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April 2019

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    What It Means to Self-Objectify and How We Can Stop Doing It

    An obsession with the female form has existed for centuries across different cultures and geographic regions. An over-obsession with the female form without regard to personhood is self-objectification. Most of us are familiar with the idea of men seeing women as objects through behaviors such as catcalling or engaging in pornography, but what about women objectifying themselves, and even each other?

    Two researchers define the matter as “regular exposure to objectifying experiences that socialize girls and women to engage in self-objectification, whereby they come to internalize this view of themselves as an object or collection of body parts” (Kroon & Perez).

    In short, self-objectification is thinking of oneself as an object first and a person second.

    Self-objectifying behaviors can include but are not limited to: Excessive mirror looking, frequent selfies, critiquing one’s appearance in the reflection and photographs, and comparing oneself to images in the media and other women. The danger with self-objectification is that compelling research has found that it is associated with a number of ills including body shame, appearance anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.

     In short, self-objectification is thinking of oneself as an object first and a person second.

    Westernized media chronically and pervasively displays images that portray women as objects. Because we learn from what we see, exposure to such images naturally teaches us to focus on appearance rather than character and the body rather than the person. However, it’s not just magazines, TV or movies that are the culprit, but social media has created another avenue through which women objectify themselves and one another.

    In a study published in the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, performed by researchers from University of New South Wales in Australia and the University of the West of England in Bristol, U.K. found that young women who spend a lot of time on Facebook were more likely to compare their looks to other women and to “self-objectify” or as the authors define it, they “view themselves from an observer’s perspective and thus view their body as an object to be gazed upon.”

    If I’m honest with you, I am still healing from self-objectifying behaviors that have shaped the way I see myself and without a doubt have played a part in my struggles with depression and food and body image issues. As a little girl, I would regularly thumb through the pages of my mom’s Vogue magazine and flip through Victoria Secret catalogs, aspiring to one-day look like the models I envied and even objectified. I didn’t know these women – I didn’t know their stories or personalities or dreams. I simply saw them as beautiful body parts, desirable in the eyes of men and who made me feel shameful about my own body. Not only was the media objectifying them, so was I.

     It is a beautiful unraveling, however, this process of losing one’s objectified self and discovering one’s true self.

    Once a competitive athlete who flirted with the modeling world, I took pride in my looks while at the same time loathing them. Years later, I am finally coming face to face with some of my body image struggles and am forced to confront the wreckage that has come from objectifying myself and other women. It is a beautiful unraveling, however, this process of losing one’s objectified self and discovering one’s true self.

    This is what I’m learning: We are more than our name. We are more than our pretty faces or the sum of our body parts. We are living, breathing stories with quirks, dreams and crazy amazing talents. We are masterpieces with the ability to love well and do a phenomenal amount of good in this world. Let us stop seeing ourselves and other women as body parts and instead as stories to be told. We are expansive subjects to be studied, not shiny objects to be desired.

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    The Lies My Depression Told Me

    Major depressive disorder affects approximately 14.8 million American adults, or about 6.7 percent of the U.S. population, age 18 and older in a given year.

    I want to share some of the lies depression told me. I believe that clinical depression is a complex medical issue. It’s like an onion with many layers and each layer needs to be tended to, nourished and addressed. Those layers can be physiological, spiritual, emotional, relational, hormonal, environmental, circumstantial or all over the above. For me, depression was all of these things, making it a deadly storm.

    Depression is a liar and if you or someone you love is living with it, it’s crucial that you are able to pinpoint the negative beliefs it pushes on you. This will help you rise above this insidious illness.

    Here are five of the lies depression has told me:

    1. The world was better off without me.

    At my worst, I believed this to the core. It’s hard to imagine, but I really did believe my friends and family would be better off without me. Today, I believe the world is more beautiful with me in it. Medication, counseling, support from my loved ones, and my faith all helped heal the depression I was experiencing. In time, I realized how irreplaceable my presence in this world is.

