By Christina Winholt Raccuia
Every day, we are bombarded with images, which send a clear message that “Thin is in,” and that looks matter. With such emphasis placed on appearance in our culture, both men and women in the U.S. have be-come obsessed with their body image and perfection.
Body image refers to a person’s perceptions, thoughts, and beliefs about the attractiveness of their body. Most people complain about their bodies, but their dissatisfaction does not cause them significant distress. If you feel that you spend a good portion of your time thinking, worrying, or ruminating about your body, weight, or looks, you may ask yourself the following questions:
How much time do I spend thinking about my appearance? Is that time spent judging, criticizing, and condemning my appearance? Do I worry what others think about my appearance? How much time, energy, and effort do I spend on my looks? Am I always on a diet? Do I obsess about certain body parts? Do I feel inadequate? If you answered YES to most of those questions, it is clear that your body image is creating a significant problem for you. A negative body image can pave the way for anxiety/depressive disorders, as well as eat-in disorder behavior.
Where does it all begin? How does someone develop body dissatisfaction? The answer to those questions is complex. Most importantly, you will learn what it takes to distinguish between the negative internal voice and the one that is intrinsically yours to claim. Healing will come as you gain the courage to remove the negative voice and begin the journey of self-discovery. What that means is that you will have to risk coming out of hiding.
Being known is a scary prospect, especially for those who struggle with food issues. Shame and guilt compel them to hide. Freedom is available, but only by taking a risk and letting the cat out of the bag. Secrecy breeds isolation, and isolation never healed anybody. In fact, it causes us to lose our true selves. We hide because we can’t bear the idea that somebody may come to really see and know us, and then leave. At least if we look good, we believe we have a shot at staying in the game. Food can either become an enemy or our only friend in the quest for masking our fears of expo-sure. This only serves to contribute to our sense of self-loathing.
Somewhere in the background, buried under our conscious awareness, we struggle with accepting the fragility of our lives. We are players in the drama of life, often, not liking the script that has been written for us. So, when the going gets tough, or when we feel something that is uncomfortable, we head for the hills. How do we hide? By eating, restricting, binging, fixing ourselves, blaming, obsessing, withdrawing, fantasizing, or turning our anger inward. What do we sacrifice? Our hearts. Don’t get me wrong, hiding has its perks. It protects us from getting hurt and having our hearts shattered—again—and it keeps us busy in the moment, preventing us from thinking about how much we hate our bodies.
At the heart of hiding lies the unconscious fear that we can’t handle pain. The fear that we are not perfect unravels us. It makes us feel “less than” and we don’t quite know what to do with that. But we have already handled pain! We have probably been handling it for years. The truth is we are still handling it. And if hiding really worked, we wouldn’t be so unhappy. May-be we’d even like our bodies a little better. There has to be a better way.
As a result of your body dissatisfaction, have you struggled with food? When things get heated in your life, which of the above-mentioned strategies do you use to cope? Does hiding help you deal with pain and rejection? How so, and is it worth it?
Are you afraid to be known? What will people find out if they really know you?
Consider these questions and I will ex-plain further in Part Two next month.
Christina Winholt Raccuia is a psychotherapist with offices at 23A West 10th Street.