There was a time when I thought my lack of body confidence came from being overweight. I remember thinking (on every diet) that things were going to be so much better when I was thin. I thought I’d suddenly have the confidence to do things I’d never tried before, I thought I wouldn’t self-conscious or awkward anymore. Every piece of clothing I’d put on would look amazing and I’d never have a zit again.
It wasn’t realistic at all, but if you’ve ever spent a good chunk of your life moderately overweight you may have had similar delusions!
I made it to “thin” around 2006 and let me tell you, all the body image issues I had when I was a size 16 were still there when I was wearing a size 4. In some ways, they felt magnified. I still saw myself as a large person. I’d look in the mirror and see so much more that needed to be worked on. (See the poor quality black & white photos below.) My skin was now “loose” and appeared “flabbier”. My stretch marks, while faded, were almost more visible. It was so hard to appreciate what I had because it looked different than the perfect image I had created in my head. I picked and tore apart my body on a daily basis – always finding something wrong with it.
My weight has gone up and down drastically several times since 2006 and I’ve learned a few things each time but probably the most glaringly obvious thing is that body confidence has nothing to do with your size or shape. It has nothing to do with your weight.
You can be heavy and have confidence in your body. You can be thin and have confidence in your body. Your body can still be a work in progress and you can still feel confident in it. You can also accept your body as it is right now and feel confident. It’s not dependent on what the scale says.
There are 2 things I do now that have made the biggest difference in my body confidence – regardless of the current size of my body. One of those things is moving my body in ways that I love and the other is to stop paying attention to negative thoughts about my body. I’ll go into more detail about each of those below. I hope you’ll try these in your own life!
Move your body in ways that you love.
I remember spending hours and hours on the elliptical at the gym, bored out of my mind and barely working hard enough to raise my heart rate. It was hard to keep myself going when I didn’t enjoy what I was doing and also I wasn’t really seeing any changes in my body. Exercise is so much easier to do when you find things that you love doing! Take a dance class, try CrossFit, barre classes, start a walking group in your neighborhood, join a hiking group on meetup.com. If you have an internet connection, all it takes is a quick search to find free exercise videos you can try from the comfort of your living room. You don’t have to go to a gym if that doesn’t excite or motivate you. When you find movement, exercise or activity (we can call it whatever you want) that is fun and challenging, you’ll want to do it.
I’ve found that I love barre classes for how graceful they make me feel and because they strengthen my core without having to spend hours on my back doing crunches. I love riding my bike because it’s a little bit like flying and I enjoy the wind on my face (perhaps I was a dog in a past life). I love seeing how far I can travel in a short amount of time and love knowing that it’s all powered by my strong legs. I love strength training with heavy weight because it makes me feel strong, powerful and like I could kick anyone’s ass.
Lately, John and I have been spending some of our free time hiking and while it’s challenging, I’m always amazed how much better my body handles it at 38 years old and 158 lbs than it did when I was 23 and 220 lbs. Yesterday I tackled a hill on a bike ride that used to kill me – even a few years ago I dreaded it every time – so much so that I sometimes thought about doing a different route so I could avoid the hill (hills are not my favorite) but I blew up this hill yesterday like it was nothing!! I couldn’t believe how easy it was for my body now and it felt great.
I get my body confidence now from what my body can DO. It is no longer dependent on what it looks like. Yes, doing all these activities definitely changes how my body looks (I thank barre for my smoother inner thighs and weight lifting for my shoulder/bicep definition) but it’s not the sole reason I do them. It’s not even the most important reason. I get a major thrill in being able to do things physically that might have previously been out of reach for me.
I can do a chin up from a hanging position. YES! Just a few months ago I was excited that I could do most of one as long as I jumped up the first 1/3 of the way. Now I can do one without that boost! Holy crap, I never thought that would happen. This is MY amazing body and it’s strong.
I can carry a ton of grocery bags from the car through my garage and basement and up the stairs into the house and not be winded and do it again and again.
I’m thankful that my body can do these things (and aware that my health allows the possibility). I get excited to challenge it in new ways. How can I not be confident in this vehicle which allows me to travel everywhere I want to be and do everything I want to do? How can I not feel good in it? Why would allow myself to feel anything other than awe, appreciation and love towards it? When I do physical stuff that I love doing, it makes it far easier to love my body. Seriously, it’s the BEST.
