Do You Love Your Body?
Below is an excerpt from my book, “That’s So You!“
Not too long ago I was attending a social event and was introduced to two lovely women who arrived together. We struck up a conversation about (what else?) fashion, and at one point one of the women turned to her friend and said, “I wish I had your body.” Without missing a beat, the other woman rolled her eyes and replied, “Oh, please!” and then launched into a litany of reasons why no one else would ever want her body.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Have you witnessed it or been an active part of it many times over the years? We are often unaware of the damage these statements or experiences have on our psyche, our self-esteem and our ability to create a wardrobe we love. It seems that we are often trained from a young age to belittle the way we look. Sure, we often use humor, which can offset the sadness and mean spiritedness of what we say, but the essence of our words still lingers. Unfortunately, when it comes to body image, women have cornered the market on self-deprecating remarks.
This is not a good thing. As Louise Hay will tell you, language is a powerful thing. According to her, “Self-approval and self-acceptance in the now are the main keys to positive changes in every area of our lives.” Hay is one of my favorite mentors in this area. Check out her books for guidance in learning how to bring more personal kindness into your life.
I have had to learn how to feel better about, and be kinder to, my body, and her books have helped me immeasurably. Here is my story:
As a teenager, going to the beach was an ordeal for me on many levels. First of all, I’m white as white can be, so while my friends basked in the sun all day and came away with a glowing tan, I’d be burned to a crisp within about thirty minutes. But, that wasn’t all.
While I was sitting on the blanket wrapped in several towels, a sweatshirt and a hat, I would watch the other women sunbathers and, you guessed it, I’d compare myself. Trust me, to my way of thinking I never measured up.
Mostly, I would study the legs of the women walking by. Did I see bikini-clad bathers confidently walking the beach who were knock-kneed? Nope. Never. So, I always, always felt self-conscious walking on the beach. I just imagined that everyone who saw me snickered at the shape of my legs.
Of course, the key word there is imagined! Never, ever in my whole life has anyone pointed to my legs and laughed—at least that I’ve been able to see. I, however, am excruciatingly aware of the fact that my legs are not straight.
I used to cringe at the thought of wearing shorts for gym class in high school and college, and I spent the 1980s, when short skirts were the only kind to wear, standing with my left knee bent so no one could tell it was crooked. It’s a habit I catch myself falling into occasionally even now.
What are you saying to yourself about your body that keeps you stuck in a rut? Be careful about shrugging it off as good-natured kidding or insignificant conversation. These comments are much more damaging to your psyche than you might know.
Thankfully, I have come to terms with the fact that my legs are unique and have learned to appreciate that they are long and healthy. Sure, I would be delighted to wake up one morning with straight (and could they be a little less white, too, please?) legs, but it is more a fun fantasy than a sad longing.
It saddens me to think of the amount of time I spent feeling uncomfortable about showing my legs when all the time my friends would say: “We don’t see it. You must hide it well. It’s barely noticeable, so what are you so worried about?”
What about you? Do you find yourself readily comparing your body to that of women whose bodies you perceive as more beautiful than yours?
If so, take a few minutes to reflect on these questions:
1. What body part do you scrutinize on other women and compare to your own body?
2. How does that make you feel?
3. Do you blow it out of proportion? Be honest!
4. What would happen if you stopped hyper-focusing on it?
5. Do you know what triggered it originally or what triggers your insecurity around it now?
What do you do next?
- Admit that it bugs you, and commit to making peace with it. Visualize yourself smiling compassionately at that body part.
I know, it sounds a little out there, but it really does make a difference. Acknowledge the uniqueness of who you are and that this is part of what makes you special (think Barbra Streisand’s nose, Cindy Crawford’s mole or the gap between Lauren Hutton’s teeth). Commit to learning how to dress to honor that part of your body. This means not trying to eradicate it or hide it under layers of fabric but acknowledging its preciousness as part of you and not dressing as if you think it’s an eyesore!
- Stop whining. OK, maybe you don’t whine, but I did for years. Oh, poor me! I have knock-knees. Of course, since there’s nothing I can do about them, whining does nothing other than make me feel bad about my body. Have I learned how to dress my body in a way that minimizes the crookedness of my legs? Yes. Do I sometimes wear things like skinny jeans or leggings even though the bend in my legs is noticeable? Yes. Are there some days when I feel more comfortable doing that than others? Yes, and that’s OK.
- Become a master of drawing focus somewhere else. Acknowledge two or three body parts that you love. Do not skip this part! Learn ways to draw focus there by using color, detail, pattern, accessories, texture, etc. to make a statement. And, by all means, do not sit around looking uncomfortable because you are afraid someone will notice the offending body part, and do not run from having your picture taken.Dress in a way that makes your heart sing, hold your chin up, and smile! I can guarantee that others don’t notice any of it as much as you do.
Years ago I was playing the piano at an event for hundreds of people. It was the first time I had performed for such a large audience, and I was incredibly nervous. At one point in the song, I accidentally repeated a page. I was mortified and was sure everyone was snickering or gasping. Instead of letting it go by pretending that I had done it on purpose, I made a face. I wanted everyone to know that I knew I had made a mistake. My mother told me later that no one would have noticed my error if I had not wrinkled my nose, and I know she’s right.
It’s the same thing with our bodies. If you keep fidgeting with an outfit to try to cover the seemingly offending body part, you will draw more attention to it than if you dress in way that makes you happy and forget about it.
After you gain some inner peace about your least favorite part, take things a step further and work on total body acceptance.
How can you begin to feel better about your body? First answer these questions: When someone compliments you, do you explain that it’s a fluke or look at the person like he or she is nutty? Do you regularly commiserate with other women about self-perceived body flaws?
You probably answered yes to both. The good news is that these are habits you can change immediately. Here’s your homework:
- Learn how to take a compliment. When someone compliments your hair, do you say, “Oh, wow. It’s driving me crazy today. It never seems to do what I want it to, and the humidity just makes it….” Or when someone admires your sweater, you say, “Thanks. I wish I didn’t have to wear it. I’m hot, but my arms are so flabby that I don’t feel comfortable exposing them.” What if you just smile and say, “Thank you! You made my day!”
Then, take a deep breath and, inwardly, maybe take it one step further. You don’t have to say anything else aloud. Instead, think to yourself, “Wow! How fabulous that my hair looks good on such a day. That’s great news since my hair appointment is still a week away.” Find a way to make it feel good. When you respond to compliments this way, you will also be modeling healthy behavior to others. This is especially important if you are raising young girls. What a gift!
Stop the gripe sessions with your friends. Tell them you are on a new path to self-acceptance, and invite them to come along. Challenge them to say something loving about themselves, and get them started by offering each person a genuine compliment. They will love doing the same for you.
Life is too short to spend bemoaning what you don’t have. Celebrate what you do have, and you will always feel and look better! This does not mean you have to go around saying happy things about the parts of your body you aren’t in love with to everyone you meet. It just means don’t say negative things about them. And do not berate yourself if you forget, or you will feel overwhelmed and give up. Just practice regularly so that little by little you are kinder when you talk about your body.
You can get your copy of ‘That’s So You!’ here.