Every woman has a different story about the relationship she has with her body. Many of these “body stories” are dramas full of ups and downs that could rival Game of Thrones, while others are more like a happy rom-com. But most often, our body stories are individualized, private, and can stop us from feeling true self-love and acceptance. As a health coach, I’ve had the privilege to learn about and help heal other women’s stories. Every woman’s body story is vastly different, but here’s mine:
I was one of the lucky ones. My mother never commented on my weight or the way I looked. She called me kind, smart, and talented, and never once referred to the size of my body. I grew up with the mentality that who I was defined me, not what I looked like. However, even my confidence from childhood couldn’t totally protect me from how the rest of the world told women they were supposed to be.
Body insecurities are normalized to the point that we bond with other women over poor relationships with food and putting ourselves down. I still try to channel Cady Heron in Mean Girls when the only thing she could think of that she didn’t like about herself was bad breath in the morning after the other Plastics picked apart their appearances (#selflovegoals). But the truth is that along with all of the beautiful, funny, talented, smart women I’ve known, I thought more like Regina George or Gretchen Wieners when looking at my reflection.
Everyone’s insecurities look different. For me, my insecurities looked like the occasional I wish this body part different or I wish I looked like her or Sure, I could probably afford to lose a few pounds. I’ve always called myself confident, but I was more confident in my personality than in my body. Bathing suits always made me a little self-conscious, and I was painfully aware of the pounds I gained from cafeteria food and slapping the bag at frat parties my freshman year of college (full disclosure: my freshman 15 was not just 15 pounds, and it lasted much longer than freshman year).
I’ve always called myself confident, but I was more confident in my personality than in my body.
I spent my early 20s eating all the late-night pizzas I wanted and going to daily spin or Orange Theory classes, thinking it would counteract the over-indulgences (it didn’t). I attempted diets here and there but enjoyed sushi takeout and Taco Bell too much to make any dramatic changes for the goal of weight loss. Instead, I felt a constant underlying pressure to eat better before every formal or felt guilty for “over-indulging,” whether it was Saturday brunch or drinking too many glasses of Two-Buck Chuck.
After I graduated from college, I moved home and started my career. I went to bed early to wake up with enough time to exercise before work (who knew that’s the only time to fit it in when you’re an adult?), ate dinner with my parents instead of ordering takeout or going out with friends, and my weekend mornings looked like an omelet and coffee at home instead of my usual french toast and mimosa brunch. My clothes started fitting more loosely, and people started telling me I had lost weight. I like to say that I “accidentally” changed because I wasn’t even aware that anything looked different.
If I had lost weight, shouldn’t I feel better about myself? I shouldn’t have any more food guilt and I should be happy about my appearance, right? It’s what I had always thought was the missing piece I never had the willpower to achieve, and yet, I didn’t feel any better. Flash forward a few years, and I’m more confident than I have ever been (while being a few–or 10–pounds heavier than that first year out of college). Here’s why I learned weight loss isn’t a prescription for self-love and what made me love myself instead.
Why losing weight didn’t make me love myself:
There’s always going to be another five pounds
When I did lose weight, it was not the immediate sense of gratification I had expected it would be. I felt the same amount of self-consciousness, whether it was feeling bloated, noticing cellulite, or obsessing over a breakout. We often think that as long as we hit a certain weight or pant size, then we’ll be happy, but this isn’t true. Even if we get six-pack abs, we would still focus on the size of our thighs or maybe start hating the bags under our eyes. There’s always going to be another imperfection when weight loss is the ultimate goal.
There’s always going to be another imperfection when weight loss is the ultimate goal.
Self-love is a skill, not a circumstance
Since I was the 20-year-old girl tracking her calories on MyFitnessPal and light-heartedly laughing with friends about how weak our willpower is when it comes to cheese boards on wine night, I learned that a number on the scale is never the problem. The problem is that we don’t feel like we’re good enough and that doesn’t change, even if the number on the scale does. Self-love and confidence is a skill, not a circumstance.
Self-love doesn’t just happen to you; it’s something that has to be consistently worked, like any muscle. Thinking that you’ll feel more confident when you lose a certain amount of weight is distracting you from the real problem of not feeling good enough as you are. Practice and prioritize self-love first in order to achieve a body you feel good in, not the other way around.
Practice and prioritize self-love first in order to achieve a body you feel good in, not the other way around.
Everyone feels better in different body types
Our culture trains us to believe there’s only one type of “attractiveness” we are supposed to strive for, but that’s marketing, not biology. In reality, every woman does (and should) feel like her best, sexiest self in a variety of different body types. When I did lose those extra “college” pounds, I thought I should feel better about myself, but something about the weight loss made me feel less feminine and confident. Yes, I desperately missed those same curves that I had wanted to get rid of for years. Bottom line: We all have different body types for a reason. Every woman’s “ideal” body should be totally different from anyone else’s. We’re often so distracted by achieving what society has told us is perfection that we don’t stop to think about what would actually make us feel our very best.
