“Standards of beauty are arbitrary. Body shame exists only to the extent that our physiques don’t match our own beliefs about how we should look.” ~Martha Beck
I have so many women around me right now—friends, mothers, clients that are on a diet—constantly talking about their weight and how their bodies look, struggling with body image.
I am profoundly sad about the frequency and theme of those discussions.
At the same time, I deeply get it; it is hard to detach from our conditioning.
I too struggled with body image at one point in my life, and for a very long time. I suffered from anorexia in my late teens and early twenties. I was skinny as a rail and thought I was not thin enough. I hated the way I looked. I was never perfect enough.
I controlled my food intake as a way to regain control over my life, as a way to maybe one day be perfect enough that I might feel loved. I almost ended up in the hospital, as my weight impacted my health, physically and mentally. I had no period, no healthy bowel movement. I was so unhappy and depressed. I had no energy.
The messed-up thing is that the skinnier I looked, the more compliments I received from a lot of people, from family to friends: “You are so slim and gorgeous.” To me, this just validated the way I treated my body—and myself—with control, self-criticism, and harshness.
Then there were the magazines, showing skinny models, getting so much positive attention. I was obsessed. The more my body looked like those magazine pictures, the better; though I could never quite get to a point where I looked at myself in the mirror and liked what I saw. It was an endless circle of judgment, control, and unhappiness.
It took me many years to change the way I saw my body and debunk the standards created by “society” for women.
For many years I bit my tongue each time I would hear other women around me comparing and judging their body size and shape, repeating the same narrative of needing to lose weight. These conversations felt like an unbearable ringing in my ears, a knot in my stomach, the story in my head of “I am not good enough.”
I was in the process of creating a new set of standards for myself, of what it was to be a woman in this world, but the old stories were hard to escape and easier to follow because they were the gold standard. I did not have any role models of women out there, younger or older, loving their body just the way it was.
There was a point, though, when it was just too draining. I noticed that it was not the striving to get to a perfect body that brought me love. What brought me love was being vulnerable, authentic, sharing my inner life, supporting others, having deep talks, being kind with myself and others, and doing the things I loved.
From then on, I started to soften and release all those standards that had been gifted to me. I allowed myself to be okay with how my body looked, to enjoy food, to enjoy movement, to enjoy my body. I learned to truly love my body, and with that came a different type of respect: I learned to rest when my body was tired. I learned to eat really nourishing food. I learned to move every day in a way that was respectful to my body and that I enjoyed.
Thinner is not better. Healthy, connected, and happy is.
Practicing yoga helped me so much in embodying this new belief, and studying neuro-linguistic programming as well.
The truth is we are “society”—all of us, women and men—which means we are the agents of change. So let’s pause, reflect, and choose new standards. Is this constant need to lose weight healthy or serving anyone?
There are a few different things to separate and highlight here.
If your weight negatively impacts your health or your life, if you feel heavy in an unhealthy way and can’t do the activities you’d like to do, that is a different story; and yes, please, take care of your body, through what you think will work best for you: exercise, nutrition, mindset, support.
Your body is your vessel to experience life, so finding your way to a healthy body is a worthwhile investment. And daily movement and good nutrition will have such a positive impact on your vitality and health, physical and mental, so yes, go for it, with love, softness and kindness—no control, judgment, or harshness.
But if you feel that your body is strong and healthy, but you don’t like the way it looks… I feel you. I was there. I felt the shame, the discomfort, the sadness, the feeling of not being good enough. Allow yourself to feel this pain. It is okay, and human nature, to feel concerned about your appearance. We all want to be part of the tribe, to be loved and admired.
But then, ask yourself, is it me that does not like the way my body looks, or is it because of society’s beauty standards? Is it because of all the noise from my friends, constantly talking about weight and looks? Do I want to transmit those standards to the next generation? To my sons? To my daughters? Is it really the most important thing for us women, to look thin and good? Is this story serving us all? Is it love?
No, it is not love, and it serves no one. Not the women suffering in silence because they believe their body is not slim enough. Not the partners of those women who can’t appreciate their true beauty and fullness. Not the daughters that will believe the same messages and suffer as well. Not the sons that will not know how to recognize beauty in its diverse shapes and forms. Not society as a whole, which will be robbed of having a happy, compassionate, loving, self-confident population.
So let’s choose differently. Let’s celebrate our different body shapes and weights and strength. Let’s feel good and enjoy life, movement, and food without counting and restricting and denying love to our bodies and selves.
Let’s stop talking about our weight constantly and find other ways to connect.
Some might say that I am too slim to really speak about this subject, that I have it easy. This is not quite true. My body has changed so much throughout the years. I went from an ultra-skinny teenager and twenty-year-old with anorexia, to a healthy weight in my thirties, to ups and downs with weight throughout my two pregnancies and breastfeeding journeys. I have seen my body change quite a lot and have been judged for how I looked oh so many times. I have been judged for being skinny, or envied for being slim, and I have been judged for gaining weight.
Today I am forty-three. My body is not as slim as it used to be. I have a bit of fat around my belly, and my breasts are not as round and firm as they once were, but I feel strong and healthy. And I am SO grateful for my body for enabling me to experience life so far, and for creating life and feeding life, that I don’t want to ever criticize or shame my body again.
I have learned to love every scar, my stretch marks, my extra skin, because they are the witness of my life, my loves, my years.
So thank you, body, for everything you allow me to experience.
The alternative to loving my body—the constant internal criticism and self-doubt—is too draining.
We, as humans, are society, so let’s change this conditioning. Let’s never transmit this idea of what a woman’s body should look like to our daughters, to our sons. Let’s invent a world where it does not matter what you weigh as long as you feel healthy and good within. Let’s change the chattering from what diet we are on to how our heart is feeling.
Let’s celebrate bodies, in their diverse beauty and forms.