Quick note: I started writing this post a couple of months ago, and then just left it as a draft for a while because I didn’t fully know where I was going with it. Then, a few weeks ago, I listened to the first podcast episode of Elizabeth Banks’ podcast, My Body, My Podcast, on Audible and heard Jameela Jamil talk about body neutrality in a way that really resonated with me. It helped me connect some of the dots regarding this topic, and so I dove back in and finished writing this post as a result. I don’t often let posts sit like this one, but it’s neat to watch them come together when I do.
Anyway, let’s get to it, shall we?:
I’ve been thinking about my relationship with my body lately and have been considering how I wanted to write about it here. It’s something I’d been paying attention to recently, because I’ve noticed it shifting a bit since Vance was born and wanted to dig into some of those feelings.
First, in thinking of a title for this post, the word “relationship” absolutely felt like the correct way to put it. We have very strong relationships with our bodies — sometimes those relationships are pretty healthy ones and sometimes they aren’t — but there’s such reliance on our bodies for just about everything that it’s hard not to think about them — and to feel connected with them, for better or worse — regularly.
And I also think talking about those feelings is a good thing. It can help us remember that the thoughts and struggles we have are thoughts and struggles other people have as well, and it can also serve as a reminder that feelings are fleeting — they come and go like waves. I once heard someone talk about trying to view feelings as visitors that come into your house and stay for a while. Let them be there while they’re visiting. Interact with them. Be present with them. Work to understand and connect with them. But remember that they’ll leave, and they’ll be replaced by another visitor at some point, too. They aren’t permanent — the joyful ones aren’t and the more uncomfortable ones aren’t, either — which I find to be a calming, big picture way to look at it.
Another thing that inspired me to dig into this topic was reading a post over on Erin’s Inside Job on body positivity the other day (you should absolutely check it out), and I appreciated her thoughts and perspective. I especially liked this excerpt:
“At the root of it all, I really, really, want people to like themselves. I never want people to feel the way that I’ve felt about myself and treat themselves the way I’ve degraded myself. Just like I can’t control anyone or anything except myself, I can’t force people to feel certain ways about themselves, as much as I want to. I put up pictures and wrote captions TELLING people how to feel as if it were that easy. As if reading something would magically flip a switch in each and every person’s brain and it would just click. As if my own self-acceptance didn’t take years of work and therapy. IT’S OK GUYS, I LIKE MYSELF NOW SO YOU SHOULD TOO.”
I’d already identified that quote as one that I wanted to share, and then when I was chatting with Kevin about writing this blog post he suggested I include the same sentiment (not having read Erin’s post). He’s dealt with years of me putting myself down when it came to my body and has constantly been there in the background, assuring me that I’m beautiful and that the way I’ve seen myself in the past is distorted. No matter how much he insisted those things were true, it took me truly feeling them to be able to make them my beliefs as well. (I know that was an incredibly hard role for him to play. As he would often say, “Hey — don’t talk about my wife that way!” And yet I was really, really mean to her — often, at times. It makes me so sad for that younger version of myself.)
Speaking of the younger version of myself, the fact that I’m in my mid-30s has helped with my body confidence to be sure. I have the perspective of looking at photos of myself 10 years ago — knowing that at the time I felt so self conscious about my body — and realizing that I looked beautiful (just like Kevin had been telling me at the time). That helps me know that I’ll feel the same way a decade from now looking back at photos of myself today. Instead of worrying about how my body looks, wouldn’t it be amazing if I could channel that energy into being more fully present in my life right now, and into leaning into JOY as much as possible? I certainly think so.
So I guess it’s time to circle back to the topic of this post: how I feel about my body these days (a.k.a. the reason for writing this post to begin with). After Vance was born, I started noticing that I cared less about how I looked physically than I could ever remember. Now. Let me explain that a bit more.
I’m not writing this post to say, “Look how great I’m doing with acceptance of my body!” That’s not the point of it at all. I’m also not saying, “I think I look amazing!” That wasn’t ever the goal of this whole journey anyway, as it turns out. The point is to document the fact that my once-negative relationship with my body has shifted in a big way over the years, and while some of that has to do with time a lot more of it has to do with work I’ve done to get there. The goal was to get to a place where I could be thankful for my body instead of ashamed of it, and that I could release the feelings of perfectionism I’ve had for years when it comes to (very unrealistic!) expectations I’d set for my body. I wish I could go back and tell my younger self about how good it feels to be on the other side, but since I can’t I’m writing about it in the hopes it might be able to help others out there.
Did I notice that my body was certainly different after baby #2 than it had been after baby #1? Yes, absolutely. Did I fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes soon after giving birth? Thankfully, yes (which I know makes things easier overall). Do I look in the mirror every day and think, “Damn, girl — you look GOOD!”? Certainly not, although some days I do and that feels awesome! Do I still have moments where I feel disappointed with the way parts of my body looks? Definitely.
BUT those moments of disappointment have been so few and far between compared with the way they’ve been during other parts of my life. I realized I felt that way before getting pregnant with Vance, too. I’d developed a comfort within my body that was certainly unlike me, but so very welcome. It was the NEW me — the version of myself I’d so longed to find. Suddenly, I found myself there.
These days, instead of feeling hung up on how I look (most of the time, because don’t think for a moment that I never have negative thoughts anymore!), I feel a sense of extreme gratitude and awe for my body. I think of all she lets me do EVERY SINGLE DAY with ease, and without discomfort. I can move my body in ways that feel so good at Pure Barre and on my daily walks with Vance. I can carry my kiddos around without a second thought. I can dance with Maggie in the kitchen. I can chase her around our yard. I can take a hot yoga class with Kevin. I was able to carry two beautiful babies to term (and then some!), deliver them, and then go on to feed them both with my body.
