Body Image: My Struggles

Shenyun Wu

I had a complicated relationship with food and my body image in high school. Media played a part of it, but the needle that broke the camel’s back was when my dad told me that my face looked a bit rounder. In his way, he told me that I was fat. In his perspective, it was an innocent comment that he must have never thought about again, but that meaningless comment was the catalyst to my eating disorder and struggle with my body image for several years after that.

I already had a hard time with food to begin with. Since I was young, my mom would make us finish all the food on our plate or in our bowl––not even a grain of rice should be left behind. There was one time, I felt so full I thought the food was filled all the way up to my throat. I finished the food but had to throw up the food right afterward. I was less than 7 years old at this time. The rule of cleaning up a plate is why I lacked a sensor that would tell me to stop when I was full. My mom often commented that I didn’t have a sensor when I would eat a full bag of chips, but she didn’t realize that she had made me this way. Apparently, my sibling had the same problem of not stopping when full as well. I eventually learned in my early twenties that it is okay not to finish everything on my plate, and that it’s okay to stop when I don’t feel like eating anymore. I don’t always have to eat to the point of making my stomach explode.

I developed an eating disorder pretty quickly after my dad’s innocent comment. I didn’t know that binging and purging was a thing, but I got the idea from a scene from Miss Congeniality where the girls decided to party at a club before competition day with a giant pizza, and someone said something about “throwing it up” so the calories don’t matter. Needless to say, I became bulimic. It was perfect. I could eat all that I wanted, throw it up, and not worry about getting fat. I remember finishing Costco’s 12-inch pumpkin pie, which is around 3.5 pounds, in one sitting, and then going to the bathroom to discard the content from my stomach, up my throat, and into the toilet. It’s disgusting, but I couldn’t stop and didn’t stop for two years.

Having an eating disorder isn’t just physical. It actually takes a huge emotional toll on a person. How can you think for yourself and focus on anything else when your mind is occupied by the worry of getting fat, about what food to binge so you can get rid of it later, about how much calories remain in your body. I was depressed. I felt unworthy.

I think my parents knew––I haven’t confronted them about this yet––but they probably thought that I was just going through a phase. Luckily I was able to stop after going to college but I know that many other individuals who go through eating disorders get into extreme situations where they damage their health and require professional intervention.

When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because of any outside factor. It was because I finally decided I need to be nice to myself, that this is not good for me, and I can do better. It is an addiction. You try to stop, you stop. You relapse, then you try to stop again, and relapse. I have relapsed a few times over the years, but today, I’m in healthy relationship with food and also my body.

The truth about the old me was that I was not fat. Not in the slightest. My current weight is the heaviest I’ve ever weighed, but I like my shape, I love my body, and I am amazed by all it can do––I’m actually on a quest to lift 225 lbs by end of Jan 2021. Today, I can lift 180 lbs on my 114 lb frame.

I share this because it’s an important part of my past, but it’s also why the words we use with people is so critical. They can have a huge impact on a person, including yourself. Media plays a huge role on our self-image and body image, but how we talk to ourselves and the people around us about our body and theirs can have a positive impact if you choose to.

1. Start with You. Do a self-check on how you speak to yourself about your body. Do you criticize the reflection in the mirror? Do you call yourself ugly? If the words you choose are not ones you’d use on a friend, don’t use them on yourself either.

2. Positive Self-talk. It’s easy to nitpick your physical looks, but that is not helpful. Reflect on the great things your body is doing for you. Be grateful for the body that you have.

I have an athletic body type and I actually did not wear shorts nor sleeveless shirts until I got into my junior year of college. I was self-conscious about my muscles because it wasn’t a sign of beauty when I was growing up in Taiwan. I continued to have a love-hate relationship with my body-shape into my late twenties. Some days I’d like my muscles because they make me look healthy, other days I’d hate them because I feel too masculine and unapproachable.

Now, I tell a different story to my body. I tell my body that it is strong and resilient, and each day I surpass a goal at the gym, I learn that I am mentally and physically strong as well. My body has taught me that I can achieve so much more than I believe I can if I’m just willing to put in the time and push myself. I can take that determination and strength to other parts of my life.

3. Take the Focus Away from the Body. We all need words of affirmation and positive feedback, not only for looking beautiful, but other attributes that make us great. Make a list of attributes that you appreciate about yourself and that people have praised about you so you remember that you are more than what you look on the outside.

When you are encouraging your girlfriend, talk about attributes that make her great, such as how resilient she is, how smart she is, how dedicated she is. Take the focus away on just her looks because she is so much more than that.

4. Body Shaming Is Not Okay. Calling someone too skinny, or too fat, or too muscular, too anything is not okay! It’s their body and not yours. You do not have a right to put labels or define how they see their own body. Don’t call yourself any of that either.

5. You Have Control. If you’re unhappy with your body, that’s okay. It’s where you are now and there isn’t anything wrong with that. But if you aren’t happy about where you are now, you can change that. You aren’t stuck.

Just like how you make changes in other aspects of your life to improve your living situation, your financial situation, your job situation, you can take small actions that will make you feel better about yourself. Start bringing a little movement into your daily life, make more conscious choices about at least 1 meal during the day. By setting small, achievable goals, you’ll be able to get to larger changes that will bring you the difference you want to see.

At the end of the day, what matters is how you feel about yourself. Invest that effort and energy on yourself so you can feel your best self.

6. Sympathize and build resilience. If you know someone who is struggling with their weight and body image, be kind to them and listen to them without judgement. It’s not so easy for someone to just “stop obsessing about their weight.” There often is a deeper issue behind the behavior.

