The first time I can recall being ashamed of my body was in seventh grade. I’m not sure where the idea came from, but I decided that my belly needed to be “fixed” before my first junior high school dance. I kept a calendar and every night for three weeks marked down how many sit-ups I did before bed and got up early to run before school. I didn’t enjoy either of these things, but it seemed like the only alternative to being embarrassed by how fat I looked at the dance. My sit-up routine didn’t last long or have much impact on how my body looked, but the “fixing” mentality is still with me today.
Many women carry some amount of shame about how their body looks. Whether it’s weight, build or another perceived flaw, we have something that holds us back. Once we’ve “fixed” it, we will be able to love ourselves—that’s the theory. Putting conditions on loving your body can stop you from pursuing things that make you happy—swimming in the ocean, running in the park, wearing a gorgeous printed top. It can make activities that should be fun miserable.
Try imagining your body as your home. I live in an apartment. It’s not perfect but it houses me just fine. I have to take care of my apartment so that I can do the things I want to do. I wash the dishes so I can bake and because I enjoy a clean kitchen. There are some things I have to do without, like a dishwasher. There are things that I’ve renovated, reorganized and redecorated to better suit the life I want to live.
You wouldn’t hate your whole apartment because the kitchen sometimes has dirty dishes in it and the windows stick. You don’t have to hate your body for minor imperfections either.
It’s a long process to get comfortable with how your body looks. Here are some small ways to start releasing yourself from body shame:
» Notice your self-talk. If you find yourself thinking negatively about your body, remind yourself that you deserve kindness. This is also a good time to contemplate any mantras you have. I remind myself to “think about myself the way I would think of a friend.”
» Embrace the adjectives that describe you and throw out any moral connotations you think they have. Fat, rolls, scars and stretch marks are physical characteristics, not personality traits.
» Create a positive space online. Start following people on social media of all body types who inspire you. If you find yourself judging people you follow or comparing yourself to them, unfollow them.
» Identify the things you want to try and do them—regardless of how you look.
Appreciating your body and learning to let go of shame is hard, but freeing. You don’t have to put yourself down every time you pass a mirror because you have things you want to “fix.” You don’t have to wait until you have the perfect bikini body to do the things you love. You can learn to love yourself the way you deserve and live the life you want regardless of how you look.