Beauty is something I think about it a lot, though not nearly as much as I used to, and not in the same way. As a child, preteen, and teenager, I saw beauty as power, currency, and acceptance. I had a hard time fitting in and I got teased a lot, but I noticed that the pretty girls didn’t get made fun of. Boys didn’t laugh at them or gross out when they found out those girls had crushes on them. Nobody called them names.
Summertime was my favorite time of year as long as I was in my own backyard or the canal behind my house, or maybe camping in the woods with my family. Those were my safe zones. I liked swimming, but the pool was a thing to endure. I had fun swimming and playing in the water, but I couldn’t help but notice the other girls with tans and bodies as tight as vacuum seal bags. I wanted their skinny legs and wardrobes so badly because I had hips and thighs in the fifth grade and couldn’t put an outfit together to save my life (still can’t). I’d go swimming with my cousins and wear shorts and a tee shirt over my swimming suit while they ran around in their tankinis and didn’t get sunburned. How come I didn’t turn out like them? Why wasn’t I a cute dancer with skinny legs that turn gold in the sun rather than my own brand of blistering pink?
I felt awkward and unattractive because I thought that’s how others saw me. That assumption stuck with me for a long time, even after I’d found my place in the high school drama club and made friends who loved me for who I was, and even in my freshman year of college when I’d somehow shrunk down to 135 pounds on my 5’8″ bod and had boys asking me out every week. I didn’t even feel beautiful when I started dating Sam and he told me I was beautiful. I hadn’t learned to love myself yet.
Last summer, Sam and I went to a local water park, and though I’d long since given up the shorts and tee shirts over my tankini, for the first time I didn’t feel one bit awkward or self-conscious. I was well above my body’s comfortable weight at the time and it was early June, so my toothpaste-white legs hadn’t seem much daylight yet, but I had my favorite coral toenail polish on and a turquoise tankini that looked a lot like the one my cousin once wore to the same water park almost a decade ago. I’d had a string of emotional breakthroughs that had lifted the depression I’d struggled with for years (and still do on occasion) and I’d reconnected with my creativity after a long dry spell. Though I’d been flailing around with intuitive eating for awhile, I’d finally learned to listen to my body and was starting to lose a little weight.
Because of these things, I had learned that I was beautiful even if I am shaped like a bowling pin and wear cargo shorts and tee shirts all the time. I finally knew who I was recognized my own type of beauty; that quirky, refuses-to-grow-up awkwardness and creativity that makes me who I am.
Oh, this is who I’m supposed to be. This is how life is supposed to be.
The temperature of the poolwater was absolutely perfect that evening, and I remember swimming underwater and coming up to the surface and noticing the gorgeous mountain by the waterpark. It was like seeing a mountain for the first time. I just treaded water for a few minutes and looked at the mountain and realized that the awkwardness and dull ache of not being good enough was completely gone. I felt so whole.
I was almost 23 years old and I finally realized that beauty wasn’t another planet. It wasn’t a party I’d never been invited to. It was just something I’d never recognized because I’d always expected it to be something else that I could feel by cracking the fashion code or whittling down my thighs. I never realized that it had nothing to do with rules or absolutes. I’d been free to feel it all along.
Everyone has a right to feel beautiful.
A lot of us aren’t happy with where we are in our lives at the moment. We aren’t satisfied with what we’re doing or where we happen to be or what we are. We here so often that we need to accept ourselves as we are and where we are. Most of us fight this notion. I sure do.
I reread Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth last week (one big long string of Aha! moments. Read it.) and she mentioned that accepting is not the same as resigning yourself to a situation. It doesn’t mean that you give up and tell yourself that things will never change, or even worse, that you can’t change things. I think most of us think that acceptance involves giving up, so no wonder we resist it!
Accepting is acknowledging where you are and realizing that it’s ok for now. You may still want to change, especially if you don’t like your current situation. By all means, work hard to change if that’s what you really want, just don’t beat yourself up for where you are.
Acceptance is a change of attitude, that’s all. It’s not quitting. It took me awhile to let this sink in, but I realized that it’s something that I’ve always known on some level. I’ve never created significant change in my life until I accepted where I was first.I had to love myself the way I was and realize that I had to be where I was, because that’s where I happened to be. That situation had something to teach me. I accepted that knowledge, but I still wanted to change. Change happened pretty spontaneously after that.
Whenever I my situation and struggled against it, I got even more stuck. It’s like struggling when you’re sinking in quicksand (the movies always say that’s a bad idea) and sinking even faster.
