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? We are often unaware of the damage these statements or experiences have on our psyche and our self-esteem. It seems that we are trained from a young age to belittle the way we look. Sure, we use humour, which can offset the sadness and mean spiritedness of what we say, but the essence of our words still lingers.
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.”
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 30 minutes. But that wasn’t all.
While 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.
Now I have knock knees. So mostly I would study the legs of the women walking by. But 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.
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.
Do you find yourself readily comparing your body with those whose bodies you perceive as more beautiful than yours?
If so, take a few minutes to reflect on these questions:
- What body part do you scrutinise on other women and compare to your own body?
- How does that make you feel?
- Do you blow it out of proportion? Be honest!
- What would happen if you stopped hyper-focussing on it?
- 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. Visualise 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 or Cindy Crawford’s mole]. Commit to learning how to dress to honour 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 minimises 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 colour, detail, pattern, accessories, texture. 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 a way that makes you happy and forget about it.
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 modelling healthy behaviour 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—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 practise regularly so that little by little you are kinder when you talk about your body.
This was first published in the February 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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