When I gave birth to my two-year-old daughter, Julia, I weighed 243 pounds. In fourth grade and throughout my first diet, I weighed 102 pounds. When I was in seventh grade, I tipped the scale at 165. When I got married, I weighed 148. Today, as I type this, I am 200.6 pounds. It hurts my heart to think that my precious baby girl would be able to recite these numbers about herself. I abhor that she would equate her value to her size.
Why do we bristle at the thought of our children thinking so negatively about themselves, but readily accept that we hate our own bodies? I’m grateful for the growth journey I’ve been on throughout the last year because I no longer think of my value as my weight or physicality.
But it wasn’t easy. For years, I lived in the “body hate” category, and progress was sluggish. Today, I will share my journey through what I call the “Body Image Continuum:” Body hate, body neutrality, and body love. I will round out the article with the single best tip I have to combat your negative self-talk. I’m right there with you, ok, friend?
Body Hate: You hate your body.
Stepping out of the shower on any given day, I might think:
My cellulite is so disgusting.
Sebastian and Julia deserve a thin mom. I don’t want them to be embarrassed.
My breasts shouldn’t look like this. They aren’t feminine or sexy.
My psoriasis and eczema make me look like a spotted giraffe.
I can’t believe this is possible, but I think my bat wings are getting worse.
Kevin deserves me to look how I did when we got married. That’s what he committed to, not this.
…and on and on and on.
They say the biggest and most important relationship we have is with ourselves, and I agree with that. I don’t know about you, dear friend, but many of my childhood memories revolve around shame instead of pride. When I was in kindergarten, Big Wheels were all the rage. I remember being one of the slowest during race time at recess because I was already chunky. Similarly, I will never forget letting my tummy spill out over my pants one time while sitting on the toilet when I was a little girl. My younger brother Jake was playing in the bathtub when my mom walked in the room and said, “Look at that stomach!” to me. There I was, 8 years old, feeling safe to let my belly be free, and then I heard this. Friend, I’m 43 years old, and I still remember that.
We are taught from a very early age that thin is the ideal, and every culture puts a certain look on a pedestal. When I was growing up, the term “supermodel” was gaining ground, and I taped photos of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue models on the refrigerator as inspiration for dieting. I can still visualize a specific swimsuit spread in which the models were “playing” baseball. One model’s swimsuit was completely open on the side, and her ribs jutted out while she was at bat. That’s how I aspired to look. I was 9.
I marked the years with punishing diets and negative self-talk. I hated my body. “Body hate” is the negative extreme of the Body Image Continuum, and I fluctuated between stages throughout the years. I hope your experiences don’t mirror mine, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if they do. If you polled 20 random women at the grocery story, I have no doubt most of them would have more negative things to say about their bodies than positive (that’s scientific sounding, right?). How many of them ever advance to Body Neutrality? Let’s discuss.
Body Neutrality: You don’t hate or love your body. You are indifferent and might look at yourself in the mirror, shrug, and think “Eh, could be worse.”
To me, body neutrality was significant progress. I loathed my body for so long that neutrality was an improvement. What helped me transition from hate to neutrality was immense weight loss and pursuing goals. In my mid-20s, I lost 95 pounds via Weight Watchers and general dieting and kept it off for almost ten years. During this time, I divorced my first husband and went to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in Human Services – School Counseling.
For the first time in a long time, I was focusing on parts of my life that had nothing to do with my weight. I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter, earned a 4.0 GPA in graduate school, completed a yearlong internship, created a curriculum on relational aggression for Brownies and Girl Scouts, spoke at conferences, and more.
While I no longer hated my body, I didn’t mind it. After losing almost 100 pounds, I had the requisite loose skin hanging like an apron over my stomach, but I didn’t fixate on it. I really think what helped my body image at the time was the pursuit of goals. Remember, though, that I wasn’t quite to the “Body Love” stage yet; I merely didn’t hate it.
I’m aware that pursuing goals isn’t the answer to body image issues for everyone, though. I recently listened to Rachel Hollis interview IT Cosmetics Co-Founder Jamie Kern Lima on the RISE Podcast. Jamie discussed that even though she runs a billion-dollar business, she and several high-achieving female colleagues STILL battle with body image.
WHAT. THE. HELL. Are we never going to be enough for ourselves? Will we always live in anyone else’s shadow regardless of how successful we are? Friend, we are diminishing our power by allowing our physicality to be the single most important factor about us. We are doing this to ourselves. No matter how “perfect” we are by society’s standards, there will always, always, always (did I mention always?) be people who critique us. We will never be enough for everyone, and their criticisms only matter if we allow them. Therefore, the opinion that matters most is our own. Are you good enough for yourself?
