"You can’t hate yourself happy.
You can’t criticise yourself thin.
You can’t shame yourself worthy.
Real change begins with self-love and self-care”.
*trigger warning: suicide
Quite a few years ago I sat in my therapists consulting room and half listened while she lamented on about the benefits of working on “body image”.
I nodded in agreement, hoping my face looked pensive (I have zero poker face and often need to summon up certain expressions before the ‘real ones’ dance across my face). I murmured, ‘yes of course…’ while I stared out the window at the traffic and wondered whether I could make it back to Bondi in time for a spin class…
Blah, blah, blah…her voice was hypnotic and strangely soothing but I had no interest in what she was talking about. I wanted to be thin and working on my ‘body image’ was a freaking sell out.
Fast forward to now, and in a a strange twist of fate, (though I prefer to think of it as using my past suffering in service to others) I have my own practice in which I talk to clients almost exclusively about body image and disordered eating.
I have to be honest, I find it almost amusing when I see their eyes glass over. I hear myself talk about how loving and accepting your body are the keys to the castle and I watch while they nod their heads in agreement. I want to call ‘bullshit’ (and sometimes I do).
You see, I know that they’re really thinking about what training they can squeeze in before dinner, or they are quietly running through what they have eaten that day in order to decide what they should have for dinner. I know that there is also a strong (to very strong) possibility that they are just sitting there thinking I’m full of shit.
I know that deep down many of them think that the only possible way they will ever love their body is if they lose the x amount of weight they currently feel is ‘holding them back’ from living a happy and beautiful life.
I get it. I really do. I have been there.
And what I now know is this: learning to love and accept your body right now is not about changing your body.
It’s about changing your mindset.
I know this for a fact because although I am probably in the same weight range that I have been for most of my adult life (though it has been years since I have actually been on a scale to confirm this fact), there have been times in my life when I have been a lot thinner and I stillfreaking hated my body (I also didn't have a period for 5 years, was depressed, anxious, irritable, had zero sex drive and would no more dance around in the nude cleaning my apartment than I would fly to the moon (mind you, I always cleaned my apartment thanks to my somewhat unhealthy obsessive, compulsive complex but never naked, but, I digress…).
Changing your mindset about your body means changing your perspective, and it is a process.
Sometimes a long one.
Where to start? I personally started with the following (though bear in mind that what worked for me, may not work for you. I also tried many more that didn't ‘work’:
1. I stopped telling myself I was a fat, worthless piece of shit. Kind of a no brainer really, but a really hard one to overcome. The way we talk to ourselves is so powerful and changing the dialogue is critical to overcoming body shame. I started practicing interrupting every negative thought with a variety of phrases: “shhh, I love you”, “choose again”, and “I’m sorry” were some of my favourites.
I also tried to work out what was really going on for me in moments when I started freaking out about not wanting to leave the house because I “felt like “a fat, repulsive piece of shit” (yes, these were my thoughts). I started addressing my real feelings (anxiety, unworthiness, fear of judgement) and the real issues underlying them, because, in case you haven’t heard, “fat isn't a feeling”.
2. I stopped weighing myself. I actually gave this up a long time before I started doing any real work on my body image but I think it’s useful for me to include it as it features heavily in my work with clients who I have “surrender” their scale to me and sign an agreement not to use one while we are working together.
Yup. I am pretty serious about giving this bad boy up.
Why? Because I am passionate about the fact that no good can come of stepping on one. None. And while I acknowledge that “some” people might be able to jump on the scale out of “interest” and without any negative repercussions (though to those people I would urge, get a better hobby), if you are reading this, you probably aren't one of those people.
If my passion for getting rid of the scale does not persuade you, perhaps think about why you feel the need to use them. If the answer is “I don't really need to, I just like to” great - stop using them. If the answer is more along the lines of “I need or like to know where I am at” or “I need to keep myself accountable” (or some version of either of these) congratulations, these are really shitty reasons, and you need to step away from the scale. Give. It. Up. These reasons practically guarantee that the scale will or is leading you to screw with your food as it is practically impossible for most people to have a ‘normal’ relationship with food (i.e to eat intuitively) when they are constantly weighing in. Which brings me to my next point…
3. I stopped screwing with my food (i.e. I stopped dieting in all its various guises: clean eating, restrictive eating, not eating certain types of food, avoiding carbs, “eating healthy” the whole kit and kaboodle). If you haven’t already given up dieting, please give it up now.
