She glances at the photo, and the pilot light of memory flickers in her eyes.
– Frank Deford
The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words. Unfortunately, for many diets survivors, these are words of shame and self-recrimination. In fact, it’s not uncommon for many diet survivors to avoid the lens of the camera completely. Instead, you may be the one taking the pictures on vacations or at family gatherings. Or, you may try to put yourself into the background of the photograph. Perhaps you allow yourself to be in pictures and then focus on criticizing your appearance. What is lost is the opportunity to remember what you experienced at a particular moment in time, in a positive way.
Allow yourself to be in photographs. Pictures are an important way of holding on to memories.
Pictures tell us more than just how our body looks. They capture a moment and an experience. Notice the expression of your face. Do you look happy while visiting friends at the lake? Is that an important memory to keep for yourself? When your children grow up, will they see that you were right alongside them at family activities? Your presence is important in these pictures.
One diet survivor expressed sadness over the pictures from family vacations that almost never included him. Another diet survivor initially felt distress at the way she looked in pictures following the wedding of her sister. Others told her that they thought she looked beautiful in her dress, and while she had a difficult time accepting the compliment, she was able to observe the joy in her smile at the event. She was glad to have the picture.
Other diet survivors notice that when they look back at pictures from earlier in their lives, they are surprised by what they see. Many find that when they look at photographs from childhood, they realize they were average size, even though they had believed they were “too fat” and had been told that by others. Some report that during times when they had dieted to lose weight and were at their thinnest, they looked the least happy in their pictures. This observation has helped them unhook their happiness from their weight.
You are out in the world everyday. You carry a mental image in your mind, and when a picture shows you something different, this can feel upsetting. Get to know your body and appearance as best you can. Try to eliminate judgments. Think about pictures as more than just a reflection of the way you look. They are a snapshot of a moment in time, the moments that make up your life. They involve people and places that are important to you. You deserve to be in the pictures. After all, you play the starring role in your own life. Value these special times and be gentle with yourself. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words.
Activity: Picture This!
Create a photo history for yourself. Pick out pictures from childhood to the present and look carefully:
– Do you have similar expressions in the photos? A certain smile, or a way of carrying yourself?
– What do you notice most about yourself in these pictures?
– Does your body shape match your memory of your body size during that period? For example, do your childhood pictures match your memory of your body at that age?
– Has your perspective changed with time? Do the pictures elicit forgotten memories?
Take your time in examining your photo history. If you find you need a break, take it; there is no rush. You may experience a mix of positive and negative reactions. Let yourself feel what you need to feel.
Eat well! Live well! Be well! Judith Matz, co-authors of The Diet Survivor’s Handbook and Beyond a Shadow of a Diet, www.dietsurvivors.com, Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating, 847-267-1200, firstname.lastname@example.org