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If you have a beating heart, whether you're a man or a woman, a teen or an adult, chances are you've struggled with your body image or at least some part of it, at one point or another. When it comes to having a bad relationship with our own body image, the statistics are staggering, and they are growing and growing every day. Something is up. Mental health professionals are seeing it with younger and younger boys and girls with every passing year, and yes, although it's an issue we mainly associate with women, men are no exception.
You've heard me say before, that when you're working hard in creating healthy habits that last, body image has always been swept under the rug when in fact it's a key component to healthy eating. Even more important than that, it's one of the biggest components to your mental and emotional well-being, and if nothing else, that is definitely a goal to strive for. In today's post we're diving deep into body image. We won't be talking about the enormous pressure the media, magazines, movies and TV puts on us on a daily basis to have the perfect bodies (we'll cover this in a later post), instead, we're finding another culprit. One that might be very close to home, deep within your body image story. Be warned, you know I never ask you to go on any journey of discovery without sharing my own, so things are about to get personal! Grab a cup of coffee, curl up and let's dive in.
About two weeks ago we went to a kids birthday party. It was a pool party with this huge amazing blow up slide. The kids were about 8 or 9 years old. Right before we were about to cut the cake I saw these two girls making the floor of the house wet with a water bottle. They then proceeded to put a sock on one foot, no sock on the other. Music was playing, and they begun to do what I've since called "the one sock wet dance". You know how I feel about dancing. When you do it you should leave it all out there.
These girls were doing just that. They were sliding, dancing, grooving, shaking, they were so into it. They were completely unaware that I was looking, or that they were surrounded by people. They were also in their bathing suits, they would dance, stick their belly out, move awkwardly, lose their rhythm and then gain it back. They didn't care... and they were just completely in their bodies, having fun and moving to the music.
Had this been two adult women in their bikinis, I believe I would have witnessed a completely different scene.
Something happens in our early life. That pivotal moment when we lose that place of fun and being carefree. The ultimate state of body freedom. It's those moments when we start losing that childlike sense of complete acceptance, where our body image issues begin. It's also where healing can happen, when we build up the courage to go right back to them and mend those little pieces of us that somehow broke off. It's where I started to heal my body image issues, and it's where I want to take you today.
I remember being that carefree kid.
I grew up going to the beach almost every weekend. I remember how I would pick a bathing suit based on the patterns, the colors, the ruffles and the sparkles. I don't think I even tried them on when my mom took me shopping. I would choose it, grab it, take it home, put it on as fast as I could to head to the pool or the ocean. I would run, play, roll in the sand. No covering up. No shame about my body. Granted I wasn't an overweight kid, but it's not so much about the weight we have as children, it's about the cues we get from the people around us that can really define things for us.
My mom was a body image rockstar. As you've probably read in my story here, she had a physical disability, and I'm pretty sure she had plenty of body image issues herself. She had scars all over her body due to the many surgeries she had to endure, her hands were stuck in a very rigid position, almost into a fist, and one of the things that I knew was really hard for her, she had to take a large dose of prednisone daily to help her deal with pain and inflammation. Prednisone would cause her to have tremendous bloat, especially in the face and belly. Towards the end of her life things got even worse in this sense. In spite of all this, I never once in my life heard her utter a single word related to the way her or my body looked. She always reminded me that I was beautiful, and she herself would get all dolled up and rocked what she had.
I never once heard her utter the word calorie, diet, fat, cellulite, or any form of body shaming. Exercise was only for health reasons and to have fun, and food was meant to be enjoyed and not measured. I was lucky. I was headed for the real world, in which the opposite cues are hurled at you at warp speed, without a second to try to escape them, and I would not be immune to them, even with the wonderful body positive upbringing I had. So many people aren't as lucky. Body shaming starts early, and sometimes not even with comments directed towards us, but by simply listening to the way our parents talk about their own bodies. This is one of the reasons why I always urge people to try to find healing of body image issues before they have children. I also know how hard this is to do.
So I'm going to go on a little mission with you. I want us to find the exact moment in time in which your wet sock dancing days ended and the body issues began. If you're anything like me, there were probably many, and they probably happened way before you realized that society and the media had this huge expectation waiting for you.
Body image tale #1: My 11 year old breasts
I remember being in the swimming pool in my building, playing with other kids. Completely unaware of any body image issues. When suddenly an adult (I won't name names but he was a close friend of the family), made a comment about the way my breasts looked in my bathing suit. Yup, I was 11... talk about horribly creepy. My breasts hadn't even developed yet! I hadn't noticed the creep factor back then, I was just stunned and shocked when it happened, but that was one of those big moments in my life in which for the first time I realized that men had opinions about women's bodies, and that people were looking and paying attention to any change that your body was undertaking.
