In the second post in the series on being at peace in the new year, let’s explore the biggie: how to forge a friendship with the body you have.
Just as a heads up: I will be talking openly about disordered eating and body dysmorphia in this post. if those subjects are painful for you, please be gentle with yourself. Maybe reading this will bring you peace and a feeling of community, or maybe the opposite. Make healthy choices for yourself.
It’s no small feat (or is that feet?)
Let’s be real here, ok friend? I’m in full fake-it-til-you-make-it mode on this. I’m trying this one on for size and bopping around in this strange skin for a while just hoping it starts to feel like home. The idea that we can be women on this spinning planet in the 21st century and also be at peace to dance-with-the-body-that-brung us is just beyond my actual grasp. But, like the gravity that keeps our feet planted on the ground whether we acknowledge it or not, I think we all just know that this is available to us.
you can make peace with your body. you can. I can.
We start from different places. That’s ok.
You might be thinking, “What is the big deal? I could use a lift here or a smoothing there, but overall, I’m alright.” Friend, I am so happy for you. What I am about to say might just sound like a completely different language.
I am carting around 20 years of body dysmorphia and disordered eating. You know when you were a kiddo at a carnival and you thought it was so funny to have a peek at yourself in the zany funhouse mirrors? One makes you tall and skinny and the next morphs you into an Oompa Loompa? Every mirror that has caught my gaze in two decades has been a liar. They have all sent the information that my brain has interpreted as fat, discolored, putrid…worthless.
so we are clear moving forward, your worth can never be found in the mirror. That doesn’t change the way it feels.
I have never said anything nice about this frame of mine and actually meant it. Never. Yes, I’ve given her credit for achieving x or attempting y. Those were goal-based compliments. They are achievements from the outside. They have nothing to do with my personal relationship with this skin.
My body and my soul have always been rivals.
Thanks to hormones, it’s like I opened my eyes to find complete disgust in my body in the seventh grade. It feels like overnight I made a radical transition from happily thick band
geek enthusiast to a self-hating tween monster. My only victim: my reflection.
I stopped eating entirely. My sweet mother, lost and desperate to find her happy daughter again, contacted a school guidance counselor who pulled me, empty-handed, from the cafeteria into her office one lunch period. She demanded that I step on the scale. (Yes, there was a scale in the guidance counselor’s office. Process this information. Bless these middle school heroes.) I dropped twenty pounds in about a month and found myself at 104 pounds. I was supposed to be shocked at the loss. Instead, I was disgusted.
“Four pounds still to go, you fat slob.” And so it began at the ripe ol’ age of twelve.
I was taken to the pediatrician. I was told that I was being silly, given some advice about how I need to eat or I wouldn’t live as long as I could otherwise and might struggle to have children. I was placed on a medication to increase my appetite. And that was that.
Thus began the struggle. I was a good kid. I’d been through a pretty traumatic divorce of my parents; the complete ghosting of my father who I wouldn’t know again until college; a new stepdad who I would grow to love in adulthood; a cross-country move; and another move within the city all in about three years. I was spinning. I was desperate for approval. I found myself determined to be, “The smart one” and convinced I could never naturally be, “The pretty one.” That would be my older sister. But I was going to try anyway.
I just wish I could go back and tell that beautiful little girl how perfect she was. I wish I could tell her how loved she was. I wish I could just hug her, sit as she finally let the dam burst and her tears flow, and just speak life into her fragile soul.
I’d do anything to tell her, “dear girl, the God of the whole universe created you, exactly as you are, for a purpose. he loves you more than you will ever know, regardless of what you do. Stop trying so hard. just be you. Make peace with your body.”
About one year later, with yet another move and a new school under my belt, I found myself with a consistently itchy scalp, flakes on my shoulders, and an awkward middle-school boyfriend making fun of my oddly scaly hands in front of the girls at the school who detested me. While it would be years before I saw a dermatologist (my adoring mother was convinced I had dry skin and normal dandruff and I can’t blame her. She had never experienced it before and everyone in my family has dry skin) I was living with a nasty autoimmune disorder. I live with psoriasis.
