There is a very strong connection between the body and the mind. We hear about it all of the time, there are books, articles, documentaries, entire disciplines devoted to teaching us about this connection and how to strengthen it. And yet, although this is seemingly common knowledge, many of us still struggle with a basic building block of a strong body/mind connection, loving the body we have.
It may not seem to be important to have some self-love for your thighs or stomach, especially when you are working to change the way they look and feel. But, I promise that finding love for your body with all of its imperfections, perceived flaws, and quirks, will lead to a more healthy life both mentally and physically.
Now, I want to stress that body image issues are not something that only women struggle with. Many men and boys are also suffering from poor body image and the accompanying stress that goes along with it. It is probably easier for women to discuss this than men because it’s an accepted issue that gets tons of coverage throughout the media.
Ah the media, that which simultaneously tells us and shows us that we are not good enough while railing against the messages that we are not good enough. While there has been some body positivity coming into play recently with the inclusion of plus size and differently-abled models in ad campaigns and on magazine covers, it can still be difficult to find a positive representative of your body type.
I have PCOS and because that endocrine disorder causes women to gain weight much like a man, think barrel chest, beer bellies, flat booties, and thin legs. it is almost non-existent to see someone with that body type in the media. It’s also almost impossible to find clothes that fit.
From the time I was a little girl I remember adults commenting on my body and my appearance. “She’s all legs!”, “She’s so thin, it’s too bad her face is so plain.” I was a skinny little girl with a plain face, big eyes, and flyaway hair. As I got older, the critiques kept coming but they changed. When I was in my 20s I gained a lot of weight thanks to the PCOS. My aunt saw me out one day and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh you’ve gotten so fat!” It was like she was embarrassed for me.
So, our entire lives are full of everyone else’s commentary about our looks, both positive and negative. We are bombarded with the “ideal” image of beauty from all sorts of media, and it’s pervasive. If you ever get a chance to watch little girls play together, it won’t take long to see how they notice and talk about appearance.
If your body is like mine and doesn’t meet the ideal image we have had drilled into our heads, it isn’t hard for self esteem and self image issues to crop up. After all, appearances are important and if you don’t have that down, then how will you be successful?
If you are struggling with loving your body, if you don’t see it as beautiful, useful, strong, or anything positive you are not alone. Millions of us struggle with the same things and even those we think of as “the beautiful people” struggle with it.
I admit that I still struggle with this, but I am trying to change my patterns of self-hatred and body-shaming. I have put together the below 5 ways that have helped me improve my perception of my own body as I am going through my journey towards health. I hope that they are able to help you as well.
This may sound corny but I know that after I gained weight, I seriously avoided looking at my naked body. I would hurriedly dress, stopped taking baths and instead took quick showers, and I stopped buying lingerie that had previously made me feel confidant and sexy.
My uniform became, jeans and a baggy t-shirt. I made sure that my body was hidden as well as I could because I was ashamed.
I have started trying to change this, and even though my body may not look an ideal way, I have started noticing things that I like about it, and have even managed to send my husband a couple of pics that I would never have dreamed of even taking before!
I started with meditating and doing my restorative yoga in my underwear and even nude a couple of times when I was home alone. I used this time to really pay attention to my body, the way the air filled my longs, the way my stomach moved in and out with each breath. I consciously noticed my arms and legs as I stretched and contorted them into position.
I would shower after and let my hands run over the curves, rolls, stretch marks, and bones under my skin. It wasn’t sexual (not that it can’t be, you do you!) but it was a strong form of self-love. I discovered that I enjoyed the softness behind my knees, the way my hip bones jutted out a bit, and the way it felt when I would glide my hand over my collar-bones.
I would take my time drying off and getting dressed, not looking away from the mirror but taking time to really look into it, to really see my body. I still have moments of my inner-voice saying “Gross! Look away!” But, I quash it and force myself to see myself.
I rub my lotion over my skin and notice and even comment on muscles as they become easier to see and feel, the way even the chubbiest parts of me are soft and giving, and how strong I feel, mentally just being able to watch myself.
Make a list, either mentally or one that you write down, about the great things about your body.
Did it make babies? Put it on the list. Can it climb a mountain? That goes on the list. Does it get you through your work day? Add it to the list.
