Today I want to talk about something that enrages me. And I apologize in advance if some of the language in this post offends you. If you’re not a fan of the F word, please close this now.
What I want to talk about is body acceptance and body confidence. When I think back to my younger self and how much I absolutely hated my body — and by extension myself — it devastates me. It makes me sick when I think about how many years of my life I wasted on my desperate search to get the perfect body. And how the bullshit that filled my mind because of being bombarded with images of women with “perfect” bodies (and therefore perfect lives) damaged my fragile self-esteem. And how this search and its resulting self-hatred led me into some of the darkest times of my life — into a downward spiral that included bulimia, violently abusive relationships, and drug and alcohol abuse.
Am I saying that the media made me have an eating disorder or that it made me get black-out drunk? Not literally, of course. But the messages sent by the images I saw affected me deeply. Without realizing it, I absorbed them and took them straight into my soul. Everyone around me was also subconsciously affected by these images, and this created an environment that taught me that women weren’t good enough unless they looked and acted a certain way. Which as a result made me believe that I wasn’t good enough, because I didn’t measure up to what we were all seeing. And that if I could only change how I looked, I finally would be good enough.
I am saying that this hypnotic world that was shoved down our collective throats — a world where women were tall, thin, sexy, confident, and cellulite-free — damaged my developing self-esteem so much that I spent three years throwing up everything I ate to become like them. And that it made my self-worth so low that I escaped from my pain by binge drinking and using drugs. I can attribute all of this — directly and indirectly — to the constant message I received that if I could only look a certain way, I would be good enough. I would deserve to be loved. And my life would be complete. So I dove head-first into a decades-long search to become this person.
It makes me so angry that a sensitive, intelligent, compassionate child with inner beauty to spare was taught to develop not her full potential as a human being but rather an all-consuming desire to look perfect. And the pain this caused took me nearly 40 years to overcome. In fact, I work on it even to this day — at age 48.
And here’s what I have to say about all this.
Fuck. That. Shit. Enough is enough.
I have two beautiful baby girls, and they are my world. I can only imagine what I would do to anyone who walked up to them and said, “You’re ugly and you’re fat, and you should change everything about the way you look, because you’ll never amount to anything until you do. And no one will love you unless you do.” You would have to pull me off that person.
Why? Because I know that the damage it would imprint on their souls would take years to overcome. And I know that they would waste years of their precious lives having to figure out how to do it. Yet they do get this message — every single day. From the media and from everyone around them who have also been scarred by not measuring up to what they constantly see.
Body acceptance and body confidence are achieved by loving yourself — which is impossible to do when everything you see tells you that you shouldn’t. In our world, to be deserving of love means looking a certain way. So if you don’t like the way you look, the amount of self-love you have is probably at about zero.
Dieting fuels all of this.
Dieting is borne out of our intense unhappiness with our appearance, which looks nothing like the images we are subjected to. In fact, dieting wouldn’t even exist if women felt confident in the way they look, no matter how they look. It’s a desperate measure to instantly transform ourselves into a perfected version that doesn’t even exist. It doesn’t exist in reality, and it doesn’t exist in the glamorous world we constantly see. We all know by now that even these women don’t look like that, but that doesn’t mean that what we see doesn’t do tremendous damage to our self-esteem.
Actually, the fact that dieting is so overwhelmingly present in our culture is an indicator of just how dissatisfied we are with the way we look. And we keep dieting over and over to fix that, even though it never works.
If it doesn’t work, why do we keep doing it? We keep doing it because we’ve been brainwashed into believing that the perfect body will magically transform our lives. But having the perfect body doesn’t give you the life you want. Only self-love can do that. And once you develop self-love, then your physical self transforms.
So how do you develop self-love, and by extension body acceptance? I’ll give you three ways to start.
Let your anger fuel you to action. The title of this post sums up how I feel about all of this. Whoever says that my arms aren’t toned enough for a sleeveless shirt or that I shouldn’t wear a fitted top because I don’t have flat abs can go fuck themselves. Since I told myself these things for years, the person I’m really talking about is me.
