Love and Body Image
Love. That’s what I want to discuss.
Specifically, how important love is in dealing with a negative body image and the fear of being judged for what you look like.
I confess that even though I’m far better at the body image stuff than I used to be, I’ve become aware of some personal challenges lately.
After about two years of dealing with health issues that eventually led to abdominal surgery last August, I’ve slowly regained my stamina until I feel almost as energetic as I had two years ago. Ever since my last check up with the doctor in January, I’ve significantly increased my walking regimen and core-strengthening exercises.
When they say that it can take six months to a year to recover from major surgery, they weren’t kidding! My efforts are working because I feel so much better, though admittedly I’m still not quite back to 100% yet. Obviously, I fall in the percentile of people who take more like a year to recover.
In spite of the facts and the apparent, gradual results I’m feeling and seeing, my self-critic still occasionally rears her ugly head and goads me into thinking that I’ll never achieve optimum health. Fortunately, my self-critic isn’t as strong or as nasty as she used to be, but she is definitely still there and has thoughts like, “What’s the use?” or “You’re not trying hard enough.” She also sometimes adds in a sprinkling of wondering what other people will think of my appearance because my abdomen is still enlarged as it slowly shrinks and recovers from the surgery.
Here’s the thing. I know that my self-critic is not the authentic me. She’s just an amalgamation of outside influences talking over the authentic me. The authentic me, who I really am, would never choose for myself what my self-critic throws at me.
“If you talked to your friends the way you talk to your body, you’d have no friends left at all.” ―Marcia Hutchinson (author of Transforming Body Image: Learning To Love the Body You Have)
So, what’s love got to do with it?
Maybe you’re thinking that I’m going to point out that there will always be people who love us in sickness and health and no matter if we have flat abs or not. And though that’s true, what I really want to focus on is self-love because I’ve learned that the secret to shifting a negative body image is by loving yourself.
Seems obvious I know. Yet the truth is that though this seems like a great idea in theory, most of us find it very hard to practice in reality. But that is exactly the remedy. Ignore the self-critic and choose more helpful thoughts about your body image instead.
For example, it’s much more helpful for me to choose the thought, “My health is increasing every day. Here’s a sign and there’s a sign. I’m doing awesome!”
And guess what? By doing choosing more helpful thoughts, you are practicing love for yourself. Notice I said “practicing.” It does take practice. One step at a time, one thought at a time. Notice, then choose another thought. Eventually, practicing transforms into doing it. You’ll actually be loving yourself.
There’s one more point that I want to make about self-love. You’ve heard this right? That real love is accepting someone for who they are without wanting to change them? Well, it’s true, and the same goes for self-love.
But don’t misunderstand. Accepting yourself (loving yourself for who you are in the moment) is different from wanting to improve yourself because you like the challenge of self-improvement or because you like to learn and grow. To want to change because you feel bad about yourself is nearly impossible because to feel bad about yourself means you lack love for yourself. When you lack love for yourself, you feel bad about yourself. It’s a nasty circle – a downward spiral of negativity that is hard to breach unless you shift into loving yourself in spite of your perceived faults.
Fearful About What Others Think
I love this acronym and explanation for FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. Your body image fear is only in your mind. No one else is really worried about all that but you. Frankly, they’re too busy in their own minds stuck on their own fears to notice yours. However, they do notice how it makes you behave and what it does to your attitude because that’s what actually does affect them. And if it’s negative, and they are too, then they’ll find a kindred spirit in you and want to be with you. If you are positive and they want to be positive, then again kindred spirit. If you want to be positive and they want to be negative, there’ll be no resonance and after a while if you stay where you are and don’t come to where they are, they’ll drift away.
Basically, what I’m saying is this… don’t worry about what others’ expectations are. Make the most of yourself and do the best you can with where you are right now. That’s the best first step to self-love.
Oh, and by the way – and I’m speaking to you women now – does Kelly Clarkson or Jennifer Hudson or Oprah Winfrey let their weight fluctuations and body image affect their drive for success? No, and nor should you! Of course, the media makes a bigger deal of it than they do, and they just let it wash off like a duck’s back. And, hey, look at Jennifer Hudson. She actually capitalized on it with the whole Weight Watchers® thing. I say more power to her!
In my experience, you won’t ever completely hush your self-critic, but you can definitely turn down the volume. You can take back your power. It’s ultimately your choice to do so.
I encourage you to choose the thought, “I love myself. I love my body.” Don’t look for validation outside of yourself. It starts with you, internally.
In turning down the volume of my own self-critic’s voice during the past several years, I’ve learned that there’s a beautiful side effect that comes with all of this. When you choose the thought, “I love myself. I love my body.” and live your life practicing this wisdom, you’ll find that your capacity to receive love from and give love to others will expand exponentially. And that’s very cool, indeed!
Go ahead, try it. Choose well, be well!
Angela Loëb helps people bring who they really are to what they do in life. More at http://about.me/angelarloeb