I was 11 years old the first time an adult pointed out a dimple on my leg. I could feel the heat of embarrassment flush my cheeks as I tried to melt into the floor. Something was wrong with me. Up until that point I had never given my body much thought. I loved my body, it served a purpose. I grew up with 4 brothers. I was an athlete and a tomboy. I could keep up with any boy in the neighborhood in a pick up game of basketball or baseball and I had always felt strong. I ate what I wanted with little thought.
That one thoughtless comment by an adult at the age of eleven led me down a long journey of battling eating disorders, body dysmorphia and low self-esteem.
My belief that there was something wrong with me was solidified a few months later while at a slumber party with friends. The girls decided to weigh themselves. I had never given much thought about what I weighed. The only time I had been on a scale was at a doctors office. When my turn came, I stepped on the scale. I outweighed every girl at the slumber party by almost 30lbs. None of the girls were mean about it but they were just as surprised as I was. Never-mind that I was also a foot taller than them.
At 11yrs old I weighed 132 and stood 5’7”. I went home from that slumber party and started my first crash diet.
I spent hours in front of the mirror staring at every “flaw” I found on my body. There was no internet. So I couldn’t just look it up. Instead I bought every Glamour and Cosmopolitan magazine and scoured them to find a woman that had a dimple on her leg. Studies at Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts found that 70% of women say they feel worse about their own looks after reading women’s magazines. I never found a single dimple on any Cosmo model.
This led me to the innate feeling that I was some how damaged. I started working out and dieting obsessively. I was a 3 sport athlete in high school and after practice I would hit the weight room or I would go running. I used my own money to buy a scale and weighed myself twice a day and journaled everything that I ate. One fad diet I tried with a friend was restricting myself to just 4 saltine crackers 3x a day with water along with the diet pills she had stolen from her mom. I had literally zero information on healthy diet and exercise.
To top that off, there were very few healthy role models for girls in the 90’s. That small dimple on the back of my right leg never changed. No matter what I weighed, how little I ate or how much I exercised. That dimple remained the same. What did change was my body image and sense of self worth.
A dancer and soccer player in college my obsession heightened. I started devouring any information I could on diet, nutrition and fitness. It became my religion. I spent my 20’s obsessively experimenting with different exercise programs and diets. I competed in fitness & figure competitions and at 6% body fat still felt inadequate.
The shame I felt about my 11yr old body came back with a vengeance after having kids. Having children meant more changes to my body. Changes that I thought were abnormal and I was ashamed of. Stretch marks and loose skin. There was no open dialogues about those changes. None of the moms on playdates were talking about the changes their bodies went through.
In my late 20’s into my early 30’s I started running. 8 marathons, 25+ half marathons and 100’s of 5k races later I was still unhappy with my body. My self-talk was down right abusive. My desire for the perfect body had turned me into a monster. I was treating myself so unkindly.
In my 30’s I decided I had enough and I set out on a journey to love myself.
I now know after years and years of self loathing that it’s all normal. The stretch marks, the cellulite, the changing body. My body won’t be the same tomorrow as it is today.
Heredity plays a role in the body you’re given. Your body will have certain parameters within which it can work. You will only be able to do as much as your genetic ceiling allows. After learning this I felt like I was able to accept myself. I learned to give myself grace and talk to myself a little more compassionately.
"Body image" is the way that someone perceives their body and assumes that others perceive them. This image is often affected by family, friends, social pressure and the media. Body Dysmorphia is a disorder in which a person is overly worried or obsessed about minor or even imaginary physical flaws. Typically these perceived flaws are not noticeable to anyone else. A person with Body Dysmorphia may feel so anxious about these flaws that they avoid certain social situations and relationships.
One study reports that a staggering 91% of women are unhappy with one or more parts of their bodies and have resorted to dieting to change their look. Changing your body’s appearance, size, shape or weight will not change your body image. I’ve learned this through not only working through this on my own, but through years of working with women of every shape and size. I’ve worked with professional athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models and people who have had weight loss surgery and lost a lot of weight. All of them have had things about their bodies that they didn’t like.
I'd be lying if I said that I don't still struggle with it. I photoshop almost every picture I post. I still see those dimples and fight with myself about stretch marks. There are hundreds of thousands of photo editing apps geared towards making ourselves appear better looking in pictures.
How do we normalize loving our selves and embracing our bodies no matter what shape and size? How do we start an open dialogue to normalize being normal? What is your perception of self? How do you feel about yourself? Body image is not skin deep. How do you treat your body or talk to yourself?
If you treat yourself poorly and have a habit of negative self talk, then no matter how you change your look or your size you will not change your body image. This is less about your body and how you look and more about your relationship with yourself.
You need to recognize that if you lose X amount of pounds or you gain X amount of pounds or if you can squeeze into a certain size, that isn’t going to create a healthy body image.
Body image doesn’t just change overnight. It’s a day in and day out process to cultivate positive body image and to perceive our bodies as good enough and to love them.
Our bodies are always changing. We aren’t static beings. Every day there are different energy demands on our bodies. We go through different seasons of life. Our bodies are meant to change. So if we are depending on these bodies to give us a sense of self-worth and self-love we are setting ourselves up to be disappointed. It’s about our perception of ourselves and having an enormous amount of self compassion that is going to provide positive body image in the long term.
In part 2, I’ll discuss some steps you can take to start the process of loving and embracing your body. I'll also talk about how the sex positive community has been a tremendous help for me and my body image. For now, take some time to reflect on how you perceive yourself and start practicing positive self-talk. If you have been struggling with body image or body dysmorphia disorder, this isn’t a quick fix. This will take time. Be patient. Be kind.
Your relationship with yourself is your reality and is what you have to live with. You can make it a positive experience or an abusive and draining experience. I want to support you having a break through of loving and connecting to your body.
I know first hand, it’s been a long road learning to love myself.