I’ve been resisting the whole ‘distorted body image’ debate. Trying to steer clear of clichés or over-simplifications. Trying not to replicate the patronising overtones that I used to hear in the references to my own distorted image.
They missed a crucial point: it wasn’t my body image that was distorted; it was my interpretation of my body image.
And there’s a subtle difference.
To someone who’s obsessively tidy, a few cobwebs, a speck of dust and a misplaced book may seem like the height of messiness. To a normal level of tidiness person, the same set up may pass the tidy test. To someone used to living in a dump, it’s immaculate.
You see? It’s all a question of relativity. It all links back to those personal interpretations again.
Our three examples were faced with the same scene – they just rated it against different standards and latched on to different things.
The body image thing was similar for me. I don’t think that what I saw in the mirror was wildly different to what the person standing next to me saw. It’s just that my idea of what was fat and what wasn’t was wildly different.
You’d assume that this would make it easier to deal with. That the obvious solution would be to stand next to someone who matched your perception of being fat. That you’d quickly realise that your standards of judgements were way off the mark. But nothing’s ever that simple.
The first point’s human nature: we chastise ourselves for not getting up earlier, for example; but rarely level the same charge against anyone else.
The rest is linked to eating disorders and the way that they screw with your head.
When I started, 7 stone was thin. I got accustomed to that, so the marker moved back a notch. 6 ½ stone was the new thin. A little bit later, I got accustomed to that too, so the marker moved back a notch. 6 stone was the new thin. Being in hospital raised the stakes – and warped the comparators. Again, the marker moved back a notch. 5 ½ stone was the new thin.
It’s a lethal spiral. And it only goes in one direction.