Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reflection Distortion

I bought a bikini today. I'm still trying to decide if I will keep it. It survived my harsh personal appraisal in the dressing room mirror, so it must not look too bad. But based on past experience, I know that when I try it on again I will suddenly think it looks terrible and wonder why I bought it in the first place.

When I was scrutinizing my reflection at the store, I was trying to decide how skewed the image I saw in the mirror was. Based solely on the numbers, I know it can't be accurate. My weight is the lowest it's been since I was fifteen, 10 pounds less than the day I found out I was pregnant, before I gained 42 pounds in 36 weeks (yeah, can you imagine if he'd been full term?), and 5 pounds under the ideal for my height (though still within the healthy range). The number on my driver's license is now accurate, I never thought that would happen. And it's not just the numbers- my clothes are loose, my dressy jeans are not snug where they're supposed to be snug, and my wedding rings slide around my finger. So, based on the facts, I shouldn't be overly critical of what I see in the mirror, bikini-clad or no.

And yet, all I see is squishiness. I see at least 5 more pounds I'd love to lose. I picture a past version of me as looking better- even though I know that same me was just as dissatisfied, if not more so. Every time I've set a fitness and weight goal, and achieved it, I find myself looking at my reflection thinking, "how could I have thought this would it?" I was heavier in high school, I weigh about 25 pounds less now. If you had told the high school me what size jeans I'd be wearing now at 25, I would have been certain that future me would be so happy with herself. She'd be feel beautiful and confident and look for excuses to walk around in a two-piece. High school me would fail to realize that changing the numbers has almost nothing to do with changing the image you see in the mirror.

It's amazing how powerful the mind's image can be. I've watched close friends and family members battle eating disorders and they're something I'm wary of with my type-A personality and relentless search for personal flaws. I currently have a healthy relationship with food and most of the time I'm at peace with the mirror. Rationally, I know I must have looked okay in that bikini, and I'll probably keep it- especially after I show it to JP, a far more generous critic than I. But even with his affirmation, it's hard to look past the reflection I see in the mirror.


  1. As a fellow Type A person, perfectionist and eating disorder survivor, keep an eye on this. It is good you are self-aware. It has been 30 years since I stopped starving myself but it is on my mind every single day.

  2. Body dysmorphia is amazing. When I was at my teeniest - now I look back at pictures and think I was too thin -- I had to look at my belt, looped as I would wear it, to realize that I had a very small waist. To me, in the mirror, I looked elephantine.

    Seriously, if the benefits are available to you, you might want to look for a counselor who deals with body image issues.

  3. Hmm....scary, do you think you're seeking to control the one thing you know you definetly can? (yourself). My best friend's sister developed a very strong bout of bulimia/anorexia after she discovered she had lupus and battled it into remission... She still has the eating disorder and no one can really convince her to deal with it. It's pretty much tied to her lupus and the fact that she knows she's going to die early... Anyway...her story is so sad and it makes me appreciate life...I wish she would live the time she has here better than controlling her eating because it really limits her in many ways (she's more moody now than tired allt he time..uh...looks like she's been beaten in the face....poor girl)=

  4. I can relate so much... I too am a perfectionist, and a control freak. I am also a therapist, and long ago realized that the only thing standing between me and an eating disorder (I have the exact personality type for one) is my love of food and my fear of throwing up. I also just had a baby two months ago, and, while everyone tells me I look great "for just having had a baby", all I see is stretch marks and jiggles. Ugh.

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  6. the mind can be decieving.ive found sometimes im my own worst enemy in that regard.i wish in college (esp soph-jr year when things got pretty rough) i would have been more rational with myself in this regard. i think for us(former D1 athletes) its esp tough because most of us are type a and driven and perfectionists in general (esp our sports where alot of it is body image).its hard to let go of and like i said in an earlier post on my blog i made about this topic-its not something that can go away its something thats always out there in the back of our minds.

    ahhh sorry LL this response is frazzled, i just have so much to say about this issue (obviously!)

  7. I forget there are people who read this who don't know me - I promise that I do not have an eating disorder of any form. I have a deep love for food and I eat well- in fact my relationship right now with food is probably the healthiest it's ever been. I eat what I want and enjoy every bite. I've stopped doing the "well, since I had a cookie and 'ruined' my diet for the day, I might as well have five more." I just enjoy the cookies that come my way (especially those chocolate chip ones from Subway, mmmmm).

    When I wrote this post I was thinking more along the lines of how sad it is that I can't feel satisfied or happy with my body- that other people can think I look good, that I can know that I must, but I can't stop focusing on the flaws in the mirror. When I drove home from the store yesterday, I was thinking that in 10-20 years I'll look back on pictures of me now and think I looked fantastic and wish that I had enjoyed my body more. There's always going to be something about my body that could be better, but I wish those little "room for improvements" didn't put up such a roadblock for feeling confident in my appearance.