What do you want to change in your life? What do you need to accept?
I’ll go first.
- I accept that I need to have a job right now when I’d rather be a full-time artist and writer. Luckily, I enjoy my job, but I’d still rather do my own thing. It’s ok though. This job takes care of me, and I’m glad to have it. I’ll still work toward my goal, but I’m happy with what I’m doing right now.
- I accept that I don’t have the money to travel the world right now, but obviously, world travel isn’t what I need at the moment or I’d have it. I can love my life anyway. I’d still like to travel and I’ll work toward that goal, but I won’t snub the joys of home.
- I accept that I have about 10 extra pounds of “winter coat” around my hips and thighs. This is a little heavier than what I’m comfortable with, but it’s ok for now. I’ll still love and take care of my body and I’ll trust it to even things out on its own.
- I accept that it’s still winter even though I’d really like it to be spring. We’ve had a lovely springy week and now there’s about six inches of snow on the ground and temperatures have dropped. I’ll take whatever moisture we can get for a nice green summer, and I’ll embrace a few more weeks of layers and hot soup.
I’ll accept these things, but I also expect change. I think the distinction here is simply attitude, because forcing change does not work. One cannot reach their natural weight by hating his or her body now. One can’t create a thriving career by refusing to acknowledge the starting point, where she is now.
How about you? What are you accepting right now? What does acceptance mean to you?
If you’re a creative person (and you are, you just may not know it yet) you probably know what it’s like to be stuck. You might sit down to create something or face a problem, but something seems to block you, and you can’t put you’re finger on it.
If you have a partner, children, coworkers, or if you interact with other humans at all (most of us do) you know what it’s like to be frustrated, hurt or angry with someone else.
If you’ve ever been on a diet, had nasty thoughts about your body, or stayed on the beach because you wouldn’t take off your sarong to get in the water, you know what it’s like to struggle with some degree of self-loathing.
In my last post, I talked about one of my favorite mantras: I Choose. I’ve really gotten into using mantras lately and I can’t believe the change in my attitude and perception. Here”s another powerful mantra I use when I’m frustrated for any reason.
There is only love.
I tend to use this mantra for three things:
- my own creative work
- the way I relate to others
- the way I treat my body and myself.
If I’m in a creative funk, I sit with that feeling and usually realize that I’m afraid of something. Failure, judgement, limitations, whatever. The only way I can get out of that block is to remember how I love to create, and how I love to share my creations with others. Fear is the opposite of love, and my creativity can only flow when I create from love, not fear.
If I have a disagreement with my husband or a family member, if someone cuts me off in traffic or if a cashier grumps at me, I say to myself “There is only love.” Instead of seeing the other person as a jerk or feeling like someone is out to get me, I try to be compassionate. They probably weren’t trying to hurt me. Maybe they’re having a bad day for whatever reason. It’s ok if Sam doesn’t see everything exactly the way I do, we just haven’t found that common ground yet.
I’ve a proficient intuitive eater, but every once in awhile I still have a ghost of a bad body thought, or I might feel slightly guilty for eating something that isn’t good for me. Or, I might be stressed out and feel like emptying out my chocolate stash, but I know that isn’t in my best interest. I remember, “There is only love.” No need to guilt trip myself for a treat. I love my body, so I try to treat it well.
I use this Every. Day. I write it in my journal every morning when I wake up so I can start my day thinking this way.
Just write it down every morning. Say it whenever you’re frustrated. I can’t believe how powerful it’s been in my life.
While rummaging through some old files recently, I unearthed this piece I wrote during my sophomore year of college, before I’d discovered intuitive eating, joyful movement, or the concept of body love. I already realized how ridiculous the idea of gyms and losing weight to be happy is, but I wasn’t quite on board with the alternative yet. I hope you enjoy it 🙂
The gym can be such a sad place.
I think of the young blonde girl on the elliptical trainer next to me. She can’t be more than sixteen. The paperback mystery and bottled grapefruit juice in front of her, both unopened; 185 strides per minute. I consider the tiny Asian woman on the treadmill to my left; with her cheap Hello Kitty CD player. What in the world is she listening to? The skinny, ruddy-faced teenager grunting on the bench press; the old woman in the SpongeBob tee shirt; the heavy, miserable looking man on the stationary bike. Why are we all here? What are we after? We gather here in this long, unattractive room to walk, climb, pedal, row, to perform movements that are designed to mobilize us; to get us somewhere, but we remain stationary. We exert Herculean efforts, but we do not move an inch.
