight for once in my life, I naturally gained it all back and then some, because even then I still wasn’t happy. I didn’t think of my goals as being unrealistic, but perhaps they needed to be revised a little bit before I decided to go after them.
Nowadays I still struggle with food, and I will admit that I don’t always eat that healthily, but the worst of the binge eating itself has stopped, and I continue to stun myself every time after I eat only one piece of cake instead of four. While I haven’t given up my binge foods entirely, I’m learning portion control and how to say no, which I see as a small victory, even if I’m still eating things like cake.
I also can’t say that I mind when I slip up and eat something sweet like I used to, or that I don’t weigh what I did when I was obsessing about my weight. In fact, I stopped weighing myself altogether, because it really did fuck with my head too much, and I don’t want it controlling my life like it did back then. I say that as long as I look good to myself, the numbers don’t matter.
When do you feel best?
I would start by saying when I’m eating, but since that’s a soft spot for me, I’ll focus on the other times I feel good…
One of the greatest things I’ve started doing over the last several years is taking long, scenic walks. I love just going outside on a nice day, putting my headphones on and forgetting about the world for an hour or two. If I can find a scenic place to explore and have some good tunes to go with it, the sky’s the limit for me, literally! Any time that I get to be alone with nature is probably the best moment for me.
If I don’t manage to find myself outside, I can also say that I feel very refreshed and complete after yoga practice, which I try to do almost every day because it helps me clear my head.
How has your body image changed over time?
I definitely don’t feel as negative as I used to about my body, but that doesn’t mean that those feelings don’t still surface rather often…
Overall, my body image has definitely improved, because I no longer feel the need to beat myself up over missing a workout or day of yoga practice, and the pressure to lose weight isn’t there as much. I still wish that I could be thinner, but I think that is something I will never truly achieve with my body type, so I kind of stopped stressing about it. (Stress can also lead to weight gain, so not stressing about losing weight will also help it happen too!)
Who do you feel influences your body image most?
No one in particular, because I’ve surrounded myself with lots of different and diverse people over the years, all of whom I could say have influenced me in some way. As weird as it may sound, my body image kind of changes depending on what day it is and the people I am surrounded by that day. If I am with a group of friends that I feel comfortable around, for example, I don’t see as much need to look a certain way, whereas if I am in a group of people I don’t know, the first thing I tend to think about is how I look, because that is one way a first impression can be made.
What pressure around body image do you feel?
I feel pressure all the time, mainly from people around me, because I like to stay active but often encounter the stereotypical “fit” person when partaking in any of my daily activities around others. For example, even though I have been a dedicated yoga practitioner for several years and for the most part have been able to “tune out” the obnoxious “yogis” who are extremely thin and post all about achieving challenging poses on Instagram, I still can’t help but look at myself and wonder why I can’t be that way too. I find it very ironic that since yoga is supposed to be about finding inner beauty and having confidence in yourself, it has become so open to criticism and nerve-racking when a person who doesn’t fit a certain type of yogi (and I think we all know what type I mean) decides to try practicing yoga.
I can’t say that any of this makes me want to lose or gain weight, but I do find myself often caught in the middle of these two extremes of body image. On the one hand, there are these super fit/muscular types who make me feel very out of shape and flabby, and then we also have the larger women who say that they are proud of being “fat,” yet I have never been truly overweight and am in a way too thin to be one of them. I feel awkward being caught in the middle of both sizes, so I almost feel like I don’t have a place in it. This can be very frustrating indeed, so I have tended to stay out of one side or another and just be in my own category because that’s where I feel most comfortable.
What are your thoughts on the media/advertising/social media and how they affect body image?
I would like to see more representation of all body types, which I feel is already being done to some extent, but I want this to be much more in the public eye, because I do truly think that everyone is affected by what they see in the media, especially younger audiences. I am definitely not immune to that, because part of my body image issues have come from things that I have seen in the media, and I wish that there were a way to not get caught up in all of it besides simply staying away from media publications.
At the same time, while there are many more diverse people being portrayed in the media, I don’t want there to be more focus on one type being “better” than another, because I think that is one of the problems I am seeing more and more these days. Sure, it’s great that people who are not super-skinny or muscular are being seen in magazines and shit, but that shouldn't leave room for criticism of people who are, in fact, thin or muscular, because like it or not, that is who they are. (I’ve had some super skinny friends who hated not being able to gain weight, so don’t make them feel any worse than they already do!) If there is anything I think we still need to learn about beauty, it’s that ALL bodies have something beautiful about them, so don’t criticize one that isn’t like yours.
How do you feel about altering appearance through cosmetic surgery and applications like Photoshop?
I think it’s disgusting. Shit like this is what is ruining our society, and making everyone think they have to look a certain way to feel beautiful. I’ve fallen victim to this myself, watching some of those extreme makeover shows on TV and actually considering it. This kind of stuff really does need to be discouraged and represented differently in the media, and that’s all I really want to say about that right now. Next question!
Do you have any advice/tips/suggestions for other women who would like to improve their body image?
The first thing that I will say is that it isn’t easy, and that is just speaking from personal experience. Using myself as an example, I will say that even after years of trying to improve my body image and just recently even beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin, I still have a long way to go. But, as cliché as it may sound, I would say to never give up, because good things come to those who wait, so it may take time for certain things to level out.
The other thing to understand is that like anything, the only constant is change, and it is pretty much guaranteed that your body image goals will change over time, just as mine have. If you are willing to accept the changes that you and your body go through and listen to your body and what it needs, you will be more able to love your body and have it love you back. As we get older our needs change, so don’t try to keep up with the expectations you had for yourself 10 years ago, or heck, even yesterday. Every day is a new day, so focus on today, one day at a time, and eventually it will come to you.