I do a lot of reading online about body image, and I always find the most telling bits of information in the comments section. It's there that women and girls (and sometimes men) really open up. Hiding in the "anonymity" of the Internet, women spill forth with tales about how they feel about their bodies and how those feelings have affected them.
I was reading through comments on a site recently when I came across this statement from a young woman: "I don't know how to stop hating my body."
That really hits the nail on the head, I think. So many of us are tired of hating our bodies, and know we deserve better. But when it comes to actually changing our relationship with our bodies? We're not quite sure what to do.
At the risk of simplifying a complex relationship, I'm going to share what I've learned -- with full awareness that this has been my experience and mine alone. I stopped hating my body when I made the choice to do so.
Now, I know what you're thinking. It's just not that easy. And you're right...it's not always easy. But in some ways, it is. I spent a year in 2007 writing the Weight-Loss Diary column for Shape magazine, working with a dietitian, a life coach and a personal trainer, trying to change my body, all the while thinking that it would finally put my body image demons to rest. Sure, I lost some weight but in the end, my body was still very much what it is now. There are some things that simply can't be changed.
So where did that leave me? With a choice. After that intense and grueling year of work, I could continue to find the "flaws" in my body, telling myself that I'd never be good enough. Or I could be proud of the new healthy lifestyle I was living, knowing that I was spending my days as the healthiest version of myself.
See my point?
I'll admit that there are days when I lament not being taller (mostly on the days I have to shell out serious cash to have my pants shortened). And I occasionally fight the urge to want to "make over" certain body parts. But weighing less has not made me richer, smarter or a better mother. All those things that I used to tie to having a better body -- "If I could just lose 20 pounds, I'd be happier or I'd do [fill in the blank]" -- have faded away.
If I could humbly offer my perspective to the woman who didn't know how to stop hating her body, I'd say this: Start with simple choices.
- Choose to be healthy. Make the effort to fuel your body with good nutrition and get some exercise each day. I bet you'll feel better almost immediately. It's hard to feel bad about a body that you're actively taking good care of.
- Choose to disengage from media that makes you feel bad. If certain magazines or TV shows always leave you feeling bad about your body, ditch them. Sounds simple, but consciously choosing what you pay attention to can make a big difference.
- Choose to recognize that you need help. Eating disorders are serious illnesses that require professional help. If you suspect you have an eating disorder, please reach out.
- Choose to see yourself in a new way. This can be the trickiest choice of all. Try to speak kindly about your body. It's OK to start small (as in, "my hair looks nice today"). Sure, it can feel strange to focus on the positive -- it can be so much more comfortable to focus on what's "wrong." But like any habit, it will build over time. Focus on the positive, and watch the effect that has on what you think and feel about your body.