This often surprises people, even my close friends, but sometimes – often, actually – I find myself thinking mean things about my body. Usually, I am able to notice the thought (‘you used to be thinner’) and replace it with a compassionate statement (‘you look and feel amazing!’). But I have done a shitload of work, and am almost half a century old, so I can do this, pretty much as automatically as most girls and women immediately scowl at themselves when they look in the mirror.
Last night I went to see a local screening of the new documentary, Embrace. Do you remember that thing that went viral on Facebook in 2013, when a woman (Taryn Brumfitt) posted a Before and After picture? Unlike those annoying ones we usually see, that for most of us trigger a combination of “That’s inspiring/I hate myself” – Tamryn’s post showed a slim, beauty contestant Before photo and a fuller, more relaxed, tastefully nude After photo. Whoa, that was revolutionary! And the ensuing frenzy (3.6 million clicks!) showed she had clearly struck a nerve. And this realization led to the creation and production of Embrace.
The audience last night was all female. Mostly adults, a few teenagers there with what I presume were their moms. Women of varying ages, sizes, ethnicities. All of us taking the time out of our hectic schedules on a cold October evening (we had our first snowfall earlier in the day!), to spend an hour and a half watching an emotional, often disturbing visual analysis of how our self-image has been shaped largely by the media (which we can’t get away from today), a “wellness” industry that makes a ton of money from our feeling like shit about ourselves, and cultural/societal perceptions and definitions of beauty.
I have often said and written and posted my belief that if we girls and women spent less time and money and other resources on efforts to make our bodies and faces fit into what we’ve been led to believe is hot and sexy, world peace and hunger would be resolved, not to mention the state of our environment. I saw on Facebook recently some new trend with “macros” and I looked it up. When I saw what it involved I thought, holy crap, that looks really complicated and time-consuming – I could write several more chapters in my book each week with the time that would take to plan and count and track! I rather write a book than have a thigh gap!
Right now, with the presidential election less than two weeks away (phew!), and lots of people on soapboxes about women’s rights, and respecting women, and not objectifying women, etc – I have often found myself rolling my eyes. Not because I disagree. I totally agree. But I think so many of us are completely unaware of the fact that while it’s easy to hate on a public figure for what we consider misogynistic comments, we are completely letting the bitch in the attic get away with murder. You know, that voice we have when we look in the mirror, or look longingly at the jeans we wore before kids or before menopause, hoping to one day fit into again. That voice that says, “You have no discipline. Why did you have to eat all of that? Why did you drink so much? Why can’t you get your ass to the gym?” That voice that makes us believe those seductive Before and After photos, that makes us plunk down hundreds of dollars on cleanses and the new fad diet book and the new It workout. As always, it is far easier to complain and get furious at an external force, especially when it’s someone or something that is easy to make the scapegoat. It’s not easy to do some personal inventory and realize that gosh, I would NEVER talk to my daughter or my best friend the way I talk to myself. Gosh, how much time and money am I spending on this quest to fit into this image I have of what I should be like? Why do I believe that this will make me happy?
As a coach, I often struggle with this on several levels. I am a firm believer that I must walk the walk. So I am happy that I really do love to exercise. I love to run, swim, bike, do yoga, hike, snowboard, pretty much anything that works my body to the point of sweating and panting and adrenaline and endorphin release. I am also really happy that I genuinely love salad, fruit, green smoothies, healthy grains. I love how I feel after a healthy meal. So, my struggle is when people may believe that I exercise and eat healthy because I am highly disciplined and I do it to be skinny. Because this isn’t exactly accurate. Yes, I am disciplined. I love chocolate muffins but I choose to have green smoothies for breakfast, because I am an adult and I understand consequences. I love to exercise but yes, some days I really have to force myself out of bed early or outside in awful weather, because I remind myself that I have never ever said, ‘I wish I had taken the lazy way out and skipped my workout because I didn’t feel like it.’
