i can see you…why can’t i see myself?

I’ve decided to pay homage to the Throwback Thursday phenomenon (#TBT) by sharing a post I originally published six months into my 365 day challenge, on June 7, 2013. It seemed a fitting one to follow up the last post on Dove’s Beauty Patch.

Plus, I had like 12 followers at the time, so very few eyeballs saw this the first time around. I apologize to the handful of you who have already read this old content. Forgive my indulgence. xoxo  

– June 7, 2013, Toronto –

The past several days a recurring thought keeps bubbling up, presumably because my subconscious wants me to dig deeper on this subject.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about body image. Both how we view ourselves and how we view others, and how that compares to how they view us.

Last Tuesday at the gym, I decided to go hard on cardio, so I started on the rowing machine, then moved to the Stairmaster, and then finally to the spin bike.

I had forgotten my music at home so I had zero distraction from the row-row-row your boat action, and found myself doing a lot of people watching. I was only about a foot off the ground, and over to my right were a set of 3 Stairmasters, towering over me.

I looked over and up to see a couple of girls climbing their little hearts out. They were both on the chubby side. Not huge, just bigger, solid girls, and they were grinding it hard on those modern-day torture devices. Props to them both.

A few minutes later, an attractive, very athletic looking girl jumped on the third machine. She was dressed in a t-shirt and a tight pair of booty shorts. After a few minutes of warm up she stripped her top off to reveal a very small sports bra. So at this point, she was pretty much wearing the equivalent of what I would wear poolside. And good for her, she had a slamming body, and looked great.

Or did she?

Yes, she had a ripped upper body. Her abs were sick! Obliques that brought a tear to my eye. And her legs and butt looked very tight and toned. But wait…what’s that?… It can’t be…

CELLULITE?? What???

All over the backs her legs, dimpled, orange peel-like, cellulite-ridden skin.

My first thought was: Oh shit. If SHE has cellulite, what hope do I have?? FML.

Yes, evidently it is all about me.

My next thought was: Everybody has imperfections. And every body has imperfections. And that is okay. Because at the end of the day, this girl was beautiful. As were the two heavier girls beside her. The cellulite didn’t make her ugly, just as the extra layer of bulk didn’t make the other two ugly.

And finally, the thought that stayed with me, got stuck in my head [in the way a pesky Avril Lavigne song does], was this: I wonder if when she looks in the mirror, all she sees, all she fixates on, is that one ‘trouble spot’ – her back-of-leg cellulite zone.

And if that’s the case, how tragic.

That any of us…dare I say, all of us, look in the mirror and only see that which is imperfect, that which we hate, that which we wish we could change, is so very, very sad.

I met two junior high/high school friends for dinner last night. It was absolutely wonderful to catch up with one another. And I marvelled, as I do whenever I see them, at how great they look.

And yet, here we were, a group of 46-47 year old women, looking great for our ages, and fixating on what we felt we were in need of ‘fixing’:

  • Breast lift
  • Botox
  • Diet (not me; we’ve established I no longer “diet“) 😉
  • Tummy tuck
  • etc.

I replayed our conversations in my head as I drove back home.

And I realized that a big element I hadn’t thought about is perspective.  By that I mean, in my perspective, these ladies looked beautiful, not just ‘for their age’, but in general. And they were very generous to me as well, with comments about how great I look, and with one referring to me as “Skinny Minnie”.  WHO? Me??

And I realized…this really is all about perspective.

Compared to the last time they saw me, I am much thinner. True, it’s only ~20 lbs, but, it’s more about how my body has changed, thinned, sculpted and stretched. And it’s also about how I carry myself, and the self-confidence I guess I’m wearing. So, while I don’t look in the mirror and see “Skinny Minnie” [because…hello!], they did see a fit, healthy beautiful woman last night.

Perspective.

The question is, how and when will we learn to see ourselves in the way others see us?

How and when will we see the best in ourselves before we glue our gazes on those perceived (or even real) flaws in the mirror?

