I could feel my belly when sitting down, my thighs touching when standing up. And I despised that feeling.
These thoughts began during the first days of lockdown. I felt out of control because I was sitting all day, unable to go to the gym or eat how I wanted. I started being hyper-aware of all the calories that I was eating. And I would feel guilty when I didn’t work out or when I ate more than I ‘should have’.
Despite this being triggered by lockdown dynamics, it’s not the first time that these thoughts have crossed my mind. And I know I’m not alone in this. A study exposed that 93% of college women express dissatisfaction with their bodies. It is interesting to note that this has nothing to do with your actual body image, but rather, it is a result of how you perceive yourself. 40% of the women in a survey who were extremely underweight still said that they needed to lose some pounds.
During teenage years, girls internalize the beauty standards that they must follow. Our tummy rolls are something to be ashamed of, our legs cannot be hairy, our tights cannot touch, our cellulite cannot be seen, our chests cannot be flat, and the list goes on. If what we see in the mirror doesn’t match these ideals, we feel unworthy of love and attention.
The devastating consequence is that we end up limiting ourselves and our potential, sometimes without even realizing it. In this day and age, as privileged as we are compared to previous generations of women, we are not truly free. Because we have interiorized that you can’t go to the beach if you don’t have your “bikini body” ready. Or that you have to start restricting your diet because you have put on a few pounds. How could you speak in front of a crowd if you are not looking your best? What if people think I’m too fat or too skinny? What will they say about my hair or my hips?
When you limit your potential because your mind is concerned with how you look, you lose leaders, entrepreneurs, singers, dancers, and you lose the chance to live your life to the fullest.
So how can we free ourselves despite being constantly exposed to those beauty standards? These are 4 ideas that have helped me and that I think every woman should interiorize:
1) Do not let your body be reduced to a sexual object that you must perfect to fit someone else’s ideals of beauty.
Your body is so much more. It is a vehicle for energy, passion, love, laughter, joy. Next time you look in the mirror, thank your body for what it does for you. Thank your legs because they allow you to dance or go on beautiful hikes. Thank your arms because they allow you to hug the people that you love. Thank those tummy rolls because all they do is show that your body is nourished. Start seeing it as the vehicle that allows you to help and bring joy to others. Stop punishing it when it has done nothing wrong.
This is not to say that you should feel guilty for wanting to change your body. If you have fun doing your hair or putting on makeup, do not even think for one second that you should feel guilty or embarrassed. Try on new looks, express your creativity, but recognize if you are doing these things for the wrong reasons.
2) We must internalize that food is not something you have to earn and compensate with lots of cardio or dieting after you ate “too much”.
Your body simply deserves it. Refuse to feel guilty for nourishing it. And if sometimes you want to eat some cookies or pizza, have it and enjoy every second of it because –in the words of Catherine Pawley— life is way too short to spend it weighing your cornflakes.
3) We need to notice the negative self-talk and stop it.
Start speaking to yourself just like you talk to your best friend (would you call her ugly, fat, or unworthy?). And stop your friend when she speaks negatively about herself. If your thoughts start turning negative when looking at the mirror, remember the first point and turn to gratitude instead. If this is too hard, start by just being a little more gentle: instead of saying “I’m not pretty enough”, switch to “I don’t feel pretty in this particular moment, but we all have our bad days, right?”
4) Finally, we must not forget that your body wasn’t made to fit a particular size.
Clothes were made to fit your body’s size. If some pants that you used to wear a year ago don’t fit so well anymore, your body size is not the problem; the size of the pants is. Our bodies are constantly fluctuating due to our levels of stress, hormonal changes, life circumstances, etc. But you don’t see pictures on Instagram when a girl is bloated or when she is too busy to go to the gym.
I know it’s hard. And this is by no means an exhaustive list. Learning to love and accept your body is something you have to work on every single day. If you are struggling with body image, know that you are not alone, but also, be sure that you have the power to set yourself free. The thoughts I mentioned in the first lines still come back sometimes, but I keep learning how to let them go.
The sole fact that you are alive right now means that you have a purpose in this world, even if you don’t know exactly what it is yet. And this purpose far outweighs your physical appearance. Everything else can fluctuate or change, but your value will not. Let’s celebrate all body types but most importantly, let’s celebrate. Because life is great, sis. And we are here to live it.