How I let go of self-hate, and discovered my beautiful
This is the most requested post Ive ever written. Whenever I post something about accepting my body the way that it is, women respond with cheers and often astonishment. How do I get there? How do you do that? Where do you start?
I wish I could offer a simple step by step tutorial to letting go of all the negative feelings weve learned to have about our bodies and ourselves. Its something we often learn first from our mothers without their even knowing, as we watch them diet and struggle with their own insecurities. Before us the most beautiful person we know doesnt believe herself or her body to be worthy that message runs very deep and is learned young. As we grow older it is quite literally marketed to us that our bodies in so many ways dont measure up, and attaching this idea strategically to our worth we buy all kinds of products to fix all these things that make us unlovable. So we spend years upon years repeating that message into our mirrors, running a tape in our heads, if I could just change my appearance in this way my life would be better/I would deserve love/I could accomplish more/ I would be worthy.
So its no surprise that when a non-celebrity, average sized girl from Kansas says Im beautiful and worthy its a little astonishing. It doesnt match the running tape. It doesnt fit with all that we have learned about what it is to be a woman. But somehow it feels familiar. Because we didnt always feel this way.
I love watching my daughter look at herself in the mirror. Shes so proud. She talks about her body like no one has ever had one before. Shes always coming up with new tricks she can do, jumping on the bed, elaborate falls etc. As kids, we discover all of the cool things our bodies can do, and we accept and love the way they are. That is until we begin to learn from others that something isnt measuring up about them.
I feel like I can call myself an expert on the subject as I started on this self-hatred path early. I was four years old when I began to limit myself based on the size of my body. Even though I was a completely average sized child, I quit ballet (my big dream at the time) because my thighs jiggled when the other girls did not. I had already learned to position myself appropriately as less-than. I can recount many stories throughout growing up but they all echo this same idea. So Ive put in my time and research in the area. Also, being the type of person people often confide in, I can tell you that while not all stories are the same, almost all the women Ive ever known have felt these feelings. There is no dress size attached to it. Most of us have these scripts embedded into us.
All that to say, letting go of the story youve been telling yourself about your body for decades is not the kind of thing that happens overnight. There are no easy steps or 30 day plan. Its a big pill weve swallowed and it takes time for the effects to wear off.
Here is how I did it:
Ive had moments, and I think most of us do, where I felt beautiful. Taking my senior portraits, getting ready for a night out, that kind of thing. But they were fleeting and certainly not enough to shift my thought patterns. I discovered I was beautiful when I was pregnant with my daughter. For almost a year that I carried her I felt new. Being my first child, it of course felt like the first pregnancy there ever was. It was magical. And it was happening in my body. This tiny new beautiful life was coming from me. Every kick was a reminder of what an amazing thing my body was doing. It was also the first time in my life that I started listening to and trusting my body. I paid attention to what it wanted, I nourished it with rest and healthy foods. It was easy to take care of myself because I had become a mother, and in this moment of my life that meant taking the best care of me.
I remember making a silent vow to myself, laying on the table during my sonogram in which they told me it was a girl, that I could not hate myself anymore. The terrifying thing about having a daughter, to me, was passing on to her all of the negative feelings I had about myself. So I suppose if there was a step one it would be: Decide you arent going to hate yourself anymore. More important than any weight routine followed, cardio completed, vegetables eaten this decision changed me. But that doesnt mean it changed the track in my head.
After having my wee one and spending the next 6 months totally in-captured with being a mother, I knew it was time to set about the next part of my plan. Its a two parter. First, I decided I would never speak negatively about my body in her presence. She is almost 5, and I have never wavered. This awareness also caused me to be conscious of my negative thoughts and I learned to re-frame them, the same way I would if I was talking to a friend. If I would begin rolling the tape that says things like, Youll never lose weight, your body is disgusting, I would immediately change my thoughts to something like, You are beautiful and worthy just the way you are.
I have said negative things about my body to friends in the past 5 years. I have said nasty things to myself. I have replayed that old tape time and time again. But 5 years in, it rarely pops up anymore. Ive pushed back with positive loving thoughts, even when it was hard to really believe them until I really did. I made the commitment to be my own cheerleader until the bully I had always known began to disappear.
Second, I used the same intuition and trust in my body that I had found while pregnant to begin to exercise and nourish my body with good, whole foods. I learned to cook. I took up walking, then jogging, then running. I took baby steps, knowing that weight loss would likely be the result of my actions but never letting it be the primary goal. This started out being about setting an example for my daughter. Not of how not to be fat but how to take care of yourself and to be the kind of woman that honors her needs as important and not just everyone elses.