    2. I didn’t have depression – I was just a horrible person who deserved to suffer.

    The self-blame that comes with severe depression is debilitating. You become the world’s most terrible person and you believe you are no longer deserving of good and lovely things. The truth is that clinical depression is an illness, and accepting that it is treatable condition puts you on the path towards greater wellness.

    ocean waves
    Image via Allie Jeffers

    3. That there was no light at the end of the tunnel.

    Throughout my hospitalizations, my mom and other people would repeatedly say, “There is light at the end of the tunnel.” For me, the idea that there was even an ounce of hope was unimaginable. But the reality is that they were right; I have seen many sunny days since.

    4. That I was irredeemably flawed.

    Depression made me believe I was flawed beyond repair and that I was a lost cause. Hope told me otherwise.

    5. That my depression was my fault.

    Every time I’ve been severely depressed I placed 100% of the blame on myself. I just couldn’t accept that it was a chemical imbalance and that it was out of my control. I found it hard to believe that it was a chaos of chemical imbalances or a medical issue which I didn’t have control over.

    Mental health battles are not sprints, they are marathons. Getting victory requires steadfastness, patience and endurance. Therapy and medication can be two powerful tools. Additionally, training our mind to focus on what is good and true is an essential key to wellness. Pinpointing the lies depression tells you can ultimately help you rediscover what is true and empower you to experience greater power over your depression.

    No matter how many lies depressions speaks to you, be committed to telling it more truths and always remember that hope is alive.

    Have you ever struggled with clinical depression? What are the lies your depression told you?

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    Detoured. Again. What To Know When You Just Don’t Know

    I was struck by this quote by my friend and Darling contributor Katherine Wolf from her newly released book Hope Heals:

    I imagine most of us have fairly straightforward pictures in our heads about what our lives will look like and who we’ll become. When something happens that is not inside the four corners of that picture we view it as a detour and hope to get back on track as quickly as possible. So what happens when you take a detour and can’t ever get back to the original picture?

    For Katherine and Jay Wolf, their detour was a massive brain stem stroke that almost took Katherine’s life at age twenty-six and left her severely disabled. She had to learn to walk, talk and eat again. While some of our detours might not be as life-threatening or grave, they are valid and we don’t escape this life without them. The loss of a loved one. A breakup. A health crisis.

    My first detour happened at age eighteen when I found myself in the behavioral health partition of the hospital due to severe clinical depression. Everything I had placed my value and hope in was taken from me. Two years later I was detoured again when depression returned with a vengeance, forcing me to change colleges and let of go of the dreams I was chasing. And my most recent detour happened with another health crisis and, if I’m honest, I have not been able to get back to the four corners of that picture. And I’m realizing I probably never will. At least not to the picture I imagined.

     Let’s not let the Instagramable lives we see fool us – life is beautiful and ruthless all in one.

    This life is full of twists and detours and roadblocks. Let’s not let the Instagramable lives we see fool us – life is beautiful and ruthless all in one. I’m learning to let myself mourn life’s losses. To be discouraged by broken dreams and to grieve the life I thought I might have. But after we cry a while, we must wash our face and rise to a new day.

    Here are three tips for navigating life’s detours:

    1. Give yourself time to grieve.

    When life is irreparably different than the picture we imagined a profound sense of loss ensues. Allow yourself to experience these feelings. Stuffing our emotions is ultimately self-destructive. Journal. See a counselor. Talk to your family and loved ones. Pray.

    2. Remember life doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

    As women, we so often paint an ideal portrait for our lives and when things get off course we become disillusioned. Find beauty in the mess and remember it is our brokenness, not togetherness, that connects us with others.

    3. Embrace the life you have, not the life that could have been.

    It is not a matter of if detours will come, but when. We don’t escape life without them. Even though your life might look different than you imagined, it is uniquely yours and that makes it lovely. Own it and make the best of what you’ve been given.

    What’s your detour? How can you embrace the life you’ve been given?

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    What I Wish More People Understood About Living Sober

    I grew up with stories about life under my grandfather’s roof: the parties and drinking, the rage and fights. Grandpa would abuse amphetamines during the day and alcohol in the evenings and through the night. One night when things were particularly bad, my grandpa broke my Nana’s nose. My mom, a young girl then, called 911. Nana was taken to the hospital, but Grandpa was never put in jail or prosecuted.

