I’m not the first or the last woman to admit to the reality that more often than not in my life I’ve hated the body I saw in the mirror. I talk about it openly as often as I do in the hope that other women might see themselves in my story, and perhaps start adopting some of the tools I’ve utilized to change that perception. Because I think we can all agree that common or not, life is far, far too short to hate ourselves due to a number on the scale or a few extra rolls or stretch marks on our skin.
Yesterday was my official weigh in/measurements day for the past thirty days. It’s the moment when I learn if the goals I set for myself for the month were effective, and honestly it was a mixed bag of results. On the one hand, the scale didn’t go down as much as I thought it should have (3 whole pounds), and that was frustrating. But on the other hand, I dropped several inches throughout my body, and when I took my progress photos and compared them with my first month, I could actually start to see the changes.
So why was I so haunted by the number on that scale? Why was that causing me to basically disregard any positive results from other measurements? After all, it’s really the inches that matter in terms of how a person looks and what size clothes they can wear. If you order a dress online, the dressmaker doesn’t post a size chart with various body weights…they post a size chart with body measurements.
Keeping that in mind, I should have been thrilled with the inches lost.
But I wasn’t. I was pleased, of course, but there was a cloud hanging over me. And it was directly tied to the scale.
All I could think was how nothing had changed. Same old, same old. Because that’s always been my struggle, since I was very young; as a stocky, athletic woman with a predisposition toward packing on muscle quickly and easily, my weight is always the last thing to change when I’m trying to get healthy. In good shape I have an attractive physique, but I am also solid. Too heavy for most guys to pick up and twirl around or ever carry over the threshold.
And that’s the primary reason I’ve always hated my body, and felt ugly and unattractive.
Realizing how I was feeling, and how ridiculous it was given that I actually am getting great results, I found myself thinking back to where it all started. Thinking back to when I first learned to hate my body and feel unworthy because of that godforsaken scale.
It was elementary school; somewhere between first and second grade. Once a year we had what was called Health Awareness Day, where classroom by classroom we’d be filed into the gym and cycled through a rotation that included things like an eye exam, blood pressure check, and height and weight measurements. There wasn’t anything confidential about it, as kids were lined up close enough to see and hear a student’s results on their various exams.
I was one of those early bloomers, and so even in first and second grade I was starting to have curves and was growing rapidly (I was the tallest in my class up until sixth grade, at which point I basically stopped growing and everyone else surpassed me). I was also already a competitive swimmer at that time, training every day, and I was involved in two to three other sports at any given time, including soccer, tennis, golf, horseback riding, and softball. I was in phenomenal shape physically…with a lot of muscle on my body.
It’s just how I’m built. A delicate flower I am not.
And so when the time came to get on the scale, I can vividly recall the humiliation and shame I would feel. I remember that they were those old-fashioned scales, where you had to set the square to a certain weight range and then slide the counter over until the scale balanced perfectly. I remember that vividly, because they always had to slide the square over an extra space before they could even begin to calculate my weight. And my fellow students noticed.
I remember the whispers whenever I got weighed, and know that was the first time in my life when I began to not only become conscious of my body…but also aware of what others might think of it. That awareness has morphed into a truly epic internal struggle the older I’ve become.
I’ve never felt beautiful. Never felt sexy. Never felt desirable or attractive. And honestly on some levels that breaks my heart, because everyone should feel that way once or twice by the time they are approaching thirty years of age. But it’s my reality.
No matter how many people insist I have a beautiful face, or a wonderful figure, or a beautiful smile, or pretty eyes…I just can’t see it myself. And then to cope and comfort myself I’ll turn to eating which leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy in the end.
I don’t want to feel this way about my body. I don’t want to need validation from others in order to feel beautiful or attractive. But I do. And I think that desire – that need – is as human as the need to breathe. We want to be seen. We want to be valued and desired. We want to feel special among our peers, even if only for a few moments at a time.
So now that I’ve come to realize that’s a truth – that the need isn’t going away – I’ve changed up my approach. Instead of deciding I’ll never be beautiful, I’m trying to change the way I carry myself, and working to change my daily nutrition and exercise habits. Changing my reality, as they say.
But it’s been a long, hard road to get here. And coming out of my abusive relationship, I was even worse off than before.
Everywhere we go as women, we’re told how to look. And usually what’s presented in magazines and on television and in the movies is unattainable…even for the models and actresses on display, because their photos are painstakingly airbrushed and photoshopped so that every flaw, wrinkle, mark, and blemish is removed. Any woman who wears a Size 12 is labeled as plus size and sent in shame to a different section of the store. High end fashion designers don’t usually make clothes in plus sizes. And, yes, generally speaking when you go to a bar or a club with your friends, men are drawn first to the women who most closely resemble the models and actresses they see on TV and in porn videos.
It’s a vicious circle of self-doubt, self-hatred, and self-contempt. And it’s hard to break out of it once you get trapped there.
I won’t pretend to have all the answers, because I don’t. I still have days – like yesterday – where I don’t feel like I’m good enough, and that feeling is directly tied to the number on a scale. And I don’t have any magical solutions to change society’s view of women’s bodies either; because the most logical solution – namely to change the kinds of models and actresses featured in the public – isn’t one the industry is willing to entertain. Other than a token “plus size model” here and there, everything in the fashion industry remains status quo.
So yes, as cliche as it sounds, ultimately every woman has to take responsibility for her own sense of value, beauty, and self worth. Because the world isn’t changing any time soon. And while I don’t have any magic solutions, I can at least offer what I do to feel better about myself.
The first thing I do, quite simply, is talk about it. I voice my insecurities with trusted friends and family members. I don’t do this because I’m fishing for compliments, but rather to get the monster out of my mind and out in the open where it doesn’t appear quite as big or terrifying. Also, a magical thing happens when you talk about your insecurities: you open the door for others to reciprocate. And it’s amazing how much relief there is when you realize you’re not alone in how you feel.
Beyond talking about it, I intentionally search for things that make me feel good about myself…and do those things in spades until my mood improves. Writing…singing…working with my clients…working at Lasting Connections, where I’m a valued founding member of the team as the company’s COO…I immerse myself in that which I love and gives me positive feedback. Gives me strokes. And it works like a charm.
I hit the gym, because that natural rush of endorphins is fantastic. Plus it takes me back to my days as an athlete, when I was proud of my career and my results. I always carry myself with more confidence, my head a little higher, after I leave the gym covered in sweat and feeling like I accomplished something.
And, believe it or not, as silly as it sounds I’ll even snap a few selfies of myself too. Because there’s nothing like instantly seeing yourself from your best angle and in the best lighting to boost your confidence a little bit.
Overall it’s a never-ending, uphill battle, but I do feel like at long last I’m starting to feel more loving and compassionate towards my body. I only wish I’d figured out the secret sooner, so that I could have enjoyed my twenties a little more instead of worrying so much about how I looked. Moreover, I often wonder if perhaps I could have avoided falling prey to an abuser if I’d had a little more confidence in and love for myself in the first place.
I’ll never know the answer to that question, but I do know that I’ve determined I’ll take control of how I view my body as I get ready to enter my thirties. Not only that, but help others like me find love for themselves as well. It’s not an easy, overnight fix…but like anything in life, with work and determination, I do believe it’s possible. And ultimately, as cliche as it sounds, it’s true what they say: the only way the world will see you as beautiful is if you yourself see that beauty first.