The insecure self in me — that was created in part by trying to get the perfect body I aspired to — told me these things. And I now shut that voice down every time I hear it (and I do still hear it): “Stop right now, because that is some serious bullshit.” I refuse to dress myself based on what people might think of me and whether they want to dissect me into body parts like a piece of meat. Because that’s what we’ve all been trained to do.
Truly, if you don’t like it, don’t look at it.
This shit literally enrages me. I am so angry that I even developed this voice in the first place and that I listened to it for so long.
Don’t suck it in. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been sucking my stomach in for as long as I can remember. I trained myself so well that I still catch myself doing it, even when I’m alone. Why do I do this? Because I know people are going to judge me for it and are going to make mental notes about the kind of person I am because of it.
But deciding that you’re not going to do this anymore makes you feel so free. It makes your body feel free, and it also frees your mind from the worthlessness that you’ve been taught to feel because you don’t have the perfect body. You don’t have to reject your own body to show that you’re worthy of anything. You are already worthy, and you don’t have anything to prove to anyone — except yourself.
This concept applies to more than physically constricting yourself. Wear the outfit you don’t think you can wear because you’re not thin enough. Order what you want instead of what you don’t because you think people will judge you (“I can’t believe she’s eating that”). Don’t put yourself down out loud. Stop saying things like “I’m as big as the side of a house,” “I didn’t work out today because I’m so lazy,” and “This outfit makes me look so fat.” I constantly hear my friends saying things like this. I said them, too.
It is so liberating to do these things. Taking any kind of action, no matter how small, is an internal validation. It’s a feeling that you’re allowed to take up space in the world instead of making yourself small because you don’t have the right to. It chips away at the feeling that you can’t love yourself until you’re thin enough. All of which makes you less likely to constantly think about losing weight — which makes you stop dieting, which leads to relief, which leads to doing things that make you happy, which leads you to a naturally healthy body you can love — and not just because it weighs 10 pounds less than the one you have now. And all of this takes you out of the soul-sucking vicious cycle called dieting.
Set a larger (better) goal. You’ve probably spent at least ten years of your life stuck in your house trying to lose the last ten pounds. Isn’t that insane and the most unbelievable waste of time? Not to mention a waste of what you could be sharing with the world. And a waste of energy that could be spent achieving an inspiring goal.
If you only get one thing from anything I share, please let it be this: set a larger goal for yourself, and make plans to go out and achieve it.
Doing this generates so much positive, joyful energy that you will no longer be focused on what you look like. You’ll be creating energy rather than having it drained out of you. It will make you feel good about yourself instead of feeling like shit about yourself.
When I was at one of my lowest points, I started running again. I wasn’t doing it to lose weight but just to get out of my house and stop feeling so depressed. Running to feel good instead of look good was a revelation to me. I started setting small goals — to run a 5K, a 10K, and then a half marathon. The feeling of confidence I got by setting and achieving these smaller goals inspired me to sign up for a whole marathon. I didn’t even think I could do it. But I did, and it changed me. I became confident about my body by seeing what it was capable of, and I learned how much inner (and outer) strength I had. And my body changed dramatically without me trying to make it change.
Even the smallest goal that has nothing to do with losing weight is enough to break free from this absolute bullshit and start living your life. I want you to get totally excited about setting these kinds of goals. You have no idea what you’re truly capable of, especially when you’re wasting your entire life trying to achieve the completely uninspiring, meaningless goal of losing weight.
Your body is a physical manifestation of the life you’ve lived up to this point. How can that not be beautiful? Everything you’ve ever done, ever learned, and ever felt gave you this body, and you have no choice but to love it. Besides, I’d rather not have the perfect body and love myself than to have the perfect body I got from hating myself.
You don’t change your body and transform your life. You transform your life and then your body changes. We need to follow the dreams we have for ourselves — the ones we had as children, before we were told we weren’t good enough. Nurturing and then pursuing these dreams will naturally give you the body you’ve been so desperate to get. But you’ll be so busy being happy that you won’t care anymore.
This post took me 40 years to write. Now go write your own — on paper or in your mind — and start living it. Your inner self is crying out for you to, and she deserves nothing less.