Can we learn to be kind to ourselves, to love ourselves, to see our own beauty, flaws and all?

God, I hope so.

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Get moving!

xoxo nancy

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82 thoughts on “i can see you…why can’t i see myself?

  1. Nancy, this is a perfect accompaniment to your last post!

    I totally agree, the way we see ourselves is ridiculously skewed! There is a societal norm that expects people (women mostly) to be self deprecating particularly with respect to our bodies. The expectation to fixate on the negative causes us to do just that, and it becomes the only thing we can see before too long. Thus Amplifying the negativity we feel towards our own bodies!

    It takes a huge strength of will to see positive things about ourselves, but it is easy (in fact expected) to see them in others! The same form of conditioning works here too, the expectation to be able to find a good thing to say / see in in another person causes us to look for it and diminishes imperfections in our minds.

    A large part of the problem is the reaction of society to confidence and people who do look good. How many times have we seen either in the paper (or even in real life) someone who is confident with themselves being told they are too fat (when they are far from it) or too skinny, or that they have this wrong or that wrong. People are told by implication that they should never be happy with themselves, because no matter how they feel they look…actually there is something they should want to change. The message seems to be, if you dare to be confident in your body, you are showing off or cocky or some such thing and need taking down a peg or two!

    It is something we need to change society as a whole needs to realise that it is not a bad thing to see the positives on ourselves, admitting you are good at something, or have nice legs or strong arms is not a flaw and not “blowing your own trumpet” (this is a terrible sin in the UK where we are supposed to be reserved and self deprecating in the extreme!)

    I admit that even now, with all the progress I have made, I have had such a skewed body image for so long that I find it hard to see anything other than what I still need to improve! I have no idea how others see me, I sometimes thing I have no idea what I even really look like any more!

    (ok..that was really long…sorry..)

    • Oh please don’t be sorry for sharing such a perfect comment, Sam. Love your insights on how we are conditioned to look for the positives in others while focusing on the negatives in ourselves, and I agree completely that when we do celebrate our positives or take pride in our appearance, we are often judged for being too cocky. You are exactly right about that.

      I read something recently, probably on Facebook, I wish I remembered the source. It was quite a profound way to look at the whole selfie phenomenon. The writer said something to the effect of, instead of judging her (selfie-taker) for being overly indulgent (or worse, judging her for not looking great, as in, ‘why would she share THAT picture??”), we should celebrate that she felt confident enough to pose for and share a picture of herself with the world. That she scraped together enough self-esteem to put it out there. Instead of silently judging her, we should “like” or say something positive about the picture to reinforce her self-image. In a culture of way too many selfies, I initially dismissed it, but then found my mind kept coming back to the idea that it does take a lot of courage every time a woman who doesn’t meet the societal beauty standard puts herself out there like that. And that should be applauded.

      And, finally, my dear — I wish I could wave a magic wand and help you see what I see when I look at you. You are beautiful.
      xoxo

      • The selfie thing is intriguing, because it is easy to see two sides of the story. Completely leaving aside the fact that there are far too many out there., I see two ways of thinking about it, one is the courage it takes to send out a photograph of themselves and the fact that this act its self is an act against the body hating movement. The other is the school of thought that people put them out in forums (fora?) that consist mostly of their friends with a comment such as “my hair is awful” or “my bum is big” (or probably something cooler and more up to date…) only to be reinforced by a plethora of friends telling you the opposite thus gaining you attention!

        I think there are both types of selfie out there, and what ever the reason people put them out there, they should not be torn down by the media / public because especially if you are not “conventionally beautiful” it does take courage to put yourself on view!

        I have had such a strange body image since I was a teenager that I am not sure how to see myself! Photos of me confuse me. I barely even associate them with me which makes no sense! Although I am getting better at it!

