As a little girl, I used to occasionally catch glimpses of my mother’s morning beauty routine. She might be looking here or there for some part of her wardrobe like those shoes or that necklace. Her hair adorned with neat rows of hot rollers pinned in their places and sprayed just enough to hold the curl. The vanity counter had a collection various sized bottles of potions for smoothing this or brightening that. Her makeup bag was filled with every color of eye shadow and lip color you could imagine. The process was magical and my mom was beautiful.
“Our first role models in life are quite simply mom and dad. In some cases it would be your primary caregiver if one or both parent is not present.” Dr. Jennifer Bellingrodt, Psy. D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Ever wonder why you think the way you do about your body or how you arrived at your current version of health? According to the psychoanalytic theory of object relations the image of and relationship to our mother and father turn into objects that we internalize and carry into adulthood as future predictors of our self-image.
Let me back it up just a bit.
Once upon a time you were a kid. You received information about who you should be and what you should look like from the external forces or objects working in your life (e.g. parents, grandparents, caregivers and environment). As a baby and then young child you internalized the information whether or not it was positive or negative. For example, if your mother was fashion or body obsessed, chances are you would be too. If your father never left his arm chair, then it may have been hard for you to view exercise as an important part of your life.
As we get older and begin taking input from various sources like peers or cultural media, the objects we first experienced may be cemented by what we see in our friends, celebrities and television. If they are healthy objects, then we make decisions based on health. If they are unhealthy, unbalanced objects we may have problems identifying how to treat and view ourselves and our bodies.
“I remember reading fashion magazines all the time in high school and college. No wonder I had body image issues! I think I started appreciating my own body and even as having my own beauty after I stopped reading those kinds of magazines.” Emily Lilo, CrossFitter
For the better part of her adolescent years and into her twenties, Emily dealt with body image issues much like many young women her age. Having children only exacerbated these issues and she remembers even considering cosmetic surgery to change what she saw in the mirror.
“After having children, I felt about as far from that ideal [body type] as I had ever been in my life. I had stretch marks and I just felt horrible about my body” says Emily.
Every fitness effort to this point was to lose weight and get smaller and so she started CrossFit to do just that. Much to Emily’s surprise, she started to see other bodies that were strong, beautiful and not “typical” of what she saw in magazines. Bodies that looked like hers. Ultimately, she came to appreciate her strength not only on the outside, but on the inside as well.
“When I found CrossFit, I saw amazing women who could do amazing things and they were proud of their bodies, the top women in CrossFit are great role models because they are strong, fit and muscular and they don’t fit that Barbie image,” says Lilo.
Emily credits CrossFit with helping her redefine her body image as an adult and to be able to convey a healthy body image to her daughter. “There are still days when I think ‘my legs are too big’ or something like that but it doesn’t keep me from doing what I know is healthy for me.”
“I am not the strongest person at the gym but I have learned how to work within the body I have been given and I feel strong and that is important to me.” Priscilla Tallman, CrossFitter
Tall and lanky as a teen, I remember wanting to have more curves. I kept thinking that eventually I would look like other girls or at least look more proportionate than I felt. I coveted the then “supermodel” look of Cindy Crawford or Helena Christensen, but still wore my baggy jeans and shapeless t-shirts – or sports clothes. After having children much of that changed, I was still tall but not so lanky and still no curves. I started CrossFit when my second child was nine months old and I still love it.
I never did get those curves, but I can climb a rope, do a pull-up and move a little bit of weight on a barbell and I’m proud of that.
Best thing is, I see all shapes and sizes of men and women and we applaud each other for the work we are doing and the progress we are making, not for what we look like.
And that is something we could all internalize.
*(This article originally ran in the Triune on October 14, 2013)