How can you ever learn to love and accept your body when you don't trust yourself and instead rely on external rules and ‘expert advice’ on how to eat? If you have no idea what it means to eat intuitively (i.e. according to the inherent wisdom of YOUR body), I recommend picking up a copy of Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch as an essential starting point. (I could write an entire article on how body shame and dieting are inextricably linked but as it’s not the purpose of this particular article, just know this: there is very good research linking the two).
4. I bought new clothes. If you want to feel good about your body, insisting on trying to squeeze into those “skinny jeans” you bought 5 years ago that no longer fit is not a good starting point. Would you make a child (your son, daughter, niece, nephew, brother or sister) wear clothes that didn't fit or felt uncomfortable? Would you tell him or her that they could only wear something in a particular size and if it didn't fit they had to schlep around in old tracksuit pants and stained T shirts? Forget the size. Forget what size you once were. Buy clothes that fit and that make you feel beautiful right now.
5. I unsubscribed from, unfollowed and got rid of absolutely anything and everything that generated feelings of insecurity or dragged me down the path of “compare and despair” (I even went through a period where I even stopped looking at old photos of myself). This will no doubt vary from person to person but may include facebook, twitter and instagram accounts, “health” and “fitness” magazines, TV shows that body shame such as The Biggest Loser, Supersize v Superskinny, Extreme Weight Loss, Shedding for the Wedding, Celebrity Fit Club etc (if you work with me you know I call this stuff “ED porn” and I often recommend the BBC series “The Men Who Made Us Thin” for several hours of useful documentary watching while you are “detoxing” from this crap), email subscriptions, forums, and blogs that tell you “how to eat”, that “sugar is addictive” or use headlines such as “give up these foods now” or “what to eat in order to get ripped” - you know the stuff I’m talking about here.
I would also consider distancing yourself from friends who regularly update their feeds and accounts with weight loss, food fear mongering, diet, training and fitspo shit (you don't need to unfriend them - just unfollow or hide them), delete your tracking systems like Health, MyFitnessPal etc, and for goodness sake, stop wearing your or activity monitor or HR monitor, (unless you have a heart condition) - is knowing how many calories you burned, or how many steps you took on any given day really improving the quality of your life? We have an inbuilt one. It’s called the wisdom of YOUR body. Start listening.
6. I got naked. This was hard. Really, really, hard. For a very long time I never got naked. Except in the shower and only then only with the lights off. I never had a bath because I didn't want to look at myself. I cannot overstate how hard it was for me to write that paragraph. It hurts to even remember how disconnected and self-loathing I was toward my body at one point in time.
I also have to be honest, when it was first suggested to me that spending time naked would make me feel more comfortable in my body I was freaking horrified. The suggestion came with the really helpful tagline “it's like desensitization therapy”. OK. Whatever.
I resisted it, for a very, very long time. Until one day I was visiting a friend and her daughter ran, naked, into the kitchen where we were talking. My friend laughed and told her to go and put her clothes on and she flat out refused, giggling hysterically and ran off into the backyard to play with her brothers. In that moment, something really shifted for me. More than anything else, I realised that I wanted to embody that feeling I had had as a child who spent a lot of time naked (my mum has the photos to prove it) a time when I felt comfortable and happy, naked.
So, this might sound simplistic but I just started acting as if I was already comfortable and happy naked (and it took some getting used to). I started taking a bath every other day and I just kind of got into the habit of doing ‘stuff’ in the nude, and what I found was that working, cleaning and chilling out in the nude was liberating and I just started to feel more and more comfortable doing it (I work from home so for those of you who don’t…um, probably best to not experiment there…#awkward).
The only draw back to my new found nudity is that I need to keep my blinds half closed most of the time (which means using the lights more - apologies to the environmentalists - on the upside, Energy Australia loves me) but thanks to the various men who live in the apartment building opposite me who apparently also feel rather comfortable with their naked form (I thank you, my friends thank you and even my mother thanks you) I am more than aware of the uninterrupted views we have.
