I initially penned the draft of this post at the onset of the new year as we had twelve new months laid out in front of us. With all the messaging around New Year, New Me; New Goals; etc. that a new year brings, I had been thinking a lot about body image. I’m grateful that for much of my life I’ve had a healthy body image but I’ve absolutely had the moments where the faith in myself and how I looked has wained (or become all-consuming).
I will admit that back in high school I took pride in shopping at Abercrombie Kids and I loved the 00 in my jeans band in college. But growing up I also had plenty of times where I wondered if I was even skinnier or prettier or more athletic if I’d be more popular. I remember moments of wondering if maybe I should tell myself I wasn’t hungry if I actually was. I was obsessed with fashion magazines when I was younger and would pour over the imagery I saw in them wondering how I might emulate them more. In hindsight I’m extremely grateful that my parents never expressed any sentiments towards being thin > greater than.
Value associated with looks was never a thing in my household and I really appreciate that about my upbringing. I’ve seen the damage it can do to kids from people I’ve known who were bombarded by family members with either straight forward or passive-aggressive comments about their appearance.
Starting my junior year of high school I was on medications following a car accident and chronic headaches that loved to mess with my thoughts and how I felt and functioned. I could be ravenous or have no appetite. I sometimes silently celebrated having no appetite thinking it would help me stay thin as I headed into my Senior year and then went off to college for a fresh start and in search of a new friend group.
Unhealthy eating habits began to take their toll mid-way through my college years. And that’s when my negative self-talk really kicked in. Since those days I’ve spent the last 15+ years battling health-related issues that have played a major part in my weight gain and loss and therefore my body image.
In today’s age of social media we are “seen” so much more than we used to be. We feel an enormous pressure to be put together, be in cute clothes, sporting the newest/latest/most designer whatever. And even before social media, I certainly was that person who wanted to be seen sporting the newest/latest/most designer whatever. And, despite the fact that I share myself on the internet, I’m grateful that I’ve never felt compelled to get crafty at photoshop or use apps to edit and tune myself into anything other than what I look like in real life.
Do I minimize a wrinkle or blur a pimple from time to time? Of course. But never have I distorted myself in imagery or sought plastic surgery to change my appearance as is so prevalent in the content creator world nowadays. In alignment with what my mom has always told me “you’re exactly how God intended you to be.”
I truly don’t think it was until my 30s that I really, truly settled into a sense of self where I was confident and comfortable in my own skin and thinking less about what others thought or what they were doing with their lives. The concern about what others may think of what I did, how I looked or decisions I was making went considerably down after I turned 30 and I am extremely grateful for that.
When I was at the peak of illness with my thyroid disease I gained at least 30 pounds. (Maybe more?) I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror and began to buy clothes that had either a lot of stretch or shapes that attempted to cover what was happening underneath. I ate my feelings taking down whole pizzas and mac and cheese on the regular. And I had dessert every day. I drank more regularly to numb the pain I felt at loathing myself and feeling sorry for myself sitting on my couch wondering “why me? Why did I have to get this disease? Will I ever feel like myself again?”
I never had any energy or motivation to work out. And I would obsess over wondering what people were thinking about me while I looked like this. I experienced so much mortification as I would break into severe hot flashes leading to sweating. I experienced a lot of envy of others who seemed to have it all together. And then I’d experience a lot of guilt. Because I knew deep down what I had was treatable in the end and that some of my weight gain could go away if I put in the work. But in these years my body didn’t feel my own. I instead felt betrayed by it.
It took a long time for me to begin to release myself from the trap I allowed myself to live in for several years as I battled this disease.
And when I finally had enough of the self loathing, I made real change by committing to realizing no one was going to fix what I no longer like about myself but ME. So I committed to working out regularly. I went gluten-free for 9 months and slowly I started to regain my energy and see pounds start to drop off. I started being more conscious about what I was eating. And I started to practice more positive self talk to acknowledge the progress being made. Slowly, I started seeing change and slowly, I was starting to feel like myself again.
Since my recovery from that time in my late 20s, I have worked to make working out a priority for me in a big way. I finally learned the valuable lesson that working out is as much about physical health as it is mental health.
