Long before images of perfect, six-pack abs and lithe, youthful actresses dominated the media, women were terribly hard on themselves. It continues today, maybe more so than ever: If our bodies don’t meet our stringent personal or cultural standards, we indulge an ongoing internal flogging:
“I hate my legs.”
“I’m so fat. I’m disgusting.”
“I can’t even fit into my clothes. I hate my body.”
As a trainer and coach I hear comments like these often, and I always flinch inside because they’re such destructive words. My clients know I don’t listen to self-flagellation; I know this kind of self-talk is a roadblock to their goals. What’s interesting is that I hear these comments no matter how much “extra” weight a person is carrying or how big their waist.
When I was in my 20’s I hated my stomach. I remember literally hating it. Back then I was completely clueless about fitness (wut?) and nutrition (yeah right). I partied all the time, ate fast food every day, and drank beer with abandon. I didn’t even consider that I could change my habits to change my body… I just hated on it. I did carry some fat in my belly as a result of all this but I was by no means deserving of such self-loathing.
Even now, as a personal trainer armed with the motivation and knowledge to be in the best shape of my life, I’m sometimes critical of my body. With age I’ve gained perspective, and I no longer hate relentlessly on my human flaws. I now know that I can either improve on what I have or accept what I have. But at times, when I’m retaining several pounds of water, I still have to tell myself I can love myself even though I’m not perfect.
Body dissatisfaction starts at around age 15 when girls begin to lose their self-confidence and happiness with their appearance . Before that, it’s girl power without guilt. But as women, we rarely accept our bodies, even when we’re carrying extra weight.
How harsh are you about your imperfections?
I can assure you that if you’re on a path to bettering yourself, these negative thoughts will only hold you down. If you hate your body, will you really be motivated to take better care of it?
When you need a little perspective, take a look at this list of ways to keep on going. Maybe you’ll just find that you’re more beautiful than you imagined.
1. There. Is. No. Perfect. Body.
Images of perfect bodies – tanned, buff, and flawless – are the biggest modern lie ever told to women. We know intellectually that we’re looking at full-time athletes and models who are fit for a living and have paid nutritionists. We suspect these images have been altered, too. But we’ve still bought into the idea that in order to look acceptable – perfect – we need to Photoshop ourselves. If a famous actress from Brazil has a bubble butt and all we supposedly have to do is squat to get the same butt, what the hell is wrong with us?
News flash about this whole bubble-butt rage: Our butts are a product of our genes, not just the exercises we do. I get riled when I see men posting pictures of bubble-butt women with the caption telling us to “squat.” Really? Do you benefit when someone holds up a picture and tells you this is what you should look like? We just need to do our best and accept our bodies – forget these ridiculous ideals. Most of people don’t have full-time jobs developing their bootys so don’t feel inadequate if yours doesn’t look like the the ones on YouTube.
Models have aesthetically pleasing physiques but they’re still not perfect. In all likelihood these professionals have areas they’re not happy with too. You learned this as a child, remember? “Nobody’s perfect.”
If you’re holding on to fat in your legs but your waist is 28 inches and you have a beautiful smile and a fulfilling career, give yourself a break. Take action to lose the extra fat while focusing on your strengths.
2. Even if you were perfect, it wouldn’t make you happy.
Marilyn Monroe had the “ideal” body of her time (interestingly, very different from today’s rail-thin version). But in the end, even her seemingly perfect beauty wasn’t enough to motivate her to live.
We think having a perfect body will make us happy, but many times what we really want is personal power. Power not to worry about what we look like; power to draw attention; power to have the advantage over others who make us feel inadequate.
Work on feeling powerful within, and what’s on the outside won’t matter so much.
3. Let your ideal vision drive you in a positive way.
I admire my clients endlessly, not because they stick to their programs perfectly (no one can) but because of their drive to improve themselves. They’re taking meaningful action to make changes and it’s not always easy. If you dislike having few choices in clothing and huffing and puffing up stairs, let that drive you to eat clean and get on a structured training program. Stay positive and nurturing to yourself in the process and you will see results.
4. If you’ve recently been divorced, had a new baby, or moved, give yourself a major break.
All of these events can cause weight gain and be extremely stressful. And this list is not all-inclusive: what about the death of a family member or pet, or a major diagnosis? If you’ve experienced any major life event that puts you into a tailspin, you need as much love and comfort as you can get. That starts with you, so go easy on yourself.
5. Be patient.
Starting a weight loss program a few weeks before your big reunion is setting yourself up for failure. Self-loathing will kick in to high gear once you realize you can’t accomplish your goal in that timeframe, so give yourself plenty of time to reach your goal.
6. Do what you love.
Trying to become a runner when you hate running or making yourself stay on the treadmill when you love running outside is a prescription for failure. Don’t force yourself to do things you hate – let fitness be fun by doing what you love. Join a class (Zumba, anyone?), learn to lift in private with a trainer, or take up hiking. Fitness doesn’t have to be punishment – find what you love and do it.
7. Don’t expect so damn much.
It’s all good having goals and aspiring to improve yourself. Carrying too much extra weight can cause a host of health problems and can truly be depressing. But in my experience, our expectations are just too high. All over the Internet I see intelligent, successful women with only a few pounds to lose berating their bodies as if they’re complete losers. I know it’s tough to love yourself when you’re not where you want to be, but your life is a journey, and sometimes you’ll be on top of the world and other times not so much.
Learn to love your body throughout your life, and having the body you want will follow.