I wish I could say I stayed in the “Body Neutrality” stage or progressed into “Body Love,” but my body image demons would not go quietly. Through two pregnancies, extreme post-partum depression, and a miscarriage, I circled laps around the “Body Hate” stage for a while. But now I’m done with all that. DONE.
Body Love: You love your body in whatever state it’s in. Total body appreciation.
It’s likely extremely difficult for most women to say they love their bodies. We’ve been so conditioned to compare ourselves to others, taught to be humble, and that to brag is akin to sin. Please hear this, Friend: There is a difference between appreciating and loving your body versus thinking you are better than others. It’s okay to say you love yourself. It’s better than ok; it’s the ideal.
You’ve probably heard people say you should love your body because: These are the same legs that helped you run your first 5k. These are the same arms that hugged your father. This is the same stomach that grew your daughter. These are the same breasts that fed your infant.
I hope those sentiments resonate with many of you and that they spur you on to love your body. For whatever reason, however, that line of thinking never helped me. I don’t know why, but when I heard those reasons, I would roll my eyes and think blah, blah, blah. Don’t get me wrong – all those sentiments are true. These arms are the ones that hold my sweet baby girl, Julia. These are the same legs that helped me conquer 300 Peloton spin classes. And this is the same stomach that grew two babies.
But those thoughts didn’t help me progress on the Body Image Continuum. Until recently, I remained proud that I even conquered Body Neutrality. Again, that demonstrated significant progress for me.
Neutrality began to morph into Body Love for me when I read Brooke Castillo’s If I Am So Smart, Why Can’t I Lose Weight? Catchy title, right? Two lines from her book especially struck me in relation to body image. First, “You and your body are on the same side.” Second, in relation to not eating everything on our plates: “Can you imagine making a little baby eat the rest of its baby food because you didn’t want to waste it?”
Wow. I finally started to understand that my body has been powerless to my choices. We all have genetic/hereditary factors that we cannot control, but I chose to eat Culver’s, Dunkin Donuts, and Panera in one sitting. My blood sugar, liver, and arteries didn’t have a choice in those decisions. The quote about forcing a baby to eat helped me understand this better. The baby doesn’t have a choice in what he or she is fed, just like my body doesn’t have a choice.
My body and I are on the same team, just as Castillo reported. But there I was for years treating it like it was the enemy. My body never got to choose what team it was on. My body kept showing up for me, day in and day out, regardless of what I fed it and how much I moved it. And now I want to shit all over it and say negative things to it? Um, hello, that’s not fair.
We should treat our bodies with reverence. If you are reading this, then your body has allowed you to live another day. And the very least we owe it, is love and gratitude. Optimally, we should be treating it well with enough sleep, nutritious foods to provide proper fuel, and regular movement (Sound familiar? Could it be my “3 Point Plan for Wellness?” See my prior article on that!)
But what do we do instead? We castigate it and cover it as if it’s something to be ashamed of. Until this summer, I would never wear shorts, and I sure as hell wouldn’t have posted a picture on social media of me in my bathing suit. I would more likely be seen in full-length jeans and long-sleeve shirts. When it’s 95 degrees. That’s not how we treat our bodies if we love them, though.
At the Rachel Hollis RISE Conference in Dallas this month, she unveiled her “10 Body Image Commandments,” and one was to compliment yourself every single time you look in the mirror. Can you imagine the cumulative effect of this? I’m talking about genuine insights; after all, you can only tell yourself you have pretty eyes so many times before you find yourself thinking, Nice collarbone.
In all seriousness, before you exit the bathroom next time and every time, force yourself to find praise. Maybe you love your cheekbones, maybe you are thrilled with your hourglass figure, or perhaps you are owning your silver hair. Come on, friend. Your body has always been there for you. It’s time for you to show up for your body.
Biggest Tip – The single biggest tip I can give you to help overcome negative body image is the Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) approach. This article has become quite lengthy, so I created a special, separate FREE guide to help you combat your Negative Self-Talk. In this guide, I explain what CBT is, how to apply it, and how to track and conquer your thoughts.
Friend, you are worthy. Your body is worth it. Do the work and finally transition to the last stage of the Body Image Continuum – Body Love.
Did today’s topic resonate? Where are you at in the Body Image Continuum? What part of the article did you identify with the most? Comment below!