What are the consequences of body shaming? What does coping with comments on our appearance lead to? Here’s my therapy story and how I healed my self-image.
My first encounter with body shaming was by some girls in class when I was a teenager.
I thought they were being my friends.
They would constantly tell me I have fat legs or I wasn’t curvy enough like a girl should be. That I couldn’t dance as femininely as the other girls. Furthermore, I’d hear remarks about not being fair-complexioned, and that my hair was ugly because it wasn’t silky smooth.
I also remember a few occasions when my dressing sense was commented upon in a not-so-positive way.
Thus, I remained conscious of my body and appearance throughout my teen years and early twenties. This resulted in many subconscious decisions to cope with the fear of body-shaming.
Pulling up my socks all the way to my knees, and wearing extra long skirts as a part of the school uniform.
Rarely ever casually wearing dresses, because I didn’t want to reveal my legs.
Avoiding dancing in public because I didn’t want to ‘not look lady-like’.
Wearing loose-fitted clothes to hide my body shape.
Wearing stripes and formals to appear ‘professional’.
Almost always keeping my hair tied-up in a ponytail.
Trying unnecessary face packs and hair masks to conceal the flaws.
My method of coping meant associating being ‘girly’ with being mean and arrogant, the way those girls were, who made fun of me in my teen years. This thus, meant that I was also avoiding makeup, ignoring high-heels and gravitating towards the label of a ‘tomboy’.
But this finally began to change, once I started feeling more confident in my skin and hanging out around people that saw the good in me.
They saw me for more than my appearance.
I finally experimented with my hairstyle once I was 23 years old, in office! Not because somebody was watching me, but because I wanted to embrace my feminine energy.
The real breakthrough came when I started shopping for my wedding.
My mom, sister-in-law and husband played a huge role in encouraging me to expand my wardrobe outside the realm of ‘jeans’.
One outfit at a time, one dangling earring at a time, one pair of high heels at a time, my hesitations began to dissolve.
It was the effect of inner work, support from loved ones and building self-confidence, that finally cornered this silly notion that fat girls don’t wear dresses.
So here I was. Finally, ready to move beyond my inner critic.
Body positive is not just a fad, it’s a necessity.
Every child and teenager needs to know that they look perfect, just the way they are. And it is the responsibility of every adult to acknowledge everything that makes a child beautiful – not just their outer appearance.
What is the impact of abandonment issues on our mental health? Here is my therapy story, and the kind of inner child healing I experienced with self-care.
Growing up, I faced a lot of abandonment issues.
The earliest memory is when I was 5 years old, and a Brazilian girl in my apartments announced that today was her last day. She was moving away. And it turned out, she was mad at me about something.
I had no clue why, but she went ahead and made fun of me infront of our friends. It was embarrassing but I wanted to rectify this. She was very dear to me. So I tried apologizing to her. But she pushed me away and left.
I never knew what became of her. I’ve forgotten her name and her face. But that was my first taste of rejection and stayed hidden in my subconscious for decades to follow.
As I grew older, there was a recurring incident of being kicked out of my group of friends. It was always a group of 4 or more girls, and somewhere down the line, I would be asked to go sit with someone else, or that I wasn’t wanted in their conversation.
In short, I always ended up alone. And this abandonment affected my self-worth over a period of time.
As a consequence, my introvert nature revealed itself in a deeper capacity. I started hanging out with one friend at a time. Groups made me uncomfortable and unwanted. When I didn’t have that ‘one’ friend, I would resort to being alone and doing my own thing.
It wasn’t until I came to college, that I made a lasting group of friends. Infact, when everyone showed up at my wedding, it was truly a healing touch for my wounded inner child.
How I Coped With My Abandonment Issues
Because of several childhood incidents, which I also talked about in the first two parts of My Therapy Stories, I became a people-pleaser. I had low self-esteem.
So, I constantly seeked people that validated me, for the things I did for them.
I tried to retain friendships by being extra nice as a person. It was as though I was always over-compensating for the friendship I lost at the age of 5.
I would make it a point to always go talk to the new kid, or the quiet kid. Because I knew how it felt to be left out.
I would spend hours making handmade gifts on birthdays, going out of my way to help my friends in whatever way I could. Emotionally, morally, financially. But I rarely ever experienced the same affection back for me.
I felt confused and unloved.
There were moments when all the heartbreak and abandonment had me second-guess my self-worth. But once I evolved from this behaviour, I was able to resolve a vital question on my journey towards Self-Love – do I love ‘too much’?
Inner Child Becomes Outer Rebel
People-pleasing combined with an introvert personality also led me to always be the good kid. Even when I didn’t like something, I never spoke up. Later, I became aware of this, and started rebelling and being defensive.
I would refuse to do as I was told. This lasted for a while, only until I started making sense of the importance of creating healthy relationship boundaries.
Through therapy, I learned that two people in a dialogue can both be right, and yet disagree. Someone’s opinion doesn’t invalidate mine. And I can be the mature one to hold space for both of us.
Ofcourse, I still sometimes struggle to do what someone else wants me to, because I feel scared that I am conforming again. The sense of righteousness within sometimes shows itself and gets in the way of having a happy conversation.
This is also why I am often called assertive and inquisitive. I have extensive discussions, and I want my mind to be able to do something without feeling invalid for how I feel.
But the lesson is clear to me. You have to believe in yourself first, you have to be your biggest supporter, not just the biggest critic. Everyone else’s approval comes after that, never before.
Abandonment is a common fear that can lead to insecurity, lack of self-worth and a big impact on the kind of relationships we enter. So many times, we hold on to less-than-healthy people because we are scared that we will be alone once again, if they leave us.
