Honor The Journey: Dealing With My Body Image

Having a positive body image?  In today’s society? Climbing Mount Everest seems like a more plausible achievement.  Name more than five people you know with positive body image confidence.  If you do, then bravo!  That is wonderful, but I think most of us fall into the category of struggling with our own body image regularly.  But that’s not our fault.  We have had standards that we were never intended to live up to.  In fact, society rolls a lot stronger when people are focused on their appearance.

We Live In A Society With Unhealthy and Unrealistic Standards

I still struggle with the person I see in the mirror.  In the past all I have ever seen is flaws, which ironically are what I find attractive in other people.  Give me scars, receding hair lines, little love handles and a slightly off center nose and I’m in love.  But as a self critic it’s much harsher and frankly deeper than that.  I struggle with “body dysmorphia syndrome” which is:

“a mental disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance — a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable. But you may feel so ashamed and anxious that you may avoid many social situations.”

Where Did This Began?

It was with my mother.  I thought my mom was beautiful when I was a little girl, but she struggled with her own perception of herself as well.  The only words that came out of her mouth to describe herself were negative.  As a young child I remember being sad about it and for her, but I still thought she was beautiful.  I also didn’t realize it would be the foundation for what would be my own negative self body image.  Society and mainstream media only fed those seeds which eventually developed into a sickness.

By the time I hit age 12 I was very much so a tomboy.  The grunge style was becoming a thing, I was still an athlete, and the Demi Moore “Ghost” Pixie style haircut was also thing.  My mom thought I’d look adorable.  Perhaps if I have developed breasts at the time I would have, but with my baggy pants, flannel shirts and combat boots I was mistaken for a boy more than once.  Already an oddball it only amplified my insecurities and began what was a two decade long internal struggle with food.

body image
When I share my fitness photos now I make sure I show when I’ve just completed a workout, still hot and sweaty. No makeup, no dolling up. This is me.

That summer my hips got bigger and I grew what I now affectionately called “nurples”.  I was very aware of how far from proportionate I was.  At my grandmother’s house that summer she remarked that I was filling out like my mom.  For the first time ever I panicked about my weight.  I had always been very thin and now I had this large sized caboose and extra cargo for thighs.  I didn’t realize in her own way she was only acknowledging that I was growing up.  In my head all I heard was “FAT” because my Mom thought she was fat and she was thin.  This is where I actively began to hate my body and where the first stages of my eating disorder developed.

I started skipping breakfast and lunch at school which turned into a lifelong bad habit of not eating either.  Then most nights I would only nibble at dinner too.  Nobody seemed to notice.  I was watching my weight like a hawk.  It was the early 90’s where heroin chique was a thing. Courtney Cox, Calista Flockhart, and Lara Flynn Boyle were the “It” girls.  Everywhere I looked it was the land of the starving women.  I began editing how I dressed as well.  I was wearing short shorts and tight tops to show off my body.  This was not because I was so proud of it, but because I was tired of being mistaken for a boy.  To say that this time was a huge turning point in my life is an understatement.  Today I’m actively still cleaning up the mess.

Time Hopping

If we skip ahead to today, at 37 with three children later and reasonable amount of wear and tear I’m more comfortable and accepting of my body than I have ever been.  How is this possible?  It takes a LOT of time, some help, and self esteem.  It’s about letting go and being free of an ideal that I’ll never fulfill.  My initial response to my reflection is usually negative, but that happens less and less frequently.  Sometimes in pictures I can tell that I’ve lost weight or can see that I look healthy, but it takes a conscious effort to remind myself that I’m great just the way I am.

support group
When I saw this photo the first thing I thought was how big my thighs looked. I’m crossing the finish line in full sprint running my fastest half marathon ever. My thighs looked strong. I look badass, and that’s what I keep telling myself.

I’m not perfect.  I’m never going to be the most beautiful girl in the room.  And that’s fine.  I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life and I am the happiest.  At this point the last thing I want to spend my time on is a source of vanity and I make sure I avoid exactly that.  Being that comfortable with myself also means seeing those flaws and walking away from it.  Not trying to hide it with clothes or makeup or dye.  I look at the cellulite, the pimple, or all the gray hair and go…..that’s mine.

Harsh, yes.  But I had to get there.  I couldn’t have this health journey be about weight or what I looked like physically.  Years ago I took a hammer to my scale when I realized it was leading me down a dark path.  We have one now, but it’s for my husband and I don’t use it very often.  I have lost a lot of weight, but I wasn’t trying to.  My clothes feel good and I’m comfortable.  For once I’m not obsessing about how I look in everything.

What Really Matters

If we keep comparing ourselves to everyone around us, we’ll never be happy.  The standards set by society and the media were not meant for me.  Even if they were, they were intended to break me down and crush my confidence.  I’ve spent so many years of my life letting it control me that I can’t waste anymore of my precious time letting it control me.  I fight for that everyday and tell myself that I’m awesome.  It also helps to surround yourself with people that are supportive and encouraging.  Because I’ve managed to surround myself with pretty incredible and positive people has had a pretty profound impact as well.

Like most people I’m still a work in progress, but most days get better and easier like so many hard things.  My acceptance was the first and most important step to letting go of not just this disorder, but so many other negative thought patterns corrupting my mind.  Then I had to walk away from my own vanity which has been more liberating than I can describe.  I get up each day and look in the mirror and see my own face, my own body, my own scars, my own jiggles, my imperfect skin, and my graying hair.  This is me and I like her.  I’ve grown to like myself and embrace myself physically good or bad.  Nobody else ever has to and I’m okay with that.

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