Periods of body hatred for me come out of nowhere. Perhaps related to stress, perhaps triggered by a person close to me dieting, perhaps connected to all the ridiculously perfect images Instagram and other social media puts out there, but whatever the trigger, this destructive body talk comes over me like a tidal wave of self loathing. Nothing looks good, my stomach is sticking out a mile; I am stocky and unfeminine. As I say these things to myself, in that moment, I am wholly convinced it is true: I am huge, I am not beautiful, I am one big flaw and I feel these thoughts as if they are reality.
I am also not alone when I feel this way. I have lived long enough to know many of the beautiful, accomplished and confident women in my circle of friends and acquaintances have these periods of intense body hatred. Maybe body hatred is a sad reflection of the times and doesn’t have an age requirement. My beautiful, dynamic 80-year-old mom still sucks her stomach in and berates herself about those extra ten pounds. When does it stop? What can we as smart, strong and forward-thinking women do about it? Here’s a few things that have worked for me…
When I sense I am moving into a period of not loving my body, I give myself a break and don’t look in the mirror for a few days. I know my mind will only say negative things, so why give it a chance to? When I am ready to look in the mirror again, I purposely find a part of my body and I make myself give that part a compliment. I find another part of my body and repeat. Here’s an example: Legs: I love that you are so strong and the shape of your quads are beautiful. Right scarred leg: I love that you have been through so much and you are still here for me. Stomach (that’s the hardest one): I love that you protect my organs and that you are the centre of my being, I give you some love.
I remind myself of all the places my body has taken me, all the ways it has stayed strong and true to me.
Olympic competition, recreational riding, climbing hills, skiing mountains, and I say thank you. Being grateful for my body and its ability to help me enjoy so much of what makes me happy is something that seems to bring back a little self love.
I stop comparing myself to others. I have a totally different body than any of my friends and they have a totally different body than their friends. We are all unique and there is no ideal body. I have gotten to know many people who have bodies like models and those bodies do not guarantee their happiness. Ironically, they also have body hatred just like everyone else.
I say kind things to my friends about their bodies. I figure if I am struggling so hard about my appearance, then they struggle as well. Maybe not in that exact moment, but maybe a week or a month later, when something has brought their physical self esteem crashing down, they will remember that compliment. Appreciating one another is a kindness paid forward.
I remind myself that being angry and stressed about my body actually releases cortisol which acts against weight loss. If you are actually trying to lose weight, giving anything but self-love to your body goes against that goal. Self hatred is not even an effective ‘get skinny’ strategy! So, what’s the point of indulging it?!
I do some life math: if my stomach really was sticking out a mile, or my legs were stocky, how would that change my life? Would my life somehow become immeasurably worse?
Would I lose my friends? Would I stop being a terrific mom and partner to my husband? Usually I conclude that even my worse case body fears, if true, would have zero impact on my life.
I seek stories and experiences that bring me perspective. Yes, I read the Unsinkable stories which always inspire and uplift me. When I am reminded of how difficult so many people’s lives are in this moment, it inspires me to lift myself out of the cloud of self-loathing and get on with it.
I know to ask myself: What do I need right now? I am surprised how often the answer is, “I need to talk to a girlfriend.” Sometimes I need to talk to her about how I am feeling about my body, but a lot of the time I just need that connection, that lift that being with a trusted friend gives me.
And I connect to gratefulness. I’m grateful for this body that houses my soul, grateful for all the adventures we have been on together, grateful to be cancer- and disease-free, and relatively pain free. I’m grateful for the two babies it gave homes to grow in. Grateful for the life that pulses powerfully throughout it. Grateful to be alive.
Lastly, I go to the bigger picture where it doesn’t matter. Whether my size 8 jeans fit this week or I need to slip into my size 10 ones has absolutely no impact on anything important. I understand now that my critical self talk is only the mean chatter of a brain in overdrive, so that’s my cue to slow down, get immersed with the doing of this thing called Life, and give everything I can today to the business of living kindly within and outside myself.
You are always and already beautiful. So am I.