It's terribly strange when you've been used to something for days, weeks, months, even years...and then suddenly it's just not "a thing" anymore. Maybe it's a tattoo, a scar on your arm that faded, a person in your life that's been bothering you and suddenly just doesn't....for me, this thing most recently was a negative body image and I honestly never saw it coming. Yes, it's taken me 42 years, but it's here and it's being embraced in a big way. And, if you are anything like me and had any of these experiences, I urge you to be doing the same.
Let me set the stage so you can understand why this is so important to me. I grew up a heavy kid. That's just not fun. I had friends, I had an incredibly supportive family, I had boyfriends, you name it, I had the idyllic façade; but those times (and there were far too many), when awful, mean kids would say things to me I'd never ever forget. Not even to this day. Sure, I was always smart and excelled in school, I was always outgoing and I have loved to laugh until I cry for as long as I could remember. I was happy with the face I was given; but the body, not so much. No matter what confidence I possessed in other areas, nothing could shield me from someone calling me fat or a blob or that gut-punch feeling of being one of the last to be picked on a school gym team. I know I wasn't the only one, but to me, it made me feel like was very alone so much of the time. Though others had their own teen-related struggles, I used to try to compare them to mine and for some reason they always seemed easier. My Dad used to be so wonderful in those times, reminding me that I could change my weight but the bully who bothered me couldn't change his face. I'd laugh but then again it would hurt the next time it happened. Those times were cruel, they were awful and - up until recently - I could still hear them in my head from time to time, on those days when I just "felt fat". We all have them. Mine were just particularly tough.
Since then, I have lived on a series of diets. I've dipped into every nutritional fad there is. I've tried every single crash fat-burning course one could ever have imagined. I've tried sports, new fitness classes or crazes, just about anything and everything to make me thin. Nothing ever unhealthy, I swear, but some things were borderline obsessive. Yes, sometimes it worked - there were times in my life where I was much smaller than I ever envisioned, and times in my life where it was tough to accept how heavy I actually had become. I realize that I had lived so much of my life tied to my weight. It made me self conscious in so many different ways which was strange because I grew up with a very overweight parent who EVERYONE loved. My dad struggled from the day he was born and to this day I remember his highest highs and lowest lows weight-wise, but through it all he was always the most beloved "mayor" of every situation in the world. He owned every room he walked in, held court at every table he sat at with his humor and wit, and though I got a bit of that, I didn't get the strength it took to project it in that way, all the time. I've always been an extrovert so walking into a room where I knew nobody never really intimidated me in theory, but if there was a time where I couldn't just seem to gel with anyone at a party or business function, or find someone to chat with, I naturally just figured it was because I was a bigger girl. If I liked a guy, but he just didn't like me, I assumed it was because of my weight. If I didn't get invited to something, I assumed it was because I didn't fit the physical profile. When in fact, all the while, most of the time, nothing ever had anything to do with weight specifically at all. It was just hard to figure that out at the time because every time I looked at myself, I couldn't see all the good. I just saw all the extra heaviness that somehow had to go. Was it actually all really there? Yes, sometimes, but not always- physically that is. Mentally was a different story.
I say all of this to show you exactly how so much of this has everything to do with how the mind can truly fuck with you . By now you must probably be assuming that I was hundreds of pounds over an ideal weight. Absolutely not the case- yes, when I was younger I was much, much rounder and softer and much more out of control, but for most of the period I'm talking about, my stats were 5'5 tall, hovering between 150-170 pounds. I wear a 34-C bra and I've always been happy with my "girls"- truth be told. My stature is solid and strong, my legs are muscular, my arms could always use toning and I've always had a stomach that wasn't flat but all in all, it wasn't out of control in theory. Actually, those are measurements that you'll find are quite normal when it comes to the average woman. Yet for me, I always felt self-conscious because I was the heaviest at the worst possible time in my life- during school age where cruelty is at its highest, self-confidence is at its lowest and you have absolutely no idea who the heck you are outside of who you surround yourself with and all that you see on TV and in print that you think you should be.