        And thank you 😀 I quite want to rush to Canada to give you a hug!
        xxxx

      • Yep!! That’s exactly why I dismissed it when I first read it, because I’m so over the whole, “just a shot of me lazing around / no makeup” when you know they primped for an hour and then snapped 35 images to get to the one that was “just a shot” that they posted. Ha! But then I saw the other side of it, which is that insecure person who finally mustered the courage to share one, and I think YEAH! We should celebrate her!

        It’s all very confusing isn’t it?

        And I believe the correct pluralisation is forii. 🙂

        Consider yourself hugged right back!

      • according to my OED…for “internet message boards and meetings for exchanges of views” Forums is the correct plural…who knew! 🙂

        the difficulty is seeing past the bravado and seeming attention seeking to the person underneath who is insecure and seeking reassurance. And the society that leads that person to criticise themselves or be criticised so much that their confidence needs this sort of boost!

        I agree it is very confusing!

        😀

  2. Reminds me of this riling conversation I had with a friend a few weeks ago. She’s 47, very beautiful, and slim. I mean SLIM, just to emphasise. So, there she was, despite her great(!) figure, complaining about her belly fat and her cellulite. (I hate the word “celulite”, by the way, coz it makes something that’s perfectly natural sound like a disease!)

    I’ve another friend, who’s not just slim but skinny, and she also complains constantly about her physical shortcomings. I know that she’s lost friends over this, i.e. women bigger and bulkier than her (this means just about everyone except for 1960’s Twiggy), who just couldn’t hack the constant ‘selfish’ whining from someone who possesses a figure they would kill for.

    I know this is a different issue from what you were talking about in your post… sorry if I went off on a bit of a tangent here 😉

    • Not a different issue at all, Simone. I think in the case of the slim (and the skinny) friend, they both legitimately felt they had body issues, and obsessed over those issues. (Unless of course it was all just a ploy to get their friends to say, “No way! You have a perfect body!”, in which case that’s a whole other matter! :-))

      I chalk it all up to the fact that for so long so many of us had crazy distorted images of ourselves. I think back to high school, and considering myself chubby. Then I look at old photos from that time and see that I was tiny. Yet I honestly thought I had weight to lose back then. At 47 I’m finally (I think) beginning to see my true reflection when I look in the mirror. Not worse than I am. Not better than I am. I just see me, finally. That it took this long makes me sad though.

      • I agree 🙂

        As I type this, there’s an ad on TV, by Dove (belongs to Unilever), of course, telling us yet again that “we’re beautiful just the way we are”. To be honest, I’m getting a bit fed up with this now. Not the message per se, but by bloody advertisers using it to flog yet more of their products.

      • Yes! Right after I shared that most recent ad on the beauty patch, a bunch of parody videos have been released, mocking the nonsense. i.e. the notion that attractive women have such distorted images of themselves. (Notice they never have really unattractive women in these ads…)

        Anyway, I guess I waver on the topic, because on the one hand, I recognize the sometimes ridiculousness of it (and the overt desire to sell product), but on the other hand I know that body image is still a big issue for a huge population of women today.

  3. It seems everything in life is perspective. Shifting that perspective to be healthy instead of harmful really is a decision that has to be made and so much of it is releasing your hold on what you think you own whether your cellulite, your ugly nose, your pot belly, your wrinkles, your thoughts on another’s life, your pain and hurt from past words…it all is some kind of ownership. I love the idea and am embracing accepting what is and finding the beauty in what was once deemed undesirable….in every aspect. Lovely post my dear, I am really happy you are digging up some of your earlier pieces!!

    • You’re so right, Kerry. It’s all on us and what we own as our truth. Letting go of those perceptions, letting go of past hurt caused by those perceptions, this is hard work, but it is possible. We are all empowered to make better choices and own healthier thoughts. It’s a process. I just wish there was someway we could magically help the next generation skip that whole [painful] learning curve and skip straight to the positive/healthy outlook.

