Who has ever said “I can’t”, despite knowing full well that you probably could, if you just tried? This is something I have a habit of doing, and if you asked my friends, they would probably say that it is one of the most irritating things I do (and I am pretty sure that I can be quite irritating at times!).
I recently started bouldering. For anyone that doesn’t know what this is, it’s a form of indoor climbing, but because it is more about mastering a route than height, harnesses are not required. The thing with this however, is that height and the requirement for harnesses is clearly a matter of perspective. Indeed, sure enough, when I got to the top of a route (the easiest one there, I might add!) on my first climb, there was no way on Earth that anyone was going to tell me that I wasn’t up high – or that I didn’t require a harness in case I fell!!!!
I can promise you that when I looked down, it was like I was about a thousand feet away from the floor. Clearly this is an exaggeration, but it really doesn’t matter to someone who is scared of heights (like most of us are), which is a common trait with evolutionary significance (more on this here if you are interested).
I felt dizzy, my heart was racing, my hands were sweaty, and I felt sick at the fact that I had to climb all the way back down. All this, despite the fact that my climbing partner, who is much more experienced than I am, and (unfortunately for him) was supervising me (the frozen to the spot woman at the top of the wall), had assured me that I could do it, and even if I fell, the floor is heavily padded, and people fall off all the time.
So what happened?
Well, first of all, I said (you guessed it) “I CAN’T”.
Then I reiterated, slightly louder……
However, I soon realised that I was wasting time and energy by not doing the one thing that would get what I wanted – my feet back on the floor, as well as prove to myself that I CAN do it.
It was quite easy really, I mean, everyone around me was showing that it was possible, and they had such satisfied looks on their faces that I wanted to feel that sense of achievement too. I got to the bottom, and with my feet firmly on the floor, I could feel that I had the most ridiculous grin across my face. Then realising that there was never a “Can’t”, but an “I won’t, because I am scared right now”, I had a thought, and this is where my story (I hope) ties in with the focus of this blog site – Body image…..
How does this relate to body image?
Well, first is the obvious; my body is pretty amazing, and can do some pretty awesome things, even if my brain sometimes thinks otherwise! This goes to show that sometimes, it is easy for our judgement about our bodies to be wrong, especially when all around us, others appear to be ‘better’ in some way.
In reality, my climbing friends have all told me that everyone feels the same as I did when they first started, it just isn’t something they talk about – and this is the big one for me in regards to body image and in particular, body dissatisfaction!
If we don’t talk about it, does it still exist?
Just like if I was having negative feelings about my appearance that I hadn’t told my friends about, if I had tried to keep quiet my screeching of “I CAN’T”, they may never have known. In their minds, the fear may never have existed.
Even so, just as the unspoken thoughts, feelings and perceptions that we may have about our bodies at times, with my sweaty palms and a racing heart, my fear of heights and falling would have definitely still been there – the unspoken feelings would still exist!
However, had I been able to hide this from my friends, not only would I have been the only one to experience this, they may also have been the only ones who had ever experienced it too. This is the same with thoughts about our bodies which are left unspoken – they exist to no one but you, but may be experienced by many.
That doesn’t make sense!
Well, you are probably right, this appeared much more straight forward in my head. What I am trying to say is that, had I not disclosed (in quite a spectacular way) that I was feeling the way I was when climbing, I wouldn’t have known that others feel the same way. In addition, as my friends pointed out:
“it just isn’t something they talk about”
This means that if I hadn’t spoken out about my fear, not only would I not have realised how common it is, my friends may never have had the discussion which normalised their own fear that they never talked about.
I am sure that you can draw the comparison here with regards to body image –
If we don’t discuss individual concerns, we might never realise how common they are!
Indeed, whilst this appears to be slowly changing, non-disclosure of concerns surrounding body image and appearance is common. As a result, it can seem like we are alone in feeling this way, reducing the likelihood of discussing any personal concerns even more.
However, with reports of up to 70% of young people being unhappy with their bodies (British Youth Council, 2017), it seems likely that any concerns are not individual, but shared with others – they exist, and they exist for other people too.
Even so, body image can be a sensitive issue, with an historic tendency not to discuss feelings of unhappiness with our bodies (particularly in the male population). Thus, increasing the evidently required discussion surrounding these issues is difficult.
How do we do it then?
As I indicated above, things are slowly changing, and there does appear to be an increase in the discussion of potentially sensitive issues such as body image. There is no doubt that this has been aided by campaigns, such as the celebrity endorsed body confidence campaigns I have previously written about. However, in order to go further, more research into the specificity of body image and appearance related concerns (particularly in relation to men and boys) is required.
In the next month or so, I will be launching an online survey surrounding the topic of male body image and appearance, as part of my PhD project. The survey will invite men and boys aged 16-39 to get involved with some much needed further research, by providing anonymous responses to several questions about male appearance.
I look forward to sharing the survey, as well as the findings from this project on this site at a later date.
For now, I can highly recommend bouldering. And if you scream as loud as me – that’s okay – fear exists, it is quite normal, and I experience it too!!!!!