How women can better equip themselves to fight body image issues.
" I just wish my stomach was flatter."
" I can't wait to get rid of all this baby weight!
" I wish I could get rid of these stretch marks." ( sigh)
" Are my thighs ever NOT going to touch?"
If you're a woman, you are probably no stranger to this type of conversation. You know what I'm talking about. You're in a group of women and someone inevitably brings up something about their body they aren't happy with. Then someone else chimes in and pretty soon the entire topic of conversation is centered around the things WE HATE or WANT TO CHANGE about our bodies and how they look. We unite in our shared discomfort and dislike of our bodies. even though it makes us feel WORSE.
I get it. As a high school kid, I was skinny, insecure, and boyish looking because puberty and me didn't meet until about 17, and even then it didn't arrive with the double D's I thought would make me feel instantly better. I was constantly comparing myself to the curvier, more voluptuous girls I saw around me, and it never left me feeling good enough, pretty enough, WOMANLY enough.
Becoming an athlete definitely gave me some confidence and connected me to my body and what it could do, however that felt like it all disappeared when I gained 70 pounds with each set of twins and was moving and living in a body I was no longer familiar with and didn't recognize when I looked in the mirror.
I, like many women fell victim to the " I need to get my body back!" mentality.
I mistakenly thought I needed to LOOK like I did before I had kids because if I didn't it meant something about WHO I WAS AS A PERSON ( undisciplined, unmotivated, uncommitted and worse not able to do the things I had been teaching and preaching for years as a health and fitness professional.)
The Lies We're Told ( and sometimes believe)
THERE IS A ONE SIZE FITS ALL STANDARD OF BEAUTY WE ALL MUST ADHERE TO - WRONG
I didn't realize it at the time but I had already bought into the flawed premise perpetuated by social media, culture and gender norms that there is a one size fits all standard of beauty and I didn't fit it. The characteristics I saw as making a woman " desirable, valuable and attractive", like long hair, big boobs, small waist, big butt, thigh gap, muscles showing enough to be visible but not enough to look "manly" ,were out of my reach unless I surgically altered my body, which believe me I contemplated.
Another was that:
ANY MARK THAT MAKES US DIFFERENT IS CONSIDERED A FLAW - WRONG
Stretch marks, freckles, wrinkles, different size limbs, tattoos, piercings, scars, cellulite, or any mark that indicates your body has been through a journey ( which they ALL HAVE) are somehow less attractive than a clean slate. I admit I wouldn't have challenged this belief as deeply or as fiercely as I do now had I not been through losing my hair and living as a bald woman, or having stretch marks from both sets of twins. I look at my body now and have such a deep appreciation for the memories, lessons learned, relationships formed and overall experiences those marks remind me I've had. They are a CONFIRMATION of how far I've come both physically and mentally.
They are my BADGES OF BADASSERY and I wear them proudly. There's a good chance you have a bunch also.
HOW YOU LOOK OR WHAT YOU WEAR IS CONNECTED TO WHO YOU ARE MORALLY - WRONG
This is probably the most insidious of them all because it gets to the core of who we are and what we want to believe about ourselves. Social media is flooded with before and after pictures of lean, " fit " people claiming they are " disciplined, committed, focused" implying if you don't look that way, you must not be any of those things. There are a couple problems with this. First, being " healthy" doesn't look ONE SPECIFIC WAY. You cannot look at someone and tell how healthy they are. Second, no one is morally superior or a better person because they go to the gym three days a week or eat organic vegetables. People who are lean, fit looking or more muscular are not BETTER PEOPLE.
In Enough As She Is , Rachel Simmons addresses this concept. She writes " Girls' bodies remain a site where they are expected to serve throwback stereotypes about femininity, where they must still honor the bikini selfie, push-up bra, and low rise skinny jeans. If a girls mind can be big, her body is still expected to remain small." Girls and women are conditioned to believe that " a body is never just a body, but a barometer of a girls worthiness, likability and potential. Girls are programmed to assume that thin people are successful in every way and that the overweight are unlovable and lazy. "
It can be chillingly summed up in the responses she received when interviewing young girls about their bodies. They said :
" If you're not able to achieve the body you're trying to, and you fail at that, then it's like you'll fail at other areas of achievement in your life. If I'm not thin, how can I expect to be doing school right and being the student I am , or financially in a position to feel safe, or secure in my friendships.
" If you can't be like that on the outside, then you can't be like that on the inside."
In the same vein, women who wear MORE CLOTHES or cover more of their body are not BETTER , MORE HUMBLE, MORE WORTHY than women who choose to wear less. For some a feeling of empowerment is expressed through how they move their body and for others through what they wear. The bottom line is it's not our place or our business to judge or make decisions about others based on what they look like in any capacity whether it be body size or amount of clothing.
WHAT YOU CAN START DOING
1. Stop engaging in body shaming, body bashing of yourself or others. It's tempting to jump in and commiserate when a friend says something disparaging about themselves. DON'T. Instead say " you know, I've seen you do some pretty amazing things with that body, so I don't share that view of you at all." Start telling yourself the same things. Be the friend, the person, the VOICE that changes the conversation and steers it more towards a positive and empowering view of their bodies.
2. Stand up for yourself to body shamers by speaking out. When and if someone feels the need to comment on something you're eating, how your body looks or your weight, one option is to respond by saying " It makes me uncomfortable when you make comments about my body and frankly it's none of your business. "
3. Focus on and remind yourself of the things your body has done that you are FUCKING proud of. Make a list, a glory board if you will and include what you did and why it was significant for you on a deeper level, an inner level. Then do more. Make a plan of something you'd like to do and lay out a plan for doing it.
4. Dismantle social conditioning by putting everything you see on social media or television through your OWN FILTER and ask yourself two questions "Is this true for me?" and " Does this make me feel good about myself?" If the answer is no, turn it off, stop following that person, and step away until you can connect to your own values and core beliefs. In a world that tries to manipulate you into buying and doing to feel more worthy and belong ask " Am I doing this for me or because I want people to like me or view me in a certain light?"
Take some time to write out or think more deeply about these questions and what you'd like to be able to FEEL when you see someone on social media with what you think is the perfect body.
5. Pair compassion with a growth mindset and practice it. This means first of all believing in your ability to learn to think a different way about your body REGARDLESS of what you've said or done up to this point to others or yourself. Then practice. This could look like not participating in a body shaming conversation with friends like you might have before, getting rid of your scale and choosing a different standard of success to measure yourself by or spending time with people who think about their bodies in ways you'd like to also.
" What has to happen for you to start moving towards feeling more confident and comfortable in how your body looks and feels?"
What could you start doing or STOP doing that would be a step in a positive and empowering direction for you personally? "
Give yourself some time, space and paper to explore the answers to these questions and see what you come up.
Your ability to set your own standards of beauty, and a confident body image start with challenging the beliefs you currently hold and building NEW ONES with the answers to the questions above.
When you're not being distracted by how your body looks in any and all situations you ARE FREE to be in the moment and enjoy the movement, the people you're with, your children, pretty much EVERYTHING you may have been missing up to this point.
Yep, you deserve that.
I'd love to hear what you come up with so if you feel like sharing any of your realizations feel free to leave a comment or send me an email at the link below.
If this is something you'd like more help with ( for yourself or to help your child), and by help I mean learning to establish a mindset that is more inner coach than inner critic, and strategies for how to reframe and shift those negative nancy body thoughts, I offer 60 and 90 minute coaching calls to help you know what to do and how to do it.
60 minutes - $97
90 minutes - $147
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a spot and know I'm rooting for you!
I'm rooting for all of us.