For most women, from around the time they begin puberty their body begins to become a foreign land they no longer fully recognize. Within the natural changes that occur during our earliest transitions to “womanhood” a myriad of emotions regarding our changing bodies make the experience all that more uncomfortable, and for many, traumatic.
My relationship with my body has always been vastly complicated and at times extremely detrimental to both my mental and physical health. People who know me personally who might be reading this will probably already know that when I was 16, my dad passed away from terminal lung cancer that metastasized to a brain tumor. Shortly before finding out his diagnosis, I was deeply entrenched in restrictive eating, the dreaded “yo-yo” dieting most of us have dabbled in at some point or another. At that point I had decided I had enough with being the “chubby” friend and started slowly cutting out food groups and eventually restricting myself of certain foods entirely. After finding out about my dad’s cancer, things only got worse. When everything else in my life was falling apart, I was able to control this one aspect of my life, my eating, so I gripped on to that with white knuckles. At one point, a good family friend offered me what at the time was probably a well intended comment to continue on with being “healthy,” but it was one that shaped my relationship with food for years to come.
“You know that with everything going on you can’t let this all get in the way of your diet, right?”
At the time, I acknowledged it and agreed, but later the depth of those words continued to haunt me in a way I never imagined. What I later came to believe was, no matter what I was going through, no matter how traumatic or emotional, what mattered most was that I kept trying to be thin. The death of my father is easily one of the most traumatic events of my young life, but what I was eating at the time was just as important, right? My world could be crumbling around me, but how I looked was what I should focus on? The most heartbreaking part was, at the time, I truly believed that and carried that virtue with me into adulthood. My feelings didn’t matter if I wasn’t thin. My opinion didn’t matter because it wasn’t coming from someone who was perfectly stick skinny. I couldn’t feel valid because of my body. And I’m here to tell you that line of thinking is complete and utter bullshit.
Within the last two years I’ve began shifting the way I see myself and other people by addressing the things that lead me to negative self talk and body shame in the first place, that comment being one of them. By giving these issues their proper voice and allowing myself to sit with the feelings these events instilled in me, I no longer associated them with the deep shame and sadness they once originally held over me. Those words are just words now, and they have no power over how I see my body today.
I’m happy to say that nowadays, I’ve become much more relaxed and accepting of my appearance. I eat healthy and exercise now because I respect myself. I also eat chocolate and lay on the couch sometimes binge watching Law & Order SVU because I respect myself. (#OliviaBensonIsGoals) Self doubt doesn’t stop me from feeling like a real person like it used to, and while the work is never done, I find myself trusting in the process. My biggest fear wasn’t an uncommon one, the fear that based on my appearance I wasn’t good enough. I’ve managed to leave that fear behind me now and move forward with faith in myself. Both you, my lovely reader, and myself are much, much more than our physical appearances allow us to be perceived. At the end of the day, our bodies are our homes. They’ve carried us to safety in our most darkest hours and most miserable days. They’ve woken us up mornings we didn’t want to see the light of day ever again. They’ve tirelessly fought of infections, viruses, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and our worst physical injuries. They’ve healed harm inflicted on us by others and harm we’ve inflicted on ourselves, every time. Even when your own head has caused you to hurt your body, it fights back at you. When you restrict your food, your body will slow down to keep you alive. If you’ve ever self harmed, your body will put scar tissue over your wounds so they can’t occur there as easily anymore. Your body has pushed you through the mile run in gym class, the day you learned to swim, your first bike ride, and all of the physical activity thereafter. Why? Regardless of what society tells us it should look like, your body really fucking loves you. Your body is in turmoil when your decide your head doesn’t agree with that. The way this manifests itself may be different for everyone, but once you decide that your body isn’t the loving home it so desperately is trying to be for you, you’re already losing.
Take it from me, you will never cure hate with more hate. When you start punishing your body with extra workouts, or restricting food, or making the meanest comments you would never utter out loud to another person other than yourself, what are you really saying to your body? The connection between our mental and physical health is astounding, and if you don’t believe the power of positivity has the ability to change everything about your world, I urge you to reconsider. I smile at myself all the time now in the mirror. It sounds creepy and hokey, I know, but it actually makes me laugh. When someone else smiles at you, I bet it makes you a bit happier. So now I smile at myself, and I look damn good doing it. You can’t hate yourself into a better relationship with your body, so I’ve tried loving myself instead. As you can see, it’s been astoundingly more effective.
So, what can you do if you feel like your body is rebelling against you? Reframing the way you see yourself is an imperative start. Once you address what it is actually that’s holding you back from loving yourself, whether it be a hurtful comment, an experience where the world judged your body unfairly, or even just your own doubts, give yourself the opportunity to give voice to those experiences, don’t bury them. Share them with someone you love, or write them down and rip up the piece of paper into oblivion. And if you’re really struggling, please seek professional help. Whatever method you decide to do to release these feelings, know that by taking away the power of other people’s opinions of you will start a shift in your relationship with yourself. Because at the end of the day, that’s the person whose opinion of you matters most: your own.
And as always, respect that any relationship including the one with yourself will not always be stagnant. You won’t be over the moon with joy and love for your body every single day, and you won’t be upset with it every single day, either. The ebbs and flows that come with body image are quite normal, but the constant even on your best days is that you’ve began respecting yourself.
Here I am a week ago, shamelessly selfie-ing it out with one of my favorite toys, my Fujifilm camera that reminds me of the old Polaroid camera my grandpa used to take pictures with growing up. Taking pictures of myself (and other things of course, I’m not a TOTALLY self-absorbed millennial asshat) is something that makes me feel creative and appreciate myself. Whatever that outlet may be to you, I hope you find it. And use it revel in the truly magical, beautiful, and bad ass Mama Jama that you really are.
As the wise prophet Justin Bieber once said, love yourself.