Body image tale #2: My armpits (I can't believe I'm going to tell you this!)
I was in the same swimming pool, swimming with a friend. When suddenly she looked at me and asked "so your mom hasn't taught you how to shave yet?". Yup! I had very little body hair but it was enough for someone to notice. Again... "people are looking", I thought. I felt so much embarrassment I can't even tell you. I came back home and got so angry at my mom. I asked her why she hadn't explained what shaving was and when you needed it. I can still remember all the shame I felt. She taught me how to do it, and I went to the beach with my friend and showed her that I was now hairless.
Body image tale #3: The leg cast and a secret revealed
When I was around 13 years old, my uncle's dog ran towards me as I was throwing her the ball. She landed on me and completely dislocated my knee cap, tearing all the side ligaments and putting me in a type of leg brace or removable cast for 3 months. The lack of movement kept me at home, very sedentary, eating a lot over the summer since I couldn't do much else. An old friend came to visit me, we had an amazing time catching up, going to the beach, leg cast and all. I was having the best time I had had all summer. When I saw her a few months later, she scanned me up and down and said "thank God! last time I saw you you had gained so much weight I couldn't recognize you!".
I know you won't believe me, but I had been completely unaware that I had gained any weight at all. This was a foreign concept to me. I don't even think we had a scale at my house!
Make no mistake, comments about how we used to be, even if they're disguised as positive comments now, are as painful as if she had come straight up and said it in that moment. Again... "people are looking". This time, add another... "they are looking, commenting, thinking and you might not even know it".
Body image tale #4: Shopping with friends
My friends and I were invited to a party, and we decided to go shopping without parents for the first time. We tried on crazy outfits and had so much fun in the shops playing dress up. After the initial fun with crazy boas and sunglasses was over, the real shopping began, and with it, countless conversations between my friends that I had never had with myself. "Do my thighs look fat in these?", "with which skirt does my waistline look thinner?", "I should cover this up". I know, this is the way most of us talk to ourselves in the dressing room now, but that was my first time. I heard them, I looked in the mirror, and for the first time I was trying to find what might be wrong with my body. "What did I need to cover up?".
Body image tale #5: The sweater song
Any Weezer fans out there? This song has a line that reads:
"If you want to destroy my sweater
Hold this thread as I walk away
Watch me unravel, I'll soon be naked
Lying on the floor (lying on the floor)
I've come undone".
When I had my first real boyfriend at 16, he came up to me one day and said "you know... people have been talking, and they're saying you're starting to wear lots of sweaters to hide all the fat you've gained. You might want to look into that". The next day I began the first of many diets, in what would become a very unhealthy relationship with dieting and overeating, and of course with body image. I've never looked at a sweater the same way again.
Now of course I was a kid, he was a kid, our friends who had made those comments were kids. They probably all had their own body image stories to tell, but words can be so hurtful, and they can stick with you.
If stories like these could happen to someone who grew up in the most body positive environment, what do you think happens when our body stories happen from the moment we appear into this world? Right in our own houses?
So what can we do once we've found some of our body stories? These are some of mine, but I could go on and on with countless others. However it's usually the ones that happen very early on that do the most damage. The only thing left to do is go back to that place. Take that little girl or boy by the hand and help them heal. Speak to him or her, either in your mind, with a therapist, or on paper (a powerful one!). Write your younger self a letter. Help him or her heal within each of those stories. Explain that it wasn't their fault. That they were perfect just as they were, that that is still true now, and that body image can be healed, regardless of our physical characteristics.
If you've read our posts, listened to our podcast or you're a member of our online program, you know that this is one of those things I teach, give you tons of support with, and that the solution is not restriction, but self love as a catalyst for change. If nothing ever changes in your body, there is no truer fact than this: you are enough.
In the words of the wonderful wellness rockstar Kris Carr:
"We don't need fixing, we need loving".
I hope you feel courageous enough to go down the rabbit hole with me, and find those body image wounds that will ultimately be the starting point for all that healing. Feel free to leave some of your stories in the comments (you can do so anonymously if you prefer), there's something really powerful that happens when we shed a light on the issues that we've kept hidden away. Do this by journaling, by telling a friend, by meditating on it, by starting therapy on these issues, or by sharing it below. We'll be helping you on this body loving journey much more so stay tuned.
If you'd like to take your journey even further, we'd love for you to join us in our video-based online program My Brownble, where we teach you how to cook amazing vegan food, and help you on that ongoing quest of finding balance. You'll learn how to indulge in your favorites and still prioritize your health, and we'll teach you how positive body image is key when it comes to creating healthy habits that last.
In and out of the kitchen.
...and there's so much more. You can check out all the details here.