Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Power of a Strong Self Image

An inherent impacting factor in most cases of depression and anxiety in women would have to be their self esteem and self image.  In the last two weeks, I've recognized the veritas of a thing called Body Dysmorphia or "Self Enhancement".  Often you hear it in connection with people who have experienced such devastating illnesses as anorexia, bullemia, and exercise addiction.  But I'm telling you today, that I too have what I think is some sort of body dysmorphia.  I'm no doctor, but when I look at my mirror, or I consciously look inward and actually feel my own physical presence, I realize that I feel a certain size and I look a certain way.  Then I see photos that were taken very recently, and I see something entirely different and very discouraging.  Something I feel embarrassed by and something that makes me feel like there's a bigger mountain to climb than I ever dreamed it would be.

I can tell you with stark honesty that I have never felt as big as I look.  That's not to say I didn't always feel too fat or too large, unhealthy or uncomfortable.  It's obvious if you've read anything I've written, that my size and my health are at the forefront of just about every singular thought that runs through my mind.  It conditions my response to the world I live in, in every single situation I face.  And when it has become glaringly obvious to me that the way I already felt was better than the reality, well, that leaves me with a distrust in my own perceptions of the choices I've made, in addition to making me wonder that with all the beating up I've done of myself, if it was nearly enough.  Which in turn (as you've probably already guessed) triggers a new round of anxiety and depression for me.

So, this is how I looked at Halloween:

And this is how I look now:

I can see a glaring difference, though I'm sure many won't.  Though it's not what I would have hoped for.  And it's certainly not how I feel when I step into pants I've not worn in over a year.  The major differences are what create the woman in this photo.


I am happier today than I have been in such a long time.  I am more well rested and more balanced than I can remember being since I was a teenager.  I have more energy and more ummph than I had last Halloween as I feverishly tried to fit carving a pumpkin between rounds of children's tylenol, yet another sick day and a sad little review of the bank account.  Oh yeah - and bath time, dinner dishes and planning for the next day.  And in the "after" photo, most of my body is hidden.  Disguised.  Not discernible as a particular shape.  Thank goodness for black on black!

What makes me happy is that I'm not lugging around the extra 30 odd pounds, but also that I have a husband and child who adore me as much as I adore them.  But all of this comes from a strong sense of self and willpower to be strong and independent.  Beneath all of the anxiety and depression and obesity, lies a strong and confident, intelligent and resilient woman.  I carry the world on these shoulders, for at least 5 people, probably more.  And my God they are strong.

Which brings me to the actual way this post was originally envisioned.  There's a bruhaha over Disney's redesign of it's character Merida, in advance of releasing her as an "official" princess.  And  I know I've been sitting on it for a while, but I was honestly trying to find the right way to describe why it offended me.  At it's most basic level, a cartoon is just that, and it's their property to do with as they wish.  I should have very little to even think of it, as a wise woman suggested in her post on the same topic.  But here's where the rub started with me, and where it ends is with the ever constant imagery we get from the world at large around us that influences (to my own shock and horror) our view of ourselves in the mirror.

Merida and the movie Brave by Disney signaled a real paradigm shift for women at large that reinforced what we've been trying to overcome for centuries.  Women are capable, independent, fiery and naturally beautiful.  If we can simply exude confidence and courage enough to show it, we're capable of redefining this world for the better.  For me too, the story within the movie reinforced something that every other Disney princess movie has blatantly pushed aside and in many cases tried to cast as not normal.  That it's possible to have a confident, fiery, capable princess who bucks the system and doesn't require a man, but more over who recognizes the strength, love and transcendent bond that a real mother and her daughter share.


Merida and her natural mother Elinor battle bears and nature and often each other to find a way to mend their bond and save the mother.  Unlike the evil step mothers in every other princess movie, this mother shows angst over choosing to try and steer her child onto a path she believes will be the best for her and the kingdom she will inherit.  "She does what she does out of love", never for profit or personal gain.  Never for the evil and selfish betterment of her own biological brood.  There's no sending Merida out with a huntsman and a box...especially not when Merida's amply armed, trained and capable of defending herself.


So when a corporation does what it always does, without even thinking of the injustice it serves it's own brand through Merida, you feel gobsmacked, disheartened and angry.  I am not letting Disney raise my child, or allowing my child to grow up believing that the best thing in the world to idolize is a Disney Princess.  But there is absolutely no shielding them from the draw of the Disney brand, and with Merida in the mix, potentially, it's not so harmful to let them fantasize and explore the world of princesses a bit.  When I was my own daughter's age, I watched them faithfully, and still one of my favourites is Sleeping Beauty.  Note there's no evil stepmother in this movie, and the girl lands with the prince she thought was just an average guy.  He also fell for a girl, thinking she was just an average girl.  Kind good fairies kept her safe from evil for 16 years and loved her as their own daughter...not all the other dark, sordid tales of woe and despair that you see with Snow White and Cinderella and the like.

The end result of taking such a dramatic change on such an impactful character in the lives of young girls who are finally getting outside examples of strength in a medium they connect with, is truly criminal.  It has no choice but to show the smarter ones of the bunch, that there's a difference between average and "vavavoom"...and most of us don't have what it takes to get the "vavavoom" makeover.  It contributes to the way we look at ourselves in the mirror at such an early age.  And that's shameful.

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