I was 14 when I started hating my body. I would go to school in giant baggy t-shirts that billowed over my jeans. I wanted to hide my stomach (I didn’t have one!), my breasts (tiny), my curves and my shape (Oh so female!). I was embarrassed by my self.
By 16, I was dieting and doing Jane Fonda videos on a daily basis with my cousin. There was always that little bit more that needed work and then I’d be perfect. Halfway through my freshman year, I had put on quite a few kilos eating campus junk food and I was back to self-loathing. I went to the gym regularly, yo-yo-ed through cycles of deprivation and bingeing and was back to baggy jeans and shirts.
By grad school I was regularly consuming fitness and health magazines in hopes of finding that one secret I didn’t know about that would transform my body into that sexy thing I desired to have.
It wasn’t until I left the U.S. and moved to France at 25 that I started accepting myself. Part of it might have been the sheer number of media messages I was exposed to in the U.S. but most of it came down to one thing: I didn’t like myself very much so I couldn’t imagine others liking me and the only part of me I could see was my body so it got the brunt of loathing.
In between the U.S. and France I went to Guatemala for 6 weeks of volunteering and a much needed break from both school and work. In that mental pause from life’s treadmill, I slowly got to know myself better and I also grew the courage to share more of myself with those around me. As I did that, the elusive magic I had been searching for in magazines and diets started to happen too. I didn’t eat to shut off a feeling, I only ate when I was hungry, I started seeing myself from the perspective of others and appreciating me just like they did, and crazily enough, I started liking myself.
That was the beginning of the end of my battle with my body. I don’t think I’ve bought more than four fitness and health magazines since (it’s been 15 years) and my struggle with food came to an abrupt end. I eat when I’m hungry and enjoy it. If I over eat I don’t berate myself, I just balance it out by making the next meal light and although I weigh myself daily, it’s not to beat myself up, it’s just to keep track of how my body is changing and adjust my lifestyle accordingly.
When Artist Fadwa Al Qasem wrote a post on how she stares at her body every day not out of vanity, but out of appreciation for her ‘self’ she said, “this is not your body, this is YOU.” Until reading that line, I hadn’t realized just how strongly our self-image affects our body.
How we treat our body physically, is a reflection of how we treat our inner ‘self’ mentally. The space between our body and our mind is where our heart is, and the more we use the heart for self-love, the stronger the bridge we build between the two.
The way we treat our bodies and the things we do to them, the thoughts and feelings we have about them are a direct measure of our self-esteem. Barring physical illnesses and diseases, our body image is a great thermostat of our self-image.
If you’re never comfortable with your body you’re never comfortable with your self, if you abuse your body, you don’t think you are worthy, and if you find yourself constantly noticing your flaws rather than your beauty, perhaps you are not enough.
I recently read a study that found women who don’t wear makeup have more self-confidence and more self-esteem than women who do. Direct correlation.
The pharmaceutical and cosmetic battle that is being waged on our faces and skin is ridiculous! Businesses, wellness centers and individuals spend and make hundreds of thousands of dollars simply because when we look at the mirror, we have decided not to like what or who we see.
The woman I am today is a far cry from the girl I was 20 years ago but it’s taken me so long to get here. And I won’t lie, I still fall into days of self-rejection. But with my newfound awareness, I’m quick to ask myself some key questions:
- What is it about myself that is bothering me?
- How can I embrace that part of me?
- Who can I turn to for complete acceptance?
I often have to remind myself and my daughter of what’s ‘real’: like crow’s feet and grown lines and stretch marks and freckles. I’m embracing them all and am acutely aware of the important job my body is doing for the benefit of my soul, so I take care of it as best I can. At least I know that in choosing self love over a battle against nature, I have a much greater chance at winning.