There are a lot of exercise and dieting trends out there that make me cringe, because I see them as a way for people and companies to capitalize on the bitch in your attic, while you basically continue to practice self-violence. When I starve myself, or ignore my body’s cues and eat and drink and move in ways that are really stressful, both physically and emotionally, I am in a very real way, self-injuring. I am not talking about someone who one day makes the decision that her health needs to come back under control, supported by the results of a physical, and she embarks on a mindful, compassionate, gradual, sensible plan that incorporates exercise that is right for her body and lifestyle, and whole foods and adequate supplements, sufficient sleep, and efforts to manage her stress, with long-term goals. I am referring to drastic, quick fix efforts. I am talking about doing workouts that are much better suited for a 28-year-old than a 40-year-old. We need to listen to our bodies, no matter what social media wants us to crave.
I have a 15 year old daughter and I take my role as her mother in this area, very seriously. She will not give two shits what a presidential candidate says about a woman, but she will very much internalize and be informed by how I treat my body, talk about it, feed it, move it – and why I do all of the above (do I do it to be skinny or to feel strong and healthy?). She pays attention not just to how I perceive and treat my body, but the bodies and appearances of other women, in the real and virtual worlds. When a mom is indignant by a celebrity’s remarks about women, and then she complains in front of her daughter that she (the mom) is too fat for xyz, or wishes she looked younger, I am willing to bet my annual membership at the YMCA (which is precious to me!) that her daughter is on some level feeling her own self-worth starting to chip away, or at the very least depend on how she herself measures up in these areas.
We live in challenging times. Most Americans are following the SAD (Standard American Diet) eating plan, which means, most of what we eat and drink is some processed, sugarized, chemical something-or-other that does nothing for our immunity or stamina. We also spend most of our days sitting down, behind a wheel or a desk and/or in front of a screen. We are stressed out because of all of the above, plus we have to keep our kids away from opiates and guns and whatever the latest virus is in the headlines, but get them into college. We hate our commutes and our jobs but need to pay our bills. We have hundreds or thousands of Facebook friends but nobody knows how we really feel because we are scared people won’t like us anymore if they know the truth. We don’t trust anything that smells of religion, but we want to believe in something because deep down, we need that anchor. So, we fill the void. With addictions – food, alcohol, shopping, exercise, social media, cleaning, organizing, work, volunteering. They turn into addictions because they started out as a way to take off the edge, or numb from the discomfort of boredom, pain, lack of focus, ADD (Adventure Deficit Disorder), stress, hopelessness, lack of control – and then they start to interfere with our relationships, our goals, our ability to perform as parents, at work.
So, we come back to the easiest target – our bodies. Rather than look at what is really important to us, what feeds our soul, and what can really help us feel like we are healthy and living wholeheartedly – we listen to the bitch in the attic that says, get your body back. Get rid of the wrinkles. A lift here, a tuck there, the Gap.
JUST. STOP. IT.
You are beautiful. You are gifted. You ARE a gift! I believe in God and I believe God created you to be here to share love. To embody love. I believe that our health is not the main purpose or goal of our journey here on earth, it is something we need to nurture so that we can be the most effective love sharer we can be. Having an Athleta catalog model body is not your role on this earth, if it means you must spend lots of time and money forcing your body into this “ideal.” Yes, there are people whose journey through life includes a stint as a supermodel. And that is wonderful. There are people whose journey includes being an elite athlete and all of the hard work that that entails. And I truly admire them. Hopefully, that lights up their spark. And, there are many of us who love the thrill and the challenge of running marathons and doing triathlons and swimming across oceans and climbing mountains. Many of us love the taste of an amazing salad, and we love a big bowl of linguini, but we may opt for the salad because we know it feels better in our body. Or we may opt for the linguini because we really want it. It’s all good. The world will not be a better or worse place for our choice, necessarily. However, if we continually act in violence toward ourselves by making choices out of mindlessness, based in self-hatred rather than self-compassion, I do believe this affects our collective psyche. I do believe that the way I treat my body impacts the world. Starting with my daughter. And going further, like the ripple effect a stone has when dropped in a pond, because when I do not honor and accept and nurture my body, my temple, which houses me for the time I am on this earth, then I am not spreading a loving message through my own thoughts, intentions or actions.
So, let’s do this. Let’s all watch this movie and talk about it. Let’s pay attention to the messages we are putting out there. Let’s tell the bitch in the attic to shut the f—k up. We are worth it. We are enough, right now, as we are.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.