My distorted self-perception

What do you see when you look at yourself? Do you see what others see? Does what you see in the mirror match what you see in pictures of yourself?

I know that I do not see what others see when looking at me. And this is common. But how much of what we see is also accurate? Is any of it accurate?

Physical distortions

Recently, I was caught in traffic due to an accident. I was thinking about workouts (when am I not?) and clients. The majority of my clients – past and present – have fat loss goals. Many women will state, “I want to look like you!” I generally reply with, “Thank you for the compliment! Together we will work to find the best YOU.” Or something of the sorts.

When I stop to truly think about it, it baffles me – others want to look like me? I have had women want legs like mine, or a butt, or arms. I have had clients comment on how they would like a flat stomach like mine – I remark that my stomach is not flat and that they need to find a different standard to work towards! And all I want are abs like – any number of my fit friends. What is it we are looking for in what we perceive to be perfect physical attributes?

What does this boil down to? Many woman would be satisfied with my physique – so why am I not? OR, would they be just as self-critical once they obtain their ‘ideal bodies,’ identifying new targets for improvement and perfection?

What I wonder is, are my abs better than I see in the mirror? Is there a physiological or psychological lapse between my cornea and my brain? I believe that these thoughts result from being told I have body dysmorphic disorder (as good of a reason as ever to never label someone). Is what I see accurate – and how do I know?

To be unaware

I have no awareness of my outward beauty. It does not occur to me that I am attractive. A compliment often goes in one ear and out the other, without a second thought. This is not to say that I think that I am unattractive – I am simply ambivalent. I have been told this is better than being arrogant about my looks – I am not so sure! I was recently asked, “If you had to choose between being dumb or being ugly which would you choose?”

I would choose ugly. Hands down.

I place great value on my intelligence and mental aptitude – and next to no value on my physical appearance. I do not know that this is right or wrong, but it is.

The bottomline

I am not overly concerned with my physical appearance – and never have been. I seldom wear makeup. I rarely use a brush or a comb in my hair (lucky, I know!). I do not spend much time or money on my wardrobe.

However, I do have a distorted self-perception. I do not believe that I look fit. I view myself as a ‘big’ girl – with an athletic build. Does this thinking negatively influence my life in ways of which I am not aware?

Today, I am left blogging about questions that I do not have answers to.

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Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. ~ 1 Peter 3:3-4

An honest battle with body image

I have to be honest. It is irrational, but I have body image issues. As I mentioned in my post on Phantom Fat, I do not always see an accurate image in my reflection – it is sometimes replaced with what it used to be. More often than not, I simply just see the imperfections. As a fitness professional, I hold myself to a high standard – I must be fit, healthy, and essentially perfect. And despite my inspiring level of fitness and athleticism, I beat myself up for my imperfections. I know many of us are guilty of this. And I find that the more I focus on my fitness, the more I am obsessed with attaining the perfect body and the more frustrated I become with what God has given me to work with. So, I need to reign in my thoughts and refocus on my achievement goals.

I was very careful with my 2013 goal selections – focusing on physical achievements over physical appearances. I become frustrated because my appearance does not always display what I feel my fitness is – for example my lack of 6-pack abs. I am probably most insecure about my torso – and genetics, not my strength or effort – are at fault. I would generally advise against placing blame on your genes, but they do control our bodies structure and nutritional needs to a certain degree. My torso, with my rotated rib cage and protruding left side is a sore sight to my eyes. Can I fix that? It is skeletal, it is structural – it is kind of what it is! I also carry my ‘fat’ in my tummy – this is part genetics (my father will tell you that my mother always had a little tummy, too) and part stress. I will need to become EXTREMELY lean before you will see my rectus abdominus. You can, however, see my transverse abdominus and of that I am quite proud. But I desire those 6-pack abs! This is what we are taught to work towards!

6-pack abs = strong core?

Think again. When I get in this dark place of body image, I need to remind myself of the TRUTH. A 6-pack is not representative of a strong core. A 6-pack will not help me with my heavy bag crunches (and I have decided that I can probably do the crunches – I do not have access to a heavy bag and am training with a roman chair).

Core strength and stability is commonly misunderstood. Typically, the core is associated with the abdominal muscles groups and stability is associated with isometric or static strength or the appearance of the 6-pack. The main core muscles include the transverse abdominus, the internal and external obliques, the quadratus lumborum, and the diaphragm – rectus abdominus is a secondary. These muscles work together to protect the contents of the abdominal cavity and provide support to the spine and pelvis during movement. Most individuals – and trainers – miss training the transverse abdominus. Why? Lack of education and awareness. So I will tell you now – get your rotational exercises into your workouts.

Battling with body image

I do not question my strength. I do not question my physical ability. I DO question my physical appearance. I do not ‘measure up’ to the fitness models that I am bombarded with day in and day out. How do I expect to inspire and motivate? I have to remind myself that I am REAL. Fitness models rarely eat – this is a known fact. Competitors and models spend HOURS in the gym each day – while I only workout ONE hour. Lastly,they take supplements and other things that I do not want to think about. I’m natural. I eat real food and take the normal daily supplements.

