I used to hate my legs. I mean HATE my legs. I think a lot of it had to do with being a chubbier kid in elementary school and getting teased for it (I vividly remember one girl repeatedly prodding me with a rolled up piece of paper in the side and laughing with her friends about it. I cried so hard!).
Most of the time, I let the focus go to my legs. I became painfully aware of how much thicker and heavier they appeared then all of my friends’ legs. I never wore shorts. I never wore anything tight or too bright that would either show the imperfection in my body or draw attention to it. I remember hating how I looked in the mirror and all the horrible things I would say to myself because I had failed to starve myself down to a certain size. I remember trying to eat as little food as possible every day and pretending to be 18 to buy diet pills in high school. I remember thinking that it must be nice to be other people who didn’t have to worry about how they looked. It was obvious that if you were attractive you were going places in life. And I was not attractive. Or at least I didn’t think so.
Of course, it is all too easy to carry these ideas over into adulthood. Even after college I refused to wear anything that showed how my legs were less-perfect then a supermodel. I hated dressing up or wearing “nice” clothes because it drew too much attention to my painfully-sub-par physical being.
Though I had slimmed down due to my irrational eating and an intensely physical job working with polo horses, I still couldn’t see once ounce of beauty in the way my body looked. I only purchased pants that were at least one or two sizes too big so I would appear smaller and more slim in my clothing. I suffered an internal dialog with abusive thoughts like:
“Why did that man hit on me when everyone else here is so much prettier? He must think I’m easy.”
“Obviously that person complimented me because they see that I would be really attractive if you just tried harder.”
“If I skip breakfast and lunch, then I will look more thin for the party tonight.”
“I cannot date men I’m actually interested in because I am not worthy of them.”
“Try harder! What is wrong with you? Everyone else wants you to look good, so just make it happen!”
The more attention I got as I blossomed and grew, the more uncomfortable and disappointed I became with myself for failing to be flawless like I assumed -based on media, my friends’ similar body issues and social pressures- I was supposed to be. Compliments made me SO uncomfortable as I assumed people were just telling me those things to make me “feel better” about how I really looked.
I had completely deemed myself as “less than” because my body was different. It was a sad way to live, but I thought that was my only choice because I had beat it into my head that I was flawed. And beyond that, these flaws meant that my value and effectiveness in the world would never amount to much.
It took having children and completely losing control of my body – followed totally loosing my identity to motherhood and marriage- before I was really able to see how truly perfect I had been the whole time. The journey down that road is a different story for a different time, but I am so grateful for it. And though it has been -and still is- a painful growth process to truly love and accept all of the little (and big!) parts of my body for the miraculous, strong parts they are, it has been a road I needed to travel. It is a road we all need to travel.
Now I look back at that girl from my younger years and feel so sorry for that girl. She was such a cutie-patootie and wasn’t fat at ALL! And even if she was heavy at times…who cares? I feel sorry that she missed out, shied away from relationships because she thought she wasn’t good enough, judged herself and told herself she would never be able to amount to as much because of how she looked compared to the outside world.
I’m also disappointed in that girl. She was so selfish! She was so focused on her perceived shortcomings, her own physical state and the idea she would be adored because of that, that she had little time left to be a real friend, a good sister or even stop to consider how powerful and valuable she could be to the world.
The issue of body image is one that is still incredibly relevant today for women in our society. We are constantly shown pictures of perfect mothers and perfect women….even perfect life size models who always have it together and look amazing in clothes. It is impossible not to compare yourself to the images that we see every day. We say things like “I shouldn’t eat this dessert because my butt is already so big” or take it the opposite direction and reward our stressed-out selves with food that does nothing for our bodies. We beat ourselves up from the inside out and it shows with every hunched over, wish-no-one-could-see-me posture-ridden step….and we are teaching it to our children.
We do not teach our daughters to be self conscious about their bodies. We show them.
We have to recognize that as women we have a responsibility to love ourselves exactly how we are in this moment. We have a responsibility to appreciate just how magical and healthy our bodies are no matter what shape they’re in. No matter how many extra pounds they have or how bony or lumpy or saggy or whatever they are. Because when we tell ourselves we are “less than” for any reason involving our bodies we are perpetuating the notion that any one woman is more beautiful, capable or valuable than another. We are all equal. We are all worthy and we all have really important work to do…despite the package we come in. And the more we focus on our physical being, the less we can focus on our hearts and minds.
So I want to tell you right now: No matter how you’re feeling about yourself, no matter who you’re comparing yourself to, or how you think you look in a bathing suit or what you feel your body says about you… You are beautiful. Your body is capable of amazing things and hating it is a slap in the face to God and the Universe. You are smart, you are strong and you deserve all the confidence in the world. Stop using your mind to abuse your body….they both have more important work to do.
Want more on this? Here are my live video thoughts on Body Image!
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Photo credit: Theresa Schumacher Photography…thanks girl!!