    I was eighteen years old and had just graduated summa cum laude from my all-girls Catholic school. Dozens of close friends and relatives gathered in my family’s home to celebrate the close of a chapter and the dawning of a new one. I was surrounded by people who loved and knew me, but all I wanted was to disappear. Anxiety enveloped me, panic crept in. I ran upstairs and grabbed a leftover beer I was hiding in my brother’s closet from one of our secret parties. I chugged as much as I could as quickly as I could, hoping it would make me loosen up.

    Three years later I found myself in Las Vegas celebrating my twenty-first birthday. Once again, I was battling severe depression. To celebrate my first legal drink, my friend ordered me a glass of red wine. With my index finger, I skimmed the circumference of the wine glass, inhaling the rich aroma. It was in that moment I made a commitment – I would no longer flirt with alcohol for the sake of my mental health, yet alone touch it. I would live sober.

    Living sober has not been easy. I have missed invites to best friends’ bachelorette parties and social gatherings, as well as been asked all kinds of intrusive questions, but what I have gained has amounted to so much: peace of mind, extra money in my savings account, greater mental health and freedom from what, for me, could have easily been an alcohol addiction.

    Knowing alcoholism runs deep in my blood, while also having a mental health challenge, I have come to wholeheartedly treasure my sobriety.

    Here are a few things I wish more people knew about those living with and fighting for sobriety:

    Sobriety should be celebrated, not looked down upon.

    People who are choosing to live sober are brave and courageous. Alcohol addiction is no easy feat. There aren’t enough safe spaces in our culture today for people who choose not to drink alcohol, so be encouraging of those you meet who have made the commitment not to. Tell them you are proud of them and are in their court should they ever need support.

    Think twice before you ask someone why they’re not drinking.

    Please know that it is a deeply personal question to ask someone why they aren’t drinking. There are many reasons why someone may be abstaining from alcohol. Instead of interrogating someone on why they aren’t drinking, take a moment to encourage them or instead ask a different question, such as, “What are you passionate about?”

    Create safe places for people who are living sober.

    If you’re throwing a party where alcohol will be present, it is kind and considerate to extend an invitation to your sober friend who may want to come. Rather than not inviting them, have a straightforward conversation stating how proud you are of their sobriety and share that you have gone out of your way to buy their favorite non-alcoholic beverage.

    In short, be a cheerleader for your sober friend and support their brave decision to live sober and free.

    The reality is alcohol can be lethal. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 15.1 million adults ages 18 and over had AUD or Alcohol Use Disorder. The effects of alcohol abuse can be devastating. An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

    In my personal life, I have gained so much more than I have lost from not using alcohol. I whole-heartedly treasure my sobriety and consider it one of the best gifts I’ve been able to give myself mentally and physically.

    How can you encourage a sober friend?

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    The Honest-to-Goodness Real Secret of Beauty

    In high school, you could say I suffered from a bit of social anxiety. At the grocery store checkout line, upon signing my receipt, my right hand would shake and I wasn’t able to look the clerk in the eye. In conversation with acquaintances or people I didn’t know well, I was always more concerned with how I was composing myself and with what I should say next than I was with listening to what the other person was saying. My face frequently turned red anytime I was nervous or got around someone I wanted to impress.

    My thoughts constantly turned inward and I was plagued by insecurity. In hindsight, I see that I was partly miserable because I was self-focused; and I was self-focused because I was miserable. I believed by turning all my energy inward I could fix myself, become my ideal self and make people accept and like me. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work out for me and at the age of eighteen I found myself signing papers that I was a danger to myself.

    … the more I try to fix myself, the more captive I become. However, the more I rest in my intrinsic value and worth, the more freedom I experience.

    While my journey from severe depression and amidst mental health challenges has been multi-faceted, one thing I have learned is this: The more I try to fix myself, the more captive I become. However, the more I rest in my intrinsic value and worth, the more freedom I experience. Additionally, the more I forget myself, the more wide-awake I am to the people and experiences around me.

    C.S. Lewis penned the famous words, “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” I would add to his words this: Thinking of yourself less, frees you to think of others more.

    I’ve discovered the further I take a genuine interest in other people, the more secure I am with who I am. One beauty secret is this: You will become more beautiful in one day by loving other people, than you will in one year by trying to get other people to love you. I now believe in the splendidness and freedom of self-forgetfulness.

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