Celebrate Your Body
Do you love your body? No, I’m not talking about looking in the mirror every day, and saying “Wow!” Not the kind of love that comes from a guy that says “hey, your body is hot!” I am talking about love on a deeper level. I am talking about the kind of love that is based on respect and trust and appreciation. If you’re saying “huh?” then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship with your body.
It seems to be that younger and younger girls are comparing their bodies to one another, noticing who is fat and who is thin, and as they progress into puberty, who has the biggest, smallest, or perkiest breasts. Just the other day, a friend was telling me that she heard a bunch of first-grade girls talking about whose mother was the thinnest and whose was the fattest. It only gets worse as they get older. As physical appearance becomes more and more of the focus of girls and adolescents, they examine, admire or criticize every feature on their own bodies and those of every girl around them. And thus they learn — through a variety of influences — to begin to judge their bodies based on what they see around them. To some extent this process is natural, particularly in adolescence. But when we assign values to these differences, rather than just recognizing them for exactly that — differences — then it can create a poor self-body image that can last a lifetime.
Your relationship with your body may not be something you have put a lot of thought into. After all, doesn’t everyone want to change their body? It seems normal to be unhappy in the skin you are in. Do you know any woman who isn’t one of the following: on a diet, a work-out fiend, or feeling like she should be on a diet or a work-out fiend? This diet mentality our culture has created leaves us with virtually no choice but to hate our bodies and think that happiness comes in a size 2.
Someone close to me recently said, “I hear that women are A LOT more comfortable in their own skin in their 40s. So that’s one reason I’m looking forward to my 40s.” But I believe it is possible to break free from the cycle of self loathing based on what you see in the mirror and be comfortable in your own skin NOW. It does takes work, and the motivation to want to make peace with your body, at any size, but ultimately the ability to love yourself unconditionally — and the contentment that comes with that — is worth the effort.
An important component to accepting yourself is to stop judging others by their physical attributes. When you are walking through the mall, do you notice the appearance of every woman around you? In your head do you hear things like “That woman has such thin legs.” “She has the perfect butt.” “Her stomach is so flat.” “Those breasts are so perky and round.” “She has goddess hair!”
It may seem innocent enough to make those quiet observations, but following each one, are probably thoughts like “I wish my legs were that thin.” ” I wish my butt looked that good.” “I’d be so much more attractive if my stomach were flat.” “I’d probably get a lot more attention if my breasts looked that good.” “I’ll never have hair as beautiful as hers.”
Each time you make an observation about someone else’s appearance, you might use it to degrade yourself and chip away at your own self image. You are admiring in them what you wish you had in yourself, probably because you believe you ultimately would be a happier, more fulfilled person if you looked like someone else. Conversely, if you find yourself criticizing an equal number of women for their flaws, “oh my god, look at that muffin-top”, or “wow, at least I’m not that big”, you are still judging in them what you most dislike or fear in yourself. Maybe you don’t look like them now, but you are worried that you could or will look like them some day (or maybe you did in the past), and that would make you less valuable as a person in your eyes.
To break the habit of judging other women, find something about them to admire that doesn’t have to do with their physical attributes. If it’s someone you know, you can reflect on what a good mother they are, or a talent they have for sewing, or some other craft. Maybe she has a great pair of earrings you admire. Find something positive to reflect on because the more you hear a postive voice in your head, the more you will be able to reflect positively on yourself.
And speaking of yourself, it’s time to tackle those thoughts you have when you look in the mirror. Or maybe you avoid looking in the mirror at all. But if you don’t find love for yourself, and if can’t find a way to face what you see in the mirror now, you will never have a body you can feel proud of and find the happiness you deserve. You may wonder how you can love your body, and you might even be fearful that loving your body at its current size will lead you into complacency, encouraging you to live out your life as a couch potato with no motivation to be healthy. But I would argue that part of loving your body is to strive to be healthy.
Last year, while attending a congressional hearing on eating disorders and health insurance issues pertaining to mental health, I asked the panel, “How do you balance the concept of loving and accepting your body with addressing the obesity epidemic our country faces?” The response I was given supports the idea that when you truly love your body, you naturally want to do right by it, and the decisions you make in your day-to-day life will lead you to better health. Remember, loving your body doesn’t have to mean you don’t want to change it for the better. But it does mean listening to it and treating it with respect.
When you really do respect your body — with all of its imperfections — you will be more in tune to what your body needs, and how it feels. Then suddenly, when you eat a whole pint of ice cream, instead of feeling guilty about the number of calories and fat you consumed, you are more aware simply of how it makes your body feel, and you may just realize that physically you feel pretty terrible. Just like it only takes a couple of times for you to realize how much alchohol it takes to put you past the point of comfort, it may just be that after a couple of times of listening to your body during and after a binge, you realize how awful it feels. In the past, you probably were so consumed with guilt and worry after binging, you were numb to the signals your body was sending you saying “Hey! I’ve had enough, this doeesn’t feel very good.” But by forming a better relationship with your body, you can learn to honor it. To take a line from the book Intuitive Eating, “respecting your body means taking care of your health.” They go on to add, “You don’t have to like every part of your body to respect it. In fact, you don’t have to immediately accept where your body is now to respect. Respecting your body means treating with dignity, and meeting its basic needs.”
