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Real Body Image Talk

Hi. My name is Jessica and I have a problem.

I cannot look at my body without having some sort of criticism. Today, I found some broken blood vessel on my face. It looks like a freckle but up close, it isn’t. I stretched the skin around, inspected it as if I was a scientist, reviewing cells under a microscope. I found the vein. I leaned away from the mirror to see if it was noticeable as it was up close. All I could imagine were varicose veins plaguing my face, like some kind of connect-the-moles game. I started to relive fifth grade again. When the kids made fun of the moles on my face: “Moley! Moley! Moley!” mimicking Austin Powers.

I used to think I had strong, muscular legs. That was until I had a body fat analysis scan that revealed most of my fat is in my legs. Oh, and arms. Now all I see are sausage legs in my cycling kit. I don’t look fast. I look fat. I look like when you stuff a giant pillow into a tiny pillow case – seams and material stretching, pushing maximum density, as it curves into itself.

I am more self-conscious now in shorts knowing full well that there’s more fat than muscles. And I rub the sides of my thighs a lot as if I could rub away cellulite like you do with scuff marks on the floor. Once I scuffed the floor from my bike tires. I tried all different kinds of solutions believing one of them would finally wash away the black rubber streaked across the laminate wood flooring. Finally, I took a butter knife and etched away at the black.

I can’t etch away cellulite.

When I walk, I can feel my inner thighs rubbing together. I know it isn’t muscle because of how much it jiggles. It’s soft and flimsy like silly putty. Only I can’t mold my thighs like a stone statue. And my thighs smash into each other when I sit – doubling in size. I try not to look down when I’m sitting because I know I’ll see a single thigh. One giant, jiggly, fatty thigh.

And I eat another piece of chocolate.

My shirts lay against my stomach just right where I can see the little bump that no matter the number of crunches, planks, or skipped meals, it stays there. I constantly tug at my shirt to hide it, pulling material loose. Using two hands sometimes to stretch the material if it hugs my belly too tight.

I’ll dig my thumbs into my hips trying to find the bone. Then pinching the excess that peeks over my jeans. If no one’s around, I’ll lift my shirt high enough and stare and scrutinize my midsection. Twisting and turning to view every possible angle in a desperate search to find the most flattering. Tightening my stomach, pushing it out, and sucking it in to find the right amount of contraction it’ll take to make it look flat. But it never gets as flat as I want it to. I look down and see that fucking bump every day.

And my gaze travels up. Up to my back where skin folds along my bra strap. Months and months of back strengthening exercises and there’s still back fat leering. Months of attempting to cut portions, match my carb-to-protein ratio, and staring longingly at cookies. Sometimes, I’ll reach behind with a false sense of optimism believing that I’ll be unable to pinch anything.

I call my breasts “orangutan boobs” and now you’re picturing it. A sign of getting older and the effects of gravity. I joke their small size keeps me aero on the bike. Always self-deprecating. Never self-appreciating. I also joke about my “bingo flab,” also known as triceps.

Again with the months of Tricep exercises believing that one day I’ll defy gravity and there won’t be loose skin hanging below my arms. That when I do the first place stance my arms will look strong and mighty, not droopy.

And while I complain about all the physical limitations and imperfections of my body, I never apologize for taking up space. Rarely do I complain to the general public about the size of my thighs or the numerous moles on my face. And when I get really fucking down about my body, I remind myself that at least I have a working one. It takes a single accident to lose it all. With all the activities I do, my flabby stomach drops when I consider what it’d be like to no longer ride my bike, hike, run, stretch, walk, and take care of myself. At that moment my eyes look at the blue sky instead.

Social Media is Making us Crazy

Social media has blown up over the past 10 years, especially with the invention of Facebook back in 2004. It’s not just Facebook that’s grown in popularly; Instagram and Snapchat have also jumped on the bandwagon.

With all the popularity of social networking, it begs the question:

Is social media fucking us up?

It’s making us sad and anxious

The first mental health issue that becomes apparent with increased social media use is depression/anxiety. Because social media is still relatively new, it’s hard to determine whether or not social media usage causes depression and/or anxiety or if people with depression/anxiety use social media more often than those who are not depressed/anxious (Pantic).

Additionally, it’s been suggested that those who use social media the most inevitably develop increased social isolation (cue 40-year old playing Words with Friends on their iPhone alone in the dark). This can be caused due to increasing time on social media and therefore, decreasing in-person connections (Primack et. al).

Finally, increase usage of social media leads to decreased interpersonal communication. Interactions online are superficial compared to interactions in person (Pantic). I mean, how easy is it today to “like” someone’s photo or give it a double-tap and move on instead of engaging in dialogue?

It’s making us insecure…again

Like you weren’t insecure enough when social media first came out (speaking to the 20-something year old’s when I was a budding teenager and wouldn’t leave the house without a pound of eyeliner circled around my blue eyes). Another mental health issue that’s pervasive among social media users is self-esteem. It’s been said that social networking sites can promote narcissism when the platform is used for self-representation.

When users can decide what they want to publicize, which can either result in higher self-esteem as they pick the parts they admire about themselves or adversely, when seeing others’ pre-selected photos, events, and information, this could impact the viewers’ idea of themselves and threaten their self-esteem (Pantic).

We all know you didn’t wake up looking like that. 

#FOMO

The “Fear of Missing Out” is a third mental health issue that’s associated with increased social media use and decreased self-esteem. Social media can cause users to feel like they are being excluded from events, i.e. “FOMO.”

What isn’t taken into account by the user is that the posted content is curated specifically by the owner and therefore, sends a particular message the owner wants to portray. This, in effect, distorts reality because only part of the story is portrayed. Essentially, users can choose what to make public and what to hide.

For receivers of this information, it falsely appears that the owner leads a “perfect, happier life” and can result in self-esteem issues, FOMO, and anxiety/depression (Primack et. al).

It’s addicting

Finally, there is the concern of social networking addiction with excessive social media use. Certain populations can become addicted to social networks with symptoms such as, “salience, mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal, relapse, and conflict with regards to behavioral addiction” (Kuss and Griffiths).

Kuss and Griffiths define salience as social media being the most important thing the user does during the day.

Mood modification is considered activities on social media platforms conducted to alter moods like increasing pleasure or numbing pain.

Tolerance is signified as more time and activity becomes required to induce the same feeling(s) as before.

Withdrawal is designated as addicted individuals may experience negative psychological or physiological symptoms when not using social media.

Relapse is when an individual drops social media and eventually re-uses it again.

Finally, social media could lead to relationship problems as well as issues at work and at home, which corresponds with behavior addiction (Kuss and Griffiths).

That’s a ton of shit that’s happening to people all because of social media. Not to mention, all the other things that haven’t been identified yet as a problem. The invention of social media is still relatively new and studies are continuously conducted to determine the psychological impacts of its use, especially at an excessive rate.

Maybe we can all start putting our phones away and have IRL FaceTime with the people who are still in our physical lives.

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Works Cited

Kuss, Daria J., and Mark D. Griffiths. “Social Networking Sites and Addiction: Ten Lessons Learned.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, MDPI, 14 Mar. 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5369147/.

Pantic, Igor. “Online Social Networking and Mental Health.” The National Center for Biotechnology Information, Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking1, 1 Oct. 2014, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4183915/.

Primack, Brian, et al. “Social Media Use and Perceived Social Isolation Among Young Adults in the U.S.” American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 6 Mar. 2017, www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(17)30016-8/fulltext#s0030.