Beyond Wanting to Shrink: Steps to Healing Negative Body Image

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We've come a long way, baby.

I remember this slogan on the brand of cigarettes I would steal from my mom as a teenager.

Virginia Slims -- made for women because they were tall and skinny unlike the short stubby cigarettes smoked by the Marlboro Man.

I assume it was meant to empower women. Instead, the message the cigarette sent was "Here's a skinny, dainty cigarette for your delicate female psyche. Smoke Virginia Slims and you may even become slim."

The summer before my Freshman year of college, I smoked at least 500 of those cigarettes.

I didn't become slim.

I never have been. That's just not in the cards for me, and I've been reminded of what a shortcoming that is throughout my life.

There was the time my high school crush finally asked me out. I think I was a rebound, but who cares? So was he. I'd just gotten dumped and I really needed a date to prom.

As we were "cruising" the strip before the big dance, he grabbed my arm, squeezed it, and commented that I was the type of girl who could take up for herself in a fight.

I've never fought a day in my life. If someone challenged me to a duel, I would suggest a chili cook off.

Then there was the time another dude serenaded me to "Big Girls Don't Cry" when it randomly came on the radio.

I wasn't crying. I guess I just fit his bill of "big girl" so he felt the need to dedicate his rendition to me.

My youth is littered with examples like these moments where I was reminded how I reside on the outliers of what is considered a "normal" body type.

I'm tall with hips. I occupy a body that is reminiscent of a Renaissance painting. I'm no angel.

I have been up and down in weight throughout my adult life. I grew up the fat kid, and despite the ups and downs, that insecure little girl has never really left me.

My most recent weight loss journey has lasted about two years. About a year and a half into losing, to date, nearly 70 pounds, I had finally reached my goal of fitting into a pair of my pre-baby pants.

I'll never forget the day as I stood in my bathroom and was able to zip them up. I stared in the mirror. And I cried.

But not tears of joy. I cried because I still wasn't happy with the image staring back at me.

Was I at a "healthy" weight for my height and frame? Yes.

Had I met my fitting into my old jeans goal? Yes.

Did I have more energy? Yes.

Had I worked hard? Yes.

But, was I happy? No.

Growing up feeling shame about how you are made is something that takes root in your very being in ways that show up throughout life.

Research shows that negative body image sets women up for low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and disordered eating.

Check, check, check, and check.

After a lifetime of gaining and losing weight, here's what I know for sure --hitting your goal weight will not feed your soul. Being able to wear your skinny jeans will not bring you joy.

Because the only way we invite joy into our lives is when we do the work that allows us to love ourselves unconditionally. Where we are.

Not for who we're trying to be.

Being well is treating your body with respect, loving who you are at the core, while also giving yourself room to live and grow.

And doing this inside work is what will allow us to reach our fullest potential. It all begins within.

Here are some steps I took that helped heal my negative body image:

  1. Back to Your Roots. How we feel about our bodies begins in our youth. To heal and promote healthy body image, the first step is to find out when we started to hate the reflection in the mirror. When you can pinpoint that moment, you can then begin to understand how your negative body image took root and start to heal.

  • Check Yourself. Don't believe everything you think. How do you talk to yourself when you look in the mirror? What do you believe about your body? My negative body image stemmed from my limiting belief of not being good enough. It's important to identify where your thinking is "off" in order to heal negative body image.
  • Move. Bodies are made to move. We weren't designed to be still behind a desk all day long. My entire mindset about being a physical being changed when I started recognizing that my body is merely a vessel of my soul. When I understood my divinity, I was inspired to take care of my body and "ideal standard" be damned.
  • Be Whole. We are taught at a young age that to be beautiful is to be worthy. What if tomorrow every woman everywhere stopped buying into the idea that to be worthy, we must be attractive? What if instead we decided we would focus on things like spirituality, personal, and community development? There would be a slew of cosmetic company bankruptcies. And a lot more joyous women.
  • Maybe we all reach a point where we are less inclined to adhere to the expectations of others - whether that be people in our lives or society's ideal. As I stare a particularly anxiety-provoking birthday down this year, maybe I just ain't got time to feel shamed about something as trivial as the size of my pants.

    None of us should.

    Because a lifetime of wanting to shrink will eventually make us shadows of who we are.

    Sign up here to receive my free ebook Love Yourself: A Guide to Healing Negative Body Image for more information and exercises to help you put these ideas into action.