Ask any adult what they would change about their body and most of us will be able to give you a long list of dislikes and areas needing improvement. Even celebrities most would deem as perfect, like the long legged Taylor Swift and wildly successful Katie Couric, have openly admitted struggling with body image issues.
I am no stranger to body image struggles myself.
Memories as early as middle school come to mind. In 7th grade I quit the volleyball team because I was too self conscious about wearing the short shorts. From there, it was a spiral downwards filled with workouts titled “thin thighs”, stressing over my weight, my curly hair, stretch marks, cellulite, and anything else I viewed as flawed.
Even as an adult, my perception and concern over others perception of my body controlled my world. I dodged full body photos. I started a new diet every other week. I was highly critical of not only myself, but other women as well. I let the jealousy of “fit” women eat at me to the point that I temporarily removed myself from Facebook and cut ties with a good friend just because she had lost weight, and I had not. I am certain most of my friends saw me as a confident individual but on the inside, I felt paralyzed by jealousy and dissatisfaction.
Eventually, after too much time spent worrying about my weight, huge quads, and thick calves, it came to a head after I had my daughter. I hit rock bottom. I was at my highest weight and lowest self-esteem ever, but with little baby eyes and ears on me I knew it was time for a change.
I am no body image expert, just a typical girl with a lot of personal experience in this department but looking back at my transformation from sad and insecure to confident and happy, there were a handful of practices I put into action.
The good news is you can make these changes too, right now. Feelings follow behavior. The simple, but not always easy, act of behaving in a body positive manner often leads to body positive feelings, even if you have to fake it ‘til you make it.
Exercise: People who exercise tend to have a more positive body image than people who don’t exercise. I am not just suggesting this because I am a personal trainer either, it has been studied over and over again. Anecdotally, I have seen the focus, for many, of exercise shifts from what you body looks like to what your body can do. Today, I am adore my “huge quads” because they allow me to squat a crap ton of weight. (Yes a crap ton is a unit of measurement.) Beyond that, Elle Woods was right, exercise increases production of endorphins. And, we all know endorphins make you happy.
Stop using the F-word: Fat. I am talking about the word fat. Just throw it out of your vocabulary, especially if you have children. Stop calling yourself fat. Stop calling others fat. When we use negative descriptions (both in our heads and out loud) enough, true or not, we eventually start to believe them. When you feel the urge to use “the f word”, replace it with something you love about yourself.
Stay off the scale: Many of us give the number on the scale way too much power. Down a few pounds? You are thrilled, it is a great day! Up a few pounds? You are depressed, time to start dieting and exercising. Sound familiar? It can be difficult, if not impossible, to build a solid foundation of self love, respect and acceptance when you’re frequently seeking validation from the scale. Toss that sucker in the trash, or at least under the bed if you really can’t part with it. You can choose to have a great day, any day, regardless of what you weigh.
If you’re working on losing weight, weighing yourself once a week should be plenty. Remember, the number on the scale is not always representational of a healthy/unhealthy body.
Focus on the positive: Even the smartest, most confident, Katniss Everdeen-ish of women have their off days. You are going to have moments when you feel insecure, anxious, jealous, dissatisfied, and even angry with your body. Be ready. Arm yourself with positivity. Keep your attention on what is going well and what you love about yourself. Think of it as two voices. The voice of positivity has to be louder.
Sure, the famous Saturday Night Live character, Stuart Smalley, was hilarious but he really was on to something with his well-known mantra, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”. Have a mantra ready in your back pocket. Heck, steal Smalley’s if you want! When you are tempted to critique, pull out that short saying full of positivity and repeat as many times as needed.
Treat your body like it belongs to someone you love: You know all those negative things you say to yourself? Write them down. Look at them. (Do not read any further until you are done)
Now, let me ask you this. Would you say those things to your child? To your mother? To your sister? To your best friend? I did not think so. Now tear those bad boys up.
Even if you are not in love with your body, treat it like you are. Remember, feelings follow actions. Act out of love towards your body and with time you will feel love towards your body.
Years ago, I would have been beyond embarrassed to share my struggles in private, let alone in a public forum. Today, I see them as the peaks and valleys I worked to conquer on a road that ultimately led me to a profession I am passionate about. I have realized that my perception of my body had very little to do with my physical appearance and tons to do with the dialogue taking place in my head. I continue to practice these five changes because I believe self love and acceptance is a skill that should be exercised daily in an effort to reach optimal potential. Just as my big thighs are nothing to be ashamed of, neither are my battles with body image. I am proud to say that through many storms, I am comfortable in my own skin, flaws, and all.