Posts Tagged With: body image

Appreciating The Body You Have…Right Now

For as long as I can remember, I hated the body I saw when I looked into the mirror.

Everyone has their body hang-ups. I believe you’d be hard-pressed to find a person who couldn’t name at least one part of their body that they wished were different…bigger, smaller, more shapely, perkier, rounder, tighter, flatter, whatever.

For me, I always had one wish. Just one.

I wanted to be skinny.

To me, being “skinny” was the be all and end all of my time on this Earth. It was my life’s dream. It was the culmination of so many of my most innermost desires…from walking into any clothing store and zipping a pair of jeans without having to lie on the dirty dressing room floor to wearing a spaghetti-strapped dress like all the other girls to my eighth grade dance (I ended up in a size 20 gown that was surely designed for a 50+ year old woman).

To me, being skinny meant I might actually be able to make — and keep — a close circle of friends, and stop assuming they were embarrassed to be seen with “the fat girl.” All throughout my childhood, I fantasized about how being skinny might finally put a stop to the bullying and humiliation I faced on a daily basis.

I really did think that being skinny would be my key to happiness…and that it would solve every problem I could ever have in my life. Some people dream of scoring high-paying jobs, falling in love, starting a family. All I ever cared about was what it would be like to wear a size 4.

Lately I’ve been thinking about my wish, and how, even after a 90-pound weight loss, it never did come true. I am not skinny. I am confident now that I never will be. No matter how much more weight I lose, I will never be the kind of woman who can strip down at the beach wearing little more than a washcloth. I will never be able to leave the house in a short skirt. I will never be able to emanate that inner confidence of someone who hasn’t suffered from extreme body image issues for the majority of her life. It’s just not in the cards for me.

But I’ve come to a realization. I really, truly, do not care about being skinny anymore. And I think that has a lot to do with how I finally managed to lose — and maintain — my weight loss (which, as an aside, has not solved all of my life’s problems).

Truth be told, I’m ashamed and saddened that for so many years I allowed my entire sense of self-worth to be wrapped up in the number stitched into the tag on my jeans, or what my romanticized ideal of a skinny, “perfect” body looked like. I’m also ashamed for the way I abused and mistreated myself — I had such low self-esteem that I essentially poisoned my body with milkshakes and bacon cheeseburgers for years. I like to tell myself that at age 12, or 15, or 21, I didn’t know any better…but, let’s face it, I knew exactly what I was doing.

It took 26 years to realize that there is no such thing as a perfect body (for those of us who aren’t celebrities or Victoria’s Secret models, anyway), and in order for me to achieve something that even comes close to the “skinny” physique I coveted, I’d probably have to consume 800 calories a day and spend three hours in the gym every night. Oh, and that’s not to mention that pesky tummy tuck and loose skin removal surgery I’d need to rid my body of any evidence that I used to weigh 260 pounds.

Today, I can look at the mirror and see my imperfections — the stretch marks, the loose skin, the cellulite and all — and be content. I can see myself in photos — even when I’m wearing little more than a flimsy cotton dress — and feel pride. I’m pretty okay with the person I see staring back at me these days. Honestly, I would be tickled to remain a size 8/10 for the rest of my life.

I’m not saying I love every inch of my body, but what I have come to realize is that I’ve finally reached a place where I can appreciate my body…and what it’s capable of doing. I may not have the perfect body, but what I do have is my body — and I’ll be damned if I ever take it for granted again.

I see people all the time who are disabled or ill, or I read about former athletes who sustained one injury and are now relegated to the sidelines forever. It forces me to put things in perspective: how could I hate a body that is healthy? A body that is whole? A body that is strong? I can run 5Ks and go for 10-mile bike rides whenever the urge strikes. I can walk all over Walt Disney World (my happy place!) for days and experience little more than sore feet. I know now that I am one of the lucky ones — I escaped a lifetime of obesity without diabetes or heart problems or any of the long list of diseases associated with being overweight. I feel blessed and fortunate for every day that I can climb a flight of stairs or walk my dog or lift groceries or do any of the things I can do as a healthy, average-sized person.

While I appreciate the “you look great!” compliments I still get every now and then, I am genuinely overwhelmed with emotion when I cross the finish line of a race, or am complimented by classmates for my “bad-ass” roundhouse in my Muay Thai kickboxing class. To me, discovering something that I love to do, and recognizing how my body — exactly the way it is — allows me to do it has forced me to realize that maybe having larger-than-average thighs isn’t really the end of the world.

I truly believe that’s the key to body acceptance: realizing how your body allows you to do the things you love, and understanding that there’s more to you than a number on a scale or an idealized dress size. If you have the ability to chase your kids around the backyard or practice yoga or lace up your sneakers and go for a walk whenever you feel like it, I’d say that’s something to celebrate.

So I’ll continue to eat as healthy as possible, and take vitamins, and exercise daily, and slather on sunscreen, and drink plenty of water, and avoid smoking (always) and drinking (most of the time)…and I’ll never take my body for granted again.

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Seeing Yourself as Others Do

One of the (many) things about myself that I’ve been trying to “work on” lately is my inability to accept a compliment.

From the “you look amazing!” screeches from friends and family when I started losing weight to the occassional compliments I receive on my wardrobe, I have never been able to look someone in the eye and genuinely believe their positive words. I’ll spare you the sob stories of how I was ridiculed by everyone for my appearance as a child and teenager — including my parents — but I’m sure it has a heck of a lot to do with why I can’t accept that someone legitimately has something nice to say about me today, more than a decade later.

