It Can Be Different
Our world has us convinced that struggling with body image and feeling uncomfortable in our body is simply how it has to be, but today I want to talk about how it can be different.
If you haven’t already read last week’s post, Part 1, go back and read it. It will provide some really important insight and context to the place I’m writing from.
Now that we have established that 99.9% of us have or still do struggle with our bodies (I made up this statistic based on personal experience and the feedback from you all on the last post! But it feels true, doesn’t it?) Can we just pause for a minute? That is a really hard reality to face! The overwhelming majority of us actively struggle with our bodies and many of us would go as far as to say thoughts about it can consume us. It is so difficult to show up in our worlds every single day and continue to give to our people and put our best foot forward when we are always carrying around this giant, stinky pile of self doubt, uncomfortability, dissatisfaction, shame, etc. I just need us to recognize that and give it some room to breathe. It’s a lot.
Not only are most of us weighed down by this struggle, but many of us cannot imagine any other way. This has been how we have existed for so long that we cannot see another path forward. It can make us feel trapped and hopeless. That was me for basically all of my teens and twenties.
I am so glad to live in a world where body positivity is a thing. We are seeing more diversity in ad campaigns and on the runways (it’s not perfect but there’s been progress). But the body positivity movement is tricky for some of us (raises hand). I wish solving my body image struggles was as easy as proclaiming that I love and celebrate my body, lumps and bumps and all. I’ve tried the positive affirmations and the radical shift, but they don’t work for me. I could look in the mirror and tell myself I loved my thighs, but I didn’t believe me. It felt like a lie because it was. This created a weird distrust within myself.
Instead, I’ve had much better luck with what I think is called body neutrality. I don’t have to love what I have considered flaws most of my life. I don’t have to radically change my thinking from “that’s so gross” to “I love it so much.” Instead, I am working on simply seeing it, not really reacting to it, and just accepting that it is part of my body and therefore who I am. And it is just that, a part of me. It is much too easy to forget that the body I am constantly picking apart is ME.
I spent most of my teens and early adulthood battling my body. Trying to make it smaller. Trying to make it look better. Trying to make it more fit, less bumpy, more tan, less obvious. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was basically trying to create as much distance between myself and my body as I possibly could. It was easier to beat up on my body if I saw it as separate from me. I had to “other” it so that I could establish myself as above it.
My body was somehow separate from me and my body was merely what I was stuck inside of to exist. But really my body is me and I am my body. There is a level of integrity and respect this requires. It becomes much harder to constantly criticize and be at odds with your body when you see yourself as a connected, whole human being.
That is the fundamental shift I’ve been actively making over the last couple of years and it has transformed the way I see myself and the way I exist in this tricky world.
My body is no longer something to starve out. It has no business shrinking. Instead my body needs to be nourished and cared for. My body is no longer something to punish. Workouts don’t have to leave me depleted and barely able to walk. Instead my body deserves movement that feels good and energizes me. My body is no longer something to hide. Can I flatter it? Absolutely! But it doesn’t need to be masked. Instead my body needs to be appreciated.
That paragraph, while beautiful, is a gross oversimplification of what the last few years have looked like. It has been years of trial and error, ups and down, internal battles (many lost), and continued shame. I didn’t arrive here overnight and I don’t want to give you that impression. So, let me be very clear. This is all still very much a work in progress and it is hard and active work every single day. I know that can feel defeating. I wish there was a magic trick or that I could tap and it would autocorrect. But I actually find the choice to opt into that work every day and to choose myself really empowering.
The difference between my twenties and now is that I wake up everyday and make the conscious decision to choose myself. I choose to stay in this body and accept it as who I am and how I get to show up in this world. I choose to push back on the narrative that negative self talk is just what it means to be a woman. I choose to be intentional about caring for myself. I choose to surround myself with people who build me up and don’t aid in tearing me down. (I don’t need any extra help there.) I choose to eat and move in ways that show appreciation for this body I am.
Some days are really freaking hard. My jeans don’t fit how I want them to and I can spiral really quickly. But I think the transformation lies in the fact that before I assumed my jeans not fitting was somehow a reflection of how my body failed me or who I was as a person. It was the dreaded betrayal I had been warned about growing up. Whereas now I have a lot more grace to understand how those clothes fit in that particular moment actually means very little about me and who I am.
I’m also realizing that I can’t wish this peace and body acceptance for myself without giving it to other people: my friends, my family, my own daughter. I have to move through this world with an awareness about how I interact with others and their bodies and the habits I’ve formed that reduce people to their body or even disconnect them from it. We are so much bigger than just a body and if we could only see each other as whole, connected human beings then how much more respect and intentionality and awe would we have! And also, my greatest contribution to them and their healing and progress is to experience it and model it and be in it with them so that we create environments where we can all thrive.
It is so hard to exist in a body in this chaotic world, but it can be different. I think by naming it, and actively working against the guilt and shame and blame we carry, we can begin to change it. Next week I’ll share more concretely how I’m seeing these changes playing out: the habits I’ve changed, the little moments that look and feel different, the conversations I’m diving into, how I’m listening to my body, etc. Thanks for reading.
With so much love and gratitude,