And I started paying attention to my motivations. I found that variety in my workouts is important. (And to stop trying to be a runner because I thought I “should” be.) I joined forces with others to ensure my motivation stayed on track. I gave myself rest and I didn’t obsess. (Turns out I really, truly never want to work out on vacation!!) I treated my workouts like meetings and ensured they had a well-deserved place on my calendar.
I regularly reminded myself about my mental toughness. How I had proven to myself before that I could do what I set my mind to and I could do it again. I could push through and be tougher than my last workout. I sourced and relied on inner strength that I knew would eventually become physical strength. When I sat down to write my BBG 1.0 completion post and review I felt such a sense of pride for sticking to something for so long and a true sense of accomplishment when I saw my results.
It was an eye opener to me that in working out for how I wanted to feel vs. what the end result would be, I was even happier and prouder of the results I earned.
The other thing that majorly changed for my mindset on my body image? I stopped working out to change how I looked. And I started working out to change how I felt. I now focus on lessening anxiety, decreasing stress and feeling physically strong on days I feel mentally depleted. As a result I gained emotional currency that built up my confidence and happiness overall.
I think it is so easy to make assumptions about others based on how they look. We allow ourselves to make judgements thinking being a certain size means unhappiness or means insecurity. We fabricate stories for people instead of listening to them or remembering that sometimes someone is carrying a cross that has them looking a certain way. I’m so glad we live in a world now that values differences in body types and values diversity and seeing people for more than what they look like. The increased representation in everything from advertising to press to social media has been hugely uplifting for me and I can’t wait to see what the next ten years bring as we continue to place more value on people’s whole person vs. just their whole body.
Next, I’d like to see more positivity vs. criticism given to those sharing themselves and their stories. I am still amazed at some of the hateful things myself and other blogger friends of mine have had said to us about our bodies. May we all remember that we get a lot more out of life by giving compliments and lifting one another up than by tearing others down because of things going on in our lives. There is so much more to a person than what you see and if my thyroid disease weight gain and battle teaches you anything, it is that many of us are bearing crosses.
This year I am focusing on having no goals related to weight loss or meeting numbers on a scale. Instead I am focusing on STRENGTH. Following my skin cancer surgery I largely took time off from working out for several months. And in doing so I realized how much my anxiety and mental wellbeing really needed the regular endorphins. I am working to accept compliments when given and acknowledge my body for all it does. Last year I had a real wake up call when I began to mentally thank my body for all it is capable of doing. All the steps clocked, miles experienced and the many workouts completed. It was a life changing shift in mindset to express more gratitude for all I accomplish in a day. (This helps).
I have still had many, many moments on certain days where I beat myself up about having to purchase something in a size Large or go from an 8 from a 6. Still, I regularly think about how I wish my boobs were smaller and I wish my double chin wasn’t so prominent. I hate that it feels impossible to see definition on my arms. And I have plenty of negative thoughts that seep in when I have to review photos taken of myself every week. “Yikes!” Or “that’s not flattering” or “could my double chin look worse?” Some days I’m just more cruel to myself than others. I’m human.
But what’s been a big change for me is that in those moments I have trained myself to acknowledge the negative thought and recognize it as something I don’t want to focus on. Then I tell myself that I am doing the work and that I am healthy and happy and that life is good. As Deepak Chopra says, “The best way to prepare for the future is to be totally present now.” I am using my present to be grateful for my able, strong body that’s fought many a battle and am choosing to treat it with more compassion and kindness instead of critiques and criticism. Since employing this, I’ve been so much kinder to myself on a day to day basis.
And can I just say: when we begin to acknowledge our bodies for all they do for us, it’s a lot easier to love it on a regular basis.
At 34, I find myself writing this post grateful for the journey and proud of what I’ve learned and my current mindset towards this able body of mine. I hope you’re able to take a minute today to find a moment of gratitude towards your able body, too <3.
. . .
Athleta Crop Top (wearing M for D/DD) // Lululemon Align Legging (my all time favorite! Wearing a 6) // APL Sneakers (last seen here) // Madewell Cardigan (Small + on sale; love this similar one I wore here)