By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
Imagine you had a friend, and 24 hours a day, this friend was working for you, doing all kinds of really important things. Imagine your friend was holding you up, helping you walk, breathe, laugh, sleep, read, see, dream, hear sounds, touch things, feel love, pump blood into your veins, digest food, and countless other miracles.
Imagine after all that help and non-stop work, your response was to criticize this friend, call them names, and tell them you don’t like them or even that you hate them. Can you imagine that?
Well this is what many people do to their bodies. Our bodies work constantly for us, 24/7. Thanks to the media injecting unhealthy, unrealistic messages into our minds, every single day, most of us are not only forgetting to thank and appreciate our bodies for all that they do, but are walking around hating the amazing bodies we live in. Some kind of thanks that is!
I began hating my body when I was a teenager. I was basically a busy mind with limbs (and an unkind mind at that). I spent the majority of my time lost in self-critical thoughts, despising my body and comparing myself unfavorably to others. Of course drugs and alcohol attempted to help. At least they distracted me from my painful internal messages. I suppose, looking back, that my overactive unkind mind was really just trying to help. I truly believed that if I hated myself enough, I would do what I needed to attain the body I thought I needed in order to get the love and approval I so desperately needed. Sheesh. What a faulty system that was!
So year after year I went, obsessing, restricting, overeating, obsessing, restricting, over exercising, and repeat… I did manage to have a life in there. I somehow got through school, had many friends, had some slightly (make that excessively) dysfunctional relationships, and even did some traveling. On the outside, I’m sure people thought I was the life of the party. But on the inside, I suffered severely. Even when I was enjoying myself, a constant internal soundtrack played in the background that told me I was not good enough and that if I perfected my body, I would be.
Thankfully, after many years, I began to find help that actually helped. Only this time it wasn’t a new diet or exercise regime. It was deeper help for my emotions, my thinking, my endless food and fitness rules, my language of communication and my relationship with my heart and soul. And slowly I began to change. I began to challenge my unkind mind. I began to see that I could motivate myself with kindness instead of self-hatred. I began to include self-care and peace of mind in my top priorities instead of only trying to look (or be) a certain way in order to get loved. And, I began to love myself, which greatly reduced my desperation to receive it from others.
I always thought if I truly ate what I wanted, I would never stop eating but that was only the case when I never let myself eat what I wanted. I always thought if I treated myself kindly, I would never get anything done but that was before I tested out kindness as my home base. I always thought that self-love meant conceit but that was only because I hated myself so much and thought the only alternative was grandiosity rather than equality. I always thought that if someone was thin and attractive, they must have a perfect life, but that was only because I was lost in the cultural programing and didn’t know how to question its faultiness. I always thought I needed to change my body in order to be lovable but I realized what I needed to change was my thinking.
I have learned, over time, how to treat myself with kindness and compassion, how to question my ingrained beliefs, how to live a more balanced life, and how to eat real food in moderate amounts. I have learned that changing my body will not make me feel loved, loving myself will. As will being with people I love and feel safe with. And now I have the absolute honor of passing along all that I have so graciously been taught.
Occasionally I look back on old pictures of myself as a teen. And I remember that girl in those pictures. She felt dreadfully uncomfortable in her skin, in a bathing suit, at parties. I can see now that I was a precious adolescent with a changing, healthy-sized body. If I could only tell her: You are fine. Eat all foods in moderation. Don’t believe everything you think or what others tell you they think. Move your body in ways that feel good and then rest, a lot. Speak your truth. Hang with others that hear your truth and want to tell you theirs. Seek to know your hearts desires and not just the desires of the world around you. Go for balance. Go for self-love.
I know I can’t save her from the years ahead of suffering, dieting, bingeing, comparing and despairing. But I can prevent myself from looking back on pictures 20 years from now and having to say: Oh honey, you are a lovely middle-aged woman. Welcome aging, wrinkles, sagging skin and spots. Don’t lose an ounce of precious time hating your body. Thank it for all it does for you, every single minute. Thank those limbs and systems. Thank those lungs. Thank that heart. Thank those miraculous senses that enable you to see and feel and write. Don’t waste another minute hating your body. Feed it, move it, rest it, love it. And help others do the same.
Click here to check out Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell by Andrea Wachter and Marsea Marcus.