How much of your time do you spend scrutinizing your body? You know the drill, you put together an outfit and from head on in the mirror, you look fine but you still spend 20 minutes looking at yourself from all different angles. From the side, it makes your stomach stick out, so you make a note of sucking it in all day, hoping to God you can remember to. That tank top shows off your arm fat a little too much. Maybe you’ll change. Mostly you’ll think about how you need to spend more time at the gym. Does it ever cross our minds to try to improve our body image instead of “improve” our bodies through weight loss and exercise?
Here are 3 ways to improve that negative body image.
1. Stop trying to control your body
From a very young age we learn to fear what our bodies will become and then we try to control them. We control them through dieting and restricting. We control them through exercise, which of course in itself is not wrong, but when the joy is taken from simply admiring what our bodies can do, it becomes a method of punishing our bodies for not looking the way we want them to.
I just have no desire to worry about abs, thigh gaps or juice cleanses, wrinkles, cellulite and the like. I would much rather enjoy exercise through long walks with the people I love or dancing in the kitchen with my son than a strict gym routine, watching a clock at the gym hoping the time would move by faster so I could breathe again. I would much rather eat pizza and cookies when I choose to and fruit and veggies when I feel like it. If that means I have arm fat and thighs that touch and a squishy tire around my waist, so be it. Who told us muscle was more necessary than fat? Who told us to rid ourselves of fat because if we’re talking about research here, fat is not a bad thing. Fat is as necessary to our bodies as muscle. Yes fat. Visible fat. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a sixpack to be healthy. You don’t need cutlines in your arms to be healthy. You need balance. I’ve written before on the correlation between health and beauty and how the diet industry has manipulated us into believing that to be healthy, we must be beautiful. To put it simply, it’s just false. Beauty is not an indicator of health.
Don’t get me wrong, If you enjoy the gym, if you enjoy extreme sports and fitness, then by all means, you should embrace the joy you take in the activity. Trying to avoid body disappointment through transforming yourself at the gym will only feel like you’re punishing yourself for the way you look.
I truly, truly believe it’s worth it to avoid the mental stress that is diet and fitness culture.
I can look in the mirror at my fat folds, rolls, saggy skin, cellulite and I may never be able to look at it and love it or find it attractive but I surely don’t have to define myself by it. I’m not interested in changing it, nor should I have to be. A body is a just body and I can express myself in a muscular body, a thin body, a wrinkly body, a fat body.
I don’t have to feel guilty for any of it.
2. Stop over-valuing beauty
In a thought provoking article written by my all time favourite blogger Melissa Fabello, she writes about how beauty can be valuable to us in undeniable ways but the value we have put on beauty is more than it’s worth. Should being beautiful be considered as worthwhile as it is? The energy we spend trying to convince everyone that they’re beautiful might be better used deconstructing the idea that beauty is the trait we should emphasize in human beings.
A quote from the article “We think in terms of our bodied selves, rather than our bodies being a part of our human experience. In this way, we are detrimentally fragmented. We are not whole…I propose that we create and distribute more messages that help us see ourselves as whole beings (of which our bodies are just a part) rather than keeping our bodied selves at the focus of the conversation.”
If we can shift the idea that being beautiful is as important as we’ve made it. There’s room to love parts of ourselves that we may have never noticed before. Parts we’ve never had the time to consider because of all the time we’ve wasted on the anxiety of trying to look prettier.
A favourite quote from some unknown source that I’ve recently come across is “Pretty is not the rent you pay to exist in the world as a woman.”
3. Understand that the respect you deserve doesn’t depend on the way you look
I go out without makeup when I’m too tired to apply it because I don’t need to feel guilty for “not putting effort into my looks”. There are a lot of other things I have freed up time to put effort into.
When I wear makeup, I love to wear it. I don’t feel forced to. I take my time. I blow dry my hair. I dress up and it makes me feel good. It’s fun and yes, it still makes me feel more attractive than when I don’t wear makeup or do my hair but I don’t believe that I have to feel attractive to feel worthy of attention and respect which is what we’re all looking for isn’t it?
Feeling attractive to me now is fun whereas before it was essential. It was the thing that put me ahead of other women in this hierarchy of who deserved what.
The truth is, we deserve the same level of respect and acceptance with blemishes showing, dark circles, bare lashes as we do when we wear lipstick and mascara. We may not receive that respect but we are free to demand it.
It is worth every effort to rearrange our goals around beauty and fitness to goals of self respect and character building. Learning self love is a journey. The relationship with your body is a complicated one and as in any relationship, there are good days and bad days. You don’t have to love your body, you don’t have to feel attractive but if you can make self respect the goal, those things become less and less important anyways.
It’s essential that we stop trying to love ourselves by hating our bodies into thinness. We need to stop over valuing the way our bodies look over the things our bodies can do. Most importantly, we need to stop valuing our bodies over our beings.