7. I redefined beauty. This one is a little controversial but I need to include it because it had such a profound impact on me. I started looking at images of women of all shapes and sizes on pinteresrt and instagram, I read positive body image blogs and subscribed to sites that promoted body diversity and filled my facebook feed with things along the same lines. In essence, I created a new little universe for myself where people were kind and positive, a space where all bodies are good bodies and where the general consensus was, if you don’t have anything nice to say, see a therapist because you have ‘stuff’ you need to work on.…
Now, I am not going to lie, it took me a long time to rewire my brain to find all bodies beautiful. We have all been culturally brain washed to view (thin), fit, lean etc bodies as being the ‘ideal’. This is mainly so that companies can sell us shit we don't need like diets and training regimes (after all, it’s a $63 billion dollar industry in the US) and if you don't believe me, let me ask you this: do you honestly think you were born with a preference for one body type or body size over another?
The problem is that mainstream culture has an incredibly narrow definition of beauty (possibly the understatement of the year) so unless you are making a concerted effort to look at the thousands of other different versions and definitions of beauty that exist, it is more than likely that you have been brainwashed into thinking that only one exists. Change your culture. And by this I mean, your online one. Mine is filled with men and women who inspire and promote beauty of all sizes. Once you start to reinvent your definition of beauty, you will shift your perception of what beauty means. And yes, this will have a profound impact on the way you view yourself.
8. I realised that what I really wanted was to feel beautiful and sensual (I wrote about this in my last post) and when it finally dawned on me that those were feelings were available to me at any weight, and in any clothing size, well, it was somewhat of an epiphany. Feeling beautiful and sensual is about the way I treat and relate to myself. It is about honouring all of my appetites in every possible sense and sensation of the word. I seek pleasure and joy in everything I do - from the way I eat, to the way I relax, and I am completely and utterly unapologetic about all of it. Buy some beautiful lingerie, light candles, have sex (alone or with a partner), get a massage…treat yourself as though you are already at that magical weight you are currently spending so much time and energy trying to get to….live as if you are already deserving of those things. Because you are.
9. I discovered spirituality. When I came to the realisation that I am on this earth to live my purpose, to be light, to feel joy and to be of service to others…I had a massive paradigm shift. This was a compete game changer. I stopped worrying about shit that didn't matter (what clothing size I wore or whether I thought I looked good/attractive/sexy/fit) and started to spend my time reflecting on how I could best be of service to another human being, on how I could radiate light and joy so that other people could see their own…Marianne Williamson, Danielle LaPorte and Jordan Bach (if he was straight and I was single…I would totally cyber stalk him more than I already do…just saying) are my favourite people in this space and I strongly suggest checking them out if you need a place to start.
And, if none of the above points resonate with you, I saved the most important one for last….
10. I acknowledged the price I was paying. And the costs I encountered as a result of my body shame were substantial. They included:
- An overwhelming and all encompassing self loathing toward myself. This led to major depression, and to me almost taking my own life.
- Avoidance of activities such as going to the beach or the pool due to the shame and disgust I felt over the way I looked.
- Avoidance of social activities for the same reasons.
- Isolation and loneliness as a result of avoiding all social situations and activities.
- A really, really shitty sex life. Read: nonexistent. This makes sense though doesn’t it? How can you possibly hope to connect with your body, (alone or with a partner) or to experience pleasure and satisfaction, when you are too caught up loathing the way you look? (Not to mention that when you are routinely depriving yourself of food your libido goes out the window, but again,I digress).
Think about what body shame is currently costing YOU? How is hating your body working out for you? Really. Be honest. Make a list.
Making the decision to accept and love your body right now is not ‘giving up’. It is not ‘selling out’. Some people might consider it brave in a culture where only one particular body type is deemed acceptable, but I don't see it that way.
I believe that learning to love and accept your body is an obligation: an obligation to honor your birth given right to be happy and to live a beautiful life.
This article is cross-posted thanks to food body mind - subscribe to their posts here
What a truly profound blog post. We particularly love your tip number 7 (and not just because it’s similar to our campaign name: redefinebeyoutiful.wordpress.com – It’s so great to see that you created a little universe where all bodies anre good bodies because at the end of the day that is the truth! It’s hard when the messages you’re being fed are about being ‘not good enough’ and often this comes from advertisers and even advertisers on social media. We think that flooding your social media newsfeed with different, empowering definitions of beauty is fantastic.
" Once you start to reinvent your definition of beauty, you will shift your perception of what beauty means. And yes, this will have a profound impact on the way you view yourself. " This is perfect! We’re going to share this on our Facebook page. Wonderful message.