Through The Looking Glass: A Pre-Reflective Sense of Girth!

Posted on June 15, 2010


In the past couple of weeks, in a variety of contexts, on more than one occasion, and from a variety of people (but mostly from Erika), I’ve been reminded that I’m … wait for it … a slender guy.

Shocking! I know!

Now, if I reflect consciously on my body type, I realize I’m slender. I’m a little under 6’ 2” and, according to my last weigh-in at the gym, I hover a little over 180 lbs. Furthermore, I need only look in a mirror for undeniable proof.

And yet, every time someone describes me as slender, I experience something not unlike cognitive dissonance. Some pre-reflective part of my brain genuinely believes I’m a large guy both in terms of weight and build.

I suspect this pre-reflective and false belief took root when I was twelve. I was both tall for my age and overweight, during my first hot rush of puberty.

Tellingly, I can’t remember my height but I distinctly remember my weight!

At the time, I was 125 lbs. and my appropriate weight for my height and age was 100 lbs. I think I can even remember the moment when my doctor told me I was too heavy and had to lose weight for the sake of my health.

For some reason — and I’m not sure why — it was that twelve-year-old sense of size that was internalized into my sense of self.

Because I’m inclined to think these kinds of questions about self-identity will be settled by neuroscience, my best guess is that some part of my brain — crucial to self-identify and self-perception — was coming on-line and / or stabilizing itself during puberty and, because of this, the sense that I’m big and bulky was rooted into my pre-reflective sense of self.

Admittedly, when all is said and done, for me, this internalized sense of girth is no big deal. It has lead to no ill-effect in my life as far as I can tell.

I exercise regularly and am conscious about what I eat for my general sense of well-being and not as a means to control my weight. More importantly, when I reflect on my size, I can easily remind myself that I’m not really such a big guy after all.

However, the cognitive dissonance I experience when someone describes me as slender makes me wonder about the other pre-reflective beliefs I must hold about myself. How do they affect me and my interactions with others?

I wonder, have any of you discovered unexpected pre-reflective beliefs that you hold about yourself — rooted in adolescence or some other time. How did you discover them?

What interests me is the phenomena itself because, in my own experience, once we are aware of these beliefs, it is within our power to change them.