People have been commenting on my appearance my whole life. I've barely gone a day without someone mentioning something about the way I look, whether positive or negative. I have been called both beautiful and homely... I've been told I have the best body on the beach, and I've also been told I need to lose weight. I've heard I have a great ass, but I should do more lunges to slim my thighs. I've been told that I look strong, yet I should work on toning up my shoulders. I've been told I have a baby face and have also been mistaken for 5 years older. One time, in elementary school, a boy told my friend and I that if you put my head on her body, we'd be the perfect girl. And the beat goes on...and on.
Then there's the connotations and stereotypes that accompany the way we look. In high school, I was considered "pretty & popular" by many, and to some, this automatically made me a slut. In college, I wore heels and had manicured finger nails, and to some, this automatically classified me as less intelligent. After college, I was told that if I didn't wear make-up to work, I wouldn't be taken as seriously. And let's not forget the countless images we encounter in the media that shape our ideas on the "perfect look." Luckily, I've had some incredible experiences and made some amazing friends along the way that had absolutely nothing to do with my appearance, but that doesn't stop me from remembering and internalizing the things that did.
Why am I telling you all of this? I'm telling you this, because everyone has experienced something like what I just told you, and whether it's at the same capacity, it's probably had an influence over you and the way you see yourself. I mean, truthfully, America is obsessed with appearance, so how could it not be at least on the back burner of your mind? For a very long time, I wasn't happy with how I looked. I didn't have six-pack abs, you couldn't see the tone in my arms as much as I wanted, my legs were strong, but I didn't like that because I thought they looked bulky. My hair was always just a little messy, my nails too short, my clothes just always one size up from where I wanted them to be. And it seemed like the more I would hear I was pretty or good-looking, the less and less I would believe it. As soon as I would start to feel good about how I looked, I would see something or someone or I'd remember something that would completely shatter my image of myself. There is no way in hell I am alone. Just the other day my very dear friend who is one of the most beautiful (both inside and out) people I've ever known said to me, "I don't know if I'm fat or ugly." Heart breaking.
The bottom line: You can't rely on outside sources to shape your image of yourself. You can't compare yourself to someone else's outside without appreciating the beauty that radiates from within yourself. Why is it that we are so quick to acknowledge our own perceived faults and weaknesses and so quick to covet the strengths of others? The longest and most meaningful relationship we will ever have is the one with ourselves. Time to start taking care of it!
Simply put, I really want this to change. And as cheesy as this sounds, we really are all beautiful and we need to repair our relationships with ourselves starting now. Our body image has such a tremendous influence over our health that it can result in intense guilt over our fitness and food choices. Isn’t it funny that what fuels us and gives us energy and keeps us alive can also wreak havoc on our psyche? It’s not so much the calories or the sugar or the price that we are guilty about. It’s our perceived lack of control over our own behavior that drives us wild with shame. We have set beliefs of what it means to be a good, healthy person, and with these beliefs, we also set boundaries and objectives for ourselves. And these boundaries often lead to deprivation. Yet deprivation will lead to unrealistic goals, which could lead to unhealthy habits, which will lead to feelings of failure and more guilt. It's a viscous cycle, my friends.
Let's break it.
First stop: Change your vocab. Remove words/feelings like "inferior, ugly, failure, guilt" from your daily repertoire. Replace them with words like, "strong, able, beautiful, happy." Remind yourself of your abilities and accentuate your own unique strengths and talents. Focus on the positive. Be rid of the negative. Yes, this is easier said than done. But it's a more realistic and much less abusive to yourself than wishing away characteristics of yourself on a daily basis.
Second stop: Don't worry, be hungry! Let's eliminate the guilt over food. We need to treat our relationship with food the same way we treat our relationships with the people we love. Let’s stop thinking of certain foods as “bad” or “too fattening” or “guilty pleasures.” Today, if you want a -insert fav treat here-
Third Stop: Spread the love! One of the best experiences I've had lately is when my friend Mike and I decided to spend a few hours one evening walking up to perfect strangers and saying, "You look incredible tonight." At first, it was simply a joke. But then it turned into something else. We were feeling a rush of satisfaction every time we would see someone's eyes light up after hearing that. So tell someone in your life exactly why you love them. Or maybe walk up to a perfect stranger with a compliment. Remind the people you love that they are beautiful and that you are so thankful for their existence!
Maybe, if we try these three steps every day, we will start to repair/maintain our relationships with ourselves, with the food we eat, with how we choose to move, and help the people we love do the same. Join Elizabeth and I on this journey! Submit your story to email@example.com. Tell us about your relationship with food or how your body image has been shaped or about anything you want to share! Be well, remember what you are capable of, and never forget that you are beautiful.