Monday, June 1, 2015

Does this blog make my butt look big?

You know that stupid Special K commercial? The one where women step on a scale and instead of seeing their weight, the magic cereal scale displays a word—like JOY, HAPPY or some other emotion I have never felt whilst stepping on a scale. (If that doesn’t ring a bell you can watch it here.)

Well I hate that commercial. More than being a pathetic attempt to get body conscious women to buy over priced breakfast food, the ad plays on one of the biggest fears of most people…standing on a scale for all to see.

Frankly I’d rather do anything else. Forget my pants perhaps, attend a performance of long form improv, get stranded at an airport or constantly worry whether I turned off my hair straighter.

We are our own worst critics—skilled at finding physical flaws we are certain make us hideous and unlovable creatures (ugh my nail beds suck). Being self-critical spans gender, age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity and educational level. While self-awareness can be helpful—for example reflecting on whether you acted like a dick at a party--the problem comes when the pendulum swings too far towards self-loathing.

In an attempt to find scientific fodder for this blog, I researched the mental health consequences of stepping on the scale. At the bottom of my Google search- under articles about whether pooping and then weighing yourself makes a difference (it does…here’s the article you weirdo), I found a study showing the more you weigh yourself, the worse you are likely to feel. Shocker.

I’m not really surprised that in our Kardashian dominated world, we get hung up on our physical features, especially weight--this is particularly (although not exclusively) true for women. But as medical students, we are all in a weird place when it comes to bodies…both ours and other peoples. From breast implants to helping someone with their dark purple stretch marks or short stature or urinary incontinence, medicine thrives on helping people feel better about themselves. Our patients are seeking help because their bodies aren’t perfect and that my dear friend is because our patients are human beings, just like us. Not forgetting your humanity in medicine means showing empathy to patients, but it also means showing empathy towards yourself.

Everyone has something they dislike about themselves, and yet we seem hell bent on appearing perfect in both appearance and performance and when we feel as though we are not able to live up to the impossibly high, waxed, plucked, spray tanned, knows the answer to every question, perfection we want, we feel the need to publicly belittle ourselves.

Submitted in evidence for the jury, exhibit A. Charge: Felony self hate talk:
Karyn and I worked at Tepati this past Saturday and when we finally had a moment to sit down, Karyn offers me half her protein bar. I launch into a tirade about sugars and carbs and how I can never allow myself to eat either one again after imbibing in a full fat mocha that very same morning. She listens to be bemoan my thunder thighs and could pass for pregnant stomach. I was just about to ask her if she thinks I have moon face when she interjects, “I have heard our classmates say the most horrible things about themselves—things they wouldn’t ever say about anyone else and I’m tired of it.” I look at her slightly stunned. I know exactly what she is talking about—not only was I just doing it, but I have heard plenty of my beautiful, smart, talented classmates do it too.

I have to say—it feels really good sometimes, especially when other people join in. We work ourselves up, like sharks on a feeding frenzy of self-flagellation. But its actually a damn shame. Not only because we could be spending our precious minutes of conversation talking about something useful—solving the Israeli Palestinian conflict perhaps? But also because we are making it okay to berate ourselves for being and looking human—something we would never do to anyone else.

If my hatred of feel good cereal commercials is any indication, I am sure as hell not under any delusion that a mantra, quote or blog post can silence those crazy negative feelings. But as Anne Lamott says, "I naively believe that self-love is 80 percent of the solution, that it helps beyond words to take yourself through the day as you would with your most beloved mental-patient relative, with great humor and lots of small treats.


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