Body Image and Depression
Poor body image and depression feed each other mercilessly. (Depression also makes it incredibly difficult to write, so I hope I can manage to be coherent.) It’s hard to know which came first. For years I spent weeks or months in seemingly endless cycles of self hate and depression — the severe suicidal kind. For me, it’s hard to know which triggered which. It’s easier to figure out now that I’m a Body Acceptance activist as an adult. My bipolar depression leads to self hate, not the other way around. But was it so simple before I found Fat Acceptance? Not so much.
As a kid I was bullied. Abused might be a better word. Bullied sounds so mild and I have friends who refuse to use the word because abuse is so much more appropriate. So I was abused by my family, by my peers, by my supposed friends. I was often told to kill myself, and when I was 10 I decided to go ahead and give it a try. My bipolar started early. The doctor’s I’ve consulted aren’t quite sure how early, but the best guess is around the age of 7 or 8.
Bipolar is often triggered by some sort of trauma or stress in a person’s life (very often that stress is college) and I wonder to this day how much the teasing led to my diagnosis. Bipolar and depression can cause weight gain for a variety of reasons, and for me the weight certainly did come on. I was a super-skinny kid until my symptoms started up, then I suddenly became a size 22 by the 6th grade at 12 years old. The abuse was relentless and it has never stopped.
It wasn’t long until I started developing body image problems. I remember weighing 150 lbs in elementary school (though I don’t know which grade) and thinking “if only I could stay this weight while I grow then I’ll be okay.” But I didn’t stay that weight. My weight went up as my height did, and I’m still a size 22 woman.
I learned soon of the abuse that could come from complete strangers, as well as loved ones, and a single bad body thought could send me spiraling downward into depression. The opposite was also true; a bout of depression would leave me sure that no one loved me because of how I looked. It’s a complicated relationship. Many people without mental illnesses, such as bipolar, can attest to the damage done by poor body image, though. It’s not just those of us who are sick who feel the harsh pressures to be perfect. Many men and women suffer from depression specifically related to their weight or body image and, in fact, once I found Fat Acceptance, my depression became milder and less frequent by quite a lot.
Fat Acceptance had an obviously positive effect on my mental health. I’ve become a stronger person, a happier person, and a more secure person. And as any doctor can tell you, good mental health leads to better physical health, especially if you’re no longer too depressed to get off the couch. I truly don’t understand those who would argue that I would be better off hating myself, stuck in the depths of depressions that left scars on my skin and very well could have taken my life.
I’m not any thinner now, but all that hate certainly wasn’t making me thinner either. The fact is that self-hatred simply doesn’t make people thin. It only makes people miserable and less healthy than they’d be if they were happy and productive. It’s just more proof that these people don’t care about our health. They only care about their own prejudices.
I believe that Body Acceptance can help promote better overall health, even though health isn’t a requirement for respect or dignity. My point, however, is that negative body image and depression feed each other in a vicious cycle that we have the power to overcome simply by promoting loving and accepting yourself.
Sometimes I think that those who work in the Body Acceptance field get so little praise for the hard work they do and they do more great work than they probably even realize. Helping people not only love themselves, but be healthier and happier? That’s truly an amazing gift! Men and women, thanks to your hard work, are finding Body Acceptance sooner and sooner. Saving them literally decades of time wasted on self-hatred and depression, and allowing them to lead positive lives. So I want to finish my post on a positive note and say thank you to everyone who’s impacted my life.