I spent a sizable part of my life obsessed with the notion that something was horribly wrong with my body. Specifically, that it was too big, and I needed to be smaller.
It felt like that message was everywhere and seemed to stand squarely between the life I wanted and me.
It wasn’t until I became a mother and realized how much self-hate I would be passing on that I changed that narrative and started speaking kindly to myself. I dropped the idea that I needed to change for others and began taking care of myself just for me.
It was only then that I was able to see that it had never been an issue of my size, that the ongoing commentary on my body—and choices with it—would follow me no matter what.
This was honestly shocking to me. I genuinely thought if I could just lose weight, my body wouldn’t be a “problem” anymore, for myself or for others. If I lost weight, my body would stop being a regular part of conversations. People would stop being so critical. It could stop being the focal point of my entire life.
However, as soon as I ventured into making new choices with my body, the commentary amped up once again.
With the goal of showing myself and my daughter that we deserve our own care, I began working out regularly. Each activity I chose, I would find out, came with its own backlash:
Running would “ruin” my muscles.
Weight lifting would make me “masculine” and “bulky.”
Anything less than a specific, progressive program was a waste of time.
As I began to lose weight, my dietary choices also became a regular topic of conversation for those around me. Suddenly all of my co-workers were nutrition experts, warning me about things like the sugar content in blueberries, or the ill effects of eating carbs.
For the first time in my life I was truly caring for myself in a way that felt wonderful to me, and my body was responding in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
Yet, the result was only more scrutiny, more commentary, and more lists full of things that I was getting wrong.
For so long it had seemed like such a black and white issue to me—I was big, and I needed to be small. But after losing 100 pounds, I got a brand new list of shortcomings. It included items like lifting my butt, flattening my stomach, increasing my muscle definition (but not too much), and somehow keep all my breast tissue, at all costs.
The ways I could be wrong in my own body were never ending. They related to how my body was allowed to look as well as what I was supposed to do with it. In the pursuit of following all of these rules, it never occurred to me that I couldn’t possibly get it right.
More importantly, it never occurred to me to determine all those things for myself. To define my own values.
It never occurred to me that I was an autonomous being who deserved to make (and break) all my own damned rules as they pertained to my relationship with me.
Today autonomy is what I strive to teach, how I strive to operate, and what I’m always aspiring to exercise in places I’ve yet to identify. To me that means always coming back to a place where I am operating from my own values and not those handed to me. That I actually stop before taking any action toward my body, or for its appearance, and ask myself if I’m acting out of habit, conditioning, or my own volition.
(Note from GGS: Grab your very own "My Body My Business" shirt here!)
Because so much of what we believe we want for ourselves is the result of gendered conditioning, it can be difficult to even begin examining some of this stuff. Here are just a few values I was operating with that, upon mindful examination, I had never actually agreed with:
Some of those might look different for others, based on their geography, religion, culture, and all sorts of variables that factor into our identity.
It turns out all of those things are polar opposite of what I believe. Upon examination, so much of how I used to show up in the world had so much more to do with what I felt I was supposed to do and nothing to do with what I believed in.
If you are still dismantling some of your own beliefs and discovering where your values lie, just be present in your life. Make universal the small ways you treat yourself. Zoom out. If you are thinking “I shouldn’t leave the house without lipstick!” Ask yourself, “Do I believe women should never leave the house without make-up?” Your values are easier to land upon when making the personal moment-to-moment more universal.
From there, you can make any choice you want, with the fullness of expression you deserve. With autonomy and rules or guidelines only created by you, for you. Even if you don’t agree that all women must put on lipstick to leave the house (or whatever “rule” you are challenging) you can decide that is fun for you to do so. Nothing is off limits. The rules are that there aren’t really any.
While it’s hard to land there from the many lists we seem to be handed at birth, once you begin to dismantle these old notions, you gain immeasurable freedom to move about your life as you truly please.
If these sound familiar to you, you are not alone.
Based on our years of experience working with and talking to women — and going through our own body image struggles — we designed this free course to help you start improving your body image immediately and give you the tools you need to finally feel good in your own skin.
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