It is a choice to make peace with your body
For two decades, I haven’t been able to consistently show my body respect. There was a brief period just before meeting my husband and while we were dating where I was genuinely fueling myself with clean foods and a vegetarian diet and devoting daily time on my yoga mat to healing. Memory is a tricky thing, but I look at that season as perhaps the only time when I was focused on being gentle to myself. (There is real foreshadowing here. This might come back up in the post in this series about finding peace with food. Check it out.)
That practice disintegrated as the pace of life quickened. A wedding, a baby, and a cross-country move all came within about a year. Self-work found its place only in the rearview mirror on the self-hate minivan.
This is the time of year where people declare to the world all the ways that they find themselves coming up short and make plans to fix themselves. Well this year, I’m out. I’ve made a different choice.
I’m not interested in a path to “Fixing” me. Normally, that journey comes for sale. Right? I’m not buying. As the author and speaker Glennon Doyle put it this morning, “Quit begging people for directions to places they’ve never been. Start trusting myself to know the way.”
It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.
Instead, I’m looking inward. My word for 2020 is Explore. I am going to explore allllll of what’s inside here. I started by demanding for myself, from myself, the same grace I extend to others. I don’t assign value to people. I don’t consider someone good or bad. They just are. They exist. Here. On this earth with me. Another divine being to do life with. How lucky am I that I get to encounter them?
How lucky are they that they get to encounter me?
So for starters, I have let go of assigning a value for anything I see in the mirror. If I feel that creeping in, I literally say out loud with the voice that I have been given, “Nah.” You know, like I am stopping my puppy from chewing the carpet on the stairs. Because it has to stop. To make peace with your body, it has to stop. Now. That’s my word.
But like, really…this is the absolute hardest part for me. I’m recognizing this. I’m doing it anyway. Remember how I said I’m in full on Fake-it-til-you-make-it territory? This is it.
notice how your body serves you
Did you walk up the stairs without needing a break?
Could your hands prepare food for your family?
When your children were dancing in the kitchen and you joined them, did you see their smiles?
Will your feet carry you under the Ironman finisher arch someday?
Are you currently or have you grown another human being inside your body?
Can you hold a plank for just a second longer than you could yesterday?
Take just an extra second here and there to pause and thank your actual body, the skin and bones and muscles that give you the life that you have. If it doesn’t have to be assigned a good or a bad, you can be grateful for exactly as it is right now and also grateful that you (likely) have the opportunity to change it.
Start with movement
We are meant to move. Our bodies thrive we push them. They want to be tested and retested.
I believe that when our bodies are still but our minds are active, we are putting ourselves on a path to disaster. That is a breeding ground for anxiety. It’s no place for those of us calling a truce with the bodies we have.
Take a walk. Get outside. Feel the sun on your skin. Get on your yoga mat. Stretch. Run a marathon. Dive in the pool. Crank up the music and move. Whatever it takes to light up your soul and connect to that glorious body of yours, stop waiting! This isn’t about declaring that you have to wake up and such and such time to do XYZ. No! This is about just finding ways to incorporate movement into your life in any way that brings you joy. Make peace with your body through movement.
Then find stillness
Alright, I promise I’m not going crazy here, you need both movement and stillness.
What am I really recommending here? Meditation.
This doesn’t have to be difficult! It’s not strange. Just try it. Start by just finding a peaceful area in your home and sitting in stillness for two minutes. Breathe. Maybe count your breaths. When thoughts come, acknowledge them and get back to your breath. This is time just to be heavy on the floor. Your only job is to take up space. Breathe.
If you aren’t finding ways to quiet yourself, you can always try the Headspace App. I have friends who swear by this.
Steady progress is good progress
As you set out to make peace with your body, give yourself time. You might be starting now, but this is a lifelong practice. It’s not meant to be perfect. It’s only meant to be healing. There isn’t really a goal here. You don’t really know when you have made it. I just imagine that one day you wake up to the first 24-hours where you don’t say something terrible about that body of yours. Maybe you notice. Maybe you don’t.
But for sure, you don’t ever have to go back.
If you are interested in more on this journey to be at peace in this new decade, join me over on finding finish lines -the podcast. I’d love to hear from you.