Self image is something I choose to write about once and awhile because according to a recent survey 95% of women have a negative thought about their body at least once a day. It is something that people direct message me about and comes up in my conversations with women of all sizes. As women our bodies can go through massive changes through a short amount of time: pregnancy, medication, aging, and chronic illness are all things that pack on the pounds at a rapid rate. I am sure I’m not the only woman who looks in the mirror and sees the changes both positive and negative. The cellulite on their legs, the curve in their belly, the stretch marks new and old, and the general softness. The feeling of no matter how much I exercise or eat right that my body won’t go back to the way it used to be.
I want to share my story with you again. In December 2013, I went on a drug for a chronic illness that packed on the pounds. I went from being a trim size 6, to an uncomfortable size 14. Mother Nature also gifted me with too many stretch marks to count and some pretty little dimples from cellulite. Also, at this time I was engaged and had to buy a new wedding dress that was not my “dream dress” five weeks before my wedding. I wish I could say my self confidence came from the inside, but I needed my then fiancé (now husband) to constantly reassure me that he was still attracted to me. When I went through that change I could barely recognize myself. I cringed everytime I looked in the mirror and I feared he cringed every time he looked at me. On top of it I had to buy a whole new wardrobe, and pretend a confidence I didn’t have. It was absolutely depressing to see family that I haven’t seen in a long time or to have random people rudely comment on my body shape.
Now it’s been a 2 and a half years since that change. I’ve lost 20 pounds and I am 20 weeks pregnant. I would be lying to say I still don’t struggle with my body image. I wish I could say I am beautifully confident 100% of the time and that the natural body changes go unnoticed. Of course I embrace the bump but the body goes through so much when bringing life into this world. I feel like I’m super soft all over, I’m very aware of the fact I have cellulite, and I feel a low anxiety that I will put on one million pounds in the next 20 weeks that will never come off. However everyday I choose to be grateful for this little life inside me!
But through this where do I find my standard of beauty? What outer sources have shaped what I think is the standard of perfection. I feel every time I go to the mall I am bombarded by what the world tells me their standard of beauty is: thin, usually blond, abs, beautifully dewy skin, and dressed perfectly. It hardly feels like a standard I can live up to. Open up any magazine on any topic and the ads are filled with gorgeous women who are airbrushed because even they unfiltered are not the standard of beautiful that the world wants. When I speak to my friends, most of them have the same mind battles – even the size 2 gals. They all have things they don’t like about themselves, things they obsess over, and I’m shocked they don’t see their own natural beauty.
Why is it so much easier to see the beauty in others around us and not ourselves? Because I haven’t extended myself the grace and love that I see everyone else through. As women we need to remind each other that we need to love ourselves as easily as we love others.
I have shared similar thoughts before but here is my thoughts on conventional beauty and self talk:
1. Do What you Can: Until lately I have decided conventional skinny is not a standard I am going to try to fit into. It is my goal to be healthy not skinny. For health reasons I had completely cut out sugar, wheat, and dairy (which due to extended morning sickness I put on hold until I’m not chronically nauseous). I have decided that as difficult as it is on my fibro joints I will exercise in a safe way. This may not make me look like Heidi Klum but it will improve my quality of life. To me it’s about being healthy rather than being skinny. I want to be healthy so that I can be active with my children, chase them around the park, and not have weight related health issues in the future.
2. Self Hatred Gets Me Nowhere: Even when the scale goes up, I have to remind myself to be gentle with myself. I can’t change this overnight but I can change my focus and how I react to it. I can start making healthier choices! I used to (okay, sometimes still do) focus on the changes to an excess, obsess over them, and even cry over them – for example last night I noticed I put on 8 pounds in a short period of time due to water retention. Words are very important so now, at least once a week, I stare and tell myself at least three things I love about myself. Self love is a mental game, not a physical game. Choose to forfeit perfection.
3. Beauty is Relative: Society’s view of attractiveness had changed over many centuries. At one point, curvy women – at times with moustaches – were thought to be attractive. Years ago women with super dark tans were preferred where as now we focus more on keeping our skin healthy by avoiding the harmful effects of the sun. Even individual ideas of beauty vary especially among men. I am comforted to know my husband finds me attractive and shows me this everyday in so many different ways. I see my friends of all shapes and sizes and see they are the apple of their husbands eye.. the way it should be.
4. Beauty is Skin Deep: I won’t give you the preteen version of “what’s on the inside that matters” but honestly it is what’s on the inside that matters. It’s on the inside that is the building blocks of who we are. Things like a compassionate spirit, kindness, gentleness, determination, joy, the way we love others. To put life in perspective, in 50 years we are all going to be a saggy version of ourselves and all that will be left is the inner beauty. Our families will value us based on how we treat our adult kids and our grandchildren. When outer beauty can no longer be relied on it is the inside that shines.
I know most of us have goals to get fit and be our best self. Taking care of our bodies is such a positive thing and it keeps us healthy both mentally and physically. My challenge is to not just focus on what keeps our bodies in shape but that we also grow our character. To grow as loving and caring individuals of strong resolve, this is what makes us better people that will impact those around us in the strongest way possible.