Do you ever cringe when you think certain photos and angles ‘make you look fat’?
I should say outright, I am someone who (secretly, I wouldn’t admit it to my kids) knows that I hate looking at pictures of myself.
So when I look at these two selfies from the swimming pool this week, I have different reactions.
In my head, the one on the right makes me ‘look thin’ and the one on the left makes me ‘look fat’.
When I look at the one on the right, I’m not really thinking about weight. My brain says:
My feeling? Pride. I smile because I remember that I went swimming, and how fun it was.
But when I look at the one on the left, my brain, already in an “I hate looking at pictures of myself” strop, says:
Look at my arms.
My face looks puffy.
My feeling? Disappointment.
Actually, you know what? When I focus on my fat I feel something deeper than disappointment… despair.
Losing my extra weight feels insurmountable.
And it’s not even like my inner voice is openly discouraging!
It’s not like, a total heckler, not saying ‘you’re fat and you always will be…’ or saying ‘I’m ugly or worthless…’.
(Back in the day, when I was binge eating, that voice would have been so harsh, now it’s more of a subtle reminder.)
It’s sneakier than that.
Prod, prod. ‘Reminder: Fat.’
This needs catching. You can’t let this insidious habit-brain harassment poison your relationship with yourself.
Or your photos!
I mean, honestly, how many of us can’t bear to look at photos of even the most joyous times with family?
I bet you even say to your friends “Oh, I hate looking at pictures of myself”, like it’s some fixed thing about your personality? It’s not!
We can totally decide to believe that we are someone who enjoys looking at photos.
We cringe because the day FELT amazing, but then we forget that and think we don’t LOOK amazing.
Solution 1: Don’t focus on fat. Don’t even focus on weight loss.
The fact is, as the Health at Every Size research shows so, so clearly: focusing on weight loss gets in the way of weight loss.
Yes, I just said that.
Let’s say that again: Focusing on weight loss gets in the way of weight loss.
It makes you feel bullied.
It makes you feel undeserving and unconfident.
Lumbered with a problem.
Which is very ineffective emotional fuel for taking action and changing your habits.
Whereas self-love, now.
When you love something, you pay it attention in a good way.
When you love a person, you take time to connect with them.
You spend quality time with them. Have fun. Take an interest in their emotions.
When you love and value something you look after it.
And you would never think “I hate looking at pictures of [something or someone you love]”, now would you? I bet you love looking at pictures of your pets, your grandchildren, your kids, your friends’ weddings…
And moreover, if your child, a sweet child, said “I hate looking at pictures of myself”, you’d be shocked and saddened, wouldn’t you? You see them as bright spirits, not BMI measures.
So the solution is to focus on your relationship with yourself, building the relationship with food you WANT, and (as some evidence shows) focus on health and wellbeing, including your own mental health.
Can you see how putting your attention on valuing yourself, will easily translate into actions of self-care that would be valuable in their own right, and may in turn (but needn’t, if it’s not your priority) translate into weight loss?
Solution 2: Change your thoughts when you look at photos from “I hate looking at pictures of myself” to “I love looking at pictures of that experience”.
Now, you might think it’s the different photos that make you look different and make you feel different about them.
I mean, it’s clear that the photo on the left is taken from above, and perspective narrows my body away from the shot so you can’t really see the spare tyre.
But if you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll have heard me say that it’s our thoughts that create our feelings, not situations themselves.
It’s not the photos: it’s my thoughts about the photos.
We know that this is true because different people have different thoughts about these photos.
I mean, I could show these photos to my kids and they’d probably ask me why I went swimming without them, and feel outraged and jealous.
I could show it to my mum and she’d probably think about the swimming hat and feel embarrassed for me.
I could show this to a stranger and they might wonder if I had seen something surprising in the changing room.
But I feel fat only if I choose to focus on looking at these pictures through the lens of fat and evaluating my body as fat or not.
Now, for me the thought spiral stops there, and having extra fat on my body after more than 8 years as a food psychology coach, and after numerous breathroughs being coached myself, feels reasonably factual, rather than moral.
(Not every day – sometimes I have to bring my brain back from the dumps – but more so than ever before.)
For instance, over the last 2 years I have gained 20lb and I’m neither OK with that nor damning myself for it. It’s just a description of the situation today.
I’m actually very curious about it, and tender to myself. I see those 20lb as having something very important to teach me, something that I missed when I lost them the first time, and when I drop the self-reproach and stay neutral, I feel open and ready to learn it.
In the past I would have made the fact that I found myself fat and saw proof in pictures mean that I’m a human fuckup.
I thoughts there’s something bad about me, because I still had society’s idea that fat is always a bad thing.
And I might have criticised myself for not looking sexy and flirty and amazing in a swimsuit because I felt like that was the currency of society.
Those are things that being willing to work on my body image and self-love and people-pleasing tendencies as separate things from my weight loss have allowed me to do.
But if you struggle with looking at photos, follow this procedure:
- Say out loud or internally “I refuse to criticise myself”.
- Redirect your brain to remembering the experience.
- As you remember the experience, remember all that was around you that you loved.
- Think “I love XYZ”. (Eg. “I love swimming.” “I love the blue of the swimming pool.” “I love living my life and this photo proves it.”
That’s it. Turn the video camera of your awareness back out towards the other people, and the other things you saw that day.
Because that’s why that photo is so inadequate. It’s just proof you were there, but it’s not a record of your unique way of perceiving the world.
In fact, I’d even go so far as to suggest this:
Happiness is losing ourselves in the moment.
When we sink in, and are truly present, we aren’t thinking about our looks.
We let the moment take us. We let our senses absorb all the love and the beauty.
You are unique, and worthy because of your unique aliveness. And one thing that’s unique about you is that nobody else sees the world through your eyes. Reconnect to your true perception of what that experience was.
Remember it. Savour it. Love your body for having senses that allowed you to take it in.
Feel glad (love even) that you have a body: it’s your vehicle for life’s experience.
To hell with the paparazzi!