  8. Umm . .. . you're sounding dangerously close to an eating disorder . . . keep an eye on that.

  9. I think more women feel this way than they would like to admit for fear of being labeled with a disorder.

    I know I am never satisfied with my body no matter what my weight is. If I admit that my waist is small enough, then I find something else that is wrong. Maybe it has something to do with feeling like we have to be as perfect as supermodels? Now that I am pregnant I'm rounder even though I've only gained a couple pounds and I totally hate it! I can't wait until I can *try* to get my body back.

  10. LL,
    I know what you're saying. I had a great body growing up and I really liked how I looked. I then gained 50 lbs. and kept it on for around 8 years. After three years of changing my diet, exercising, etc., I finally weighed what I had back in high school. But I didn't believe it. While I didn't have a baby, gaining a lot of weight does change your body and it does not "snap back." All I could see was the stretch marks and how, while the scale said I weighed the same, I didn't "look" the same.
    This goes to show that tying up our image in something as one dimensional as a number is ludicrous. Focus on how you feel in your clothes and how you look, your health, etc. I like that you said you're happy with how you eat and your relationship with food. Broaden your focus to include all these things along with the number, and you'll get a more accurate picture.

  11. I completely sympathize with this. You don't have to have an eating disorder to have body image problems. Don't we all? I find that cutting out TV and NEVER, EVER looking at women's magazines, even in the grocery store, helps.

  12. I don't think even Giselle Bundchen looks in the mirror and sees perfection. We're women, we're never happy with what we see.

    Weren't you an athlete in high school? You probably were all toned then, whereas having a baby and being in law school, no matter how skinny you are, isn't really conducive to being buff! I've always found that working out consistently, even if I didn't lose any weight, or even any inches, always made the image in the mirror more palatable. It's all perception anyway!

  13. When I was pregnant, I remember looking at my pre-pregnancy clothes and thinking, I can't believe I was always so worried about my weight before. I was tiny! Now I realize that nobody is looking that closely anyway and I should have just appreciated the body I had instead of worrying that my thighs are too big.

    Now? I keep catching myself looking critically at those same thighs that just a year ago I was so philosophical about. Old habits are hard to break. (And I, too, weigh less and feel much more squashy than I used to be.)

    Good for you for fitting back into a bikini, though! I could never pull off one of those even at my trimmest.

    Hope all went well at the (latest) doctor's visit... please report back.

  14. I think most women, and maybe especially ex-athletes, have some version of this. I'm still recovering from pregnancy, and haven't looked at myself in a full length mirror yet - I'm sure that when I do, I'll have a hard time with it, no matter how healthy I know I am. I'm just hoping I can make it to the gym soon. Exercising makes a world of difference in how I see myself, even in the first couple days when I can't see the effects of it yet.

    I'm sure you look great in your bikini! I was thinking I don't know too many moms who wear bikinis, and I actually just bought a cute 1-piece b/c I was worried that I would never be able to pull off a 2-piece again. We'll see.


  15. I bet you're smoking hot compared to 90%-95% of the world! Just not 18 and swimming 4 hours a day any more.

    I've twice taken 3 months out to work at a yoga centre, eating great food, getting heaps of exercise, swimming in the sea twice a day and doing 90 minutes of yoga, and I was glowing with health.

    Looking back, when you're super fit, it feels like it will last for ever. It doesn't. Any athlete, or anyone who spends 3-4 hours a day in exercise comes to see that body as normal.

    I second the - "don't look at the magazines" comment. They've done studies, and they make women feel worse about their body image .

    The thing is, bikinis most of all feel great to wear - the sun on your skin. And most men are far too happy to be in a room with a near-naked or naked woman to notice stretchmarks.

  16. I know what you're saying, I feel the same way. Now I DO have about 20lbs to loose, but I'm not unhealthy for my height... I'd still be within my healthy range if I lost 20lbs too. (at 5'7", it's a pretty big range you CAN fall into).

    Anyway- a year ago I was at my target weight and now I'm back up again. It's a constant battle. What sucks for me is that I was onec a tiny, happy with my body and comfortable in my skin kind of girl.

    I see nothing but flaws and long to be happy in my own skin again one day. I'm not sure I ever will be again though, because of all the changes having kids' does to your body (I have 2). My hubby is fine with my body too- it's all me.

    It's amazing how your own perception of your body can alter so much of your life... kwim? It seeps into your conscious at the craziest times, and can change how you walk, talk, carry yourself... your confidence is affected and then your personality- because it changes how you interact with others...

    oh, and I love the oatmeal cookies from subway- I HIGHLY recommend them!

  17. I don't think you have an eating disorder. It's hard to NOT be be quasi-obsessed with the bod. Personally, I'd rather be quasi-obsessed with gaining weight than not. Most of my family is over weight and that shizz is not happening to me!