Like the condemned before a firing squad, the machines are lined up facing the large windows that overlook the pool: the ultimate test, the gauntlet. We judge them; we scrutinize them in cruel, merciless ways that most of us would never admit ourselves to being capable of. We think to ourselves, “This is why I am here.” To look like the tan, slender woman in the black string bikini or to avoid looking like the heavy, balding man with the bad skin and the hairy back. We are here to rid ourselves of our spare flesh, to banish certain parts of our bodies, as if every problem we have ever faced is stored there; as if losing our saddlebags will rid us of our insecurities. Shedding our love handles will dissolve our grief and fear of failure. We will be different, happier people when those last fifteen pounds have disappeared. We will be beautiful and therefore powerful.
There is also the prospect of what is to be gained by losing. The harder your stomach, the more lovable you will be. The firmer your thighs, the more popular you will be. You will no longer feel helpless. Every harsh word, every classmate that ever called you “fatty” or “slowpoke” will not matter anymore. Every cruel word will be erased from your memory, and those that mocked you will be silenced. Everything depends on the state of the body.
So here we gather in this long, unattractive room to walk, climb, pedal, row, and remain completely stationary. Long sessions on metal machines, devices that may appear to be terrifying devices of torture to someone who had never seen them before, to someone who had never experienced thoughts like these.
To be accepted. To become someone you feel comfortable with. To redo, to reshape an identity, to understand yourself, to become someone worth understanding. Is this what is important?
I got on a scale.
Now in the intuitive eating community, weighing is generally a no-no because it’s reinforces the dieting mindset. It encourages us focus on numbers instead of health and generally just causes us to take a very impersonal approach to our bodies with isn’t helpful to physical or emotional well-being.
I knew I’d gained some weight because some of my pants didn’t fit and well, I felt completely awful and uncomfortable, and I could see it too. My face had filled out, my hips were getting wider and for the first time in a long time, I felt like I had a belly, which makes me think that stress was a huge factor because I’m usually pretty pear-shaped and my stomach is the last place to carry extra weight.
I hadn’t weighed in awhile, but I found that I was avoiding the scale out of fear of that number rather than indifference, so I decided that I’d face it and love myself anyway.
I got on the scale at the doctor’s office. I saw the number. I didn’t panic at all. It was definitely higher than it was the last time I weighed; in fact, I’d gained thirty pounds since I got married three years ago, but I’m wasn’t upset at all. I was sad, not because I’d disappointed myself by having no willpower or for being weak. I knew I was in a rough place emotionally and that my body was suffering. The extra weight confirmed that I’d been using food to get through a hard time.
It’s incredible; a few years ago, gaining that much weight was one of the worst things that could have happened to me, but it was no big deal. I know that the state of my body is a result of the state of my emotions, so if my body isn’t happy, my emotions need work. Once I’m emotionally well, my body will follow.
After that doctor visit, I didn’t start a diet. I didn’t go to my stash of workouts I’d been tearing out of Fitness magazine (which I finally threw away the other day after ten years of collecting them), and I didn’t set down any rules for myself in hopes of losing the weight. Instead, I decided to take care of myself emotionally and trust my body to adjust itself.
So that’s what I’ve been doing, just working on my emotions because I know that’s what works for me. In my life, happy=healthy. I once lost 55 pounds over a couple years before I’d even heard of intuitive eating because I was just happy, so food didn’t seem that important. For the first time in years, I’ve felt that happy again. Just for a few months so far, but I haven’t lost that feeling of peace and love that I did on that dumb little scale at the doctor’s office.
I eat junk food sometimes. I still overeat sometimes, but I don’t beat myself up. Actually, I barely think about it at all and I’ve finally gotten to the point where one episode of overeating, one big dinner doesn’t throw me off listening to my hunger cues. I can actually let myself get hungry now. I feel hungry at least once a day and usually two or three times, which is a miracle because before I might have felt hungry once every couple of weeks. I go for at least one walk every day because I love it.
Though I’m sure to get some comments about how I’m still stuck in the dieting mindset, I weighed again yesterday, once again to acknowledge my unconditional love for myself. That number happened to be17 pounds less that the number I saw at the doctor’s office in March, that didn’t surprise me. My body may choose to release more weight, but I finally feel that I’m at a place that I could call my “happy weight”, because I feel completely comfortable and free in my body. The other day, I went to a water park in my brand new turquoise tankini and coral toenail polish, and I didn’t feel one bit self-conscious. I even felt beautiful and carefree, which is the feeling I always wanted in my dieting days, and I had no idea what I weighed. For the first time in my life, the scale isn’t my enemy, or even my friend. It’s just gives me a trivial number.
