Body image is certainly a HUGE issue in the world today, and certainly one that can plague a teen's thoughts. I understand, I do, as a teen I had some body image issues that, on reflection, drove me to attempt "pass." 'Passing" as an amputee means wearing prosthetics and clothes that hide the fact that limbs are missing - I would wear trousers and jeans, even in the height of an Australian summer, purely to hide the fact that I had a leg missing. I never bothered too much with trying to hide my arm, it was always going to be the harder part of my body to "pass.' The only time that I would let others see my limb deficiency was when I was with the Australian Swim team. I trusted my fellow swimmers to accept me, purely because I knew they were as different as I. My teen years, my school years, they were an amalgamation of a strange pride and faltering loathing of my body, because as an athlete I had killer abs, rippling muscles, HUGE biceps and was a size ten, yet I also had the 'social shame' of being different, my missing limbs casting me in the light of pity and shame.
So I get it . . . I do!
That strange rolling feeling in the pit of your stomach,, the critical glance in the mirror, and the 'hiding' of the body parts that don't meet YOUR approval. BUT, I was fortunate in that the Paralympics taught me so much about self confidence, emotional strength, my ability to succeed, my uniqueness, and self belief, that I could see where and why my body image issues lay and how to tackle them.
Now, I know your saying, 'Elizabeth, that's great and all, but not everyone has the advantage of being able to compete in the Olympics/Paralympics, or have anything remotely that HUGE happening in their lives, I'm just your average teenager living in your average city, going to your average school and achieving average success.' I know, I know, I have had some amazing opportunities come my way and I understand that not everyone has the opportunity present itself to be an Olympian, but I do believe that we all can learn from the lives that we are living and we can also be successful in everything that we do, if we believe that we can AND we see the positive, even in the bad. Now, people still see disability as being a bad thing, as something that is to be pitied and mourned, but it's not, at all, it is the complete opposite in fact. You see, difference is really the best part of being alive and being a human being! Difference makes this world interesting and also helps to drive forward the human race, because as a being we have the ability to see, experience, process, and articulate our experiences, and hence contribute to the knowledge of life.
'My missing limbs shouldn't be hidden, shouldn't be 'passed' into ablebodiedness because of fear and shame, my body should be celebrated in all of it's uniqueness, in all it's difference, because my body has given me the gift of life and has given me the vision to 'see' that we are all unique and we are all special and all have so much to give.'
So, are you ready to celebrate your differences? Cause you really are so lucky to have the body you have, and when you realise this you can see that what society expects you to look like is nothing more than a carbon copy of the so-called 'ideal body,' which in western countries subscribes to the 'skinny is best' model. Here's the rub though,, skinny is best, as is curvy, lean, muscly, squishy, tall, short, fair, dark, freckled, missing limbed and all. Whatever your body shape is, it is absolutely fantastic, and as long a you acknowledge this, your body image, self esteem, and confidence will remain positive and assured. Then, you can focus on what is important about your body . . .
. . . that is keeping it healthy, functioning to the best of it's ability, and keeping curious, pushing you out into a magnificent world of sights, smells, sounds, and touch. When your body image is good and hence, your self esteem high, you can realistically assess what life you would like to have - or, see what you are good at and cultivate success in a meaningful and fulfilling way.
It is all about YOUR ATTITUDE really!! Are you an optimist or pessimist? Or do you subscribe to realism? (AND no, being a realist is not seeing the bad and negative as truth, being a realist is being able to acknowledge and accept that we cannot control anything but our thoughts and feelings to events . . .). Me? I choose to be a realist - I have a disability, yes, I am not rich, true, I am not a size 0, very comfortable with that, I am a Paralympic Medalist, I have awesome parents, and I get to live in the UK (to me living in the UK is a good thing!!). I accept all these things as a part of me, and therefore they are neither good nor bad, they just are part of what makes me ME. I chose to keep a positive attitude towards my body, what do you chose?
So, how can YOU develop and maintain a healthy body image and cracking self esteem?
1. Accept your body is your body and that you are damn lucky to have it!!!
2. Aim for being healthy and fit . . . not ill, this means feeding your body with nutritious food, exercising to make your body strong, and learning to chill out - stress is bad!!
3. Cultivate positive maxims (Maxims are a ground rule that can motivate you to certain behaviours and thoughts) to counter negativity. Here are some maxims -
“Real beauty isn’t about symmetry or weight or makeup; it’s about looking life right in the face and seeing all its magnificence reflected in your own.”
“Each individual woman’s body demands to be accepted on its own terms.”
“Everybody has a part of her body that she doesn’t like, but I’ve stopped complaining about mine because I don’t want to critique nature’s handiwork … My job is simply to allow the light to shine out of the masterpiece.”
“Taking joy in living is a woman’s best cosmetic.”