I am caught up in a weird place. I am not happy with my body as it is. But I do not want to go through the harmful behaviors required to obtain that ‘perfect fitness body.’ I ask myself, if I do 100 situps per day for a month, adding gradual progressions, will I see the results I desire? Actually – been there and done that and the answer is no. What if I ________? Ideas galore, but they are all crazy – literally.

So what needs to change? Something needs to change. It is my mind.

The bottomline

A negative body image is far too common in our culture. I compare myself with others – why can other woman (particularly frustrating when it is women who are less fit than I am) have flat stomachs and I cannot? Well, God made me this way – and that is the truth, not an excuse. The following is an excerpt from a post by Nicole Hawkins, PhD on

Seven Ways to Overcome Negative Body Image

1. Fight “Fatism”
Work on accepting people of all sizes and shapes. This will help you appreciate your own body. It may be useful to create a list of people who you admire that do not have “perfect” bodies; does their appearance affect how you feel about them? It is also important to remember that society’s standards have changed significantly over the last 50 years. The women that were considered the “ideal beauties” in the 1940’s and 1950’s like Marilyn Monroe (size 14) and Mae West were full-bodied and truly beautiful women, but they would be considered “overweight” by today’s standards.

2. Fight the Diet Downfall
Ninety percent of all women have dieted at some point in their life, and at any one point in time, 50% of women are dieting. Women are two times more likely to diet than men. To dieters’ dismay, 98% of all dieters gain the weight back in five years. Studies also show that 20-25% of dieters progress to a partial or full-blown eating disorder. Women are foolish if they believe that dieting will make them feel better about themselves. Dieting only helps you lose your self-esteem and energy. Dieting also creates mood swings and feelings of hopelessness. If you feel pressure to lose weight, talk to a friend or loved one or seek professional help.

3. Accept Genetics
It is critical to remember that many aspects of your body cannot be changed. Genetics does play a role in your body and at least 25% to 70% of your body is determined by your genes. While there are many aspects of our bodies we cannot change, you can change or modify your beliefs and attitudes which influence the way you feel about yourself. Change starts with you, it is internal and it starts with self-respect and a positive attitude. It is import to focus on health and not size.

4. Understand that Emotions are Skin Deep
It is important to discover the emotions and feelings that underlie your negative body image. The statement “I feel fat” is never really about fat, even if you are overweight. Each time a woman looks at herself in the mirror and says “Gross, I’m fat and disgusting,” she is really saying “There is something wrong with me or with what I’m feeling.” When we do not know how to deal with our feelings we turn to our bodies and blame our bodies for our feelings. Every time you say “I’m fat” you are betraying your body, and you are betraying and ignoring your underlying feelings. Remember that “fat” is never a feeling, it’s avoidance of feelings. Learn to discover your emotions and feelings and realize that focusing on your body is only distracting you from what is “really” bothering you.

5. Question Messages Portrayed in the Media
The media sends powerful messages to girls and women about the acceptability (or unacceptability) of their bodies. Young girls are thought to compare themselves to women portrayed as successful in the media, assessing how closely they match up to the “ideal” body form. Unfortunately, the majority of girls and women (96%) do not match up to the models and actresses presented in the media. The average model is 5’10” and weighs 110 pounds, whereas the average women is 5’4″ and weighs 142 pounds. This is the largest discrepancy that has ever existed between women and the cultural ideal. This discrepancy leads many women and girls to feel inadequate and negative about their bodies. It is important to realize that only 4% of women genetically have the “ideal” body currently presented in the media and the other 96% of women feel they must go to extreme measures to attempt to reach this unobtainable image. Many of the images presented in the media have been computer enhanced and airbrushed. The models’ hips and waists have often been slimmed and their breasts enlarged through computer photo manipulation. Many of the women presented in the media suffer from an eating disorder or have adopted disordered eating behaviors to maintain such low body weights. It is important to start to question images in the media and question why women should feel compelled to “live up” to these unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness.

6. Recognize the Influence of Body Misperception
Women are prone to more negative feelings about their bodies than men. In general, women are more psychologically invested in their physical appearance. Your body image is central to how you feel about yourself. Research reveals that as much as 1/4 of your self-esteem is the result of how positive or negative your body image is. Unfortunately, many women with eating disorders have a larger percentage of their esteem invested in their bodies. Women with eating disorders often exhibit unequivocal body image misperception, in which they misperceive the size of part, or the entire body. Hence they are “blind” to their own figures. This distortion is real and it is not due to “fat,” but to the eating disorder illness. It is important to recognize this misperception and attribute it to the eating disorder. When you feel fat, remind yourself that you misperceive your shape. Judge your size according the opinions of trusted others until you can trust your new and more accurate self-perceptions.

7. Befriend Your Body
It is important to combat negative body image because it can lead to depression, shyness, social anxiety and self-consciousness in intimate relationships. Negative body imagecan also lead to an eating disorder. It is time that women stop judging their bodies harshly and learn to appreciate their inner being, soul, and spirit. A women’s body is a biological masterpiece; women can menstruate, ovulate and create life. Start to recognize you do not have to compare yourself to other women or women in the media. Begin to challenge images presented in the media and realize that your worth does not depend on how closely you fit these unrealistic images.