As a 50 year old woman, I have had a lifelong struggle to love and accept my body.
As a child, my weight fluctuated through growth spurts, as any child’s body does. One summer at camp when I was about 7, a counselor would frequently poke my belly and say I was the Pillsbury Dough Girl. She was referring to the fact that I giggled when she did it because it tickled, but I felt humiliated; I would shrink away from her, I didn’t understand why she would say this about me. She thought it was cute, but I was devastated.
In high school, I was an athlete and a dancer, and during swim season I got leaner and stronger and would eat whatever I wanted; I was always hungry after practice. However I continued to eat the same way during the rest of the year when I wasn’t as active, so my weight increased outside of swim season. As a 16 year old, my mother told me “Janine, you would be so beautiful if you lost 15lbs.” I am 50 years old, and I still remember those words. These kinds of messages may seem benign, but as a girl growing up in the 80s, these messages and many others taught me that there was something wrong with my body and I needed to change it to make it better. The self loathing started early and stayed with me for decades. The kicker was, I was never overweight and I was always healthy, but in my head, my body was somehow unacceptable and needed to be “better,” whatever that meant.
I never had an eating disorder per se, but I had an unhealthy relationship with food. As a dancer I was always aware of the need to have my body be a certain shape or size, but when my emotions felt too big, I used to eat my feelings. I have always had big feelings but internalized the need to show up smaller and quieter to make everyone else “okay;” I would eat the feelings when they came up because I wasn’t allowed to express them. When I did, I was “too loud,” “too emotional,” “embarrassing,” and “disruptive.” Food was my comfort and my enemy. I blamed food for how my body looked, would restrict food, then binge. I didn’t understand that food wasn’t the problem, the problem was how I was feeling: anxious, a victim of my own perfectionism and feared inadequacy.
Fast forward through my years of dancing, becoming a yoga instructor, giving birth to and raising 2 kids, and eventually turning 50. All of these life stages brought with them feelings of inadequacy: I didn’t have a “perfect” body (whatever that is) so I must somehow be less than.
Who was I to teach yoga when I don’t have a “yoga body?” Why can’t I get my body back to pre-baby weight and condition? With the amount of core work I do, why don’t I have 6-pack abs?
Through my yoga practice, meditation, and deep inner emotional work, I learned that the inside matters much more than the outside, and that you can love yourself without meeting society’s vision of “perfect” or even “acceptable.” We can control what is inside our head, we can’t really control what is outside. The only way to be happy with your body, is to be happy with it, accepting it with all of its strengths, “flaws,” and beauty.
My 50 year old body has stretch marks from being pregnant with my 2 wonderful children. I do have 6-pack abs, but they are buried under a layer of “insulation” and love handles. I have grey hairs that I call my “wisdom sparkles” and some lines at the corners of my eyes. And I love my body more now than I ever have. I feel stronger, have better balance, and more mobility than I did when I was younger. I also have much less anxiety. 20 year old body is gone, as is my 20 year old mind. I am grateful for my curves, my strength, and my wisdom. I wouldn’t want to ever go back to 20, thanks anyway.
I have let go of caring about what other people think, and instead focus on what I think.
I have let go of the idea of a “perfect” body, and can love and appreciate the body that I have. When the numbers go up on the scale, it’s not an indication of a change in my self worth. It might mean that I deeply enjoyed some ice cream or cookies. It might mean that I am premenstrual. It might mean that I need to drink more water. It might mean I should stop weighing myself because it doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with who I am as a person. I now love my imperfect body just as she is. And that is enough.
3 Steps that will help you love your body:
1. Stop comparing yourself to others. Nobody else has lived your life, has your body chemistry or genes, or does what you do in a day. I remember when Madonna was on her Blond Ambition Tour she made a documentary which showed off her amazing body and that she worked out 6 hours a day. I don’t have time to work out 6 hours a day (nor would I want to), so I am never going to look like she did. And that’s fine. There is no need to compare yourself to anyone else’s body or journey, because it won’t change anything about how you look. Following what they eat, how they exercise, etc, will have different effects in your body. Focus on how you feel. Accept your body as it is today, and see if you can be grateful for what it does for you. Your body and brain allow you to do all the things you do. Can you find beauty in that? Can you think of 3 things about your body that you are grateful for? Can you love the parts of your body that you are ashamed of? All bodies are beautiful, no matter the shape, size, color, or ability.
2. Focus on health, not on weight. Your weight not only fluctuates throughout the week, it also fluctuates throughout the day. If you focus your attention on healthy habits, like foods that make your body feel good, exercise that you enjoy, getting enough good quality sleep, and managing your stress, your body will find a healthy weight. Health matters much more than the number on the scale. The number matters far less than how you feel in your skin. Repeat step 1 to let go of comparing yourself to others, and be in your body. It’s the only one you have. Help it feel good.
3. Notice the stories you are telling yourself. We all have stories of being “not enough” or “too much,” or both. Too fat, too thin, too flabby, too weak, too old, too wrinkly, too grey, etc. Notice your stories and ask yourself, too _______ according to whom? Who is creating this scale that you are too ________ on? Ask yourself if your stories are actually true, or just stories that you have been brought up to believe as true? Letting go of the stories that are holding you back is one of the most powerful things you can do. Journal, meditate, or do talk therapy to discover what your stories are. Then decide if you want to believe them any more. Chances are, you won’t.
You are beautiful, just as you are. You are enough, just as you are. You are worthy, just as you are. You have one body. Relish it. Enjoy it. Love it.
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