A few weeks ago I was presenting with a friend and colleague to Bermuda's Business and Professional Women's Association. As well as being a pink sandy gem, our island is a hub of professional activity including thriving financial and insurance markets. While cocktails on the beach are always a possibility, the women that work here rarely put their feet up at 5 p.m. Many hold senior positions with intense travel schedules and exhausting hours. Plenty are juggling second jobs and hectic family lives.
Our topic was "Is having it all hurting your health?" Of course ultimately, "having it all" means different things to different women at different times. We gave nutritional strategies and coaching tips designed to help all women identify their true goals and sustain their bodies along the way. We had two key messages. Firstly, that the food we eat can either build us up or knock us down. Simply put, it can make achieving our goals easier, or harder. Instead of reaching for the sugary or caffeinated short-term fixes, we need to choose things that actually nourish us long term.
Secondly, we encouraged everyone to shift their perspective with a quote from Annette Funicello: "Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful." Sometimes "having it all" is so stressful because we expect or hope that every element will be flawless. But most of us have a negative inner voice that says we're not good enough. A critical whisper in our ear that knocks us down even when we are on a high. It comes from the relentless comparative commentary from our families, friends, co-workers and the media. It becomes ingrained in our psyche. Arianna Huffington calls it her "obnoxious roommate." We have a friend who calls it the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee. It's catchy and it's true.
As women, I think we all have too much of the itty bitty shitty in our lives. We have to recognize it and we have to kick it out. It's time to talk to ourselves better, to each other better and about each other better. How many of us have sat down with some girlfriends and slowly picked someone we know apart? It doesn't say much for our solidarity does it? And it makes us wonder what's said in our absence. Even worse, we often do it in front of our children. They may be playing a few feet away, but do we really think those background conversations don't sink in?
I read an amazing article a while ago -- a letter from a daughter to her mother called, "Passing on body hatred." Kasey Edwards begins, "I was seven when I discovered that you were fat, ugly and horrible." She'd been listening to the vicious comments of others, but most importantly she had been listening to her own mother's words: "look at me, fat, ugly and horrible." How confusing for a child who has only ever thought her mother captivating. And how crushing then, when as she grows up, people say to her "you look just like your mom." So you see the words we say to ourselves matter -- not just to us, but to our daughters too.
After thinking about it for a long, long time, I came up with something different. How about we replace the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee with the Gritty, Witty, Pretty Committee? Women can be tender, but we can also be tough. I dare you to grit your teeth and see what you can achieve with 110 percent of your blood, sweat and tears. If we do that, we'll need a sense of humour. Life is a mix of good and bad, and when the bad means leaking breast milk in a meeting or farting in yoga, it helps to see the funny side. Tempting as it may be, what real benefit can come from retreating to bed in the fetal position?!
When it comes to the pretty, I think you know what I'm going to say. Each one of us has something beautiful about us, conventional or otherwise. Whether it comes from our eyes, our laughter or from the very depths of our soul, there is beauty in every one. If you need help seeing that, turn to Jade Beall's therapeutic photography for some inspiration. Check out Taryn Brumfitt's Body Image Movement too. Social media may place ridiculous expectations on women, but it's also uniting the voices that would like to fight back.
If you kick out the itty bitty shitty and replace it with the gritty witty pretty, imagine how much kinder your world would become. Think about how much self-belief you'd gain from being your own best cheerleader and a generous supporter of others. Imagine then how much easier it would be to stick to healthy eating -- how much less you'd seek comfort from food. And how much more likely you'd be to exercise a body you honour, rather than one you despise and hide.
Let me leave you with this. Nutrition is important. It will literally make or break you as you weave your way through life. But it's nothing without a healthy mindset too. Gather your girlfriends, join me on Facebook and share the love. #GWPC