Freedom feels amazing.
Note: I’m really sorry if this post is triggering to anyone; I am just being honest about my own experience. Weighing is not the best thing for everyone, and happy weights are completely unique to each individual.
Lots of love!
Around the lifestyle blogosphere, especially in the circles of healthy living and intuitive eating, we hear a lot about “Happy weight” or “healthy natural weight” or even “ideal weight”. Everyone defines it differently, whether it’s your current weight that you should just accept, no questions asked, or a carefully calculated number. It’s confusing, and I think it drives a lot of people crazy. The idea of a happy weight might have us chasing a number that we’re not ready for, or that’s no longer appropriate for us.
I’m not writing this to add fuel to the fire, but to throw in my two cents on what might be a confusing topic. I’ve been thinking about “happy weights” lately, because I feel that I’ve finally gotten a handle on intuitive eating and I notice I’ve lost a few pounds. I can fit into a pair of jeans that I couldn’t even zip up in January, and I just feel lighter. I’m listening to my hunger and fullness signals, paying attention to what foods make me feel amazing and which ones mess with my system. I can tell when my blood sugar starts getting low and I usually know what to eat when that happens, and I’m learning to synchronize the rise and fall of my glucose levels with my hunger cycle because it’s annoying when I start feeling lightheaded but my stomach’s not hungry.
Now that I’ve got all this down, I should be well on my way to my happy weight, right?
Right, but what does that mean? Does this mean losing five pounds, or twenty? Does this mean staying at my current size 10-12 or shrinking back to the 6 I was a couple years ago?
I honestly don’t know, and it doesn’t bother me.
Here’s my definition of my Happy Weight:
The weight my body maintains when I feel healthy and comfortable with my lifestyle.
I honestly have no idea what that specific number is. At the moment, my lifestyle’s working out really well for me. I usually eat just when I’m hungry or when my glucose gets low and rarely for emotional reasons; I mostly choose healthy foods that make me feel good and I minimize the ones that don’t. I walk or run most days, I do yoga sometimes and I walk to my work ten minutes away. I get enough sleep, my stress is under control, and I don’t obsess over food anymore. Quite an improvement from a few months ago.
If my body decides it’s comfortable here, that’s fine. I don’t think it will, but that’s ok.
I’ve spent most of my life obsessing over food one way or the other and my weight never stayed the same for long, so I really have no idea what my ideal weight is. The few teenage years when I didn’t obsess, I was always either losing weight or maintaining a low weight of about 135, which was totally comfortable at the time. I currently eat a bit more than I did then, but I get a lot more exercise. Unfortunately, that period didn’t last and I started eating emotionally again.
So who knows? The bottom line is, I’ve arrived at a place where my happy weight is more a mindset than a number. That number could always change. What if I fall in love with mountain biking and lose a few pounds, or what if I take up French cooking and gain a few? What if my body changes after I have a baby? What if my metabolism changes as I get older, even if I maintain my muscle mass with strength training? As long as my happy weight mindset is in place, who cares about the number? As long as I feel healthy and I take care of myself, whatever my body decides to do is fine.
Sometimes, our body may be happy where it is, but we don’t always accept it because we’re still chasing a number set by someone else, whether it’s the size we were in high school or some number in a diet book or fitness magazine. Most of us have a specific number in mind. Think, where did you get that number? Have you ever been at that weight, and was it easy to maintain, or did you constantly have to police your food intake and exercise habits?
Spend some time thinking about your lifestyle and how you feel about it. Do you feel energetic and healthy? Do you listen to your body? What would make you feel healthier? What can you maintain?
I’m excited to see what my body does, and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
“Learning to do back flips is so scary! Like when you can’t see the ground yet and you’re just up in the air…”
Most of my cousins are athletes. Runners, dancers, gymnasts, quarterbacks, you get the idea. I’m not. PE is a distant memory I’m still trying to erase and my nickname in grade school was “Slowpoke.” Didn’t bother me too much, I knew it was true.
I overhead two of my gymnast cousins talking about learning backflips, and these are the kind of kids whose bodies just seem to move effortlessly to their command.