Why is it that I still carry around 15-year-old memories of my classmates calling me “fat” and “ugly,”  but when someone says they like my haircut or that my arms are really starting to tone up, it’s almost immediately forgotten?

While I’ve slowly been learning to appreciate my new body and graciously accept any praise with regards to my weight loss accomplishments, it still pains me to realize that when someone offers a compliment that goes beyond my physical appearance or choice of shoes and relates to who I am on a deeper level — my intellect, my talent, my strength — I find it impossible to accept their words as fact.

I’m one of the lucky few that’s found a man who is quick to offer his encouragement and praise. But any time my boyfriend is regaling me with compliments, I can’t help but argue with him. I can’t remember the last time he told me I looked nice, and I offered him a simple “thanks” in return. Instead, I usually suggest he go get his eyes checked.

And yesterday, when he went on and on about how proud he is of me for working so hard at pursuing my writing dream, I not-so-gently informed him that, in fact, I’m a total failure. Because, after all, I haven’t yet published a bestseller or landed bylines in all of my favorite newsstand magazines…at the ripe old age of 25.

If I could look in the mirror and see the woman he sees, I would never again suffer from lack of self-esteem. I’d never again ridicule the way my thighs look in shorts, I wouldn’t hold myself back from pitching my dream magazines for fear of not being good enough, and I definitely wouldn’t walk around thinking that I’m a failure just because I’ve managed to lose 90 pounds and not 100 pounds.

If we could treat ourselves with the same kindness, respect, and understanding that our loved ones do, and learn to recognize all of our positive attributes instead of constantly focusing on the bad, could you imagine how much happier we’d be? And how far we could go?

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Worthy of Weight Loss

Anyone who has ever carried around more than, say, five or 10 extra pounds knows that years of hiding behind excess weight can take a huge toll on your psyche. Tune in for just one episode of The Biggest Loser and it becomes abundantly clear that there’s a reason why these folks have ballooned to twice or even triple the size they should be…and it’s not because they simply have a larger appetite or slower metabolism than the average person.

It’s because there’s an endless list of emotional issues that go hand-in-hand with gaining and losing significant amounts of weight, and this week I think I may have just uncovered one of mine.

In my first year on Weight Watchers, I shed 80 pounds. Just like that. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t easy — I followed the program religiously and worked out at least five times a week — but the weight was falling off my body and I was enjoying the ride. I was basking in the compliments and delighting in smaller, cuter clothes, and it seemed like everything in my new healthy, active life was falling into place.

But then in my second year on the program, everything stopped working. The scale stopped moving, I became bored with my go-to meals, and there were days when heading to the gym was just another ho-hum chore on my To-Do. As my weight first began to plateau, all of the emotional issues that had fallen by the wayside in my first exciting, life-changing year of weight loss starting to resurface.  My old fears and insecurities came flooding back, and I knew there had to be reason I hit a wall the second my mind started playing catch-up with all the physical changes to my body.

I don’t feel worthy of success.

And, more specifically, I don’t feel worthy of weight loss.

My self-deprecating thoughts don’t end there. I don’t believe I’m good enough, talented enough, or smart enough to build a lucrative career, and I still, after nine years with my boyfriend, don’t feel worthy of his love. I know it’s ridiculous, but these nagging feelings of inadequacy are a side effect of 20 years of being the fat girl hiding in the corner, trying to remain unnoticed and genuinely believing that I wasn’t as good as everyone else.

I was fat, and they were not. They deserved happiness, and I did not.

But no more. I’m tired of brushing off compliments and assuming I’m not good enough to do anything. Being my own worst enemy has become absolutely exhausting, and frankly, I’m tired of finding new ways to make myself feel inadequate.

In the last couple of months, something has changed. I have a newfound motivation and commitment to finally achieve my personal weight loss goal (100 pounds) and start landing assignments in my favorite magazines, and the best part is that I am finally acknowledging just how hard I work, just how far I’ve come, and just how much I deserve to succeed.

Every time a negative thought creeps in — I won’t be able to finish my first 5K, I’m not talented enough to write for newsstand magazines — I’m making the conscious decision to ignore it. If I can make the effort to live a healthy lifestyle, then surely I can make the effort to tell myself when I’m being stupid.

I credit all of this with the fact that the scale is moving again. Well, that, and the fact that I am officially in love with PointsPlus!  I’m averaging a little less than a pound per week, and as of last weekend’s weigh-in, I am just shy of once again being within 10 pounds of my goal. The last time I reached this point, I ended up gaining about eight pounds back…and then gaining and losing those eight pounds over and over again for a year.  The time before that, the same thing happened.  I get thisclose to my goal, realize just how close I am to — gasp! — actually being successful, and immediately let my efforts start slipping.

Clearly I am more than capable of losing weight, and I’ve come this far already…so it’s pretty obvious that there has been something else standing in the way of losing the last 10 pounds.

And I think her name is Jennifer Nelson.

Whatever your goal is — lose 20 pounds, fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans, run a 5K, or finally try that Zumba or Spinning class — you have to realize that it’s going to be hard work. I know everyone’s looking for shortcuts and instant gratification these days, but unfortunately, when it comes to your health and physical fitness (or anything else for that matter), there is just no such thing as a quick fix.

But guess what? You are worth the effort.

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