I’ve included my first list for you below. When I start to struggle or have a hard period, I review it and add to it. I think that is especially important, to keep your list and the reasons you love your body current. You will start to see the reasons multiply and that will lend further motivation as you strive towards health.
It has survived. I’ve been through a lot in my life and my body is still with me.
It holds my children and grandchildren.
It carries me through my days, even the hard ones.
It can climb literal mountains!
It did a push up, a real one.
It holds onto my husband with love, through everything.
It’s getting better at yoga.
It is strong.
Now, I use a scale as a measurement tool as I am actively trying to lose weight and get in shape. HOwever, I no longer allow it to hold power over me as I did previously. I used to lose entire days or even weeks of progress after a “bad” weigh in. I thought I had worked hard and still gained or didn’t lose much so I would then eat like a jerk and not workout because it didn’t seem to matter.
I had to get to a place where I can use the scale as a tool and not as the end all be all of my success. Until I was ready to be in that place, I did not use a scale at home. I only weighed in at the gym or the doctor’s office on set schedules.
THere are much better ways of determining if your efforts are paying off, or if you need to tweak things. I recommend the following.
The way your clothes fit is much more accurate at showing progress or lack of. You will start noticing them getting looser or tighter depending on what you are doing.
Body fat percentage is a very good way to measure efforts towards healthfulness. Weight can be tricky. 2 people can weigh the same and be the same height but it one has a dramatically higher body fat percentage, they will look (and feel) much different. You can get a fairly good estimation using calipers, some gyms have body fat machines, or for a really accurate reading you can make an appointment at a health spa.
Personally, I estimate my body fat percentage using this.
Pay attention to how you feel. Are you less tired, have more energy, sleeping through the night? All of these are good indications that your work towards a healthy lifestyle is going well. If you notice that you are not feeling better, you should try and evaluate what’s going on. Maybe your diet doesn’t include enough nutrition, you are running low on electrolytes, or you have slacked off on exercising.
This is especially important if you have children or are often around young people. If you make a conscious decision to stop talking negatively about your body, accept compliments with grace and genuine thanks, and speak positively about yourself and those around you, not only will you begin to feel more confident but you will inspire that in the little ears who listen to everything you say.
This can be so very difficult and is one thing that I struggle with immensely. Since so much negativity has been literally ingrained in our brains since we were young, the default is usually not positive. How often does someone compliment you and your first response is negative? LIke you don’t deserve that compliment or maybe they aren’t being genuine?
You probably notice this about yourself and while that is the first step, acknowledging that there is something you need to change, it is not the most difficult. Stopping those automatic thoughts and reactions isn’t easy. Some of us could use professional help in this area in the form of cognitive therapy.
Until we can change the negative self talk and those automatic responses, we will struggle with our self-image, it would be impossible not to. I try really hard to just be very mindful of how I talk about myself and if I notice my mind dwelling in a dark place, I say something great out loud about my body. It sounds corny, but it really helps.
You may want to keep a copy of the list with why you love your body handy. Tape it to your mirror and read it out loud every time you see it. Keep it on your phone to read and dwell on when you are waiting for an appointment. Whatever you need to do to keep that positivity close at hand.
I also make an effort to sincerely compliment other people. I try and notice something about their appearance and then something not related to their appearance and compliment them on each. For example, “Janice, I love your hair like that and I really enjoyed the talk you gave at the conference, great job!”
By putting positivity out in the world, I like to think I’m inviting it back.
You can either do selfies or, if you can swing it, have a pro do it for you. I’m not talking about progress pics, although those are important in their own way, you know, to keep track of progress. I’m talking about pictures that make you feel good about yourself exactly how you are in that moment.
Keep these private if you need to but if you can share them, that’s even better. Look at them objectively and notice the great things about you. If you have a hard time with this, and trust me, I get it, keep working on the other steps until you can get there. One day you are going to wish that you hadn’t hidden from the camera, that your life was more documented than you allowed, because of the way you felt about your body.
I know that looking back at my children as they’ve grown, there are far too few pictures with me in them. I may remember a wonderful day at the zoo but I don’t get to see how happy I was then.
These are the things that I am currently doing to actively improve the way I feel about my body. They are working for me and I hope that they are useful for you. I am always interested in hearing what is working for others. Give us a shout out on social media and let us know how you have learned to love yourself, exactly as you are.