Those of us who have struggled with body dysmorphia or body hatred know that there's no easy way to describe the journey to body-acceptance. It's cyclical and ongoing.
Still, I desperately want to be able to relate it to other women, because there is nothing more healing and powerful than being able to relax into who you are.
Imagine spending all the time you spend hating yourself and your body ... on something else. On hiking, or meditating. On getting a PhD, because it takes that kind of time and energy to keep up with the constant self-berating and shame.
Though it's difficult to trace the exact trajectory that took me from eating 800 calories a day to having a loving, nourishing relationship with my body, I have some ideas to share with you.
1) I began movement practices that connected me with my body.
First, let me say that a body-mind practice, such as yoga or dance, is crucial in tuning into how your body feels, rather than how it looks. That is the desired metric. Not "How do I look?", which means "How do I look to someone external to myself? I am focused on pleasing others, and how they see me matters more than how I feel."
Instead, the question we want to ask is, "How do I feel?", which is an internal metric. It is based on our own pleasure and comfort, which is paramount.
Through yoga, I began to feel my body. After months of not understanding what yoga teachers meant when they said, "listen to your body," I had a sudden shift. I began to feel when I was pushing too hard, and come to find out, I was always pushing too hard. I began to feel when I was exhausted or hungry. I began to feel the tightness in my chest and throat when I did things things to please others—things I really didn't want to do.
My ecstatic dance practice brought me into deeper relationship with my body. I found that dance is a constant metaphor for what's happening in life. It tells us how we play with our own energy and the energy of others, how much we push ourselves, and how we can let go and let god. In my first dances, I held back so much, so scared I was doing it wrong, so scared of looking stupid. Dance is an insightful tool for seeing yourself and gaining awareness, and letting your emotions move through your body.
2) I learned about self-compassion and shame.
I went to a self-compassion retreat out of curiosity, and picked up books by Kristin Neff and Brene Brown. Self-compassion was a foreign concept to me before I entered into the yoga realm. I didn't learn much about emotion growing up, except that if you were crying, you hid it. Crying was shameful; anger wasn't spoken about. So naturally, when I experienced these very human emotions (and I did often), I felt ashamed and broken.
Slowly learning self-compassion, and reparenting myself, has changed a lot for me. I still have a strong inner critic, but now I have a soothing voice in my head as well. When I cry I soothe myself the way a loving parent would do a child. Self-compassion is important in the struggle against body hatred, simply because body hatred is a form of self-hatred. When we begin to watch our thoughts, we can see where we berate our bodies. Then we can begin to apply self-compassion techniques.
3) I stopped looking at triggering images in magazines or on social media.
I used to be a gym rat, and as I ran on the elliptical machine, I read (toxic) magazines like Shapeand Women's Health. I had a boring job, and spent hours reading celebrity gossip. I followed yoga celebrities on Instagram, and watched mainstream porn every day.
Everywhere I looked, I saw women who had no visible body fat, no cellulite. They all had perky boobs, round asses, and flat abs. And because I spent hours at the gym and had the genetics for it, I looked a lot like them. Still, I hated what I saw. It was never good enough.
Every body part sculpted, all calories counted, fats never consumed. Dizziness and throwing up after a hard workout with my trainer were not uncommon. When I relaxed or watched TV, I pinched the skin on my arms and chest to make sure the fat cells weren't too big, a "trick" a controlling ex-boyfriend had taught me.
I did all of this to receive what I thought was love. My inner critic was harsh and strong, and it told me I wouldn't be loved unless I was "perfect."
I ask that you make it a point to stop looking at triggering magazines, celebrities, and social media posts. Try a 30-day fast and see how you feel afterward. The messaging from mass media is insidious and constant. The more we're exposed to the cultural ideal, the more we accept it as normal.
Most likely, the cultural ideal is not your ideal. If you think it is, take a look at where you've picked up these beliefs. Are they really yours? Do you truly find cellulite disgusting? Do you really find soft bodies to be repulsive? Think back to the first time you had those thoughts. Were you born with those ideas, or did your mother's body-hatred teach you? Maybe a snide comment from a lover started this way of thinking.
4) I realized that hating our bodies keeps us small, voiceless, and enslaved to ideals that aren't ours.
We hate our bodies because patriarchal society and advertising have created social ideals. We are enslaved to hating ourselves. When we begin to accept and appreciate our soft, feminine curviness, we say "fuck you" to the system. We free ourselves from economic slavery (think the billion dollar industries that sell slimming bathing suits, cellulite creams, anti-aging lotions, Botox, and Spanx). We free up space to learn and do what we love, and we treat ourselves as worthy humans with individual voices and desires. We become powerful. We welcome the feminine back in, rather than riding the last wave of feminism, where we all tried to become more like men.
In the journey from body dysmorphia to body love, you can transform your body into a living, breathing "fuck you," rather than a "fuck me."
And I think that's beautiful.
5) I got a tattoo that reads, "I am mine."
For the longest time, I wasn't mine. The way I crafted my body and cultivated how I looked was for others. When I met a new guy, I tried on each and every one of his hobbies and musical tastes (partly my personality, but partly a way to appease). I had sex that wasn't pleasurable, because I was afraid to speak up when something hurt. I was so scared to ask for what I wanted that I couldn't access or articulate it. I wanted desperately to be approved of and loved, so I gave up my voice, again and again.
My tattoo was a declaration that became an intention. It became a constant reminder and even a gauge of the men I was sleeping with. ("Ha, no, you're mine," said a new, misogynistic lover, and out he went.)
These days, I go out in short shorts, showing off my cellulite. Sometimes it's uncomfortable, but when it is, I remind myself that my body is a political and cultural statement. I want young girls to see my confidence, to see that I know that I am so much more than a body to be judged.
This isn't just bravery. This is a reclamation of the female form, as is. This is a reclamation of softness, receptivity, slowing down, chaos, and play. This is the physical representation of a worthy, worthwhile person who refuses to be owned, who refuses to do anything that isn't in alignment with her voice and highest desires.
Your body is yours too. You are yours. You have a decision to make, for yourself, and for your daughters. Do you want to continue to be owned, to exist to please, to downplay your unique gifts and talents, in service of pleasing others? Or do you want to live this life fully, freely, in service of the Divine and who you truly are?
The Emotional Eater's Repair Manual. This book taught me a lot about my emotions, and things I was doing (over-exercising, over-eating, watching TV, taking Klonopin) to numb my emotions. This book helps so much in cultivating an Inner Parent who can soothe and love you when you're in pain.
Eating in the Light of the Moon. A book about addiction, spiritual hunger, and eating disorders. If you have any experience or tendency toward disordered eating, I highly recommend this book.
Originally published July 15, 2017.