Let’s talk a little bit about body image and body acceptance.
In general, I’m a private person; I keep a lot of my internal struggle….well, internal. Broaching such intensely personal topics such as body image and (lack of ) body acceptance with others has been unthinkable for most of my life. Things are changing, though: people are changing; social media is changing; and I’m changing.
For a long time, I’ve struggled with poor body image; looking in the mirror – if I could bring myself to do it – only presented me with all the things I should change. I’ve never really felt like an attractive person and much of my insecurity and lack of body image revolves around weight.
So, what happened? Why am I writing about this now? Why do I feel the need to put some of my internal struggle out there? Very simply, something. Had. To. Change.
A couple weeks ago, I had an especially rough week:
- I couldn’t get my spirits up;
- I felt shitty about myself;
- I hadn’t been losing weight, despite my efforts;
- I haven’t been able to lift heavy (giving my back a rest after a muscle strain), which was my usual go-to feel-good-about-being-strong-and-awesome move;
- And I spent several days bawling on the couch in the evening, falling asleep crying, waking up feeling un-rested and headache-y (from all the crying), and dragging myself to work for a full day just to repeat the process again.
I had no energy, no motivation, and no desire to do anything. I decided after a few days of this that enough is enough. I needed to pull myself out the rut and I needed to learn how to prevent it from happening again because I had no desire to be back on the couch bawling in a couple months.
My previous means of managing my body image has always been, “Ok, I feel shitty because of my weight. So, what am I going to do about my weight? I’m going to workout and I’m going to eat better. I’m going to count macros and I’m going to start a new training plan.” Sounds good, right?
What happened when I didn’t follow my macros? What happened if I didn’t follow the training plan? What happened if I couldn’t follow the training plan? Hint: the results are listed in the bullet points above.
That method, while it gave me a tangible plan of attack, was only a (poor) bandage for the symptoms – with no backup plan for when the bandage turned out to be one of those flimsy fabric bandages. You know the ones that peel off easily and don’t even stick to themselves and you were better off without a bandage in the first place….? Anyway, the bandage method might have helped me address my weight or address minor things in the mirror, but it didn’t get at the root of the issue.
The problem wasn’t weight. When it comes down to it, my problem is getting caught in a cycle of negative thoughts – a loop of self-shaming, self-deprecating, self-trashing thoughts that spirals out of control into anything and everything about myself (not just about my weight or appearance). Once caught in the loop, it often takes days before I can claw my way back into the light and recognize some plan of attack.
This broken record of negativity isn’t healthy, wasn’t doing me any good, and it’s just not how I want to live. I finally stopped and asked myself, “When am I going to stop treating myself like shit?” Today seems to be as good of a time as any.
Now, if you look around, you can find all kinds of messages from social media celebrities telling you how you should feel about your body:
“You’re beautiful no matter what!”
“Love your body!”
“Accept your body as it is!”
These statements/mantras just don’t resonate with me; and they don’t give me something to DO. How is someone supposed to just wake up and suddenly love their body? How can I suddenly make myself accept something I’ve despised for so long?
So, shit, where do you start on such a daunting task? Well, where does any self-respecting 21st century gal start? The internet, duh.
- I looked to the wonderful, body positive, feminist ladies I follow on Instagram.
- I searched for tactics to interrupt and replace negative thought loops or obsessive thoughts.
- I pored over websites I found that had recommendations for motivating yourself, improving your perception of your body image, and promoting body acceptance.
- I searched for books and podcasts that promoted body positivity and body acceptance (and ways of doing that).
So, what did I get out of all of my research? I managed to compile and start putting into practice a list of things that I think are really going to help me and are going to make a huge difference in my life:
- Create a list of “mirror affirmations.” This is my small list of mantras or statements that I could actually see myself reading each day and saying to myself in the mirror each morning. They’re like me when I’m in my usual positive-outlook mood: uplifting, passionate, feisty, independent, foul-mouthed, and relentless.
- Create a “book” of affirmations. These go along with the mirror affirmations and are positive affirmations, memes, quotes, pictures, phrases, anything that makes me feel the warm/fuzzies or the fire to pick myself back up. I was going to put these in an actual notebook to carry around, but I’m already an Evernote user, so I think I’ll be adding them to a doc in there, making them pretty and a variety of fonts, and then I’ll have it at my fingertips on my phone (via the mobile app) when I need it.
- Purchase or designate a notebook (or Word doc or online journal) specifically for putting thoughts to ink. I’m not the journal-every-day kind of person, but I’ve found that it can be really beneficial – when I’m feeling all the feelings – to make an exhaustive list of every thought and feeling. Once on paper or out of my head, I don’t have a need (or much desire) to keep thinking it.
- Take more selfies/videos. Particularly when I find something I appreciate on my body, I’ve been trying to take a selfie to capture that moment of body positivity. The other day, I took a video of myself doing pullups and I was mesmerized by the muscles in my upper back. Instead of avoiding the camera and the mirror, I’m making more of an effort to seek it out and I’m taking time to look for and appreciate the little things that make my body awesome. Yes, I recognize that there are still things I need and want to improve, but I’m not focusing on those bits.
- Find a power outfit. I found this bit of advice and was skeptical, but, damn, it works. Find an outfit (hell, find several outfits) that make you feel confident and sexy and fierce and like you can take on the world. Simply don the power outfit when you need it and continue on your badass way.
- Begin to hone the subtle art of not giving a fuck. I don’t mean that I’m going to do or say whatever I want – consequences be damned! I mean that I want to choose an outfit in the morning because I like it and feel comfortable in it – not because someone else might not like it; I want to dabble in wearing lipstick because I like the look of it – not because I think it will make me more conventionally attractive. I want to strut around my house in my underwear because I smashed a workout earlier and I’m feelin’ myself – not hide my body because I’m afraid the beau will see a bulge and be grossed out. I’m trying to avoid letting what others think (or what I think others think…) dictate how I feel about myself.
- Call out other ladies on their self-shit-talking. I’m new to this whole learning-to-love-yourself thing, but spreading the gospel of body acceptance has – thus far – been well received in social media; it reinforces good feelings about myself; and, hell, there’s just nothing wrong with encouraging others to be kinder to themselves and remind them they’re badass, strong, beautiful women in their own ways. There are enough outside forces telling women how they should look and feel and be – we don’t need our own minds betraying us, too.
I’m a work in progress – as most of us humans are – but I’m hopeful that some or all of these strategies will help me prevent negative thought loops, promote positive thinking (about my body, my relationship, and myself, in general), and give me the means to pull myself out of a funk quickly if I do hit a speed bump.
TL;DR: I used to hate my body, but I’m learning to accept it and be kinder to myself one day at a time.