  4. I’m so glad you shared this since we are only just getting to know each other. It’s definitely sad that we can’t see ourselves the way others see us. Not only would that create better self-esteem and confidence, but maybe even help us tackle things more objectively and less critically. I’m. It in a good place right now when it comes to this subject, but I wish I was!

    • Oh, Deanna, you just hit on something near and dear to me. I finally began to realize last year, through this journey, that the less critically and judgmentally I looked at myself, the less critical and judgmental I was of others. It’s a vicious cycle, or for me it was anyway, that I would be so negative to others, on character (or physical) traits that I identified with. i.e. I hated in them what I hated in myself. It’s been a long and difficult process to work through all those less-than-pretty realizations about myself, but very much worth it. I learned that happiness can only happen when you let go of all the anger and hate. A long and difficult process, indeed.

      I think there’s a typo in your last sentence, and I’m going to interpret it as “I’m not in a good place right now”? Lady, if I read that right, GAH! I wish I could make you see that beautiful bad-ass I have recently met. One who demonstrated crazy strength, courage and self-love to take on a giant demon. And she won. Beautiful bad-ass.
      xoxo

    • I just wish it were easier to change our perspective, Kate. Took me a really, really long time. I hope it’s not that way for my daughter and all the other daughters out there.

    • Not caring would be like finding the promised land, Guap. I’m just not sure how many people out there truly don’t give a shit what others think. I know many people claim to, but I wonder how many actually do feel that way. I suspect it’s more men that women who fall into that rare segment of the population.

  5. Too many women don’t realize that our predisposition to cellulite is largely genetics. Yes, we can exercise. Yes, we can tone. But most women have cellulite. It has to do with our genes, our connective tissue makeup, our fat distribution. So instead of worrying about having it, we should praise ourselves for the strong muscles underneath, or our jiggle-free walk, or the skinny jeans we can rock thanks to our hard work in the gym. And if we’re really self-conscious about it, a little self-tanner can help conceal those spots.

    Of course, all of that’s easier said than done…

    • Totally possible, Fay. I assumed she considered it a problem area because her entire workout that day was on the Stairmaster. Big assumption on my part that she was focused on spot toning.

  6. Hey Nancy….how interesting that you and your friends spent a large amount of time discussing the “state” of your bodies at your current age. Wait about 10 more years and it will be interesting to see which way the conversation tilts. I remember my parents as they got older and every time they got together with friends it seemed that the entire conversation was about the state of their health (or lack of it in many cases) and then when they got older still it was about all the people they knew who were dying. I’m doing my best to NOT turn into my parents in that regard–although it’s not always easy. Besides, I’m far more interested in “internal” changes rather than those on the outside….of course, as you say, that’s just my perspective. 🙂 ~Kathy

    • Yep, I’ve witnessed the late 60’s/70’s conversations that center on all the health woes. Very depressing. [As are the conversations about who recently died.] Compared to those, the conversations about women injecting, lifting, and stretching their faces to high heavens seem quite jolly. 🙂

      I can’t imagine that my friends and I are unique in talking about the pressure to look good and the lengths to which some will go in order to attain that look. When my one friend admitted to getting quarterly Botox injections, I’ll admit that I had to hold back a gasp. The idea struck me as so ‘out there’; something that women in California and New York do…surely nothing a sensible Canadian would do. 🙂

      But I tried to suspend my judgment. She is doing what she feels she needs to do to feel good about herself. It might not be my chosen path, but then again, she might judge me for workout out every day to have my body look (and feel) a certain way. She might find that obsessive or over-the-top behavior.

      Kathy, I agree that what a person is made of on the inside if far more interesting than how they look on the outside. I couldn’t spend more than 10 minutes with someone beautiful but utterly vapid. Which makes it all the more interesting, to me, that these smart, capable, interesting women were still so comfortable and fascinated in discussing the outside stuff.

      • Ha! Yes I thought Canadians would be so beyond all that myself too 🙂

        It is indeed such a commentary on both our culture today (at least in western cultures) about how our appearance is so much more important than who or what we are on the inside.

