A woman’s positive relationship with her body is tenuous, at best. I am not above this. My relationship with my body waxes and wanes. This is why I used “better relationship” in the title because the relationship a woman has with her body will never be perfect. We can, however, move towards developing a better relationship with it.
How to Build a Better Relationship with Your Body
It would be all too easy to blame the media for why a woman’s relationship to her body is as backwards as it is. Sure, the media has done a bang up job of messing with our heads, no doubt, but by just blaming the media’s version of the perfect woman we create a feeling of powerlessness and victimhood. There is no room for responsibility, no room for growth and certainly no room for empowerment. I don’t know about you, but I hate living this way. What if you could actually take control of your relationship with your body, not by starving it or by punishing it for its shortcomings, but by choosing to think about your body differently? Will this be the cure-all? Probably not. Will you wake up everyday loving your body? Doubtful. But will you have a fresh place to go when your negative thoughts about your body want to take over? Hopefully, yes.
Look at what the thoughts about your body are stealing from you
Negative thoughts about your body can be the thief of joy. I took this photo on Labor Day with my two nieces. It was such a wonderful moment just to be hanging out with these girls on one of the most perfect days with my family. After my sister took this photo I hated the fact that one of the first things I noticed was how heavy my legs looked (I told you I wasn’t above this type of thinking), and I absolutely hated the fact that I allowed something so trivial to take away from the joy in this photo. I remember holding both these girls in my arms when they were born, I love them like my own daughters, and this, THIS is what I got stuck on? I was so angry.
It can be hard to change the way we see things until we can recognize what it is costing us to think this way. Writing this, I remember talking to my friend Wendy Shanker, author of the must-read book The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life. Being heavy most of her life, when she took her young daughter on vacation and wanted to go swimming she was able to see what not being bold enough to wear a swimsuit was costing her. It was in that moment that she decided to let it go and “take up space”, as she put it, and swim with her daughter. What a missed opportunity it would have been if she allowed her views of her body be the thief of joy during this moment with her child.
What have you been avoiding or haven’t let yourself do because of the way you see your body? What has it been costing you?
When I wrote my book Style Rx: Dressing the Body You Have to Create the Body You Want, I was firm with my publisher that it was not going to be another book that forced women to believe that they had to conform into one body ideal. In the book I wrote, “if we were all supposed to be built the same we would have been.” Bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
If you know my book, I addressed 22 different body parts with tips on how to dress them. Writing about the body parts I possessed, like large thighs or thick calves and ankles, was easy and very inspired. Writing about the parts I didn’t, on the other hand, was not. I needed to do some research. So I reached out to friends, family and clients for their perspective. I remember writing the chapter about having a flat butt, something I don’t have. My first conversation was with my mother who gave me a laundry list of reasons why having this body part was a challenge. Next up was a call with a client who simply replied after I asked her the same questions with, “I didn’t know it was an issue.” Perspective can be a funny thing.
Years ago I remember reading a story about young girls in Samoa, a country known for genetically larger and more athletic people. At the time, the show Ally McBeal was on the air and the show finally hit the Samoan Islands. Remember, this was the early 90’s, our media wasn’t as connected as it is today. The article cited that the show, specifically the slimness of Calista Flockhart, was changing the way these Samoan girls viewed the shapes and sizes of their bodies. Suddenly dieting was on the rise and these girls who never saw a problem with their bodies were suddenly questioning them.
Sure, we could blame the media for why particular body shapes are in-vogue one day and considered ugly the next, but we could look at how tremendously fickle media can be and why we can’t base our worth as a person on the whim of a body trend. Had had the show Ally McBeal never hit the Samoan Islands would these girls have even questioned the beauty of their bodies? Had my mother not gotten the idea that her flat butt wasn’t just what it was through media or some insensitive person not telling her it was, would she have ever even questioned it? After all, the client I asked about having this same body feature never saw it as a problem. Yes, the media needs to portray more diversity in all things, but we can’t wait around for it to happen. Just remember that you probably didn’t think your body was shameful until someone came along and told you it was.
