“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” –Mary Oliver
At the beginning of my work, when eating disorders were first being named and talked about, I was very naïve. I thought that once people understood the harm that our “thin ideal” body image created, the obsession with weight loss and thinness would disappear or at least gradually diminish. Instead, over these three plus decades what I have witnessed is that it’s only gotten worse.
The “ideal” for women’s bodies has changed over time, becoming ever more rigid, from “slender” in the 1970’s, “hard body” in the ‘80’s, thinner and more muscled still in the ‘90’s. Men have been feeling the pressure as well—in their case to have “six-pack abs” and no fat on their bodies for muscle definition. But for women the current times are harder than ever. Right now women are supposed to have large breasts and buttocks, with no waist. There are even corsets resembling the “tight lacing” of past decades that displace internal organs and make it literally hard to breathe.
In her book, American Girls Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers Nancy Jo Sales describes the pressures on girls. Many teens now get their sex education from on line porn, typically depicting rape, physical abuse, and other “rough sex” acts as the norm. Girls base their self-esteem on how many “likes” they can accumulate from carefully staged and edited selfies posted on apps like Yik Yak, Snapchat or Tinder. Boys are trained to see girls as commodities, unworthy of respect. Texting has replaced conversation so that many don’t know how to talk to another person.
What I have always mourned is that this obsession with appearance and the endless efforts to attain the elusive “perfect body” rob all of us of intelligence, time, motivation, passion and talent. What might girls and women have brought to our world had they not been focused mostly on their appearance? How much more energy would they have if they were not starving? What might they have done with their lives were they not constantly trying to diet? What might their creativity have produced were it not wasted in hours devoted to fashion, makeup and hair styling? If they were not distracted by futile attempts to win others’ fleeting approval, what would they actually want to do with their lives?
One of the things I love about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) is its emphasis on discerning then acting on one’s values. Our values provide us with an unerring compass that gives our lives direction and meaning—IF we are able to discern what our true values are and find the courage to act on them. When I ask my clients to tell me what they truly value and what kind of life they think would be satisfying and fulfilling, most initially can’t say. But when they do begin to inquire inside and are able to articulate what is most important to them, so far I have never heard anyone say that appearance is an important value to them. Yet many are literally giving their lives, their precious time, over to just that: looking like whatever is the current ideal of beauty.
If you haven’t already, why not discover your most deeply held values? Begin with three or five values most important to you. And once you have some clarity about your values, the next step is to find an action that will take you in the direction of living one or more of your values. For example, if caring for animals is an important value for you, an action step might be finding a shelter where you can volunteer.
https://www.smartrecovery.org/smart-recovery-toolbox/values-and-goals-clarification/ and many other sources list values and activities for discerning one’s own truth. Here is a quick example of living our values https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-lRbuy4XtA
Life is precious and surprisingly short. Make it meaningful!