They say “we are what we eat” but in these modern times we need to pay attention to what we see. I’ve been trying my best to control what I watch each day in regards to my mental health and by extension body image. Growing up I was taught that advertisements are bad and the continual stream of television and video games was rotting our brains. We’ve now basically traded those hulking TVs for a different screen. My guilty pleasure is to rip open Instagram every morning to smiling men with hot bodies. It use to be I got down on myself for not being as fit or glamorous, but then I questioned that, no that can’t be, how could I aspire to images that don’t look like me? So I started adding fitness models in Taiwan and actors in Mexico. Increasing diversity was merely trading places between faces and bodies. Then I think I realized what it was about, I was trying to seek a reflection of the confidence I wanted in my own life.
Of course I’m not saying the people in those pictures are real, in the sense that, one could actually portray their true selves in all their messy glory. I don’t want them per se, I want their visual body language. My therapist distilled this once, in that humans desire a reflection of themselves. We only know our own ego’s experience so when we see six pack abs, we are actually saying we personally want six pack abs. Certainly there is an element of lust or desire for that person specifically, but in most cases we are seeing echos of our imagined self.
This contradiction of desire always surprises me when attractive people split so easily. You can pair any two Instagram models but a visual match of “everything you ever wanted” isn’t a guarantee of success. Relationships exist in the mind, not in the body. Confidence got people to the bedroom but not to the aisle. At the end of the day what is important is to find out as individuals what we want and seek.
The advice might be to just stop cold turkey. The thing about bad habits is that the more you think of them as taboo, the more you unintentionally become hitched to it. What has been helpful is intentionally looking. For me, putting on a neutral observer lens and just being like what do these pictures do for me. Where do they resonate in the mind and body. Yeah I know, a little uncomfortable to think about, but really mindfulness can happen anywhere, why not in front of your Instagram feed.
Avoiding grasping is important. Something that curiously has been working is listening to affirmation videos. The YouTube algorithm pointed me to this goofy “Alpha Affirmations” channel that has hilarious titles like “Hyperborean Warrior and “Lift for Glory.” What really struck me was his optimism videos, which are literally just him speaking “to you” but really “as you” with simple phrases like “I am strong, I am confident, I am bold, I see myself at the highest peaks.”
The mind really is powerful at projecting an image onto your body. A question therapists often jab with is “what happens when you actually achieve your goals?” Imagining I am on the beach with six-pack abs, then what? Maybe the aspiring identity is far more nuanced. For example I see a greater context of the beach as a social stage and the body as merely part of that community.
I don’t think these strategies have necessarily stopped me from consuming these apps but it has opened up some ideas about why I respond to them and where it leads my life. For now, I’m not actually aspiring to be a fitness model, which is never too late, but I am seeking some kind of vibe for myself. Having confidence of my own body in the presence of others might be one way to put it. Defining the details of what that is exactly is the next step, so whatever that vision is can last a long time.