The Body Image Game

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Today I will be discussing the topic of body image with Matt Townsend on his radio show. (You can listen in live on Sirius XM 143 or it will be streaming on byuradio.org.) We are going to focus on what I call “The Body Image Game.” This is a game that competes with the game of life, and can only yield the illusion of happiness rather than the real thing. As women, the peace we feel with our bodies depends upon our ability to recognize when we are getting pulled into playing that game. We must learn how to re-train our minds so that we can look for peace and happiness from sources that have the power to give it.

There are a lot of reasons why we are lucky to be women in our culture today…but an obsession with weight is not one of them. As a woman, it is nearly impossible not to absorb at least some of the popular (though incorrect) message that happiness is found in thinner thighs and flatter stomachs. Unfortunately, we experience some tragic and frightening consequences as a result. Research has shown that as high as 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies…and it’s probably because less than 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed by Americans in the media.

So what is a girl to do? It is easy to recognize the insanity of this Body Image Game….but to stop playing is much easier said than done. The following are five “rules” of this so-called Game. Taking an objective look at them reveals the fact that they are nothing more than myths, and that continuing to follow or believe them means a lifetime of playing a game that can’t be won.

Rule #1: Food is The Enemy
The first rule of the Body Image Game is that food is the enemy. This belief can and often does create a distorted relationship with food. Intended to fuel our bodies so that we can create lives of joy and fulfillment, food instead has become a scapegoat that keeps us from getting what we really want: the perfect body. This can lead to unhealthy behaviors, including eating disorders and the moralization of food (such as “I am being ‘good’ if I eat particular types of food, and ‘bad’ if I eat others.)

The truth is, food is your friend. Physiology proves eating food every 2-3 hours programs your metabolism to burn fat – not store it. And believe it or not, food (especially protein) is one of the primary components in building muscle, which is the actual machinery your body uses to burn fat. See my post entitled Food is Your Friend HERE for more information.

Rule #2 : Happiness is Losing Ten Pounds
Another rule of the game has us subscribing to the philosophy that losing weight or emulating the standard of “the perfect body” is a necessary ingredient to happiness in life. I would like to counter that notion by sharing my own personal experience. Over the years, as I have periodically been successful at reaching my goal weight or level of fitness, I have observed something that might sound shocking: I am still the same person I was before I reached “the ideal.” That means that I still experienced conflict in my life, despite the perk of being able to fit comfortably in my jeans. What’s more, I was encumbered with the burden of staying fit, which seemed to distract me from some of the greater joys in life.

The truth? When we look to our bodies to give us assurance and validation, we are seeking something from them that they do not have the power to give. Happiness, the kind that is lasting and deep, comes from a place that is much less fleeting than a number on the scale.

Rule #3: If You Want To Be Thin, You Must Constantly Play the Game.
A few years ago, my son (an avid reader) had a school assignment in which he was asked to add up the amount of minutes he had spent reading in a given week. As we did the math, we calculated that he had read 23 hours in one week. Twenty-three hours! Minute by minute, what a lot of time that added up to be! I couldn’t help but draw a parallel to women’s obsession with their weight. If you were to add up, minute by minute, the time you spend looking in the mirror (or avoiding it), reflecting on what you have (or haven’t) eaten, and every other mental and physical activity pertaining to your weight and body, would you be astounded by the amount of time you devote to playing this game?

I believe that we are meant to use our time and energy for so much more than counting calories or fretting over the way we look. What if we could transfer the effort we put into playing this game into something that truly had the ability to bring us happiness? We might discover a small oasis of time we never knew we had. How much more meaningful it would be to invest that time on things that really matter in life.

Rule #4: If You Can’t Emulate the Standard, You’re Doing Something Wrong.
One of the more tragic outcomes of playing this game is the self-resentment and disgust that can develop when our bodies don’t “measure up.” Study after study shows that when women fall into the trap of objectifying their bodies and seeking validation through pursuing the cultural ideal, self-esteem plummets. The game would have us believe that something is wrong with our self – we lack the discipline, initiative, and ability to achieve the body that is so easily and naturally attained by other women.

This is a toxic rule. It teaches us to turn against ourselves, and begins to theorize that there is something inherently wrong with who we are at the core. Question the rule, not yourself.

Rule #5: Other Women are Competition
You’ve felt this before, haven’t you? The compulsion to immediately size up the rest of the room, and rank yourself according to where your body fits in? Or the feelings of jealousy when someone close to you is losing weight, as if this somehow implies that the Weight-Loss Fairy will not visit you because she is currently employed elsewhere?

The Game seeks to create a division between us and other women, because comparison perpetuates our participation in the game. Women who are wise enough to drop out of the game experience the rare gift of not feeling threatened by other women around them. What would it look like if instead of being threatened by other women, we were able to collaborate with them? To send them love and reassurance when they need it, rather than judge or despise them, or make them feel worse about themselves? Sign me up for that kind of world!

Conclusion
In the Broadway Musical “Wicked” the main character, Elphaba, experiences a profound epiphany, and then sings:

Something has changed within me
Something is not the same.
I’m through with playing by the
Rules of someone else’s game.

Ladies, I hope we recognize that the rules we are playing are the rules of someone else’s game…and it’s not a game that is meant to be won or make us happy. Life has the potential to be so much more. It’s time for a new view on our bodies…and about what really has the ability to give us the happiness we are seeking. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game. How about you?

For more insights on how to feel good about your body or show yourself love, click HERE or HERE.

2 thoughts on “The Body Image Game

  1. Holly Waterfall

    Jenny! I absolutely 100% love this post. So much!
    As I’m reading it though, I realize that there’s much of this stupid game I’m still playing. I still size other women in the room up wondering how I compare. I still do wish I looked a certain way. BUT the difference is that I don’t beat myself up over it. I go on making healthy choices and working towards my own realistic goals that will keep me both happy and healthy. I think as women in our society, it is almost a given that we are going to compare ourselves to other women. Or maybe it’s just me. I’m not necessarily sure how to get away from that. I guess as long as it’s not creating unhealthy habits in my life like it used to, I am okay with that.
    I am with you Jenny. Let’s stop playing by someone else’s rules, okay? Let’s make our own rules where food is totally our friend. Where our bodies are beautiful no matter what they look like physically. Where we are not trying to look like someone else. That is one game I want to play! Thank you so much for this post. It’s very inspiring, and I’m sharing it all over the internet :)

    Reply
    1. jenny Post author

      Thanks Holly! Love the rule where food is our friend. There’s a whole different way to be living life when you step away from the comparing and the competition and the rejection of “flaws,” isn’t there?

      Reply

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