You know you have done this at least once. You’ve tried something on and when it didn’t fit, you blamed your body. It’s too big, too oddly proportioned, too out of shape, too…wrong. This type of thinking is so common yet so out of whack, it’s hard to believe how many intelligent women have fallen victim to it.

In my post last month about belted dresses, someone left an innocuous comment that inspired today’s post.

It’s unclear what exactly Anda, the poster above, intended to say with her comment “rightly proportioned.” After all, she put the words in quotes with a cute smiley face. And given the fact that Anda put her comment in these quotes, I feel somewhat safe in assuming she gets the absurdity of a statement like that. It’s not so much what Anda said, as her comment was pure inspiration for me, it is the fact that there is even a concept that exists that women should be rightly proportioned, and by that I mean, one proportion.

Let’s go back to one of those times where you experienced clothes not fitting. Did you shrug it off and figure the clothing was just wrong for your body? Or did you assume instead that your body was wrong for the clothing? It’s subtle but the difference is key. My guess is that you thought the latter, that you thought there was something wrong with your body. Men don’t do this. When clothing doesn’t fit them rarely do they experience emotion. They just move on to something else that fits better. They don’t blame themselves or believe something is intrinsically wrong about their bodies. Women do this. Why?

A conversation like this is Pandora’s box. How did women come to know and accept such a narrow standard of body shape as right or good and why do we blame ourselves when we don’t have this body? Why do we carry so much emotion around this topic? The history of how we got here is so convoluted and etched with history. For example, things like the history of how fashion has been sold to women, unhealthy marketing, women being objectified, women at one time finding their worth solely through their appearance, and a long history of industries battering the self-esteem of women to get them to buy more. With all these things and more playing a part in fundamentally shifting how women relate to their bodies, I’m not going to bog you down with how it might have happened, rather I am going to talk about is the absurdity and folly in just how ridiculous this thinking is.

Nobody is Built the Same

Consider this. Women rarely share the exact body proportions. I researched this when I ran a test of my own clients and categorized them by physical characteristics and learned that there was no situation where any of my clients were an exact match with another one. Certainly, my test pool was smaller than what would be used to test something like this, but even if we were to say that, yes, somewhere out there are groups of women who share the same exact physical proportions, based on my research, it wouldn’t be nearly enough to say that there is one right proportion. The sheer idea of a narrow standard in body shape is a joke. If we were all supposed to look the same, we would have been built that way.

We Blame Ourselves When We Think Can Change Parts of Our Bodies

I have also learned that women get emotional or blame themselves when they feel they are in control of the shape and size of specific parts of their body. Foot size? Yes, a woman may not love that she has big feet, but she won’t feel guilty or ashamed about it. She can’t control the size of this part of her body. She doesn’t see it as her fault. However, when a woman does feel like she is in control of the shape and size of a body part when it’s not the size a woman thinks it should be, she’s more likely to experience regret, guilt, or shame. Yet, this thinking is also ridiculous. For the most part, the proportions of a woman’s body don’t change. Yes, her body may get larger or smaller but her body composition is pretty static. A bottom-heavy woman with thick thighs will always be built this way, no matter what size she wears. So just like a woman can’t change the fundamental characteristics of things like her feet, or whether or not she is short or your long waist, the rest of your body composition isn’t all that changeable either.

Even if Parts of Our Bodies Are Unchangeable, We Still Think There is Something Wrong with Us

Yet, there are still women out there who feel they aren’t rightly proportioned even if they don’t think these parts of their bodies aren’t changeable. Take for example, what Anda said in her comment. Anda seems smart enough to know that where her waist sits on her body can’t be changed yet she still used the term “rightly proportioned.” I am not going to put words in Anda’s mouth and assume that is what she meant, I am using what she said more as an example because even if Anda didn’t mean it, I am certain there are women out there who know certain characteristics of their body can’t be changed through yet they still feel there is something wrong with them. How absolutely crazy is that?

Humans Sew Clothing

Humans sew clothing and humans make mistakes. When fabric is cut layers upon layers of fabric is piled and then cut by a machine cutter that is controlled by a human. Fabric at the top of that cut pile can sometimes cut differently than the fabric at the bottom of the pile. All this to say, blaming yourself for how clothing fits is like saying there is something wrong with you because you got food poisoning after eating at a restaurant.

