Most of us have at least one, if not a handful, of “fixes” we’d like to make to our appearance. It’s unusual to find women who are completely satisfied with how they look and feel in their body. Sadly, there are plenty of women who are flat out repulsed and disgusted with the body they inhabit.
I’m no stranger to body image issues. This may come as a surprise if you met me, because by most people’s standards, I have a shapely figure.
So, how does a woman with a slender, fit, body come to struggle with body image issues?
Body image has nothing to do with size or shape; it is the product of peer, social, cultural and familial values. These values influence our self-perception, self worth and self-esteem.
My story begins in high school. My boyfriend of a few years wrestled at a weight only a few pounds heavier than my own 117. There was a constant pressure from him, someone from whom I really wanted acceptance, not to gain weight. The messaging wasn’t always overt, but I knew the meaning behind his frequent gibes and quips.
At 18, my own grandmother tapped me on the stomach and told me I was looking a little “thick” around the middle. I remember feeling like I’d just been punched in said “thick” tummy. And though my brother was being nothing more than an annoying older brother, there was a running joke about my about being “husky”. These are just a few examples how other people’s opinion of my body adversely affected my own self image. Part of me didn’t want to believe there was anything wrong with my body, but no body is perfect, so I bought into the cultural expectation that I’m inherently flawed and in need of fixing. My body fits the criteria of the mesomorphic body type, which means I am well proportioned with lean, defined muscles. Neither too thin nor too thick.
In spite of the definition of my “six pack” abs and obliques, my stomach has always protruded and looks a little “poochy.” Because of this “pooch,” people have been asking me if I am pregnant since I was in my early twenties. That question has always embarrassed and enraged me. I’ve run away in tears at least a few times. In the past, I attempted to fix my “deformed abdomen” by over-exercising, hiring personal trainers and adapting bizarre diets in hopes of achieving the perfect waistline.
During my first pregnancy, I developed diastasis recti. This is a condition in which the rectus abdominus (the “six pack abs”) splits into left and right halves leaving a protruding belly. Maintaining a healthy weight in pregnancy did little to prevent this condition. It likely resulted from excessively tight abdominal muscles that were lacking in elasticity. (Probably from years of abdominal strengthening.) Though the diastasis was mostly healed after my first pregnancy, the situation became significantly more severe after my second pregnancy. It has been more than three years since the birth of my second child. I am probably in the best shape of my life, yet I still get congratulated for my “pregnancy” at least monthly. I’ve tried everything but surgery to narrow the gap in my abdomen. Pilates, yoga, CrossFit, running and weightlifting have all made me stronger, and somewhat less pregnant-looking. With my new outie belly button, I’m far from unmistakably not pregnant.
I have a choice: feel bad about my body or love and accept it fully. There comes a point when, if something cannot be changed, you simply accept it for what it is and stop wishing for something different. This is what happened to me: acceptance.
The moment of acceptance liberated me from the underlying belief that achieving perfection would somehow make me a more lovable and worthy person in this world. I wish I could say looks don’t matter, but we all know to a certain degree they do. Women are constantly being judged about how they look even when it should be irrelevant, like getting job or a wage increase. Shutting down the voices and criticisms of others is hard, but it is the only the path to self-love and self acceptance. How does it feel to be in your body? Fat, skinny, short, tall, it doesn’t matter. Pant size and the number on the scale are irrelevant when it feels bad to be in your body.Shift focus away from size and shape. Place your attention and awareness on how you feel. If you are disappointed with your body and wish it felt better to be in your skin, here’s how to feel better without dieting and punishing workouts:
1. Gratitude for what is and what works.
Even if you are in the most unhealthy place of your life, something is working. The fact that you can breath is proof. Spend time every day focusing your awareness on what you love about your body and how it serves you.
2. Listen to the needs of the body.
Your body wants to be stretched, exercised, nourished and touched. It wants to feel good. There are a number of ways your brain manufactures “feel good” neurotransmitters, which are chemical messengers of the brain and body. One way to achieve the “feel good” state is by eating foods which are high in fat and sugar.
Other ways include exercise, meditation, breath work and healthy eating.
Before you skip exercise in lieu of a triple mocha, pay attention to what your body needs. You may discover a craving for energy in the form of exercise and whole foods,instead of a sugary caffeine rush.
3. Rewire your brain.
Information and thoughts move through your brain via neural pathways. The more your thoughts follow a specific pathway, the stronger that pathway becomes. If you are thinking “I’m fat, I’m ugly” every day, those pathways become really strong. Because of something called neuroplasticity, you can create new pathways with messages of self-love and kindness instead of self rejection.
One way to interrupt your negative thinking is to say “that’s not true” or by saying what you wish to be true instead.
4. Re-evaluate self-worth.
How we nourish our bodies has a lot to do with self-worth. Until you feel worthy of feeling your best, you will constantly undermine your own efforts to achieving that end. Here is an easy meditation you can practice to help you to know and own your self worth. In a quiet place, sit with your eyes closed. As you inhale, say to yourself “I am worthy“ and as you exhale say “of my desires.”
Over time, in just five minutes a day, you can experience a radical shift in self-worth.
5. Listen to your own information.
Our minds are filled with the thoughts, beliefs and values of all the people who influence our lives.
Having a strong sense of self comes from tuning out the voices of everyone else and listening to your own information, intuition, needs and desires.
It’s about doing what feels authentic to you and letting go of the need to get everyone else’s approval.
The only thing you have to prove, is to yourself.
#RedefiningBeauty #IAmFemmeForte #BodyImage