The other day I had a conversation that shocked and angered me. I was speaking to a beautiful young woman when she brought up weight, asking if she looked too fat to be wearing just yoga pants and a sports bra. My mouth dropped as I looked at her, standing around 5’5″ and weighing 130 pounds. When I told her that she looked fantastic she informed me that her boyfriend has been trying to get her to lose weight, sending her different exercise videos and diets to try. She seemed genuinely surprised as I pointed out many of her wonderful features, explaining to her that it is awesome to have weight and muscle on our bodies.
As I walked away from that conversation I felt hopeful that I had a positive effect on her view of herself, but I yearn to have a larger positive effect that reaches many. For over five years I viewed my body in a very harsh, negative light. I spoke to myself in a way I would never speak to any of my friends, which is pretty wonky considering our most important relationship is with ourselves. We have the ability to be our own biggest cheerleader, but unfortunately we can also be our worst enemy. For a period of my life I was my own worst enemy, convincing myself that I was not only ugly on the outside, but that I had nothing to offer with my personality either. Speaking to myself in such a negative manner for quite a few years took a serious toll on my mental and physical health. Midway through 2013 I finally became aware of how I spoke to myself, how badly I was making myself feel every time I grabbed the skin I called love handles. I didn’t enjoy exercise because I spent my whole time at the gym wondering what others were thinking of my body- Did my thighs look jiggly? Was I flat in all the wrong places? How could I get my body to look like hers? After attending Bonnaroo in 2013- four days of no makeup, minimal washing, and car windows for mirrors, something shifted inside of me. I attribute the catalyst of that change to two very good friends of mine who were so confused as to why I felt the need to wear makeup. They saw a beauty within me that I was blind to at the time. Their love helped to clear away some of the fog that clouded my vision. When I got home I started working on changing my relationship with myself. My first step in this process was looking myself in the eyes each day and telling myself, “I love you.” It sounds simple enough but man, it felt weird at first! I tried to do this each time I was in my bathroom at home, and then I delved a little deeper. I began standing naked in front of my mirror daily, listing different things I loved about my body as I brought my hands to those areas. This was incredibly hard during the beginning because I felt inauthentic. Looking back, I am so grateful to myself for continuing this practice despite feeling silly and pretty fake. It took time, but eventually I started to believe my own words, feeling sparks of self-love. This was a gradual process, progressing over many months filled with days of disbelief, tears, smiles, transformation, and most importantly growth. Hell, it still is a process! To this day I am offered opportunities to work through difficult, darker thoughts. Meredith Marple shared her words which resonated with me strongly, “The act of loving yourself isn’t an end point. The relationship with yourself is the continual act of climbing your mountains and discovering hidden valleys you didn’t know you had.” I have had to recommit to a life of self-love quite a few times, but by focusing on the recommitment rather than a seeming failure or step backwards I am still making strides, growing and transforming. I invite you to make a commitment to yourself, whether it’s to say one positive comment to yourself a day, or to stop yourself short when you start to degrade yourself. Little steps, micro movements in the right direction can truly change your life.
So we’ve covered a bit about self-love, I got vulnerable with you, and hopefully gave you some applicable tips on how to improve your relationship with yourself. Now let’s talk about how we allow others to speak to us. For the most part, there is no reason to comment on another person’s weight. In a situation where someone is genuinely concerned for a loved one’s health it may be best to step in help them develop a plan to achieve optimum health. However, if you are in a relationship (a friendship or romantic relationship) with someone who asks you to change your body in order for them to be happy, they are not truly happy with themselves. Often it is much easier to point out flaws in others without realizing that each person in our experience is somehow a reflection of ourselves. If you are continuously attracting friends or partners who degrade you or tear you down, ask yourself, “How am I treating myself? What type of example or standard am I setting for my loved ones?” The phrase, ‘We accept the love we think we deserve,’ rings quite true. It is difficult to attract people who recognize your full beauty if you are not acknowledging your own self worth.
I think it’s time we not only change how we let others speak to us, but also how we speak to others. Everyday we are bombarded with images and videos that promote skinniness, tight bodies and perfectly done makeup. Males are just as susceptible to body image issues as they are taught that masculinity means muscles, getting big and being tough. But what most magazines, Instagram accounts, and various media sources don’t talk about is the myriad of different body types on this Earth. Every single person is built slightly differently. A variety of heights, metabolic rates and weight distributions make it extremely difficult (not to mention unnecessary) for everyone to fit in one definition of beautiful. When we notice that someone has been losing weight, most compliment with, “You’re looking so skinny! Tell me your secrets, what have you been eating?” But what about complimenting someone’s health? What if we start to disregard weight and instead focus on the variety of positive effects exercise and eating healthy has for our bodies? Personally I have been trying to make this shift, but still catch myself reverting back to shallow compliments from time to time. I am pleased to say that by bringing awareness to the way I speak about others’ bodies I have been able to give more effective, empowering compliments.
While we are on the subject of body image and body shaming, I need to address a subject that I don’t think is talked about enough. In the same way you wouldn’t walk up to an acquaintance or friend and tell them to lose weight, please do not approach a thin individual and tell them they need to gain weight. When you are walking around encountering random people, have an awareness that almost everybody has a part of their body they are not comfortable with. You have no idea what each person thinks about their body. Being told repeatedly to go eat a cheeseburger or that you are too skinny can have just as detrimental of an effect as being told you are overweight, it all depends on where you are in your journey. Personally I experienced the former, along with multiple partners telling me my body would be nicer if I gained a bit of weight. The way my body runs makes it very hard for me to gain weight. I am not complaining about this, but those comments stuck with me and caused me to feel insecure about my body in a whole new way. Luckily I have realized this has just given me more opportunities to practice unconditional self-love. I am very happy with and grateful for my body, which grows stronger everyday as I fuel it with real food and healthy exercise. To this day the best compliment I can receive is, “You look so healthy and/or strong!” Knowing how those words make me feel helps me strive to share them with others, as well as myself.
I have two challenges for you on this fine Friday. The first is to change the conversations you have with yourself. When you catch yourself speaking cruelly or negatively to yourself, switch it up and replace it with a loving thought. You don’t need to make huge leaps at first. It can be something as simple as, “My hair looks nice today, I enjoy the way my outfit makes me look/feel,” or, “I did a great job on that last assignment.” Be realistic and allow yourself to start off small, with intentions to add more substance each day. My second challenge is for you to bring an awareness to the way you uplift others. Try to go a little deeper on compliments, go a week without discussing weight in casual conversation. Often we try to make others feel better by insulting a part of our own body when they bring up something they aren’t happy with. Change this! Compliment the other person and then switch up the subject, there are so many more important things to focus on besides weight.
Writing this post has made my heart extremely happy, as I feel like it’s a conversation we need to be having! If you know someone who could use a little more self love in their life pass this on, or start a conversation about it. Make a meaningful connection with others, you never know whose life you may change.
With much love and eternal light,
∞ Noelle ॐ
P.S. I’m including some Friday Funk for all you wonderful souls. Jam on Jampions!