How do you change the way you think? The way you feel? The way you react? How do you change habits that have become so ingrained into your existence you simply cannot fathom life could be different?
Those were the questions I was wrestling with a few years ago.
Oh, I put on a good act. I wrote posts about positive body image. I wrote a guest post about ‘what it means to be beautiful’. I touted the importance of health and wellbeing, yet I could not rid myself of the negative thoughts residing in my head.
I didn’t know how to make them stop.
It’s rather embarrassing that a middle aged woman could be struggling with body image.
I mean there are far more serious issues in the world. Like cancer. Mental illness. Domestic violence. Homelessness. Racial discrimination. Global warming.
You get the idea.
body image? Really?
But yet, that was what I had been given. That was my platform. God was providing me with an opportunity to make a difference. But if I let shame dictate my (lack of) action, how could I? (Make a difference, that is.)
And so here I am.
Body image is not reality. It’s perception. It’s how you see yourself when you look in the mirror. It’s how you picture yourself in your mind. It’s what you believe about your appearance. It’s not only how you feel about your body, but how you feel in your body.
A positive body image allows you to see yourself as you truly are. It allows you to feel confident and comfortable.
And those with a negative body image? Well, their perception is distorted. They are extremely self-conscious. They feel their body size is a sign of personal failure. They are uncomfortable in their own skin.
Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt comfortable in my own skin. It’s been a long time since I’ve been at peace with my body.
I went on my first diet at age 13. I wasn’t overweight. In fact, I was a very active. I played basketball. I ran track. I was a cheerleader.
I don’t even remember feeling discontent with my body. So why I decided to go on a diet, I simply can’t explain.
But I did.
Talk about life changing decisions.
For some reason, I began to equate being thin to being perfect; the thinner I could become, the more perfect I would be.
From that point on, I hated my body. Hated it. With a passion. It didn’t matter what the scale said. I look back at pictures and clearly remember the shame I felt. I was never good enough. I was never perfect enough.
By the time I was 19, I had three long term hospitalizations behind me. And while the third hospitalization put many of my behaviors to rest, they did little to address issues of body image.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason I found myself in familiar territory at age 45. Perhaps if I had dealt with that aspect of the disease, I wouldn’t have sunk back into the depths of its control.
So here I am, five years later, with what I call ‘perspective’. AKA I’ve been to hell and back.
Here is what I now know: you can change your thinking, but it’s anything but easy. You simply do not go from hating your body one day, to loving it the next.
It’s a process.
The process began the day I found myself sprawled out on the sidewalk during a run. With scraped hands and a bloody knee, I ran home knowing something had to change.
It continued the day I began to respect my body by feeding it healthy food.
It continued the day I stopped punishing my body with exercise.
It was in the weeks and months that followed, when the fear of gaining weight, (and not knowing when it would stop), filled me with anxiety.
But I continued anyway.
It was in the moments I struggled to convince myself that feeling full and satisfied was a good thing and being hungry was not.
Eventually, I came to a place where I could tolerate my body. And by tolerate, I mean avoid looking at it or thinking about it. Because at that time, a good body day was a day I didn’t think about my body.
Not quite a healthy relationship. But a better place than where I had been.
And then last winter, through my church, I took part in The Daniel Plan. It was then I began to understand the effects of my negative self talk.
I scoured the Bible searching for affirmation
“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
As I look back over the previous 11 months, I see progress. For months, I was grateful for “a body that was free from disease” or “a body that was free from cancer” or a “body that was free from injury”.
and over again…
until late last summer.
One day last summer, I wrote, “I am grateful to feel comfortable in my own skin.” Followed by the words ‘for today’.
As summer turned to fall, these words repeated themselves. Sometimes for several days in a row.
So where am I now? I wish I could say I love my body. But I can’t. I’m not there quite yet.
Currently, I am in the world of acceptance.
I accept that I am healthy, and this is what I look like when I am healthy.
And it’s in this moment, as I write, that I realize, how my search for acceptance was tied to being perfect. Looking perfect.
My journey will continue. I am focusing on the people I admire to guide my way.
And the people I admire? My admiration has nothing to do with what they look like. Not at all.
It’s about how they take care of themselves.
It’s about their ability to listen to their body and provide it with what it needs.
It’s about their self confidence.
It’s about how they treat others.
It’s about their passions.
It’s about how they use their passions to make the world a better place.
It’s about how they have left their comfort zone to follow their dreams.
It’s about the obstacles they have overcome.
These are the people I admire.