“I’ll love myself once I lose these 10 pounds.”
“Once I lose these love handles, then I’ll be happy with my body.”
“I think I look okay, but my legs are too big.”
Have you ever caught yourself saying anything similar to the above statements? I definitely have. Far too often.
Body dysmorphic disorder is considered to be a mental illness. It involves an obsession with a perceived “flaw” in your appearance – something you can’t stop staring at, and yet, something no one else can seem to see.
I was obsessed with my body, just like any other young girl. In today’s society it’s normal to be unhappy with the way you look, right?
I don’t remember when my body image issues started, but I can remember being about 13 or 14 and doing 100 crunches before bed every night. I occasionally threw in some leg lifts in the hopes that I would slim down my “thunder thighs”. Being in competitive dance and figure skating, I was always very aware of the way my body looked compared to other girls.
As I got older, I was called fat like many other girls who were most certainly not fat. I hate to admit that I was even on the delivering end of the word “fat” to girls who were anything but. It was just another thing mean girls said to one another, like “bitch” or “slut”.
Except “fat” sticks with you. We receive far fewer messages from the media bashing us for our sexual behaviours than we do our appearance. It’s easier to let getting called a hoe slide off your back than it is getting called fat.
Cruel word after cruel word, mixed message after mixed message. One by one these things become engrained in our heads.
My body image became less of an issue when I was in an alcohol-induced stupor in my late teens and early twenties. When I was sober I’d drag my hungover self to the gym in an attempt to burn off the damage from the night before, but as soon as the afternoon drinks started flowing I’d have no issue rocking a tank top and jeans that were probably a little too tight.
But when I stopped drinking, I needed something to focus my attention on. I’d been ramping up my fitness game the past year by sporadically doing P90X and going for the occasional run, so exercise seemed like the logical thing. I became obsessed with exercising and eating well, and reading about how to exercise harder and eat better.
I understand that what I did was replace one addiction with another, but at least it wasn’t as unhealthy an addiction as the previous one. But by immersing myself in fitness culture, I was exposing myself to images of extremely fit women, reading blog posts about how to build the perfect back, and looking up recipes that would help me #EatForAbs.
My obsession with my body, specifically my tummy, became more intense. I would stop in front of a mirror, lift my shirt, and turn from side to side to see how things had changed since the morning. What could I have eaten that caused this bloat? What can I cut out of my diet today so I can wake up with a flat tummy tomorrow?
But the flat tummy never came. Or so I thought. What ACTUALLY never came was the tummies I was looking at in Oxygen Magazine or on Instagram. And why would they?! They belonged to someone else! But I was sure that if I could eat like these women and exercise like they did, then surely I should be able to look like they did.
I look back at the “progress photos” I was taking just two years ago and all I can think is “Stop it!!! You look great! STOP worrying!”
And I have to quickly remind myself that I still scrutinize my body. I still do the tummy check. Albeit not as often, and there are far fewer tummy pics in my iPhone photos, but that feeling of either not being enough or being too much still exists.
Not lean enough. Too much in the leg department. Not enough in the boob department. Too much in the tummy department.
But things are different now. I no longer #EatForAbs or do 30 drop sets of lat pull-downs to build a strong-looking back. I don’t try to train like a bodybuilder so I can look like one, because frankly, I don’t want to spend that much time in the gym.
I eat foods that make my body feel good. Lots of whole foods. Lots of plants. Lots of fruit. Lots of carbs, and lots of fats. A bit of meat, but just because I like it. Not because I’m worried about losing my precious gainz.
But I also eat lots of foods that make my soul feel good. Chocolate on an almost-daily basis. Big ass muffins on a weekly basis. Energy bars that are really just glorified chocolate bars. Ice cream. Many of the same things I was eating when I was trying to get ultra lean, except this time there’s no guilt attached.
I spend anywhere from 8-12 hours a week swimming, cycling, running, strength training, foam rolling, and stretching. Not because I feel like I need to punish my body, but because I’ve found a sport I truly love that excites me and terrifies me at the same time.
When I feel more bloated than I’d like, I do a mental check of the foods I’ve eaten recently, but I also ask myself what my stress levels have been like. Have I been sleeping enough? Have I given myself the love I deserve? Have I ignored my needs for play time and rest? Do I really look bloated, or am I just feeling the effects of not caring for myself like I deserve to be cared for?
The vast majority of women in today’s world have heard negative body talk for most of their lives. Whether it’s from their moms talking about a diet, hearing “girls being girls” to one another on the playground, or soaking in whatever awful things the media says to us, we’re inundated with messages about how our bodies just aren’t enough. And if our bodies aren’t enough, then we aren’t enough.
And working to love our bodies amidst all these messages can seem downright impossible. Maybe even selfish. I mean, who am I to love my body when so many women are unhappy with theirs?
But you know what? It is possible. And you are worthy of loving the body you’re in. You might not be able to snap your fingers and suddenly love every little nook and cranny of your body. But you can begin the process of falling back in love with yourself. You can begin celebrating your body for what it can do, not for what it looks like.
It’s okay to want to change a part of your body. It’s okay to want to lose a few or a lot of pounds. It’s okay to wish your tummy didn’t spill over your jeans, or to wish you had a strong-looking back.
Because wishing for these things doesn’t mean you can’t love your body at the same time. It doesn’t mean you can’t recognize your body as the amazing vessel for accomplishing awesome shit that it is. It just means that you love it (and yourself!) SO FREAKING MUCH that you want to give it (and yourself!) the best you can possibly give.
When we base our happiness or the amount of love we have for ourselves purely on the way we look, we’re in for a sad reality. Because when those 10 pounds are lost, or those love handles go away, or our thighs get a little smaller, it’s likely that we’ll find something else to pick at. It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re body dysmorphic. It’s just the world we live in.
And while we may not be able to control the messages we receive from the outside world on a daily basis, we can control the messages we receive from our internal world on a daily basis.
Show yourself the love you deserve. Eat foods that mostly come from the earth. Include some foods that come from a box or a package if that’s what you really want, but don’t do it every single day and ditch the guilt that comes attached to it. High five your body for all the awesome things it’s done and the wicked cool things it’s about to do.
Find an activity you love, pick a fitness goal that excites you, and do your damnedest to work towards it. Take time to do something good for yourself every single day, whether it’s saying no to that dinner you really don’t want to go to, or enjoying 5 extra minutes in bed.
And most importantly, love yourself for the person you are, not for what your body looks like.Love yourself for the person you are, not for what your body looks like #selflove #womensissues Click To Tweet
Have you ever struggled with your body image? What tools have you used to overcome these struggles and feel more comfortable in your skin?