As women, (sorry men I know you struggle too but this article is primarily for my ladies as it is written through my lens and my experience) society has told us from a teeny tiny age what beauty is, what our bodies should look like. Our self-image has been comprised of what we see in magazines and television, and the media influence on body image has since increased with technology increase and applications like Instagram and Facebook (yes I use both of these platforms but I do my best to be as body positive and authentic as possible in a hope to spread the message of positive body image). This can weigh heavily on self-esteem as we all struggle to measure up. Then you add social-emotional issues from relationships, traumas, family issues, etc. and most people (if you say you never have negative thoughts about yourself or body I don’t believe you) have the perfect storm to create a not so positive body image.
The effects of negative body image are endless. Eating disorders such as anorexia, binge eating, and bulimia have plagued our nation for years. Some of these disorders even leading to death or suicide. Body image issues are real and it’s time we had an open and honest conversation about them.
A Little About Where My Body Issues Started and How I Started to Heal.
My body image issues started at a very young age and continued into my adult life. I’d be lying if I said it’s something that I don’t struggle with anymore. Coaching with many different women of ALL shapes and sizes has helped me to love my body again and to see its capability and strengths. Our coaching community is also such an open and honest safe space where we don’t ONLY encourage each other to eat healthily and be active, but we encourage authenticity and honesty in our struggles with food, image, not feeling like we’re enough. These body image issues stem from so much more than what is in the media, but when we combine our lens and experience with what is inadvertently fed to us daily or shoved down our throats as beauty we can start to develop the concept that we are not enough. My first issues with body image I have discussed in previous blogs and they have to do the inability to have access to healthy foods, therefore, leading to an unhealthy relationship with food and eventually weight gain in my teen years. Not only was healthy food not an option, but I developed an emotional connection to food from my mother. We would eat when happy; we would eat when sad; it was always part of the occasion. Food was used as an incentive for behavior. I distinctly remember my father buying me an entire cheesecake when my boyfriend broke up with me and almost eating the entire thing.
We All Have a Story
As you can imagine, teen years are already difficult and being a dancer and cheerleader didn’t help. I am only 5’2” so as you can also imagine when you have less room to put pounds, they look like, or at least feel like, much more on a small frame! I have ALWAYS had muscular legs especially my calves and I’m pretty sure my thighs have always touched (so yeah that whole thigh gap thing never gonna be me!) it didn’t help when sophomore who shall remain nameless mockingly said “nice calves” when I was forced to wear my cheerleading skirt to school on game day. It didn’t help that both of my sisters (younger and older) are about 5’7” 5’8” and thin. I was always the shortest in my friend group and felt my curves did not fit amongst the crop tips and straight legged skinny jeans (I swear I should have been a teen in the 70s). I constantly had a feeling of not being beautiful enough. To add to my image issues, I started wearing coke bottle thick glasses at the age of five, thank God my mom was able to and allowed me to get contacts at the age of eleven. I also developed breasts in the third grade and got my period between the summer of fourth and fifth grade and was called a “slut” because I was different than the girls my age. Do you see the picture I’m trying to paint here? We all have a story and our insecurities all stem from somewhere.
How We Can Begin The Work to Heal Our Wounds Around Body Image
Where do we go from here? How do we start to change our mindset around how we feel about ourselves and how do we learn to love our bodies. Similar to self-care and self-love, I’m a huge proponent of personal development and positive affirmations. I think the first step to changing our mindset with all that is in our faces every day telling us how to look and who to be we need to always remember that cliche “comparison is the thief of joy”. As cliche as this is and as hard as it is to not compare, the less we do so the more we become comfortable with exactly who we are. Sometimes it helps to remove the stimuli we compare ourselves to such as not following certain accounts or taking a break from social media altogether. Next step, positive affirmations finding those things that you really love about yourself. I think this little girl, in particular, has a wonderful lesson for all of us.
Now maybe you think this is some pie in the sky idea or maybe it’s easy for a sweet little girl to come up with things she loves about herself because she’s not as jaded as we are, but we all have that little girl inside of us and it’s time to meet her again and remember that just like her, we are perfect just as we are. If you can’t look yourself in the mirror and find things you love, maybe it’s time to start writing some things down, maybe if you can only start with one. Then perhaps each time it gets easier and you start to find more and more things that you love. “Fake it until you make it”, is also a great tool. What I mean by this is saying out loud or writing down things you want to love about yourself like: “my stomach is beautiful” “I love my hair” “my body is strong” “I love my body”. Coming back to personal development, books on body positivity and soaking up as much you can about how you are not alone can be a very helpful tool. Two books I highly recommend are: Your Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor and The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown.
Celebrate Each-Other to Celebrate Ourselves
Next is the importance of lifting each other up. So often women tear each other down due to their own insecurities I would be lying if I told you I was not guilty of this. When we do this we perpetuate shame, we perpetuate insecurity. We need to start celebrating the beauty in each other so we can truly see the beauty that exists in ourselves. I’m not saying to be fake or to compliment people unnecessarily but what I am saying is, it’s ok to admire each other and to STOP tearing down and comparing, to STOP creating more unnecessary insecurities in other women, in turn perpetuating a culture that makes it ok for us to feel shame around our bodies. The more we lift each other up the more we make it ok to love ourselves.
Celebrate what your body can do: run, swim, dance, sing, and so on
List 10 things you like about yourself and pin it up where you can see it
Remember that beauty is not just about appearances
See yourself in the mirror as a whole person, not as a nose or a thigh
Think positive: Overpower negative messages with positive ones
Wear comfortable clothes that look good on you
Avoid or be actively critical of media messages and images that make you feel as if you should be something different
Use the time you would spend fretting on volunteering, exercise, or a hobby
Avoid “fat talk,” and encourage your friends to do the same
Do something nice for your body, for example, a massage or a haircut
Most importantly, remember you are not alone and as hard as it may seem you have the power to love yourself, it just may take some work to do it!
Hopefully, these tools are helpful to you. As always if you have severe or diagnosable issues with body image that effect your daily functioning, please seek help from a doctor or mental health professional.
“Sarah Savino is my recommended Wellness and Nutrition Coach who resides in Colorado but has a community of clients she guides and manages nationally. She has her frequent retreats that her clients are encouraged but not required to attend and someone who knows first hand how it is to be overworked and overweight. She is a living truth that once within the right community and with the right guide, everything is possible. Check out her bio. under ‘Meet Our Team’, available on the website here.”- Dr. Shakib