Every woman’s ‘ideal’ body should be totally different from anyone else’s. We’re often so distracted by achieving what society has told us is ‘perfection’ that we don’t stop to think about what would actually make us feel our very best.
“Weight loss” is not a sustainable way to live
Although dieters might feel a sense of satisfaction in seeing the numbers on a scale go down, the focus is on less, less, and less. Food becomes an enemy and a stressor, not something to nourish us. Restricting food and suppressing cravings takes a toll on mental and physical health. Yes, I lost weight, but I was also dealing with anxiety that left me with less appetite, and I focused on my career much more than I focused on enjoying time with family and friends. Weight loss didn’t make my life better; it only happened because I wasn’t living my best life.
Nothing is worth the price tag of fully enjoying my life. Those extra inches on the waistline is where life happens: It’s the extra glass of rosé on a summer rooftop or a slice of your favorite chocolate cake when you go home to visit your mom. I realized that trying to eat less and worrying about food demoted these moments to be worth nothing more than a pant size or number on a scale. Life is too wonderful to not fully live the best moments because you’re worried about the way other people see you.
…and five things that did make me love myself more:
I changed my goal to be healthy, not skinny
I used to think of nutrition through the lens of calories, carbs, fats, and proteins. I obviously knew food was necessary for survival, but I also understood and saw food through labels like “good” and “bad” because it was all about how it would make my body look. My entire outlook changed when I learned about using plants as medicine and how to eat to change how I feel. Now, my goal is to be healthy for optimal energy, to live a long life, to be my most vibrant self, and to feel happy. When I started eating to be healthy instead of skinny, I started loving my body for what it could do instead of what it looked like.
When I started eating to be healthy instead of skinny, I started loving my body for what it could do instead of what it looked like.
I focused on strength, not weight
The transformation was not all mental. As much as I wish this is 100% about internal mindset, the truth is that’s just 90% of it. The other 10% of achieving self-love came from how I felt looking in the mirror. I’ve always loved exercising and knew I felt better overall when I was consistently moving, but I would also work out for calorie burn. I loved classes that tracked how many calories I burned, as if that’s what made a tough workout worth it.
When my self-love changed, so did my workouts. I learned there are thousands of reasons to work out, but weight loss isn’t one of them. Now, I work out to make my muscles stronger and to feel more powerful in my physical self. I started eating to get more energy and as fuel for workouts. I became addicted to feeling powerful and strong rather than hoping to feel smaller. When my focus shifted to more strength instead of less fat, I started to love the body I saw in the mirror.
I prioritized true self-love
This one sounds like a no-brainer, but I used to prioritize what I thought was “self-care,” but it subconsciously made me dislike myself more. When we are hell-bent on being “perfect,” we’re promoting weight loss or a checklist over self-love, thinking that the two don’t conflict. Self-care isn’t bubble baths, meditations, face masks, or working out every day if those things aren’t truly caring for you. Instead, self-care might be bingeing three hours of Real Housewives, having wine night with your friends, or sleeping in an extra hour when you need it (because what truly recharges you and makes you happy will look different than everyone else, and will look different every day). Prioritizing self-love means you choose to leave behind whatever is unhealthy for you, whether it’s relationships, jobs, or your own beliefs and habits that aren’t letting you be happy.
Prioritizing self-love means you choose to leave behind whatever is unhealthy for you, whether it’s relationships, jobs, or your own beliefs and habits that aren’t letting you be happy.
I realized that the way I looked was not an accomplishment
I’ve always been a big self-improvement girl: Self-help books are my guilty pleasure, and my daily affirmation is always about showing up as my highest self. But the greatest shift in my self-love came when I stopped associating being a better version of myself with having a better body. Now, when I feel insecurity come up, I remind myself that my best self has nothing to do with a breakout, a patch of cellulite, or gaining a few pounds.
When I notice myself looking in the mirror and thinking something negative, it’s a sign that I’ve been too focused on myself. My fix? Call up a friend to see how they are, donate to an organization, or tell my friends what I love about them. Not only does it help me get outside myself, but it also reminds me that I do like the kind, compassionate person I am. Now that’s a real accomplishment.
I focused on what makes me “big”
I think everything clicked for me when I realized I was constantly trying to shrink myself, rather than feeling justified for the space I take up in this world. Instead, I want to love what’s big: in body, in personality, in love, in altruism, in voice, in confidence, in aspirations. In the end, weight loss is not the secret to success, a relationship, or happiness; it’s an endless goal that keeps us from achieving everything we want in life because we don’t think we deserve it yet. I had been so focused on being smaller for so long that I forgot to love what’s big in me. Now, I consistently remind myself to love everything from my loud laugh to my lofty goals. My advice to you, dear readers, is to love your bigness so much, you stop wishing to feel small.
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