Red Alert!! Houston we have a problem, a HUGE problem, in fact, one might call it an epidemic. A horrible epidemic that is plaguing the majority of the female population and possibly the number one thing that is holding women everywhere back from experiencing their true wholeness. This epidemic is body image and our ongoing struggle to love and radically accept our bodies, no matter what, regardless of age, ability, weight, height or body type. The lack of body acceptance has been keeping a good hunk of the population from fully expressing themselves in all areas of life and especially in sexual expression and empowerment. Not feeling good in your own skin impacts every area of our lives, from the type of relationships we attract, the professional roles we play, the way we interact with society, the ways in which we spend our free time –mostly obsessing over how we look and how others might view us, to our parenting style, eating habits and our level of happiness and fulfillment in life.
Radical acceptance of our bodies is something that many women battle with, including myself. I have always wanted my body to be something it wasn’t, to be better, stronger, thinner, shorter, etc. The list goes on and on. Even at a young age, I was aware that my body didn’t look like everyone else’s. I was taller than almost all the females in my grade, I was developing excess fat around my thighs, otherwise known as hips and I was awkward, often slouching to try and shrink myself so that I wouldn’t stand out. As I grew older, the list grew addressing all the ways I didn’t look like others around me. I wanted to be thinner and fitter like the majority of my friends and like the fitness models I saw in my magazines. I thought for sure that if I was skinny, I would be more outgoing and so much happier with my life. The funny thing is that all those girls that I longed to look like weren’t even satisfied or happy with their own body. Even as an adult, I still catch myself wishing and striving for something better and I’m pretty sure that if I ever met my unrealistic goal, I still wouldn’t be satisfied. I call this body rejection or body shame. It can be a vicious, never-ending cycle of criticizing, exercising, primping, plucking, dieting and disguising of the body in attempts to meet our own or societal standards and it is DRAINING. It is draining us of all our energy, trying to meet these unrealistic expectations that have been set by either ourselves, our environment, family/friends, industries and/or our society as a whole.
I want you to stop and take a moment to reflect on how much energy you spend on criticizing, disliking, trying to improve or beating up your body. Be honest here. What type of conversations are you having with your body on a daily basis? Are you telling your body how beautiful and strong it is or are you wishing that you were 10 pounds lighter, or telling yourself that you look too fat in those pants? This can be an intense and painful exercise but being aware of your own self-talk towards your body can increase your body awareness and set you on the path towards body empowerment! This waste of energy is one of the biggest reasons why women are denied of their full personal power and sexual empowerment because we do not love and accept our bodies.
If you’re like me, then you can probably relate to the tape that runs in your mind, telling you that your body isn’t “good” enough. For a lot of us, this tape has been running for a very long time and was likely created at a young age and added to as we grew. For many of us, our body image was created by our environment, our own thoughts about our body and the thoughts of others. Often times, our own feelings towards our bodies are impacted by how our parents felt about theirs. When I reflect on the strong female family models that I had growing up, I remember them constantly being on a diet or talking about their dissatisfaction with their size or bodies. I remember other adults telling us as teenagers, that we better enjoy this now because our bodies won’t always be like this and that we should really start watching what we eat because it’s harder to lose weight as you grow older. These comments stuck in my head and I remember trying my first diet when I was in High School. There was no way that I should have been attempting to “diet” but the insecurity around my body had already snuck in. A lot of our own beliefs about our bodies were formed from the insecurities of our parents and those close to us. I also remember how my Grandfather would comment on whether he thought you had lost weight or not. It was “if you keep losing weight, there will be nothing left of you” or “looks like you’ve put a little weight on huh?” These types of comments can be very damaging to our body image, especially at a young age. I also would like you to think about how you were praised and communicated with when you were younger. Were you praised for your accomplishments or how you looked? It’s interesting that society as a whole tends to communicate differently with boys than girls. Boys are often applauded for their accomplishments while girls are more likely to be praised for how they look. Now I’m not saying this is how it is everywhere or that this is even an experience you had growing up. What I have noticed, is a lot of these types of comments flying around, “oh you look so beautiful, like a little princess,” or “what a beautiful dress you have on.” Though these are very positive comments, they are also focused heavily on appearance. When I’m around my friend’s young boys, they are often applauded for how well they played in their football game or how many points they scored during their basketball game. Just a subtle difference in perspective.
If you are unsure where you lie on the body image spectrum, then I would encourage you to take this enlightening self-evaluation that was presented to me by the amazing Amy Jo Goddard, sexual empowerment Guru. Simply read each statement and note whether you agree or disagree with each one.
Agree or Disagree
- I like my own body.
- I often give my body negative energy.
- I intentionally hide parts of my body in the clothes I wear.
- I spend a lot of time on organizing, primping and fixing my appearance.
- I have made decisions about relationships because of my body or my feelings about my body.
- I have made decisions about sex because of my body or my feelings about my body.
- My feelings about my body have restricted my choices.
- It’s hard to let go of how I feel about my body when I am being physically intimate with someone.
- If I felt differently about my body, my relationships would be different.
- Family members have said things about my body that have made me feel bad about it or have hurt my feelings.
- If I could, I would trade in my body for a different one.
- I am working on loving my body more.
- I accept my body just as it is.
Take a moment to reflect on your answers and take note of where you might fall on the body image spectrum. I was surprised by my own answers and a little taken back by how much energy and time I had spent telling my body that it needed to be better when I should have been loving it for all that it is, how much it does for me, and how far it has come!
As part of the body healing process, it is important that we stop to examine what we are telling ourselves about our bodies and why. I challenge you to take a moment to examine where this story is coming from. Is it your own beliefs, beliefs of others or society telling you what is wrong with your body. Start with your family and ask yourself: what are the messages I have received from my family? Are these my own beliefs or someone else’s? Is this message empowering or do I need to let it go? Please remember to be kind to yourself as you begin to work through this process. Then I would like you to take a moment and ask yourself: how do these thoughts about my body translate into other parts of my world? For example, if you feel like your body isn’t thin enough or good enough, it might lead to deprivation from dieting or not allowing you to ask for what you need sexually in your relationship. It may also show up in your financial department, keeping you from asking for what you need and deserve, like a raise or promotion. Yes, body image can play a role in all these areas and more. That is why it’s so important to recognize, love and support our bodies for how they are, right here in this moment, not for what they could or should be.
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