“I hate my body” was practically a mantra in my head for the better part of my adult years. No body is perfect because perfection is not attainable, nor should it be. If you insist on using the word perfection, at least accept that your definition of perfect is at least slightly different than that of any other individual.
I propose that instead of chasing the perfect body, the perfect job, the perfect spouse, the perfect image… we pause and reflect on what feels “perfect” for us. This does not mean what will get the most likes or what will create envy among peers. What would feel perfect for you if you were alone in a field without wifi and had to rely only on your intuition? It might take a long time to ponder on this. It took me years.
Learning to fix the “I hate my body” CD skip (shout out to other Generartion Yers out there who remember precariously balancing the pre anti-skip Discman on your hand to avoid this issue) took a lot of time and a lot of self compassion. Once I owned the reality of my eating disorder and made the decision to recover at all costs, I needed to let go of the anger, forgive myself and apologize to my body. These steps allowed me to finally change the tape.
Perfectionism and chronic people pleasing will be the death of your health and your happiness if you don’t get them in check. I, like many women, had unrealistic expectations for myself and the result of not meeting those expectations was a self-drawn bath of shame and humiliation. I sat simmering in my own disappointment, and there was never a hot water shortage. I could fill that tub up for days with my negativity, self-doubt, and fear.
My body was never to blame for my mental state, but I honed in on any minor physical imperfection as a badge of dishonor and inadequacy. I enviously watched friends with thin legs, fit into a size 0 when we’d be out shopping. I was a swimmer and a dancer. My calves alone may never breach the pant holes of a size 0. Oddly enough, many of those friends told me they’ve tried to gain weight unsuccessfully over the years in an effort to appear more feminine. Their admission revealed to me that the cultural ideal is not so cut and dry.
Somehow we are expected to be thin… but have curves…. but also be muscular… but not so muscular that we appear masculine… have high defined cheek bones… but full pouty lips… have hair that can just as easily be sleek and straight as it can be beachy and wild. The contradictions are endless and it results in a population attempting to fit into a mold that is genetically impossible.
The older I get, the more I find women with unique traits to be the most alluring. Someone who can own their large nose, thin frame, thick thighs, or crazy hair is stunning. I admire anyone who owns what they have and works it in a way that no one else can. Sadly, this realization of true beauty didn’t come for many years.
Brené Brown, a leader in the study of shame and vulnerability, captured the paralysis that a life of perfection seeking, emotional suppression and inauthenticity causes. She says, “Numb the dark and you numb the light.” You may not face your darkest feelings by engaging in an unhealthy coping mechanism like binging and purging, but the sacrifice you make in doing so is giving up the light. No jean size is worth missing out on the pure joy that your life can truly be.
I had to forgive myself for numbing the dark and missing out on the opportunities that lay before me. My chronic perfectionist and people pleasing self would rather create a Pinterest board of motivational body image quotes (which I would read but NEVER apply) than face taking accountability for 14 years of harming my health and mental state.
I could blame the media, I could point fingers at my parents for having high expectations of me growing up, I could lash out at an ex-boyfriend who made little comments when I gained 5 pounds (seriously, shaking my head today that I didn’t walk away at that exact moment)… OR I could let the past go and take responsibility for my choices today and every day here on out.
Moving forward required that I let go of the anger towards others, not for them but for me. I needed to accept their apology that was never given, and I needed to then, and much more importantly, forgive myself. I was not in the driver’s seat of my own life. I allowed low self-worth and the quest for external validation get the best of me. But guess what? I admitted this to myself, showed myself a little compassion, and somehow the world didn’t stop turning. It adjusted. I woke up the next morning, ALIVE and ready to heal.
It was also crucial for me to apologize to my body. My priorities of fitting in, looking good (which ironically I didn’t after years of purging, dehydration, and sleep disturbances), and attempting to achieve the nonexistent mindf*ck that is perfection, left my body to suffer. My health had become a low priority and it showed. When I decided to let go of the anger, take accountability for my choices and forgive myself for it all, I knew what had to come next would be a struggle. I had to face my body, the vessel which I had filled to the brim with shame and abused via my eating disorder. What I did may sound unorthodox and maybe just plain weird, but it was necessary. I stood completely naked in front of a mirror. I was crawling out of my skin after a decade of avoiding this moment, but my feet remained planted. I stood there looking right back at my body and said “I’m sorry. I will never be the cause of your suffering again.” Yes, I actually said this out loud. And I meant every word.
Now, when I work out, instead of having the mentality of punishing my body for a side of fries I ordered, I take those moments when I am pushing myself to be in awe of what my body is capable of. If you take care of your body, honor it and respect it, it is capable of incredible things.
I held crow pose for a minute in yoga last week. This is far from an advanced pose, but I was beaming from ear to ear when I realized how long I had held it. The truth is your body can break so many perceived barriers. What holds it back is the mind. My body would not be this strong if I continued to let shame and insecurity rule my mind, which in turn fertilized the ground for poor decision making. I believe in that moment of crow pose glory, that my body had accepted my apology. It was both a physical and spiritual accomplishment.