It’s not just about body image. It’s about shame. And shame, dear readers, is the enemy of change. I’ve heard it said that guilt is useful, because guilt is an emotion with an object. The logic follows, if you feel guilty, the guilt should force you to reflect and (hopefully) change future behavior. Guilt has a purpose, and with normal, healthy amounts, it keeps our society running where people are generally able to get along with one another.
Shame is an entirely different animal.
While guilt focuses on actions (bad behavior) shame focuses on self (bad self). The world of difference between “I did a bad thing” and “I am a bad person” is the difference that can allow change to occur or stop reflection at all. You see, when I am ashamed, it is so painful to look at my behavior I fall into denial. When I am ashamed, I am ashamed of myself and my person.
Theoretical concepts to the side, most (Americans) view personality as fairly static and resistant to change; the rise in 10-15 year courses of psychotherapy are based on this concept, that it takes years to change yourself. A short history lesson on therapy; the mode of therapy currently in vogue and with most supportive evidence is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and it is based on the simple premise that by changing our thoughts and our behavior we can change our mood and the way we view the world. And it works. Study after study after study supports this connection. But shame is the pitfall – shame is the trap.
Those of you reading who have suffered from an addiction of any kind are most likely familiar with this concept. Since I focus on bodies, I will be (mostly) concerned with food, but those struggling with gambling, alcohol, drugs, sex or really anything should recognize the dynamic. You decide to make a change, you’re not going to use (your drug of choice) anymore. At all. And when you slip and eventually turn back to it, it’s a weight on your chest. You close your eyes, you hide in a dark room, you can’t face what you’ve done. It feels like you can’t breathe. It hurts to talk with your loved ones the next day and tell them how well you’re doing. You no longer did a bad thing. You are a failure, a fuck up, no good, worthless slime. And all of a sudden, it’s not behavior you can change, it’s just the way you are, and who you are is shameful.
So what we’ll be discussing is a balancing act. An act between personal power and determining factors in our lives, the impact society has on the individual, as well as hope for change. Class, race, gender, motivation, education will all play a part. As we progress, I’m sure these issues will intertwine in the discussion and it will be a long and wandering road with no firm end. I welcome discussion and topics in the comments, with an expectation of respect. Remember, you are not anonymous here – you are a member of this community, and as such respect applies.
It’s not just about body image. Or being a woman. Or feminism, for that matter. Or psychology. Or mental health. Or society. It’s all of those things together. So let’s go!