Little by little, more so over the past few years, I started to put a little bit of effort into quieting the noise. I stepped up my workouts, tried new ways of exercise that I actually really enjoyed like climbing or hiking, and I started to shake up my wardrobe a bit just to test the waters. I've always aired towards trends, but decided to take more risks that would leave me slightly more exposed than I had been in the past. I was always the girl that most of the time wore a one-piece instead of a bikini to the beach for so many years. And you know what, all of the more daring choices started to be OK. I found myself being more confident in bolder wardrobe options so even if that just lasted a few hours, it was still a step in the right direction . Low cut dress? Check, because if you've got it, flaunt it. Ridiculously high heels? Obviously (because they make your legs look smaller and longer). Waist-accentuating dress because I actually have one underneath everything? Yes. Skinny jeans even though I'm not skinny? You bet your ass on that contouring. And so it went.
I started to really look at my body in a different way, sometimes I had to take photos of myself in three way mirrors to really understand what actually WAS versus what I was imagining I looked like in my head and often times, those were extremely different realities. Whenever I did that, I could see clearly how so much of this was something I was constructing in my mind. Slowly, my brain started to get on board and re-calibrate itself. Granted, it was years, but any step in the right direction is a good one and I took each win.
I began to take note of wins when it came to fitness. Don't get me wrong, I'm no accomplished athlete, but sometimes it was a jog that I picked up the pace on, a challenging hike I was able to complete in a better time than I thought, a game of tennis that I could win against an opponent that I always felt was better than me. Ways where I could measure what I was doing and in some way I felt that if I could do these things, I must be fit in some way and not as "fat" as I thought I was. That started to work too.
Listening to people when they said nice things to me and not shooting down a compliment as I had been so prone to do in the past was also a more massive thing to overcome than I possibly could explain. I had to really take note and understand that someone I trusted or cared about wouldn't say I looked beautiful or gush over something I was wearing or how it looked, if they didn't really mean it. I had to start believing it and not deflect it because I didn't think I was worthy of the praise.
There were a lot of tricks along the way that I had to implement to retrain my brain and different tools I have to apply to my heart and mind every single day still to ensure I stay positive. There really is nothing like being able to shed that fear. At this stage, I feel more fit and strong than I ever have in my life. I feel like I'm reverse-aging in a way, so much younger than my numerical age. I feel power over the noise in my head, I feel confident to do things like wear a bikini (still a shocker to me!), and I suppose I have finally found a way to discover acceptance.
It's not easy, I'm not suggesting that it is. As I said before, it took me 42 years to get to this stage and my hope is that if you're reading this and you can relate - life is simply too short. That negative stuff, that downtrodden thinking, stops NOW- take a small step each day to combat the shit that keeps you down when it comes to your body and do one thing each day that celebrates how amazing you are and how beautiful you look. You deserve it, we all do, and I promise that when you get to the other side of it, you'll feel as incredible as you actually already do look.
-Write ONE thing each day that you love about your body and the image you project. Put it on your to-do list that sits on your desk, write yourself an email or text it to yourself from your phone. One thing, each day, that you feel is gorgeous. Eyes, lips, skin, hair, legs, what you wore yesterday- anything and everything.
-Try something a little daring when it comes to wardrobe. Don't go out and break the bank on a whole new wardrobe but next time you see something that you love but instantly think you couldn't possibly wear, try it on.
-Listen to people when they say nice things to you. Pay attention and do your best not to deflect. That was such a big one for me and it still happens from time to time- but take in what they 're trying to tell you and work on believing it.
-Stop looking at the scale. Everyone is different and weight isn't distributed the same way on everyone. There are so many other factors such as time of day, percentage of muscle, your bone structure, etc so don't obsess over numbers. Perhaps, look at clothing sizes to gauge progress. The scale has driven me nuts and I won't give it that power ever again.
-Take selfies in the mirror. Yes, I know it sounds ridiculous but for so many of us, half of what we think we look like when we are critical of ourselves is made up in our minds. Take a photo from the front and back and really see what's there. It's probably different than you think.
Til next time... much love,