Instead of worrying about what I eat, I focus on prioritizing the foods I love and that I know will help me feel good. I don’t count calories or macros because that doesn’t feel helpful or necessary for me, and it removes so much of the enjoyment of food, too. Plus, I know myself, and counting those things can bring me to an obsessive and unhealthy place if I’m not careful. I feel disinterested or annoyed when I’m served an ad on Instagram about a diet or a cleanse. Those things just don’t resonate with me right now. My hope is that those days of buying into the diet culture (which can, and probably should, be a whole separate blog post or podcast episode) are behind me for good.
Truly internalizing and really thinking about my current relationship with my body over the past few weeks (because that’s when I really let myself sit with this reality) makes me so emotional. It makes me really proud, because it’s a result of hard work I’ve done for YEARS that’s finally, finally coming to fruition and taking hold in a meaningful and lasting way. Again, I don’t have this “I feel amazing all the time!” mindset, but it’s so dramatically different from the constant belittling I did to myself for years, not to mention the obsession with consuming as much information as possible about movement, diet, weight loss hacks, etc., even though I knew at the time it was harmful, not to mention short term at best.
Here’s where the podcast I mentioned earlier comes in: I realized I have a pretty body neutral mindset these days. A definition of body neutrality from Very Well Mind is this: “Body neutrality is the idea of accepting your body as it is in its current state. Unlike the body positivity movement, it does not need to involve self-love talk or mantras about your body…Additionally, body neutrality encourages you to see your body as a functional vessel.” That’s definitely the space I’m living in these days when it comes to my body. I don’t see it as something that needs to be fixed or micromanaged or disliked, but rather as something imperfect and yet exactly right for me, and something that allows me to live my life exactly the way I want to — which is an irreplaceable gift.
Let me jump in here with this: This is MY journey. It’s MY experience. A portion of that quote I shared from Erin’s blog post earlier bears repeating: “Just like I can’t control anyone or anything except myself, I can’t force people to feel certain ways about themselves, as much as I want to.” I couldn’t convince myself until I was ready. I certainly can’t convince you. It’s a knowing you have to reach on your own…but I believe there are things you can do to move yourself in the direction of the knowing.
I don’t think for a second I have all the answers, but I do know I’ve learned some things along the way. Here are a few things that have helped me get to this point:
–Recognize the power of self talk. This can’t be emphasized enough. Whether it’s our bodies, our abilities, our value, our place in the world, etc., when we speak negatively to ourselves it harms us. Like I said, it’s not like I look in the mirror every day and see someone with zero flaws. What I AM able to do, though, is look in the mirror and lead with gratitude (being thankful for all my body can do), and using that to help minimize or even completely drown out any negative thoughts that are going to pull me down.
–Catch yourself when you find yourself consuming diet culture messages. Diet culture is so hard to avoid, because it’s everywhere! It’s all over social media, it finds your email inbox, it’s on TV — there’s so much money to be made by this industry and they know it. Fight back by being hyper aware of diet culture and trying to mute it whenever you can. No, you don’t need to spend $125 on the “latest and greatest” cleanse. Just scroll right on past those before and afters and the claims that go alongside them. If you’re anything like me, you’ve given into enough of them to know they don’t work anyway!
–Switch up the perspective: How do you want your daughters to view their bodies? Having a daughter has been a gift in countless ways, and one of them was the gift of perspective on this matter. When I think of the way I’ve talked to myself about my body in the past and then think about MAGGIE doing the same toward her body, it very nearly brings me to tears. I don’t want her to walk the same hard path I did when it comes to how she views herself physically, and while I know she’ll have struggles of her own on that front (they can’t be avoided altogether), what I CAN do is model healthy behavior for her. I think you can assume this perspective hypothetically if you aren’t mama to a girl, too.
–Continue to push yourself and set goals. Loving and accepting your body and feeling immensely grateful for it doesn’t mean you can’t also want to push it in ways that make it stronger, faster, leaner, more agile, etc. Those things can absolutely co-exist, so don’t feel like you have to stop challenging yourself physically in order to also love and appreciate your body. It feels GOOD to have goals and go for them, physical and otherwise!
–Fast forward mentally to 10 years from now. Imagine you’re 10 years older. (I would ask you to close your eyes to really imagine it, but since you’re reading this that doesn’t really work.) But envision yourself looking at a picture of yourself that was taken today, in 2021. How do you want to feel when you look at that photo? Wouldn’t it be amazing if the 10-years-older version of yourself could look at that picture and think something like this?: “I was fully present in that moment. I wasn’t worrying about how my body looked — and look how young and great I looked!”
–It’s not about waiting for your body looking amazing. Just like all things that fall under the umbrella of perfectionism, being hung up on your body is a losing battle. It’s never going to be perfect, just like your life never will be. But if you put your life or your joy or your happiness on hold until you reach some level you’ll likely never reach, think how sad you’ll be later in life. It reminds me of this quote from Anne Lamott: “Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written, or you didn’t go swimming in those warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”
–Allow yourself to be fully present in a moment. How does that feel to be there completely, instead of being so aware of your disappointment with your body that part of you is absent?
–Find ways to move your body that you truly love — not things you think you should do to help your body look a certain way. For me, this is Pure Barre and walking with Vance. If you don’t have a form of movement you love yet, keep searching for it! You’ll find it, and it will feel like home.
–Surround yourself with other women who speak positively about their bodies. Negative energy is contagious, and so is negative self talk. Be aware of how the people you spend lots of time with are talking about their bodies. (And isn’t it more fulfilling to spend time with friends who talk about more than just how they look anyway?)
I hope some of those feel helpful! If you’ve also struggled with body image in the past and have done/are doing the hard work to get to the other side, what are some other tactics that have worked for you?