Body image issues are something every woman is faced with at some point in her life. Society has made sure of this. Some worry that their hips are too big and others worry that their breasts are too small. Everyone wants what they don't have and as a result, we end up neglecting what we do have. What if we collectively, as women, stopped viewing the unrealistic images of women's bodies we see daily in the media as being normal and beautiful -- because deep down, we all know they are not -- and what if we started giving our bodies the love we so readily and unconditionally give everyone else in our lives? I'm sharing my story of how I finally came to the conclusion that my body is my haven and, unless I start treating it that way, the consequences I may face could be catastrophic.
I have always exercised. Since I was 16 years old, going to the gym was a big part of my life and I was always a healthy body weight. As a teenager and young adult I smoked, had a horrible diet and drank alcohol whenever I went out with my friends. Typical teenage lifestyle, right? I had the misconception that because I was skinny, I was healthy. Thankfully, as I grew older and wiser, I realized this was not the case and changed my habits. I quit smoking and starting making healthier choices. In my late twenties, I went into mommy mode and started to get my body baby ready. Looking back, this notion disturbs me now. As women, it becomes embedded in our mind that our bodies need to be at their best only when we are planning on getting pregnant. We start taking vitamins, stop smoking, stop drinking alcohol and so much more. It gives the impression that we, as women should only value ourselves and our bodies when we are about to have children. That's our sole purpose here on earth is it not? NO... it's not!
I totally fell into this unrealistic notion that society places on women (as well as many others that I won't mention right now). After my first two pregnancies, I was able to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight, an accomplishment I was very proud of. So much pressure is placed on a woman after giving birth to slim down. It's sad that even other women impose this pressure to "be perfect in every way" knowing how many challenges come with having a baby. For me, it was after my third pregnancy and loss that I started to really mistreat my body. Actually, I think it would be more appropriate to use the word neglect. I full out neglected my body and even hatted it most of the time, no wait... all of the time.
After my third pregnancy and loss, I blamed by body (subconsciously) for letting me down. I felt like a failure as a woman for not being able to carry a pregnancy to term, for almost dying and, for looking the way I did -- fat was what I thought I was. I convinced myself that I was not much of a woman, at least not the prototypical one society convinces us we are supposed to be and look like. If my body could let me down in such a profound way, then I would no longer cared for it the way I always had so, I quickly went back to my old habits of smoking, drinking and eating poorly. Wine became a nightly thing for me and I justified smoking by only having a couple each day. I became the queen of defending my actions, even though deep inside, I was miserable and guilt-ridden. I did not like who I had become and I was not happy. So why did I continue this behavior? Because it's difficult to admit you've been living a lie, especially when you've been doing it with a smile on your face all along. Although my husband didn't like the fact that I was smoking and would plead with me to stop, I would justify my actions to him and he would cave and say "fine babe, whatever makes you happy." See! I even convinced him I was happy and he lives with me every day. Turning that around was not easy. Telling the people you love that you have been living a lie and that deep down you completely and utterly dislike the person you have become (inside and out) was very difficult but ultimately... very necessary.
Eventually, I realized that the only person I was afraid of disappointing was myself. I was afraid of not being good enough, pretty enough, skinny enough and even smart enough. Everyone else around me wanted me to stop the destructive behavior, they just didn't want to rock the boat and actually tell me that. My husband knew that I would become defensive and angry, so he avoided telling me how he really felt. Thankfully, I woke up on my own and recognized that my behavior was becoming destructive. I realized that if I don't start taking care of my body, my body would eventually stop taking care of me. If only we could see inside our bodies and realize the damage that is caused by our lifestyle choices -- including stress -- would we not immediately change our habits to mend what's wrong? But wait! We can! Not only can we see the effects on the outside but we can feel the damage and the destruction we are causing, we just choose to ignore the signs most of the time. If only we can stop focusing on the outside appearance and love ourselves and our bodies from the inside out.
I remember having days where I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. Full-blown panic attacks. Worry and fear literally consumed me and became a daily part of my life. It all makes sense now, (although I still occasionally experience panic attacks, they are far less common and don't last as long) I had abandoned myself -- mind and body -- and allowed myself to be consumed with fear. Most of my fear stemmed from not being good enough -- at least not by societies standards. My body was pleading with me for some attention and it took me three years to realize it. In those three years, I had bursts of caring for myself. I went to the gym and changed my eating habits for a week or two, but it was never long-lasting because I didn't see results in the mirror quick enough so, giving up was what I did. This made me feel even worse because now, I added "failure" to the list of things I disliked about myself. A major breakthrough for me has been learning NOT TO SET GOALS! Yes, you read right, no goal setting from here onward. How many times have you set a goal only to be disappointed in the end? I have done this countless times in my life, setting goals such as "in four weeks, I will lose 15 pounds" and then, when it didn't happen, I would wallow in self-pity by eating an entire ice cream cake. Instead, I'm learning to set intentions instead of goals. Intensions require having a plan that will help achieve the outcome instead of merely focusing on the end result. It's like planning to go to China but never reckoning how you will get there. Goal-setting focuses on the end result. I'm learning to detach myself from the outcome itself, which hasn't been easy (being a control freak and all) but, when we focus instead on setting intentions and not worrying about the end result, the journey becomes much greater. What I mean is that by focusing on caring and loving my body and wanting to make it healthier instead of skinnier, the process makes much more sense and is more attainable.
So, instead of looking at my body and expressing hatred and negativity towards it, I changed my outlook and started to appreciate it for everything it does. I became thankful for all the hard work my organs perform daily. I have a heart that works and legs strong enough to carry my body -- regardless of my weight. I began nourishing my body with the types of food and nutrients that it needs to continue to be strong and healthy and exercise is a big part of my life again. I still enjoy a glass of wine and I love cheat days where I can eat whatever I choose and that's OK, because it's all a part of the process. The result was this, I learned to love my body and appreciate it, even if I'm not a size 6 anymore. I understand that just like everything in life, our bodies also evolve and change. Instead of viewing these changes as negative, we need to start embracing them with kindness and love. Not only am I a mother now, I am a woman; wiser and shrewder than ever before in every way why then, would I want the body of a 12-year-old? Why are women expected to evolve in every way except in our appearance? No... not for me, not anymore!
My message is this: Love your body and treat it with kindness regardless of shape or size. As women, we need to uplift other women and embrace them as they are, not only when they are a size 6 and superficially beautiful. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!