Society makes us feel as though we need to meet certain criteria before we’re “allowed” to have a flawed body image. You have to be overweight, have had children, have stretch marks and/or cellulite, or have had some kind of body-altering experience.
I’ve never experienced those things so I never felt entitled to have any complaints about my body. I haven’t earned the right to feel insecure… right?
You don’t have to have one specific body type to struggle. You don’t have to have one specific experience to think your body isn’t good enough as it is.
I’ve struggled with my own body image for as long as I can remember. When I was 12 or so I remember obsessing over “needing” to lose five pounds for a family event. I used to count calories in elementary school. I begged my mom to buy me Slim Fast bars in 7th grade because I heard they’d expand in my stomach and make me feel full.
In high school I went in the opposite direction. Instead of counting calories and obsessing over my weight, I ate nothing but Taco Bell (because hello, driver’s license!), school cafeteria food (gross), and hot dogs.
Fast forward to college and it was back to obsession, but this time under the guise of “health.” I took some alternative health classes and became obsessed with buying organic food (exclusively), proper food combining, eliminating sugar, animal products, and anything that was even remotely processed. Since I was also only working with a grocery budget of $25 a week, it was pretty easy not to gain any weight. Instead I was walking around wearing a size 00 and barely tipping the scale at 105lbs.
Then I turned 25, quit my day job, started doing yoga full time, and promptly depleted every last bit of energy reserves I had. I lost an unreasonable amount of muscle mass, body fat, and energy. I was wearing myself into the ground and felt as weak as I looked.
Once I moved to France a few years later, I dropped all food rules except one: “Do whatever you want!” This worked out OK for a while, but once I stopped being able to button my pants, I knew I wanted to make a few changes. But I wondered where I would even begin to tear down these bad habits around food I’d been operating on for so long.
I just knew I couldn’t do it with obsession; I had to find my “why” and make it a true change of INTENTION from the inside out. This doesn’t sound radical or like a great new idea, but why is have so many of us struggled so hard just to find the center? Why has it felt so difficult to just reach a simple balance with how we treat our bodies?
I think a lot of women in my generation grew up around other women and/or mothers who constantly talked down about themselves. It feels like every day of my life my mom was on a diet. She was always saying how she looked or felt fat and would restrict her eating. It was so normal to me, I just thought that’s what we were supposed to do as members of the female population! And this probably sounds a lot like many of your mothers or mother figures!
This year when I turned 30, I vowed to get in the best shape of my life. I won’t lie– vanity was definitely part of it, but more than that, I wanted to FEEL good. I was tired of battling this feeling of never being “quite where I want to be,” yet also lacking the self worth and motivation to do anything about it.
I started here: what is my WHY? WHY do I want to feel better? WHY do I want my clothes to fit me instead of buying new ones? WHY do I feel bad about all of this anyway?
I dug deep and answered every single aspect of my WHY, and then made a game plan from there. Instead of going cold turkey and quitting every indulgent food I enjoyed, I cut back. Instead of going full throttle at the gym and focusing on sweaty power yoga to slim down, I made a very intentional, reasonable schedule and followed that.
So where am I today? Where did all of this actually land? Where have I settled?
I’m a work in progress. I HAVE stuck to that initial plan, and I do feel really good. The foods I choose are generally ones that nourish my body and occasionally I have the ones that nourish my soul. It took a LONG time to find the right balance, and six months into my 30th year, I’m finally starting to feel good. I feel balanced. I eat indulgent foods once in a while (truly, once in a while), and healthy, wholesome, balanced, clean foods the rest of the time. I don’t obsess, but I’m very mindful of how I feed my body.
I truly believe there’s a “right” approach for every season of your life. If what you’re doing now isn’t working, it’s OK to try something different, and that’s my biggest takeaway of this entire journey. I was tired of yo-yo-ing up and down, and for me, that initial exercise of setting my intention set me down a path that’s been sustainable and healthy for me.
Today when I look at my body, I try not to pick it apart. I don’t look for what’s wrong, but I look for what I appreciate. I look for the progress I’ve made with the work I put in so far. I focus on what I can DO.
When you feel good on the inside, you’ll start to feel good about the outside. And even if the outside doesn’t line up with how you feel inside, you’ll begin to make choices that align with your desires once you FEEL worthy of achieving your goals.
Having a positive body image isn’t something you just get. It’s something that requires constant effort and tending, like a plant. It can grow and evolve and change, but if you take your eyes off it for too long, it’ll wither away. Don’t let your attention waver. You ARE worthy of feeling good. You CAN make changes when you set your mind to it. And it’s never too late to start.