It’s absolutely ludicrous that we allow the worth of our bodies to be dictated by trends in body types. There was a time when the curvy Rubenesque shape was coveted. So what does that mean? If you were born then you were beautiful but if you are born now, in a time of extreme slimness being beautiful, you’re not? How illogical.
We feel less shame about the things we think we can control
When I started my business I began to notice an interesting phenomenon. When a woman would tell me her shoe size or her height or even her bust size these were just matter-of-fact bits of information she gave me. However, when it came to a client telling me about her legs or her tummy or her arms, she would talk about these features with pangs of shame. What I started to realize was that the more control a woman believed she had about the size of a particular body part the more shame she felt about how large it was. It’s incredible that we still believe we have total control over the proportional shape of our bodies. Even worse, that we have been conditioned to feel shame about it.
I could run enough miles on a treadmill to get me to the moon and I still will have thick thighs. I have had cellulite since I was a teenager despite the fact that I was an athlete in high school. Yet, even though I know cerebrally that the control I have over the shape of my legs is the same amount of control I have over my natural hair color of size of my feet, I still have to fight the sense of shame I have about the fact that my butt and back of my legs look like a melting candle. So believe me, I am not immune to this backwards thinking. Yet it is still backwards thinking.
When you lose weight you typically lose it proportionately and your body shape generally stays the same. Yes, your thighs may get smaller, your tummy flatter, you may fit into a tinier size, but someone who is curvy is not going to become a waif no matter how much she works out. This is why shame over the shape of your body is a waste of time and understanding that the genetic makeup of your body will likely stay with your forever. Like the size of your feet, you have no control over this.
Your body isn’t flawed, your thinking about it is
Have you ever spun out so badly about your body that you quickly have found yourself in a deep rabbit hole of googling the best crash diets, making unreasonable gym commitments and rash decisions out of panic just to attain some feeling of control over your body? It’s in these moments that we need a serious jolt to wake up out of the mania. When this happens to me I remind myself that my body is made up of arms and legs, a torso, a neck, and so on, and that’s it. They’re just parts, the rest is perception. Instead of seeing my arms as fat arms or my thighs as thick thighs, I remind myself that body parts are neutral and it’s the labels I have put on them that is the problem, not the parts themselves. If I am able to overcome these manufactured negative labels about my specific body parts the more clearly I can realize what an absolute joke it all is.
Next, I think about what my body is capable of, what my body has done for me and how blessed I am to have mobility. Have you ever lost temporary use of one of your limbs? I bet you appreciated that body part a whole heck of a lot more after you were able to use it again and didn’t give a second though to its size or fatness. I also think of those out there who don’t have full use of their bodies and how absolutely insulting it is to complain about mine not being my idea of perfect. My boobs are too big? Oh boo hoo, there are women out there who have had double mastectomies. This may sound dramatic, but sometimes we need a this type of a jolt to wake us up to the idea of how picayune all this perfect body obsession is.
A note about diet and exercise
For some reason there is this view that either you are working out and body obsessed or slothy and body accepting. Every time I write a post about body acceptance someone chimes in that this mindset is breeding the idea that we don’t eat well or don’t exercise and instead just walk around loving ourselves. Can’t we love ourselves and take care of ourselves? Acceptance has absolutely nothing to do with not trying or giving up on being healthy or eating well. Acceptance is knowing you are doing the best you can and letting go of the rest.
One thing I know for sure is that in ten years you will wish for the body you have right now and will be kicking yourself for not appreciating what you once had. We will all have good days and bad days when it comes to building a better relationship with our bodies. What helps me is just knowing that I am doing the best I can to take care of my body. Daily exercise and a mindful diet has done a tremendous amount in helping diffuse some the anxiety I used to carry around with me about my body as has using some of the tips I have given above. It’s not perfect, I don’t always get it right, but in times when I am spinning out because I believe I am genetically cursed it has helped me find a more empowering mindset to swim to. I hope it can for you too.