There’s a great side effect that comes from focusing on what my body is capable of and not what it looks like. I couldn’t do the things I do if I wasn’t eating properly. If I don’t eat enough, I won’t be able to complete my strength workout. If I don’t eat a good balance of protein and carbs, I won’t be able to bike 20 or 30 miles. If I eat crappy today, I won’t feel so hot on our hike tomorrow. Focusing on the amazing things my body can do and what I want it to be able to do makes eating well so much easier. And eating well means I have less bloating, less insane cravings and my clothes fit better.
Notice how much you think about what your body looks like and then stop doing that.
How many times a day do you mentally criticize it?
How long does it take you to find something to wear each day that doesn’t make you think terrible thoughts about yourself?
How much are negative words directed towards your body a regular part of your routine?
When I say “stop doing that”, I know some of you are rolling your eyes at me. “It’s not that easy Andrea!”. I know it’s not. It’s not easy to stop doing it if you think there is nothing you can do about it. This is just the way you are, right?
I’ve said it 1000 times and I’m going to keep saying it until we all feel empowered with this idea: We don’t have control over the thoughts that pop into our heads but we DO have control over what we do with those thoughts. If a thought about our thighs, our belly, our stretch marks appears, we can either go look for evidence that the thought is true or we can choose to ignore that thought and move about our day.
Yes, you CAN ignore these negative thoughts about yourself. Think of these thoughts as a heckler in a crowd you are performing in front of (as a comedian, an actor, whatever). You can choose to listen to the heckler and let him affect your performance, you can choose to engage with the heckler and give him the attention he’s after and again distract and affect your performance OR you can ignore the guy and do your thing. You could even ask him to leave! Have him escorted out – it’s your show!
We don’t have to indulge or engage with the heckler. Those negative thoughts you have about your body are hecklers. Don’t give them extra attention. The less you pay attention to those kinds of thoughts, the less loud they will get and soon you’ll find yourself “performing” at your very best. Totally focused, prepared and unable to be flustered by any thought that shows up.
Not engaging with these thoughts does take practice. It’s a matter of noticing when they happen and then paying attention to what you do with the thought. At first you’ll think that you aren’t doing anything with those negative thoughts – the engagement and indulging of them has become an automatic habit and just like any other habit, it takes effort to break. When a thought appears, like “Ug, my stomach looks so disgusting in this shirt!” pretend it’s one of those choose your own adventure books you had as a kid (those were the best!!!). Which path are you going to choose? And where do you think you might end up?
I’ll give you another analogy (since I love them). The obnoxious political posts on social media. You’re scrolling through and read a post from one of your relatives spouting insanely ignorant and divisive rhetoric. It infuriates you. In fact, you feel anger bubbling up in you as soon as you read it. You can A) Start typing furiously away, blasting their post with counting facts one by one or B) You can continue scrolling by without responding (or even “hide” the person and their posts so you don’t have to see it again). The first time you choose B and don’t respond, you might feel bad. You might keep thinking about it and wanting to go back and say something. You may even find yourself venting to someone in your real life about the post or the person. But if you ignore this kind of stuff again and again and stop responding to it, you’ll find that it becomes easier to do with time. My facebook is a whole mess of obnoxious posts from people with different beliefs that me and I just don’t engage anymore (because it’s healthier for me). I used to get into lots of arguments with people online – I felt like I couldn’t NOT say something. Now it’s easy to just move on. You can do the same thing with negative thoughts about your body.
The cool thing that happens when you stop getting down and dirty with those negative thoughts about your body is that you realize you don’t even need to replace the negative thought with positive thoughts. You don’t have to do affirmations if those don’t speak to you. You don’t have to write love letters to your hated parts (though it won’t hurt!). By ignoring the negative stuff, neutral becomes the norm. Your body becomes your body, a vehicle to use to live your life and not something that warrants consideration for how it looks. Aren’t you just glad your car starts in the morning and gets you safely where you need to be? It doesn’t matter if there is a little rust on it or some bug guts squished on the window – it’s purpose in life isn’t to be shiny and pretty and perfect. It’s purpose is to take you from A to B safely.
That’s it for today. Two ways I’ve built up my body confidence that have nothing to do with dieting, losing weight or being thin. What makes you feel confident in your body? What is your favorite thing about what your body can do?
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