5 Ways I Changed My Unhealthy Body Image By Snubbing Self-Criticism
I write this without giving you my measurements or my photo because it doesn’t matter what size I am or what I look like.
I’m a normal girl, which means I've battled body image issues and insecurities at some point in my life. We live in a world where it’s hard to escape the frequent discussions about Photoshopped women, unrealistic body images and warped expectations. It’s even harder to escape feeling them.
But, I eventually realized that I’d grown out of it. I didn't "fix" myself by suddenly looking like a model, finding a boyfriend, seeing other girls envy me or however else I formerly expected to feel better about myself. I realized that my insecurities were in my own head and it was there that I needed to address them.
All that nasty body-bashing? We don’t need to do that anymore. Hopefully, if some of you are battling some of those same issues, this will help:
I started paying attention to real women, not media-warped women.
This is easy to say, but less easy to do. Look around you; do models surround you? Probably not.
Real women are your mothers, your friends’ mothers, your neighbors, your teachers and professors, your counselors, your doctors and your waitresses. Don’t ignore the totally normal body images you see every day, just because they’re not on paper.
I started paying attention to the way media and women treat men.
Women are not the only ones the media warps. I always assumed that men were immune, but when I started paying attention, I realized that the men I saw in magazines were nothing like the men I saw in real life.
It started when I met a woman who had unrealistic standards for men; she would only date someone who was gorgeous. This meant dismissing 90 percent of men as "unworthy," "needs to hit the gym," "doesn’t have a jawline" or whatever other flaw she could conjure.
This sounds normal for a high school Zac Efron fangirl, but as we grow older, maturity demands that we shed our shallow notions of what it means to be worthy. I realized that this attitude disgusted me not because it was shallow, but because it was self-serving.
Dismissing men according to their looks attributes zero personality, talent or other worthwhile offerings to them. They’re objects with which you might decorate your furniture or your arm, and it's unfair to the men who are judged.
The men we judge have desires, feelings and personalities, and this makes them worthwhile. “Worthy” is not about looks; “worthy” is about upstanding characters.
I do realize that most women are selective I and hope their significant others are handsome, but more importantly, I hope they are honest, giving, loyal, generous and loving.
But then, I started wondering why this woman had such high standards. I’m all for being selective about with whom you spend your time, but why was she so focused on men with rippling abs, carefully-cultivated stubble grazing their impeccable jawlines and lash-rimmed eyes tinged with distinctive smolder? Because that’s what the media tells us handsome is.
I challenge that. We examined the media’s definition of “beautiful,” so let’s examine its definition of “handsome,” as well.
If we look at how the media defines the word “handsome,” we’ll see with fresh eyes how the media warps body image. Most women don’t expect men to look like models, so why do we expect the same of ourselves?
I started focusing on everything that makes me me.
Think about Meghan Trainor’s song "All About That Bass." It's not just a song about being curvy and loving it; it’s about defining yourself according to the things you are, not the things you wish to be.
MT was a songwriter who almost didn't consider being a singer because she didn’t think she fit in with the world of skinny pop stars. But, that song catapulted her into success because she wasn’t trying to be something she’s not. She decided to become exactly who she is: a curvy girl who can rock it.
In the same way, I decided to embrace who I am, along with what I am. Skinny didn’t cut it, but how many other wonderful adjectives could I apply to myself?
I spent years looking for positive adjectives with which I could honestly and happily describe myself. And, you know what? It doesn’t matter what they are; it matters that I could and that I did.
The best part? So can you. You can go out, find out what you’re “all about” — even if it isn’t bass — and you can build a dictionary of adjectives that define you and you equally define. Build your own dictionary of you.
You can put them on Post-Its on your mirror, write them on a chalkboard or even just keep them in your mind.
What matters is that you find them and that you hold onto them when you’re feeling low because no matter what you’re down about, there’s always something about yourself that you can love, too. All you need is to be reminded.
I stopped skinny shaming.
Skinny shaming is a nasty reaction against modern society’s elevation of slinky silhouettes. It’s true that we are constantly bombarded with unrealistic images that generate unrealistic expectations for ourselves, and it’s also true that most women don’t have that body type.
It's easy to criticize people who make you feel insecure about yourself, but it’s also deeply unfair.
And, it’s important to remember that “skinny” is a body type. Those girls who have narrow hips, a flat tummy and small shoulders? They were born that way.
Yes, they probably take care of their figures, but why is that any different from a short, wide-hipped girl hitting the gym every night and eating healthfully, trying to stay fit? Both are born with certain physiques and both are careful to maintain that physique at its best.
Let’s cheer for all body types. Instead of calling thin women “skinny bitches,” “superficial,” “OCD,” “narcissistic” or whatever other nasty things we can think of, we can embrace who we are without bringing others down.
Otherwise, you assume that “skinny” women don’t have insecurities. Everyone has insecurities. Hell, maybe they’re envious of your sexy smile or your quirky style or your super-awesome crafts or whatever else you’re good at doing.
Don’t assume that just because someone looks the way you want to look — whether that’s skinny or curvy or athletic or whatever you wish you were — she finds herself perfect. Odds are she doesn’t.
I changed my body.
I struggled for years to lose weight. I dieted, I exercised, I cried buckets and eventually, I did lose some weight. And you know what? It was a total disappointment.
My life didn’t change. I wasn’t suddenly batting away bachelors with both hands or magically paying all of my bills on time or being invited everywhere by everybody, or looking amazing in every piece of clothing I tried on.
This is when I realized that I had been wrong all along. I had somehow unconsciously assumed that being thinner was the answer to all my problems. But suddenly, I was thinner, and I still had problems. Sadly, I was no better equipped to handle them.
I had spent so long worrying about my weight that I’d forgotten to worry about my character: to worry about managing conflict, navigating the socially awkward workplace and being financially responsible.
Instead of spending my youth preparing for adulthood, I’d been frivolously worrying about my appearance, so even though I was a little thinner going in, I wasn’t any better off.
Moreover, even though I’d overcome one particular insecurity, a thousand others cropped up in its wake. Suddenly, I hated my nose. My hair wasn’t curly enough. My skin wasn’t smooth. My hands were too big.
Overanalyzing yourself doesn’t stop if you change yourself. It only creates other things for you to overanalyze.
So, nip it in the bud. Find out how to conquer the beast itself — this mania of body bashing — within your mind first.
Instead of changing your body to suit your warped expectations, change your expectations to suit a realistic body image, and don’t forget to leave room for a healthy dose of self-love and acceptance.