Dealing with my fears helped me close the loop on such relations, and step into healthier, fulfilling dynamics.
So, I encourage you to reflect on your own childhood memories, and identify the patterns that created who you are today. Is the fear of being abandoned a part of your story too?
Self-Esteem can be effected by a number of things. Health was my reason. Here’s what therapy revealed for my well-being and confidence levels.
Some people are just overly susceptible to falling sick and all other kind of health issues. Growing up, I was one of them. This is part 2 in My Therapy Stories and I’m here to tell you about how inner child therapy boosted my self-esteem.
Growing up, I always felt so much guilt and shame, because my immunity wasn’t great. Constantly falling sick meant missing important events and opportunities. It’s funny and saddening at the same time to recall some of the things that shaped my image amongst people (and in my head too).
HEALTH (& GUILT) IN CLASS
I missed a lot of exams, took a lot of ‘half-days’ where my dad would have to bring me back early from school. I felt grateful for him, and yet quite ashamed of myself for constantly causing him this inconvenience. More and more, I tried to be independent and to not need my parents for anything.
Rarely, this was the case. So you can imagine the guilt-ception that followed. And the downward spiral of confidence levels and self-esteem.
This one time, when I was about 9 years old, our class went on a field trip to a house-turned-museum.
I was so sick that I puked in the museum’s non-usable toilet. Yikes! Post that trip, one of my classmate’s parents commented, about how sick I always am. A face of disapproval and disgust accompanied her words.
In a session of Writing Therapy, I recalled this particular incident, which as a child became the root of my ever-increasing guilt.I was made to believe that I was inconvenient.
Another time, once I was back in India and a lot older, one of my teachers sympathetically told me that she thinks I should get some kind of special ‘havan‘ (an Indian ritual to please the Gods) done to free myself from all the ailments.
This same teacher went ahead and down-played my responsibility as a House Caption (to a Vice), just because she thought I’m always sick and won’t be available to take on the role. Thankfully for me, the Captain became one of my best friends, and we also had a good laugh about the situation.
Self-esteem? What’s that?!
Even as I continued to grow up, I continued falling sick and missing out on a lot of things.
In college, we planned the first and last trip, us friends. As you can probably tell by now, I didn’t go, because my health gave away, last-moment.
Sure, my friends were supportive, and also cracked a few jokes at my dispense, but internally, it can become exhausting never being able to rely on yourself.
For the longest time, people held the impression of me as the girl that always falls sick. That label, the one I appalled the most, clung on harder with each passing year.
BUT DID YOU DIE?!
No. Things finally took a turn when I began working.
Work was flexible – I could work from home if I wasn’t feeling well. By the end of my 3.5 years stint, I was barely ever taking time ‘off’ and I was in much better health.
Also, I had two adorable roommates that took care of me when I needed to be mothered. One would get me food, the other would bring back medicines on her way from work. They showed me that it’s okay and natural to fall sick. And that I am lovable, regardless of how well my white cells can fight.
When I first started living with my roommates, I would carry a sweater, umbrella and allergy pills even if we were going out for a dinner date. Simply because I didn’t want to fall sick. I used to carry a mask and stay miles away from anyone that remotely had a cold, because…. well.
HOW LOVE SHOWED ME MY SELF-WORTH
Ofcourse, there were some really ‘down’ moments, such as the time I cancelled my own birthday because of an Irritated Bowel, or the time time I booked a trip but couldn’t go because of the same irritated bowel.
By the end, however, I was able to laugh at my sickness and honour the downtime. These were opportunities to reflect and rejuvenate my health, both mentally and physically.
There was a particular incident where I fell and my foot’s ligament tore. This meant months of bed-rest. And a big ‘no’ against visiting the water park.
I was no longer guilty. I enjoyed that day at home, colouring (therapeutic, by the way) and eating pizza. Now I knew better than to blame myself for a situation in which not much could be done.
Sometimes, therapy is simply a loving, conducive environment that lets you be you!Those 2 years taught me a lot about love, especially self-love.And that falling sick had nothing to do with my self-esteem.
THE LAST STRAW
When I fell sick before my wedding, it was embarassing.
It was naturally a crucial time, and everything was falling apart for me. I wasn’t sure I would make it to my own engagement event. This was my trigger point, and I hit another all-time low.
My parents stood by my side and unconditionally supported me; telling me that it’s okay and that it doesn’t make me a weak person, just because I fall sick. I have the right to fall sick and be taken care of. My then-fiancee, was sweet and kept insisting that he’d come see me, inspite his own anxiousness.
Everything turned out great in the end, yes. Infact, it was like a miracle being able to actually enjoy my wedding. As though now, I was as good as new!
Much later, in a one-on-one session of counselling/healing, my healer helped me release more of this guilt and shame. I finally let go out a huge, deeply-rooted roadblock that was responsible for effecting my self-esteem.
Ever since, I practise affirmations to remind myself that my body is strong, and that I should be proud of myself for all the things I DO successfully do on all my good days.
Sometimes, therapy is just a reminder for ourselves to take it easy, and to let go of the performance pressure.
Physical & Mental Health are closely integrated. Once I started releasing myself from the guilt and living in a mindset of wellbeing, I started noticing a significant improvement in both spaces. My confidence level is like never before. And I don’t mean that in an arrogant way, but in a way filled with self-love and joy for my progress. 🙂
There are a lot of ways in which we heal, and this is an attempt to show you the benefits of investing in what the world still ‘stigmatises’. Therapy.
Therapy isn’t for sick people. It’s for people that want to become healthier.