Dictionary.com describes it as “the idea, conception, or mental image one has of oneself”.
Google the phrase “self-image” and the first link to pop up is that of Wikipedia’s definition of the term; “A person’s self-image is the mental picture, generally of a kind that is quite resistant to change, that depicts not only details that are potentially available to objective investigation by others (height, weight, hair color, gender, I.Q. score, etc.), but also items that have been learned by that person about himself or herself, either from personal experiences or by internalizing the judgments of others. A simple definition of a person’s self-image is their answer to this question – “What do you believe people think about you?”…”
My question to you, my readers, is do you see the word “reality” in there anywhere? Do you see it in any other attempt to define the word? I assure you that you never will. Self-image is, simply and basically, in your head! Some may feel like I am oversimplifying the term but if you really think about what it comes down to, no matter what definition you feel most comfortable with for the phrase, it is that it’s in your head.
Yet somehow, almost everyone is obsessed with their self-image. I have to admit that I was never as obsessed with mine as my peers until I became a mother. That’s not to say that I had unbreakable self-confidence before then, just that I have always been fairly content with who I am. I find that those who aspire to be something that they are not, and most probably never will be, are the ones that suffer most from their self-image. On the flip side, there are those that are in denial. Those who see themselves as something they most definitely are not! Believe me, I’ve seen my fair share of such people … they’re what you’d call “full of themselves”. Both groups of people, in my humble opinion, are heading down a winding road of self-destruction … different roads for sure, but the same destination in the end.
So, what changed when I become a mother? Well, life happened! I had two beautiful children in two consecutive years. They are the light of my and their father’s life but being pregnant for 18 months in a two-year span was hectic for me. I am a petite person by nature, so I don’t feel like I have the bone structure to support my pregnant body the way other women do. I was fortunate enough, both times, to have seldom experienced nausea! The feeling was there but my body didn’t act up on it as often as you hear happens. I was also really lucky to have not gained weight during either pregnancy, I actually lost 5 Kg with each baby! Many asked me if I was overweight before getting pregnant. If by overweight you mean 7 Kg over my “ideal” weight then, YES! And I say it proudly because I am not a woman who has ever wanted to be model-like, it’s just not who I am. At one point in my life I was faced with a challenge to be so, and I succeeded, but it just wasn’t for me and so I went back to being myself the first chance I got! You have to be comfortable in your own skin, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman, young or old, conservative or a free spirit … you should always be you, and not what anyone else wants you to be.
The deliveries of both my children were tougher than I ever imagined. Without going into much detail, it suffices to say that I gave natural birth both times without taking any drugs for the pain during childbirth! Emotionally, as well as physically, the experience was truly draining. I did gain weight 3 months after each pregnancy. With my first child I went back to my “normal” weight and with my second I gained way more than that (his birth was truly the hardest experience of my life, on him as well as me). However, I never obsessed about how I looked. A big part of that had to do with the fact that my family loved me no matter what and always told me how beautiful I am without ever mentioning anything to me. Another part was that I understood that I looked the way I looked because of all that I’ve been going through plus the lack of sleep and all that stuff that everyone knows about once you have a baby. I would have loved to gain enough weight to be myself and not an ounce more, but life doesn’t happen that way.
Your outer appearance is important. It does boost your self-esteem when you know you look good. You may even feel happier, overall, if you are at your “ideal” weight. But do you really want to be defined by a number? Can your entire life be summed up in 2 or 3 digits? All your accomplishments, your dreams, your life experience, your imprint on this world, your aspirations for the coming life, your hopes and dreams, your contributions to society, your love for family and friends, your scars, your laughs, etc? So, I am supposed to be a 65 … now that I am a 72 does that make me a complete failure? Should I just sit in a dark corner and mourn my lost life? NO, and neither should you!
A person can be his/her “size 0” but be ugly on the inside. I’ve met people whose ego destroyed their relationships. Others who simply cannot stop lying and cheating. Others who hate to see others happy and don’t even know why. Others who devote their lives to spreading rumors about all those around them. Others who would do anything to reach their goals in life even if it means stepping on everyone else on their path. Those people are all ugly, so so ugly! Your inner beauty ALWAYS shines through, no matter what, but you cannot hide your inner ugliness since there is no makeup for it. You may think you are fooling all those around you by projecting something that you are not, but in reality, everyone can see right through that mirage.
Instead of focusing on a number or a size or how you look in your jeans, embrace your imperfections. Remember that you are human and humans were created by Allah (God) in the best form there is, yet perfection is preserved for Him and Him only! You need to understand that even the loveliest of people out there aren’t necessarily the kindest, the purest, the sweetest, the most selfless nor the most caring. You need to be content with who you are and make sure that if at any point you feel self-conscious or unbalanced, then you need to pause, take a deep breath and decide on a game plan to go back to your point of balance. Not the point that society dictates upon you, or your partner, or your best friend, but the point where you feel like “you”.
I love my stretch marks, my husband and I find them attractive because they are a reminder of when we were pregnant with our beautiful children. I would never trade my tummy for the more toned one I once had because the price would be having no kids! I don’t care that I was 25 Kg over my ideal weight at one point, what matters is that I am now leading a healthier lifestyle aimed at maintaining good health and reaping the seeds of a happy future with my family and loved ones rather than dieting to achieve a meaningless number! I have a friend who finds a big scar across her chest to be a badge of honor, because she defeated cancer. Another who proudly is 110 Kg, because she used to be double that weight and is now on a journey to be healthy. Another friend who is glad to have gained over 20 Kg, because it’s the result of stopping smoking. I have a very happy and confident friend (you know yourself) who is over 100 Kg now while I have another who is 55 Kg and is always depressed and in-content because she keeps failing to diet and lose those “extra” 5 Kg she wants to put off to be a size zero to the extent that she caused herself a stomach ulcer!
Embrace your imperfections and try to realize what they really mean. More often than not, there is an incredible story behind them. A story of courage, survival, strength, pain, laughs, wins, losses, struggles or just trying. The more you think about yourself, and your TRUE self-image, the more proud you are going to be of yourself and of how far you’ve come along. And if it’s something superficial with no story behind it, then it must be something that is negligible! Its size doesn’t matter, its shape doesn’t matter, its color doesn’t matter … what matters is that you could care less about it.
Self-image is in your mind. If you have a beautiful mind and love yourself, no one else should make you feel otherwise. You are the best judge of your own character. You are the only person who knows everything about yourself, you know your secrets, you know the not-so-proud moments of your life, you know the significant moments of your life, you know the successful ones, you know the I-almost-got-it ones … if you truly think about what you have been through in the 20, 30, 40 or 90 years you’ve been on this Earth, you will sincerely conclude that you are a strong person who deserves your own love, if nothing else. So love yourself, work on it if you feel like you need to work on it, but don’t define yourself by your looks because that’s the last thing that anyone who truly cares about you sees in you and is of absolutely no value once we pass on to the next world.
Think about that for a moment, and remember … you are beautiful, no matter what 🙂