I didnt realize at th time, but the very act of exercising for the sake of it (not as a punishment or attempt to bully my body into being something different) gave me my power back. It forced me to pay attention to how I was feeling and honor it. It made me proud when I accomplished something new. It took all the old tracks about what I couldnt do and threw them all out the window. Those tracks stopped first.
Next, I stopped making judgements about other women. This is one of the more challenging ones, and its not because we are a bunch of jerks. I believe that women are so cruel in their judgements of one another because weve agreed to these impossible standards for ourselves. We hold so close to the ideas that we dont measure up, that the logical reaction is to throw stones at anyone who might or feel mighty against those who we think were doing better than. Letting go of my need to assign rank to other women made it much easier to disassociate from that whole process. If I didnt have to judge other women (even celebrities!) then I no longer had to think about where I fell in the ranks. I could see their unique beauty and thereby honor my own. Its kind of a big deal.
Finally, I spent and continue to spend a lot of time in my mirror. That probably sounds super vain, but it has been important to me. I have a full length mirror that sits where I see it whenever Im going to shower. So as often as I do (Im quite hygienic) I spend time there. This is how I pay attention to where Im at, more than the scale, measurements or even athletic prowess. Its the short, sort of meditative time I spend connecting to my body in a way that there had been such a disconnect before.
Feeling overweight and terrible about it, I did a lot of avoiding mirrors historically. I avoided photos but had all kinds of tricks to take good ones. I threw out all of the ones that were unflattering and tried to ban them from memory. I was hiding from my image in every way. Now I spent a short amount of time daily being at peace with it. My weight, like most people, fluctuates. This fluctuation is mostly dependent on my behavior. When life hits in such a way that somehow deters my healthy habits and my weight climbs I spend more energy making peace. In the beginning I would say to myself, this is where Im at. It was a nice neutral statement that was challenging at first. As that got easier I moved on to things like, this is a good body. Today, rather than having to fight so much to say something neutral or positive the automatic thought is, this is a powerful, beautiful body. On days when I dont feel that I spend a little extra time making peace.
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Even though the outside messages may be loud and clear that your body cant possibly be good the way it is, I think its helpful to know that I dont believe anyone is immune to this. No matter how deep your feelings about yourself run, and how much you believe others must not have this struggle they do too.
A lot of this journey for me came from becoming a mother, though that is just my story, it doesnt have to be yours. As time wore on, being a positive example for my baby (while an incredibly powerful motivator) became the secondary reason I continue to fight off the bully in my head. I do it for myself.
So the steps though this path for you will likely not be a simple numerical list but rather a journey around and through
- Decide you dont want to hate yourself anymore
- Let go of negative self-talk. It doesnt serve you or anyone around you.
- Allow any aesthetic goals you may have be secondary to the bigger goal, of caring for yourself. Which includes being kind in your words and actions.
- Stop engaging in bashing other women and their bodies. This is harmful to you as it is harmful to anyone who hears it, even if its not them you speak of even if they are agreeing.
- Spend time getting comfortable in your skin. Reconnect with the body you have now. Make peace so you can move forward.
- Do your best everyday, knowing that each day your best will be different. Be patient with yourself as you go.
This is not easy stuff. Im talking about re-programing your brain. You may think that this is all real easy for a chick who lost 100lbs to say but this is actually the exact method that allowed me to do so. Because I was slowly able to fight back and let go of the old tracks that no longer serve me, doing things to take care of myself is much easier. I exercise and eat well because I believe I deserve to feel good and be cared for. I care for myself.
It may seem daunting. Okay, so 5 years of these simple steps (insert mocking tone) and you dont hate yourself anymore?! How uplifting?! Just like anything else in life, its taken me practice. Ive practiced giving myself new mantras. Ive repeated positive messages to drown out the negative. I fought back until those tracks let go. And Im prepared to fight again if I find I have to. It wasnt easy. It wasnt simple. But it is the most freedom I have ever felt to be exactly who I am. It is the accomplishment, while internal and non-award winning, that I am most proud of. It is the most empowering thing Ive ever felt, like a giant weight was lifted from my shoulders. I can contribute to my body as it evolves and changes (and inevitably ages) and know that it is was and always will be good. Im beautiful. Im good enough. I always was. And I know I have the power to walk around in this body, however it was/is/shall be, present and at peace.
That is beautiful.
There isnt really an after photo for my hate-loss plan. I think of myself as a during with this particular issue. Like an alcoholic is always in recovery even when sober. It isnt magic. But the real results are in the things unseen. The hours I dont spend trying to find something acceptable to wear. The anxiety I dont experience changing in a locker room or wearing a bathing suit. The exhaustive nature of beating myself up all the time. Thats the after.
Its been well worth it.