Ladies, how many of you have looked in the mirror with anger, disgust, or shame? How many of you have tried the most extreme diets, cleanses, detoxes, and workout plans to rid yourself of body shame? How many of you have resorted to extreme calorie counting or other forms of disordered eating? How many of you have tried diet pills? The coffee and cigarette ‘diet’? How many of you have cried in shame after eating a pint of ice cream because of how many times you heard “a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips”? How many of you avoided pool parties or beach days or avoided eating the days you knew people would see you in a bathing suit? How many of you have struggled day after day, year after year, trying to change your body out of pure shame?
YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
In fact, you are probably alone if none of the above rang true for you. But I would still encourage you to read on to better understand the toxic nature of how women are taught to feel about their bodies.
Body Shame is a term we hear often. Mostly around the necessity to not shame others for their bodies. But what about our own? What does society teach us about how to feel about our own bodies?
I’LL GIVE YOU A CLUE...IT’S NOT POSITIVE.
We have allowed body shame to become engrained in our collective psyches as women. We are constantly being fed ideas about how we should look. The concept of body shame is even present in less obvious products and concepts too--zero calorie drinks, acne medications, scar treatments, meal replacement shakes, supplements, shoes, hair products, clothing, and the list goes on.
What is the underlying theme in advertisement of all of these products?
Take this, buy that, try this, use that, and maybe..just maybe..you’ll look a little better, have a nicer figure, less pimples, bigger hair, less visible scars--since when are scars something we should be ashamed of?!
This is not just an advertising problem. No no no.
My social media feeds are laden with articles like “Bigger Booty Faster” , “How Crissy Tegan dropped her Baby Weight” , “The Best Fat Burning Foods” , “Getting rid of Wrinkles” ..I could go on forever, baby.
It’s not just advertising and media, either.
How many of us have posted about going to the gym and making gains, getting ready for bikini season, about eating “healthy” (and I put that in quotes because we all know most people’s ideas of “healthy” are stemmed in weight loss goals, not health goals), about losing baby weight, getting rid of pimples, finding jeans that make our butts look great, or ways to look like Kylie Jenner (with or without surgery).
How many of us applaud women who make cosmetic changes? Applaud them for looking better? How many of us compliment people’s body shapes/weight without knowing their story? Without knowing whether or not they themselves are living a life of health or happiness, maybe even starving themselves or purging in order to feel some sense of confidence or control.
It is norms like these that continue the toxic and health-less-ness of body shame. We are victims, but we are also perpetrators--and I’ll be the first to admit that.
My own story with body shame goes a little like this..
I’ve struggled with body shame pretty much my entire life. I was teased by friends, family, and neighborhood kids about being short and ‘tubby’, having a big forehead (fivehead, they called it), gapped teeth, etc.
In high school I turned to various forms of disordered eating to achieve what I thought was a ‘perfect’ body. Then I was teased for being too skinny by some, but applauded by others (little did they know the emotional and physical pain that was contributing to my weight). The funny thing is, even at my lowest weight around 100 pounds I was still convinced I wasn’t thin enough.
Then came college and the ‘freshman fifteen’ but for me it was more like forty. My weight dipped and spiked over the next few years as I went through phases of emotional binging, P90 X workouts, “natural” diet pills, gym memberships, and low-fat and low-calorie diets. All of which were stemmed in my deep-rooted shame associated with my body.
AND THERE, MY FRIENDS, IS THE KEY CONCEPT. DEEP-ROOTED SHAME IN MY BODY.
From there my illness of endometriosis truly blossomed and my beloved shame in how I look--the shame I have held in the highest regard all my life-- then spread into how I felt.
I was angry at my body for being so sensitive, bloated, and pained. I was disgusted at how many hours of sleep I got (about 10-12 a night...plus naps..so many naps). I was annoyed at how many pills I had to force down for my cramps, migraines, allergies, acid reflux, etc.
Fast forward to my diagnosis and first surgery in 2015 and the shame was replaced mostly by fear. Fear of my body; fear of my disease and my lack of knowledge about it; fear of never being able to live a normal life; fear of not being able to fulfill my desire to be a mother (way in the future). But along with that fear came a glimmer of hope--and I mean a teensy glimmer.