        But don’t you think we almost train each other to do that? And hey, I’m not pointing fingers cuz I do it myself. So besides the media telling us we’re flawed, and every advertiser who has something to gain, we (mainly women) do it too each other far too often. And I think it is getting worse instead of better. Where does it stop?

        I do tend to think that things concerning the health of our body (like your exercising) is more important than the “looks” of our body, but then again, maybe that is just my perspective. I know we all want to feel good about ourselves. But how much of that “feeling good” is because of what we’re told by our culture, not who we are on the inside? No easy answer for sure but these are questions that I agree we all should be asking ourselves on a regular basis.

        Of course, give me a martini or two and I can dish on botox with the best of them! 🙂 ~Kathy

      • ooooh…I almost missed this comment… I’m so glad I didn’t! So much gold here! 🙂

        I completely agree that we (women/ourselves) exacerbate the problem…Stockholm syndrome, perhaps?? We have been conditioned to be so self-critical for so long… And you’re right, where does it stop?? Hopefully with the next generation? Maybe if we can instill more positive messages and imagery onto/around them?

        And re: the health aspect (versus aesthetic aspect) of my exercising, I understand completely -but I’ll confess that while I started it to get stronger and healthier (and eventually a whole lot happier), I certainly didn’t begrudge the physical improvements I saw. (And I’ll further confess to using that vanity to drive me to do more…) I’m coming to realize that genetics play a huge role in things like hypertension (my big issue) and that while I can (and should) control my weight, get lots of exercise in, etc., and watch what I eat (controlling sodium intake, etc.) that there may be a time I’m back on the blood pressure meds because of my genetic makeup, not tied to being overweight.

        Finally, I will welcome the martini (or two) AND the dishing on Botox, trout pout, frozen face, etc. What fun! 🙂

  7. Okay, we are definitely on the same wavelength. It’s probably the beauty patch that put us there. I have been thinking of nothing but self love and self acceptance the past few days and having been having amazing conversations with other women about this topic as well. I’ve been inspired by all of this to start writing about really, deeply loving and accepting ourselves. Yes, wrinkles, cellulite, grey hair, love handles. Everything!! And I’m really excited to start writing about this. I think I’m going to call it The Love Experiment. Anyway, it’s time. It’s time for women to start seeing their own beauty and not being afraid to feel beautiful, because knowing that you are perfect just the way you are can transform your life. Thanks for re-posting this. I loved it xo

    • oooohhhh…I am so intrigued and excited at your Love Experiment!!! I can’t wait Laurel! If we could tell our 20 and 30 year old selves what we now know in our late 40’s and early 50’s… well, wouldn’t that be grand??

      Am so excited to see what you come up with as you explore the idea of loving ourselves fully. I know you’ll wow me!

  8. Hi Nancy, me again. I was thinking of another blogger, Pooky, who recently qualified for her PhD specializing in eating disorders. Her post http://pookypoetry.wordpress.com/2014/02/28/goodbye-a-poem-for-edaw2014/ shows what can happen (extreme example) when we have a poor self image. It made me cry, but illustrates how we all need to love ourselves as you have expressed.
    BTW, when Pooky was coming up to her final PhD presentation, she was training for the London Marathon (done), writing a poem a day, bringing up two small children, being a good wife and writing a book! Cool lady.

  9. I love this post. It’s very perceptive. I would like to add that there will always be the negative people who LOOK for something mean or catty to say about others, and then there are the positive people who see only excellence in the imperfections.
    You my friend appear to be the latter. 🙂

    • You, my friend, are way too kind.
      I’ll confess to being a snarky, judgmental bitch for a long, long, long time. I was so unhappy with myself that I wasted no time in being critical of others too. Why save all the critiquing for myself? 🙂

      Last year’s journey was about so much more than just working out and getting healthy. It changed me as much on the inside as it did on the outside.

