As many of you know, we launched a non-exercise class at the studio last month. The goal of the class is to provide people with some tools to boost their self-confidence and love their bodies as they are. (Click here to read more about the class.)
I’m taking the class too, because I may end up teaching it in the future, but also because I knew I would get a lot out of it. Today I’m pretty comfortable in my body, but I definitely struggled for years with low self-esteem, a disordered relationship my body and with food and exercise. Those things are still close to the surface, if I’m honest. Closer than I’d like them to be. So, it’s been good for me to explore those things and to practice the techniques Nikki is sharing with us.
The thing I’ve been ruminating on the last couple of weeks, but haven’t articulated yet in class, is that for me the change in my relationship with my body involved a complete shift in my thinking. See, I always thought that I would wait until I felt confident before I attempted the things that I really wanted to do, but that were intimidating to me. Or that I would wait until I loved my body (when it was skinny enough, tan enough, well-dressed enough, whatever) before I treated it as though I loved it.
But then I realized that I had it backwards. That by doing those challenging things and either, succeeding or just surviving them, I would build the confidence that would make it easier to do more of them in the future. Through action I would build the feeling.
Similarly when it came to loving my body, it was by treating it in a loving way that I behaved my way into feeling loving about it. Here’s what I mean.
I said kind and encouraging things about my body.
I nourished it with good food and movement.
I wore clothing that fit well and was comfortable (whatever size that was).
I joined in on exercise classes even when I was the largest student in the class.
I wore a bathing suit and swam in the summertime because I love being in the water and there’s nothing better on a hot day.
I prioritized sleep.
I pampered myself with the things I know make me feel relaxed and happy.
I went out socially and spent time with friends.
I wore summer clothes in the summer, rather than sweltering in cardigans and long pants because I thought my arms or my legs were too big.
If there was something I really wanted to do and the only reason I was going to say no was because of some insecurity about how I looked, then I made myself say yes.
Some of you may be worried that if you do some of these things, that people might make mean comments to you about your body. The reality is that there is no way to prevent mean people from saying mean things. Hurt people often turn that hurt outward and try to cause pain to others. That’s why you must be vigilant in ensuring that the things you say to yourself about yourself are positive; that you counter every criticism, every nasty discouraging comment (from yourself or someone else) with something good and positive and true.
Let’s say I put on that bathing suit and heard someone say, “she has no business wearing a bathing suit when she looks like that.” If I couldn’t let that comment roll off my back (even though I should because who cares what someone else thinks about my body!), I would write an affirmation for myself that was the opposite of that statement. Something like, “My body is worthy of feeling the joy and freedom that comes from being and moving in the water. It is as healthy and strong as it can be today and it will be even healthier and stronger tomorrow.” Then I’d put that affirmation somewhere I would see it every day and I’d make myself say it out loud at least once a day until I believed it at my core.
If I had waited for some feeling of love to wash over me before I did those things, I would have been waiting forever. Because loving my body ultimately had nothing to do with what size, shape or weight I was. Seriously.
There was a time that I thought if I could get down to a particular pant size, then I deserved to be confident, happy, loved, etc. And until then, no dice. But when I would get down to that size, it was never enough. There was no magic transformation in my feelings about my body. I didn’t wake up that day as a size 6 and suddenly feel like I had permission to live a full life.
Because here’s the problem with feelings: feelings are transitory and unpredictable. Relying on a feeling means waiting on something on whose arrival you cannot count, and on something that can disappear as quickly as it appeared.
But when you focus on the action; there is no waiting. You just do the thing. You have control over how you’re going to behave toward your body. Trust that if you behave in a loving way, the feeling will follow.
This isn’t to say that I never have a day or a week where I’m critical of my body. I do. But, even on those days, I still do the things I listed above. I still treat it with kindness and with love. And when you do that for long enough, it becomes impossible to hate it.
If you’re struggling with negative body image, I want you to try something. I want you to ask yourself this question, “How would I treat my body if I loved it?” Maybe some of your answers will be similar to the ones I listed for you above. Maybe not. If you’re struggling, think about how you treat someone you love–your best friend, your partner, your mother, siblings–and extend those same acts of kindness and grace to yourself.
Practice, practice, practice it. Keep doing loving things for yourself. Treat yourself the way you plan to treat yourself when your body is the size, shape, weight you’ve decided is acceptable. Do that now. Because your body is acceptable and worthy of love and kindness just as it is today.
None of this means that you can’t strive to be healthier or to improve on the quality of the food you eat or the exercise you get. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to be the strongest, healthiest version of yourself that you can be. I want that for myself and I want it for you too.
But you can and should love yourself at every step of your journey; from where you are now through all the variations you’ll experience during your long life.