Luckily that glimmer grew as I learned more about what was happening in my own body--the mechanisms, resilience, strength, and even weakness.
I’m not sure when the “AHAH” moment was, or if it was even a moment really. But I decided to stop hating my body because I finally understood that it was doing the best it could given the unfortunate circumstances.
I vowed to myself that I would work in agreement with my body--that I would respect it, love it, listen to it, fuel it, and help it thrive. I decided to stop thinking that I and my body were not one in the same. I decided that feeding my pain (both physically and emotionally) through bad habits, poor eating, over-stressing, under-sleeping, and binge-drinking was a thing of the past. I decided to take the time and energy to dig deeper into my own health and happiness--to read, listen, investigate, experiment, etc. I decided that my mentality and constant battle to look a certain way (whatever the hell that means) needed to end.
I DECIDED THAT SHAME DOES NOT AND WILL NOT HOLD ME HOSTAGE.
People constantly ask me how I do it, or applaud my ‘willpower’ but the thing is, the willpower is gone. Because I don’t need it anymore. Because my choices are now out of love and appreciation I have for my body, not out of disgust or shame. Because I want to be strong, and feel good, and be pain-free (as much as possible).
It’s no coincidence that my happiest self is also my healthiest self.
Disclaimer: I am not the most toned person nor do I eat strictly paleo. I indulge in some cheesecake now and again, or a roll when I’m at Wood Ranch. Sometimes I even look in the mirror with frustration. But the difference now is that no matter what, I love myself and my body and accept where I am. And when I “cheat” I don’t shame myself. I simply wake up the next morning--stomach ache and all--and hop right back on the train. Why? Because I work with my body now, not against it. And my body wants nutrient-dense food for fuel, movement, sleep, hydration, play, and rest. And when it doesn’t get those things, it tells me--and I listen.
SO, is having a ‘good body’ whatever that actually means, important enough to struggle with shame, anger, resentment, anxiety, or depression? Is it worth struggling for years on end? Is it worth hating yourself every time you eat a cupcake?
Let’s be honest here. This whole societal shaming of women’s bodies...it doesn’t even work! If shaming yourself into losing weight worked then we wouldn’t have tried every new diet, every challenge, every cleanse, every supplement and pill time and time again. We wouldn’t be yo-yo-ing from underweight to overweight--from content to depression. We wouldn’t be signing up for every freaking boot camp Groupon that appeared in front of us. We wouldn’t be clicking on every single ‘lose weight fast’ article that bombarded our news feeds. We wouldn’t feel like failures every winter when the weight just creeped back on.
The bottom line is this. If you want to LOOK good (and let’s be honest, we all want to look good) then you need to come from a place of love, appreciation, and understanding of your body. If you don’t understand your body, how are you going to understand how to get it where you want? And if you want to FEEL good (and this should be your real goal) you need the same as well. It’s no coincidence.. looking good and feeling good (for the long-term) go hand-in-hand.
I am ALL about real, nutrient-dense, whole foods. I believe food is medicine and it can change your life. But I believe even more strongly in mindset--that mindset is power. And with the right mindset, fueled by love, you can reach great heights. You can change your way of eating all you want, but if your goals are stemmed from a place of resentment or shame, you’ll be in a constant state of struggle, never being truly happy with yourself.
No matter where you are, be appreciative of the things your body is doing right (breathing, waking up, walking, etc.)
Make an agreement with yourself to work with your body, not against it. Start small if you must. But most importantly, start.
Some good starting places may be:
Take more walks
Keep a food journal to see what triggers symptoms
Get to bed earlier
Be okay with staying in sometimes (this one’s my favorite)
Write down qualities about yourself that you admire
Eat more veggies
If you have a condition, lookup dietary recommendations and implement one at a time
Limit your alcohol intake
Try shopping for fresh, unpackaged foods (stay on the perimeter of the grocery store)
Stop eating out as much (your body and wallet will likely thank you)
Eliminate dairy and see if that helps/Eliminate gluten and see if that helps
Eliminate (or reduce) sugar intake (I know this will help)
Get some sunshine
Swap soda with sparkling water
Do workouts you enjoy
Delete social media accounts that make you feel badly about yourself
Join a support group
Ditch the scale!
And most importantly, go easy on yourself; love yourself; respect your body and let go of the shame!