By. Tricia Stefankiewicz (Keywords, body image, self-improvement, wellness, self-care)
In my nutrition practice I have met many women who have expressed displeasure and unhappiness about their bodies. I have heard women say horrible things about themselves such as: I’m so fat, I’m ugly, I’m disgusting. If this isn’t bad enough, I also hear expressed feelings of hatred and revulsion about how they look and feel. Many express embarrassment and shame about how they could have gotten to this point. I am no stranger to these feelings. Like most women, I too have felt this way at times in my own life. More recently, post-pregnancy, I have felt disbelief about my new post-partum body and have found myself asking how the hell did this happen? Seeing a stomach that is bigger than I had ever imagined and hips and thighs that no longer fit into my most favorite pair of jeans is sometimes a tough pill to swallow. I find myself feeling disgust with my new body and longing for the old pre-pregnancy one. Yet, my son is obsessed with my new belly and is constantly rubbing on it and telling me how much he loves it. Why if our kids and loved ones can love and accept us for who we are, do we have a hard time doing so?
I say negative things to myself without even thinking twice about it. Yet, something about hearing someone else say it, makes me pay attention to the harshness and cruelty of the words spoken. The way we talk to ourselves is so unforgiving and so different than we would talk about our friends or allow our friends to speak about their bodies. And yet, we don’t think twice about speaking this way to ourselves this way. Why do we do this, why are we so awful to ourselves?
Where do these impractical and unreachable standards come from? Society often makes this worse. Society tells us how we SHOULD look with unrealistic body expectations and a ridiculous amount of pressure to look perfect. Women are told that they must be thin, flawless, and put together always. As we age, we are expected to maintain our youth and thinness. Social media further exacerbates this standard with images of toned bodies, fad diets and constant talk about weight and perfection. We have reels of celebrities and friends showing us HOW we think we should look. Our self-worth and self-esteem may take a hit when we realize that we are unable to hold up to these unrealistic expectations that society and social media display.
Another factor compounding this, is the self-narrative we have learned from women in our lives as we grew up. In her book, Mothers, daughters, and body image, Hillary McBride talks about the idea that daughters internalize the mom’s feelings about her body, even if the mom isn’t outwardly aware that she is engaging in negative self-talk. Daughters as young as elementary school are already starting to become aware of how a mom feels about her body unknowingly starting to become attuned to this narrative. Your child picks it all up. She senses it, she is learning to think the things you do. As a daughter yourself, you may then have internalized some of these feelings which you may now be passing down to your own children. This may lead to feelings of unworthiness and undeserving-ness and keeping you from realizing your full potential.
What do we do? How do we start moving towards body acceptance?
Follow social media accounts that promote Body positivity, self-acceptance, and self-love
If you find yourself on social media, search for body positivity influencers or follow people who are comfortable in their own skin (link in show notes)
Challenge your beliefs
The negative self-talk doesn’t serve you in any way. Your body deserves compassion and respect. What would you say to your friend if she talked to you the way you talk to yourself? How would you challenge her? When you hear the negative talk starting, realize it, then start to interrupt and challenge it.
Take some time to thank your body and be grateful for all that it has done for you
So often we punish ourselves for what we see as our body failing us. We blame our body for illness, injury, infertility, miscarriage, menopause, and aging. Maybe we can start to reframe the punishing into gratitude instead. Look at all that your body has accomplished. It may have worked hard to grow and nourish a human, allowed a child to be born, helped you recover from injury or an illness with strength and healing. Our bodies are strong and allow us to move through and experience life at the fullest. Because your body is part of you and deserves to be loved unconditionally. As Louise Hay says, “you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked, try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
Listen to what your body needs
Your muscles and joints need to be moved, exercised, and stretched. It needs to be nourished with good wholesome foods. Your brain needs to be focused and strong with meditation and time to yourself to minimize the negative self-talk. You and your body are one precious entity.
Normalizing body expectations with other women
We need other women to let us know what NORMAL for our bodies is as we age instead of trying to figure it out and make these assumptions that are unrealistic. This isn’t about body bashing but more of a way of normalizing expectations. Talking to other women can help us see what is completely normal as we have children, become mothers, go into pre-menopause, and menopause, and as we continue to age.
Consider working with a professional to challenge your beliefs.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to others or have a deep sense of shame and fear to share what you feel, seek guidance from a professional that has the skillset to help you manage these beliefs.
I don’t have this figured out and I still struggle with feelings of shame and embarrassment about how my body looks. However, I know I can do a better job than I am doing now and so I will continue to work towards improving my relationship with my body. Taking tiny imperfect, consistent steps will take you closer to this goal. Remember to start where you’re at. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being 1% better each day. Be kind to yourself friends.
“Your body is your home, your vessel in life. It needs to be respected and loved.” Iskra Lawrence