I believe a lot of girls and young women learn early and quickly to unlove and mistrust their bodies. I can remember the exact moment I felt betrayed by my own body: I was nine years old and my mom let me try on her wedding dress. Expecting it to be much too big (my mother was an adult, after all, and I was just a little girl), it barely fit. Not knowing anything about different body types — my mother is petite and small-boned — I immediately took this to mean I was fat.
This betrayal is always at the back of my mind, one of many little things about myself I’ve collected over the years to create the story I tell myself. I’m too big, too much. That betrayal, along with all the other things, are the bits and pieces I’m trying to edit out as I tell a new story about my body. And I’ll be honest: I’m not quite there yet. But guess what, I’m making progress.
Many days, maybe even most, I love my body. I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been and I’ve just turned 30, but I have such love for myself. Of course, there are days when I feel extremely insecure, sometimes many in a row, and I become cranky and desperate for a quick fix for the fleshy prison I’ve convinced myself I’m trapped in. I tell myself horrible stories and believe them wholeheartedly. But then, another day or two pass and I happen to wear something I especially like, take my time getting ready that morning, and shore myself up on sweet self-talk, and I’m back, knowing I’m good…and a total babe.
How am I learning to love my body? There are a lot of factors that come into it, and many are highly individual, but below is a list of things that have shaped my positive attitude about my body:
- The body-positive movement on social media. I’ve made the point to follow a lot of amazing folks on social media, Instagram in particular. If you want to change up your social media feeds so you start seeing more people who look like you and are celebrating their bodies and promoting healthy self-love, the best thing to do is to start following some body-positive folks! Some of my absolute favorites (and good places to start) from Instagram are @awholestory, @bodyposipanda, @themilitantbaker, and @fat_therapist.
- Shopping at and following body-positive/plus-size brands online. Torrid, Modcloth, Lane Bryant, just to name a few, feature (sometimes exclusively) plus-size women, often stretch marks and all. There is nothing better than seeing advertising with women who look like you and wearing clothes in a way you might. (P.S. I’m in no way being endorsed or paid by any of these brands. If only I were a big enough deal! 😉)
- Get naked. There is something really sensual about nakedness. Instead of feeling your environment with just a bit of exposed skin on your face and hands and feet, you feel it with your whole body. When your naked, you can enjoy the feel of your body, the texture and solid, alive weight of it. This doesn’t have to be, and maybe shouldn’t be, a sexual thing. It’s a sensory thing. It’s an enjoyment of yourself thing. It’s giving yourself permission to be a person in all states, both dressed and undressed.
- Looking at myself in the mirror, especially a full-length one (sometimes naked). We have a huge full-length mirror in our bathroom. When we first moved into our house I wanted that thing gone, but over time I’ve grown to love it. Just like the advertising for those plus-size brands I mentioned, seeing my own body in all states of undress has helped me grow to accept and love it. So, don’t shy away from your reflection; face it full on and give yourself permission to love what you see. It may take (in fact, I promise it will) a while for you to feel fully comfortable with seeing yourself, particularly if you’ve been trained to not like what you see, but try to lean into that discomfort. Practice admiring yourself every day. Maybe you’ll just start with really looking at your mouth or your eyes or your calves or toes, but build up and out from those places. Look at yourself and speak the truth: You are beautiful.
- Understanding my relationship with food. I know that my relationship with food is unhealthy. It’s a daily struggle for me to eat in a healthy way, and I don’t just mean fruits and veggies. I mean not binge eating. I mean dealing with my stress rather than eating to cover that feeling up. I mean not falling into habits of nightly snacks/second dinners. I know that I deserve to nourish my body with good things in a healthy way, and that this part of my body’s journey needs to be done without any sort of disclaimers. I need to work on my disordered eating not because I’m bad or stupid or fat. I don’t need to do it to be smaller or feel comfortable in short shorts. I need to do the work because I deserve to feel good. I deserve a long life, free of health complications. I deserve to care for myself like I care for my children, with love, understanding, and the knowledge that you can’t have Reeses for dinner.
- Understanding that those who have been rude or cruel to me about my weight are just as insecure, if not more so, as I am. I had a dear family member who would make unkind comments about my weight. What I knew then and understand even more now, is that she had her own unhealthy relationship with food and poor body image to contend with. She criticized out of fear. She knew how miserable she was and didn’t want that for me, but didn’t have the language to communicate that. If you face someone being cruel to you about your body, try to think about why. Often times the conclusion you can come to is that their comments are really about them and their fears and having nothing to do with you.
- Learning about my body. There was a time when I might have beat myself up over not liking cross fit or turning down that invite to Zumba class, but I’ve decided I won’t any more. I don’t mean to say I’ve decided to eschew exercise (and I could stand to do more than I do now), but I know what my body likes. I like walking and running. I like yoga and deep stretches. I like it when my husband shows me how to properly lift weights. Honestly, I like things that are a bit more slow and give me time to think. Maybe some day I’ll enjoy a more fast-paced workout routine or be interested in group classes, but right now, my body likes slow and steady and thoughtful, and that is just enough.
- Dressing well. I have a friend at work who always wears really well tailored suits and dress clothes to work every day. He always looks good. When asked by students why he goes out of his way to dress so well he explains that when you’re dressed well you feel good. You’re presenting yourself in a positive light to the rest of the world. People treat you differently when you dress well. This is not just true for my work friend. It’s true for everyone. There is no point in waiting until you have a waistline again or until you fit into a certain size again or until those pants from five years ago pull up over your thighs again (the pants are out of style at this point anyway, friend). Dress how you want now. You will feel like you look: wonderful.
- Knowing when I feel down about my appearance that this is a feeling that will pass. Just like a depressive funk or spurts of heightened anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and dislike of my body come and go and they always will and we all face them. Remember that these moments will pass and you will feel confident again, and that nothing about you has changed. You are still you, worthy.