“Not me.” I said. “If I’m going to do crazy things with my body, it’ll be on a yoga mat. Not flying through the air.” Then I realized, most of my life I never thought of doing anything with my body. I was just a brain riding around in my body, the idea of actually doing something with it, connecting to it in a way that comes so naturally to my cousins, was radical.
I thought about it for awhile. I used to be a couch potato but now I run (run/walk actually), do yoga, hike, and actually know how to feel my body; to live in it instead of just using it as a container for my brain. I’d learned to see it in a realistic way, but connecting to it was something else entirely. My body is actually a part of me. It’s not all me, it’s not my essence, but it’s part of me.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many of us only really feel our bodies when they’re uncomfortable, like if we have a stomach aches or if we pulled a muscle. How often do we think to feel it when it’s just being? Or when it feels good? Learn what it feels like to be sated, slightly tired, or a little hungry. Know what your body feels when it needs exercise, or a certain food, or sunshine.
Try “body meditation”, just by sitting quietly and consciously occupying part of your body. Pay attention to your stomach, your legs, or your shoulders and really feel what’s going on there. Tune in a few times a day to get an idea of what’s going on in your body.
I’ve found that learning to occupy our bodies is a huge step towards a healthier body image as well as intuitive eating. How will we learn the subtleties of gentle hunger and fullness or nutritional needs if we can’t listen to our bodies? How will we love them if we practically forget they’re there?
How do you connect to your body?
“I hate my thunder thighs.”
“I can’t do anything right.”
“I’m so stupid.”
How many of us have heard (or said) something like this in the past week? It’s ok, I raised my hand too. Self-hate and criticism is an epidemic, and as part of the initiative to stop self-hate, Voice in Recovery has issued a The April Self Love Letter Challenge, encouraging readers to write love letters to themselves.
I loved this idea, because I believe that the only way to combat negative self-talk is to replace it with positive self-talk, and sometimes we need to write those positive thoughts down to help them stick in our minds.
I encourage all of you to participate in this wonderful challenge, visit Voice in Recovery for details.
So without further ado, here’s my letter to myself:
I wrote to your 13-year-self awhile back, but now I write to the woman you are today. You’re all grown up now, but still essentially the same person as that terrified, overwhelmed eighth grader with no fashion sense who just wanted to fit in. Now you know you’d rather create your own mold than try to fit someone else’s. You’ve realized that your worth is infinite and doesn’t exist in the opinions of others. It isn’t measured by the number on the scale or on the tag of your jeans and doesn’t depend on your compliancy with social norms or expectations.
I know we haven’t always been friends. I haven’t always liked you. Sometimes I’ve been really mean to you, like those months I forced you to exist on 700 calories a day, or when I scrubbed your face with rubbing alcohol and a loofah to tame the teenage breakouts, or when I thought you were weak for feeling afraid of growing up. I’m sorry for letting people take advantage of you because I thought you deserved it. It took twenty-two years for me to realize how strong and brave you are and how much love you have in your heart. I mistook your empathy and sensitivity for weakness.
At only 20, you made the decision to never diet again and to learn to love your body no matter what, which led you on an incredible odyssey of learning the novel concept of self-love. Instead of burying your problems in food and trying to control your body, you were determined to face those issues head-on while still being gentle with yourself if it was too much. That took guts. You learned to love your awkward goofiness instead of trying to act sophisticated. You embraced your introverted, contemplative nature instead of trying to be the social butterfly you felt like you should be. You never let anyone tell you who you are, because you already knew. Most of all, you realized that it’s ok to love yourself, that self-hatred and criticism isn’t right; you didn’t have to participate in the national epidemic of self-loathing.
Now, you’re a terrified 22-year-old who still has no fashion sense but is confident enough to wear tee shirts and jeans anyway and not give a damn. You’re not the life of the party and you’re ok with that. You’re ok with being the quiet girl who would rather be at home watching The Muppet Show, baking cookies or cutting up magazines to collage.
I’m sorry for thinking you were worthless; that no one would ever love you or that you deserved horrible treatment because you could never get any better, that boyfriends cheated because you weren’t good enough for them, or that you couldn’t do anything right just because you couldn’t fulfill someone else’s expectations. I’m sorry I tried to force you to be something you weren’t so everyone else would accept you, and for taking so long to realize that the only person who truly needed to accept you was me. I love you the way you are, the oddball sense of humor, the dirt under your fingernails, and the flipper feet. You’re special, no matter who loves you or who hurts you. I promise I’ll always be there for you. I might let you down sometimes, but I’ll do my best not to. Remember how special you are, just for being yourself.