Women know all this. Logically we know how arbitrary sizing is, yet we still get excited when we wear a size smaller despite knowing it’s all as made up as a fairy tale. We see other women and understand that the world comes in all different shapes and sizes, and we’ve lived with our bodies long enough to know that jogging enough miles to get to the moon won’t eliminate our thicker thighs. So I could keep spewing logic, but will it really matter? We know all of this and still choose to find worth in our bodies based on the size we wear and the proportion of our bodies. What do we do?

Radical Acceptance

There comes a moment in every woman’s life where she has to find acceptance with the way she is built. This is not a linear process. Some days we are good at it and other days it’s frustrating to accept that our body isn’t an easy fit. In addition to accepting how our bodies are built at this very moment, we also have to accept that we will have good days and an easier time accepting them than others. I read something about radical acceptance, created by Marsha Linehan and used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) that also has some Buddhist roots and can be helpful for anyone stuck in the coulda woulda shoulda and finding yourself unable to accept a situation you are in despite not wanting to be in it. Radical acceptance is based on the notion that reality must be accepted, rather than fought against, and that fighting and railing against a situation is a greater cause of suffering than the situation itself.  By not radically accepting what is, you’re fighting something that has already happened. The battle is over.

In a study that looked at what caused the most suffering, and while what causes the most suffering couldn’t be widely agreed upon, an increasingly common thread in suffering is an attachment to an idea, a previous situation, or a determination of what should happen, what you should be, or what your life should be. Radical acceptance does not mean you throw in the towel. It’s an acceptance of what the reality is at the current moment. It also can help create a healthy headspace for creating goals. With radical acceptance, you can accept things as they are, can acknowledge the things beyond your control, can look at things realistically without judgement or condemnation, look at the facts, accept reality and, most importantly, be at peace.

Radical acceptance isn’t easy. It’s hard, it hurts, you hate it, it’s not fair, but it is. And that acceptance causes a lot less suffering than the thought that a situation shouldn’t be.

Watch Your Language

Next, come keenly aware of your thoughts and words. The next time you get frustrated in a dressing room or despondent because you’ve gone up a size, instead of losing yourself in the emotion of it all, take a moment to become really present to your thoughts and feelings. What are you saying to yourself? What emotions are you experiencing? Create room around these thoughts and feelings. Consider writing them down so you can come back to them when you are in a clearer headspace. The Self Coaching Model was created by master coach Brooke Castillo and allows anyone to coach themselves away from negative, emotional, and unhelpful thoughts towards more helpful, rational, and truth-based thoughts. The premise is that your thoughts produce your feelings, your feelings fuel your actions, and your actions create your results. You can read more about it here and coach yourself through any negative situation, not just when you want to blame yourself because clothes don’t fit. I use the model all the time and it is one of the most effective tools for moving past negative situations in my toolbox.

The Better We Treat Ourselves The More Accepting of the Situation We Become

Let’s face it, we can all do better. This may run contrary to what I have been saying this whole time, that it’s not our fault, but I have learned the better I care for myself the more accepting I can be. There is great power when you can say, “I have done my best.” For example, I have been on a weight loss journey since January. I have been losing, but it has been slow. However, despite how slow-moving weight loss has been for me, I get up every day and get exercise, I track my food, and when I do splurge on food that wouldn’t be considered smart choices, I do it consciously with absolute acceptance. These actions have helped increase my ability to become accepting of the body have right now because I know I am doing the best I am willing to do, and I am okay with it. Another benefit is that each day I am being and acting like the person I want to be based on my actions and choices which in turn makes the end goal less critical. Treating ourselves well isn’t about reaching perfection, it’s about doing what we feel is our personal best and knowing we are doing all we can given the circumstances. As a result, we feel more in control while realizing there are just some things that we need to let go of.

It’s important to remember the complexities that come with being human. We have good days and we have bad ones. Some days we are a model version of living our best lives and we will also have days and moments when we are at our absolute worst. The important thing to remember is there is no grand day when everything will click perfectly and all worries will be gone. Some days you will be able to shrug off and rationalize when a pair of pants that should find you don’t and other days the same experience will be crushing. Be gentle with yourself and your journey. Just like no body is perfect, nobody is either.