In the same way that you can stop judging others, you can stop judging yourself. When you hear negative thoughts about yourself in your head, step in and replace them with positive thoughts. If you can, start by focusing on one body part that you do actually like. Maybe it’s your hair, maybe it’s your lips, maybe it’s your feet. It doesn’t really matter what body part it is, as long as it is one that makes you feel good when you reflect on. For some people though, even this step is difficult. Maybe there is nothing about your physical appearance that you can appreciate right now. If that’s the case, you can reflect on the functionality of certain body parts, without which you would no doubt feel lacking. If you don’t like how your legs look, reflect on their strength and how they carry you where you want to go. If you feel negatively about your arms, think of how they carry, hold, and comfort your children or other loved ones. If you hate your stomach, think about the magnifcance of the machinery inside, digesting your food and nourishing your body, because really, no matter what your body looks like, it IS a magificent piece of machinery. Not only do our bodies carry us through life, they make life!
Finding a physical activity you enjoy can you help you appreciate your body and all it can for for you. It doesn’t have to be the strenuous high-impact aerobics class you might think you need to do to burn a ton of calories. It can be something as simple as gardening, or taking walks, or riding your bike, not for the sake of repenting your eating “sins” from the night before, but for the pleasure of moving. Feel your muscles as they work for you, lifting you, propelling you forward, carrying your body through your activity. Appreciate the motions that move you.
Often times, when we feel unattractive, it’s as if we set out to prove a point by giving up on our appearance. We wear clothes that aren’t flattering and/or don’t fit. We don’t bother doing much, if anything with our hair. And make-up? Forget it! But it’s amazing how making a few changes in your clothes, hair and make-up can go a long way to transforming you and making you feel better and more attractive, without ever shedding a pound. Have you ever seen the show What Not to Wear on The Learning Channel? Time and time again they feature women with no self confidence, and a poor body image. Sure, some women are simply misguided in their fashion sense, but the vast majority of participants on the show are women that have basically just given up on the idea that they can ever look good. But if you look through their before and after galleries, you can see what an amazing difference a few changes can make. Of course, you don’t have to go on the show to find out how to dress for your shape and size. They offer some great hard-to-fit tips on their web site.
I realize not every one can go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. Still, you can re-evaluate what you do have in your closet, figure out what looks best on you, and let go of the things don’t and may never fit, especially your “goal” clothes. You know what I am talking about … clothes you are convinced will motivate you to lose weight, by looking back at you every day and telling you that you are worthless until you fit into them. At the very least, get rid of the clothes that make you feel feel like you are going to pop every time you wear them. Who needs a constant reminder that you are too big for you clothes? If you think it will serve as a reminder to control your eating, ask yourself “Has it worked so far?”. Probably not.
If it is in your budget to buy some new clothes, then do it. Stop telling yourself you don’t deserve new, attractive clothes until you lose weight. You deserve to look and feel good all the time, so stop punishing yourself. If you’ve been dying to get a new pair of jeans, get them now! And don’t get your heart set on a certain style that quite honestly might not work with your body shape. Instead find fits that are flattering on your body … the one you have now. And no excuses about how they don’t make cute, attractive clothes in your size. There is good fashion for every shape and size, it’s just sometimes a little harder to find (and a good tailor doesn’t hurt). All the major retail chains have offer a great selection of plus sizes, and Lane Bryant makes plus size fashions that can make anyone feel beautiful.
Good fitting undergarments can go a long way to boosting your self confidence too. You may be asking, “What does underwear have to do with anything, when nobody sees it?”. First of all, no one may see the bra you’re wearing, but they sure as heck can tell if it fits you properly. If you’re bulging out of your bra, or your breasts are literally weighing you down, it’s not just uncomfortable to you, it noticeable to everyone else. A good fitting bra can help your posture, and leave you feeling more comfortable in general. (For more on bras, read Taking Care of the “Girls”.) Plus, you might just get a surprising boost to your self confidence when you don a little sexy lingerie. And don’t let your size stop you from feeling sexy. There’s plenty of lingerie out there for all sizes, big and small.
Finally, if you really do need to lose weight, you need to take another look at your goals. First of all, are you trying to lose weight because there are health concerns, and it’s effecting your quality of life because every day things are much harder to do? If that’s the case, then avoid focusing on numbers, and instead try to pay attention to how your body feels as you learn to listen to it more. Instead of measuring your changes by numbers on the scale or a size on a tag, base your goals on measurements of what your body can do. Maybe going up the stairs takes your breath away, so when you can go up the stairs without becoming breathless, that’s something to celebrate! When you can play with your kids longer, chasing them around because your body feels better, that’s something to feel good about. (For more on finding other measures of success, read Do Numbers Rule Your Life?)
Maybe, in reality, your body is already at a healthy weight but because you don’t believe it meets the societal idea for thinness, you are unhappy with your body and want to lose more weight. Check in with yourself, dig dip, and try to determine why you really want to lose weight. What in your life will change when you are ten pounds lighter? Will you be happier? Maybe … temporarily, but sooner or later, you will realize that happiness doesn’t come in a size 2. Happiness comes from within. And until you love and respect your body, happiness will always be the next size down.
If you have a daughter, imagine knowing that she feels about her body, the same way you feel about yours. No matter what her size, wouldn’t you want her … wouldn’t you encourage her to feel good about herself. Wouldn’t you want your own daughter to realize her self-worth was based on more than her size, and wouldn’t you always encourage her to find ways to feel good about herself that don’t involve comparing her body to every other girl? If the thought of your own daughter beating herself up contstantly breaks your heart, then you need to imagine your inner self as a child whom has become the recipient of your contsant abuse through negative thoughts, and it’s time to stop the abuse. You love your friends, your family, your spouse or partner, your children, unconditionally, overlooking, and even embracing their imperfections. It’s time to treat your own body with the same love and respect.