I torture myself a lot by watching shows like 20/20, Dateline & 48 Hours Mystery. I don’t know why, but they always suck me in. Last Friday, 20/20 did a show on cosmetic surgery. I try not to think about all the women and yes, men too, putting themselves through so much pain because they don’t like the way they look. However, the reality is that too many people pay big bucks to change some physical aspect of themselves to feel better.
I, of course, work with college students. Many of whom would love to get cosmetic surgery but can’t afford it. It is very sad to me that so many people hate so many things about themselves. This week is also National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Another issue that greatly affects a lot of college students. Many students believe they don’t deserve to eat a dessert or any food at all because they already think they are too fat. They only see the people who are thinner than they are instead of being aware of all the different shapes and sizes around them. Where did these messages of hate start?
Unfortunately hating yourself has been going on for a while now. Too often my students will tell me they watched their moms diet and heard their moms put themselves down for being fat. Even if their moms didn’t focus their negative energy on their child, the message still gets sent. Then there are the students whose parents did focus on their weight. This is the hardest to overcome. When you’ve been told by your parents all your life that you aren’t good enough, there is no easy road to believing you are beautiful just the way you are.
The battle to love yourself is hard enough. Just think about how hard it is to then believe someone else could love you? I have many students who either have random sex with anyone available because they don’t think they deserve better. Or I have students who don’t date at all because of their extreme fear of being rejected for how much they weigh.
The key is to learn to love yourself. However, when I see a show on 20/20 about all the beautiful actresses having all sorts of expensive procedures to look even more beautiful, how can I convince some young college student to love themselves just as they are? I’m not blaming Hollywood or everyone’s parents. I just think the messages young people receive today aren’t always the most positive. Yet we expect them not to fall into the eating disorder or cosmetic surgery trap.
Where is it written that you have to be a size 0 to be attractive and get someone to like you? I know my female students see other women in relationships that are not exactly smaller than they are. However, they still mistakenly believe they don’t deserve love. They aren’t good enough. No one would find them attractive. Their eyes tell them one thing, but their brain tells them another. If they can’t afford to have cosmetic procedures done then often they resort to some sort of disordered eating to try to look better.
Yet how come I can’t find anyone who has an eating disorder that is happy? How come you can lose 20 pounds, but it still isn’t good enough? Trust me, if you want to find fault with yourself, you’ll be able to. I know a lot of people who think they will feel better once they are 115 pounds. Only to get to that weight and still think their stomach or their butt is too big. Happiness is not found in a certain size. You may feel a little better, but if your brain is used to negatively picking yourself apart, it isn’t so easy to change.
What happens is that your brain can still trick your eyes. You may look better but your brain will still find something wrong. A lot of women who have lost weight and look good still “feel” fat. This is why eating disorders are about more than becoming thin. It is more often about being sensitive to other people around them and being overly concerned with meeting the expectations of those people. You also don’t have to be in the middle of full-blown eating disorder to have some of these tendencies and ways of thinking. A lot of students I see struggle with their body image and eating habits, but are not considered anorexic or bulimic.
Even if you don’t have an eating disorder, most people with low self-esteem and poor body image need to seek some sort of counseling to develop better self-confidence. It can be hard to fix your self-esteem without help because of how the brain can trick you into thinking or feeling things that aren’t true. Most people who work on their self-confidence also need to work through some issues from their past and learn the steps to fighting intrusive negative thoughts. Some people have been struggling with their self-esteem for years, so just imagine how entrenched some of those negative thoughts and feelings are? Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t feel better overnight. It takes time.
If your confidence is keeping you from getting into or staying in a relationship, don’t give up. Self-confidence is a long process. It’s a balance between learning to accept things about yourself and choosing some things to work on and change. Not everything can and should be changed. Learning to accept yourself is more than half the battle. The other part is having the courage to change some things about yourself that are possible. The biggest thing most people have to change is their thought process, not their weight amazing enough. Although, this seems simple, it is a complex process and is like learning a new language. It takes time and effort, but it is very worth it.
Eating disorders and body image issues are serious. If you want to know more about eating disorders, please click on the links below.