A client asked me a question recently. It was a semi-personal question and I felt that it was something worthy of sharing here. To be quite honest, this is a bit unusual for me as I don’t talk in a personal way very often on this blog. I hesitate to do so for a number of reasons, but her question and my response might be helpful to others.
Question: Marci, can I ask you a slightly personal question?
Marci: Sure, I might not answer it but you can ask.
Question: Well, it’s not that personal. I’m just wondering how you deal with your own body image stuff. I mean, are you just immune to it all? Does society’s unrealistic expectations ever affect you? Like, do you ever have a bad body image day?
Great question, huh? I thought it was. And here’s the gist of what I said in response.
Yes, of course I have days that I feel unattractive, bloated, and downright uncomfortable in my body. But I’ve learned some things over the years that have helped put it all in perspective.
1. Physical Appearance- less important than it used to be
It’s normal to have moments where you don’t feel so grand about yourself. Given our culture and the constant expectation for perfection, it’s gonna’ happen! BUT, when your physical appearance isn’t the most important thing in your life, it’s not THAT big of a deal to have those moments. Imagine a pie chart divided into sections. And imagine each section representing the various parts in your life that are important to you (work, relationships, physical appearance, hobbies, physical spiritual and emotional health, education, etc). Now think about what percentage each piece takes up in your life. I’ve learned that if I place too much value on my physical self, bad hair days and jeans that feel too tight are much more upsetting. But if it’s a small part of what makes me, me, I can shrug it off and know that bad body days happen.
Part of finding peace about my physical appearance has required acceptance about what I’m genetically meant to look like. Growing up with very fair skin in Arizona felt like a curse. As a teenager I’d burn my skin to a crisp and coat myself with stinky tanning cream to try to fit in. It was painful, expensive, and ineffective. Now that I’m older and wiser, I could care less about my white legs and put on a skirt or pair of shorts without thinking twice. I’m not meant to be tan and I never will be. Gotta’ move on! Similarly, my size 7 feet would feel awful if I tried to squeeze them into a 5, just as it would feel awful to starve and over-exercise my body into a pair of jeans that were too small.
3. Focus on self-care
I am CONVINCED that if we continually ask ourselves- “what would be the most nurturing and caring thing I could do for myself” our bodies will find a healthy place on their own. Sometimes the best, most healthy thing is getting some exercise. Sometimes it’s saying no to a second helping because your stomach is full. But sometimes you need rest rather than a run. And sometimes you need a chocolate chip cookie because a craving hits. Learning your own boundaries for self-care is essential and takes time.
4. Limit media exposure
Please know that I am not saying that my approach to limiting media is the best or only approach. It’s the way I naturally live my life. I simply have too much going on for a lot of media intake. Due to a busy schedule, I’m pretty selective about what I read and watch. I want to fill my mind and spirit with things that encourage, excite, and uplift me. As a consequence, I’m exposed less frequently to all of the self-esteem zapping messages and articles that are out there.
So no, I am not immune to the litany of negative and unrealistic expectations placed upon me. But by putting my physical appearance in perspective, accepting who I am and what I’m meant to be, focusing on self-care, and filling my life with positive stuff, I’m A LOT better off.
I hope this is helpful. I’m curious to know- what works for you in your journey for peace and self-love?