      I like to think I’m a way more positive and accepting person these days, both of myself and of others. For this I’m grateful. I can’t help but feel I’ve got a long way to go though. I just found myself looking at a picture of myself hiking a few months back. Yes, I initially thought, wow, your body has really changed and become leaner. And then I fixated on an area that I didn’t like and thought: Whoa…you need to work on that. Sigh. One of these days.

      • I think you just proved that when we are doing positive things, we see the world more positively. When we are feeling negative, we see only negative things.

        I think your journey is amazing and I’m very inspired by you and what you’ve accomplished over the past 16 months!

  10. Lots of truth in this, Nancy, but I find it sad… I think we are defined by more than what we look like, or will look like… we are born so beautiful, and even though we change over time (more wrinkles, more sag, more cellulite), I think we die beautiful too.

  11. Wow, this really does chime with me… Amongst many things I’m a recovered anorexic and I have NEVER felt more fat in my life than when I was at my very thinnest – which I think says a lot about the warped perceptions we can have of our own body image.

  12. This is perfection. I’m so glad you brought it back out! I have these thoughts ALL the time. In fact, I’ve had a post about it rolling around my head for awhile, but it’s such a trigger subject for me I’m almost afraid to pay attention to it. Maybe someday…..

    • I hear you, Beth. On the one hand I’m afraid to lend anymore credence to this skin-deep fixation we have. But if I don’t I feel like I’m not being honest with myself and honouring my own struggles and questions in the issue.

      I look forward to seeing how you write about it, when/if you do.
      xoxo

  13. I have the same sorts of thoughts. Just like you, like Beth, like all women probably.

    I feel like I’ll never be fit enough. But enough for what? or who?

    It feels sometimes like a trap. Wanting to be fit and strong. It really does. Because the flip side is always about how I look. No matter what I tell myself.

    • Amen, Samara. Amen.

      I’ll be the first to admit that while I started this whole Year of Sweat thing in 2013 to address health issues (not to mention happiness issues, or lack thereof), I can’t pretend I didn’t hope for a positive aesthetic change as well.

      In fact, I have to be careful not to come off too holier than thou in my writings because I scoff at people who starve themselves thin (or take pills or shakes or whatever to get the job done). My thought was that this wasn’t about thin at all costs rather healthy through hard work, to give myself a longer, higher quality, life- and one that was prescription med-free.

      Still I can see others saying, hey, working out every single day is excessive and people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. 🙂

      You’re question on “what is enough and for who’ is an awesome one. I wrote a post about this almost a year ago. I think I’ll republish it next Thursday. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment SW! xoxo

  14. Glad you shared this again as I wasn’t one of your first 12 followers 😉 And sadly, I think it’s true that we tend to see the ‘bad’ spots in the mirror. I know I do. And it bugs me when people say ‘but you’re tiny!’ just because I’m smaller than they are – I’m practically a dwarf for fuck’s sake so that’s not hard. Sorry for ranting – having a bad day. Grrr. Women and their bodies – so stupid that in this day and age we still spend so much time thinking about it.

    • Sad indeed, Linda. I realized during yoga class this morning that I was fixated on my belly/muffin top in the mirror during one of the seated poses. For fucks sake, as you say, why can’t I just focus on how many more yoga poses I can actually do versus critiquing my body parts while doing them?

  15. Somehow as years gone by my attention has shifted from how some part of my body looks more to how some part of my body functions. I’m no longer taking the latter for granted as I’ve seen some friends and family (even at young age) struck by accidents or illnesses that have changed that assumption. Of course I see things I don’t like but give much less importance to them than I used to…as long as I’m feeling well and everything “works” 🙂

    • Such a beautiful and healthy attitude, Tiny. I am working on getting there myself. I feel like my thoughts are way healthier than they used to be, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

      I really want my default position to be: hey, I can lift XX pounds, I can climb a mountain XX tall, I can run XX distance, etc. rather than gee my stomach is still too squishy. 😦

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