By Andrea Wachter, LMFT
I began hating my body when I was a teenager. I spent years lost in self-criticism and the unhealthy behaviors I turned to in an attempt to quiet those constant criticisms.
I know now that my unkind mind was really just trying to help. I thought that if I could attain the body size I was programmed to believe I should I be, I would live happily ever after.
What a faulty system that was.
The only way to attain and maintain a body that is not naturally meant for us is to live in an unnatural manner. There’s no happily-ever-afterness in that.
Year after year, I obsessed over my body, restricting my food intake, overeating, bingeing, even abusing drugs and alcohol. On the outside, I’m sure people thought I was the life of the party. On the inside, I suffered severely. My mind played and replayed a near-constant internal soundtrack that told me I was not good enough but that if I somehow changed my appearance, I would be.
After many years of riding what I refer to as the “diet/riot roller coaster,” I finally found help. Only this time it wasn’t counterfeit help, in the form of a new diet or exercise regime. It was deeper help for my emotions, thoughts, needs, communication skills, and endless food and fitness rules.
I learned that critiquing and criticizing our bodies is not natural. These are adopted patterns resulting from a massive hypnotic spell of body perfection. I learned how to challenge my unkind thoughts and put self-kindness and peace of mind at the top of my priority list. I learned how to speak to myself kindly and treat myself respectfully.
I had always thought that if I ate what I truly wanted, I’d never stop eating. But that was only the case when I never let myself eat what I truly wanted. I always thought that if I treated myself kindly, I would never get anything done. But that was before I tested out kindness as my home base. I thought that if someone had what I thought was a perfect body, they must have a perfect life, but that was only because I was lost in society’s cultural programming and didn’t know how to question its faultiness. And I always thought I needed to change my body in order to be lovable, but it turned out that I needed to change my thinking. I know now that changing my body will not make me feel loved; only loving myself will.
Occasionally, I come across a picture of myself as a teen. I remember how dreadfully uncomfortable I felt in my skin, in a bathing suit, and at parties. I can see now that I was a precious adolescent with a healthy, changing body. If I could only tell her, “You’re fine, sweetheart. Eat whatever you want. Your body will tell you when it’s had enough. Don’t believe everything you think or what others say. Move your body in ways that feel good and then rest, a lot. Speak your truth. Hang out with people who hear your truth and want to tell you theirs. Seek to know your heart’s desires. Go for balance. Go for self-love.”
I know I can’t save that young girl from the years 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’re a lovely woman. Welcome aging, wrinkles, spots, and sagging skin. Don’t lose an ounce of precious time criticizing 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, hear, feel, taste, and write. Don’t waste another minute hating your body. Feed it, move it, rest it, appreciate it. And help others do the same.”
If you are struggling with your body image, I hope you will try on some body appreciations and see how they feel. Seek support if you need to. Don’t miss out on years of your life berating your body like I did. If the cultural programming of perfectionism has led you to turn against your body, look for ways to say no to those programs and see your body through eyes of compassion, acceptance, love, and appreciation.