You don’t have to agree with their struggle, but they need to feel that they can come to you. Be encouraging. Help them focus on other things they have control of in their lives and help bring up their self-image by taking the focus away from the body to things they are good at and attributes you appreciate about them. Help them be kinder to themselves and plan activities that can encourage positive feelings to their bodies, such as walking dates, group exercise dates, or healthy-meal dates.

We all deserve to be loved, regardless what shape and size we are. Be kind to yourself and those around you when it comes to body image.

It’s Not Too Late for Change

Despite the recognition that all of our experiences have shaped us and brought us to where we are today, it’s natural for us to be looking back and figuring out what we could have done differently.

If there’s one thing that I still feel bad about, it’s that I did not stand up for my brother when I found out that the neighbors had bulled him over three decades ago. I wanted so bad to storm up to the neighbor’s door, to knock on it, and demand an apology for my brother, but I didn’t have the courage to do so. It bothers me till this day.

Your story of regret is likely different, but whatever it is, it’s not too late to make changes to make up for the missed opportunity. I hope the steps below will help you move forward into a better you.

1. Accept the Past
There may be events in your life, or actions you’ve taken, that you wish you have done differently. The past is gone now, and you must accept the decisions that you made back then.

2. Acknowledge the Event
In my case, I wish I had done more for my brother back then when he could have used that additional support. Recognizing this tells me that my brother is important to me and I want to be there for him. I acknowledge that I wasn’t there for him that day, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there for him now.

3. Make Changes Now
The simple fact that you’re thinking about this means that that you are a different and better person now. The next time you try to put yourself down for a decision you made in the past, remember that you can make a different decision moving forward.

We all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them.

What is something you wish you had done differently in the past? What has worked for you in terms of coping and moving on?

Own Your Insecurity

Free yourself and take your power back by being secure in who you are–flaws and all.

Yvonne Pierre, The Day My Soul Cried: A Memoir

What’s an insecurity that comes to haunt you over and over again?

Mine is my voice. I have a higher-pitched voice that can sound childlike, which has put me at a disadvantage when it came to establishing my creditability. I’ve received feedback on job interviews that my voice makes me sound immature, on presentations that I should lower the tone of my voice to sound more credible, and on customer calls where the customer refused to engage because of how I sound.

The first time this happened to me, I was distraught and outraged. Despite my achievements and accomplishments, I’m always worried about people’s reactions when they hear my voice, that it will discredit me, that I will not be heard. Despite my achievements and accomplishments, every time someone comments on my voice, I get back into that dark hole.

I do not want to feel this way anymore and have taken some steps to ease my insecurity. I hope these are helpful to you as well.

1. Own Your Insecurities
None of us is perfect, but knowing what sets us off, and focusing on what we can control, will help you be less impacted by other’s judgements. I cannot control how my voice sounds, but what I can control is building up my knowledge so that the words that come out have meaning and power.

2. Let Them Have Their Opinions
I believe that everyone will have something to say about anything you are doing, but as long as you believe in yourself, and have a sense of who you are, they cannot hurt you. Take constructive feedback with an open mind, but also remember that you get to choose what you should actually be working on. Take the power of change into your own hands.

3. Hold onto How Amazing You Are
We have a tendency to hold onto the negatives over the positives so we need to keep the positives handy. It’s easy for me to disregard all my achievements when someone offers critical feedback, especially when it is about my insecurity.

Keep a folder or a journal of achievements and praises to refer to during these down times to remind yourself how great you are and what you’ve already achieved.

What is something that you’re self-conscious about that come up over and over again?

How do you manage to cope with or overcome the criticism?

You are amazing! Don’t ever forget that.

Choose Yourself

For most of my life, I strove to put others before me. More and more, however, I’m seeing that I need to be prioritizing myself first.

It’s never a bad thing to choose yourself

––Pose

This quote is from the original Netflix TV series Pose and it is a great reminder for me every single day as I make decisions. You have to be your number 1 fan and cheerleader.

The 3 reminders below are for me, and it may also help you.

1. Say “No” to Others More
Sarah Knight’s book, F*ck No!: How to Stop Saying Yes When You Can’t, You Shouldn’t, or You Just Don’t Want To, has helped me accept the fact that it’s okay to say no. It’s a perfectly fine answer and you shouldn’t feel apologetic or feel the need the come up with any excuses. “I will not be able to,” is a fine answer.

For me, saying “no” is easy if I feel strongly about the no, but if I’m feeling hesitant, or feel an obligation, this no is difficult and I stress out about deciding between what I feel that I should do vs. what I want to do. I’m practicing listening to my gut feeling and getting the “no”s out there so I can do what feels truly right for me. The reason it has to feel right for me is because I’m striving to live my most authentic self.

2. Say Yes More to You
You deserve to be your #1 priority. That means being attune to your needs and giving yourself the permission to get those needs filled.

3. Say it Out Loud
Listening to your needs is important, but learning to express them is even more important. No one will know what you are thinking if you do not communicate it.

I notice that I’ve been giving my time away and brushing off the nagging feeling that I need my own time or own space. If you feel this way, too, that is okay. Don’t apologize for knowing your needs. Make that time for yourself to recharge, process, and decompress so you can be your best self, and thus the best person for those whom you care about.

I find myself sharing my frustrations to people around me who are not the person I’m frustrated with. This is a big no no. Once I process how I’m feeling, I need to make sure to share that back with the person if I want to understand or feel understood.

When you open up with vulnerability, you’re allowing others to take care of you as well.

Hope these tips are helpful. Cheers to our ongoing journey of living our most authentic and best selves.