Two weeks ago, I was in Chicago for work. While I don’t love business travel (this wasn’t a fun press trip but meetings for a consulting client), there are two things I love: 1) being alone in a quiet hotel room and being able to watch whatever I want on TV, and 2) working out in the morning without worrying that I’ll wake someone up or thinking about the laundry list of things to do before everyone gets out the door.
On one morning, the weather looked a little too cold and windy to run outside so I opted for the gym. I cued up a podcast and started running. A few minutes into it, I glanced over at the mirror, then quickly turned away. A few seconds later, I stared at the mirror again. It was like a crash on the side of the highway, one you know you shouldn’t look at but can’t seem to stop looking at. The thing that caught my eye in the mirror? The dimples and folds of cellulite along my thighs.
It was literally all I could think about the rest of the time at the gym. Embarrassed that I chose to wear the shorter Oiselle Roga shorts. Scheming ways to “spot reduce” those fatty pockets even though I know very well that’s an impossible (and unrealistic) task.
In that two seconds it took my brain to register what it saw in the mirror, I erased all the confidence and positive feelings I’ve had lately — feeling healthy and strong again, getting a better handle on my diet, returning to feel-good levels of activity. It only took two seconds for those thoughts and feelings, which took months to restore, to be replaced with self-doubt. All that hard work? Poof. Gone.
I actually forgot about this episode until I read my friend Sarah’s post last week on what she sees when she sees herself. She was plagued by race photos that didn’t match up to her own self-vision. And the undoing factor? Cellulite.
It’s always a bit of a jolt when the image you see of yourself in photos doesn’t match up with the image of yourself that you have in your head. It’s like the circuits don’t compute for a moment.
It reminds me how much power photos can have over us. And it’s not the staged one or the Instagram-worthy ones. It’s usually the candid shots, the ones where my son or my husband catch my off-guard or the in-between shots that my camera self-timer catches. I can go to town nitpicking those photos before deleting them — because they have to be deleted of course.
Sarah’s story, and my story, and so many women’s stories reminded me of how much we are plagued with issues around body image. Even when you think you’ve gone and dealt with that demon, it’s still this little voice that lurks in the background just waiting for a moment of quiet and weakness so it can whisper (or shout) in your head that, nope. Told you so. You aren’t good enough.
And I think that voice gains fuel, particularly through social media.
Last week, I attended a conference and one of the panels discussed the impact of social media on our mental health. One of the interesting points that the panelists brought up was how social media can make ideal body types as well as obsessive behaviors seem OK by normalizing them. We see pictures of six-pack abs or food tracking or day-in and day-out of intense workouts and training plans.
And because we see it out there all the time — and because it’s likely to get a bajillion likes — we may start to view this as normal and it slowly starts to shift our perception of what is real and what is healthy. And at some point, it starts to become a health version of keeping up with the Joneses.
Before anyone gets up in arms, don’t get me wrong. I love love love the fact that social media can bring people together around a shared love or interest like running or yoga or fitness. I love that I’ve found a community of like-minded people who understands the health-wellness-fitness side of me that some friends and family in real life don’t understand.
But it’s important to stay mindful of the power of photos and social media can have and the power that we allow them to have in our lives. And to remind ourselves that there’s a whole life outside of that one snapshot image.
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