2 steps forward, 1 step back – the positive body image dance

the relative joy of entrepreneurship.png

Friend and fellow entrepreneur Christina Boyd-Smith passed on this graphic illustrating the progress of entrepreneurship. It has a few swear words in it. Words I have NEVER uttered. I swear.

Positive body image is just like entrepreneurship – two steps forward, and one step back. Sometimes it’s three steps back. Sometimes you trip. Sometimes you fall spectacularly. But you pick yourself up and keep going.

I have been struggling with maintaining positive body image lately, and I figured it’s time I write about it. News flash – I don’t have it all figured out! Not by a long shot. But I’m still trying. 

When I started thinking about this post, this graphic popped right into my mind. The “WTF happened?” part in particular. Things with body image can be all “champagne!” and then BOOM, they’re not. It might even be the champagne that contributes to that. (Or maybe it’s the chocolate. Or both.) It can start by catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror, or seeing a photo of yourself.

I could write a long list of things I don’t like about my body. At the top of that list right now would be that I’ve gained enough weight that a lot of my pants are feeling really snug. I’m also in the midst of finally letting my hair go grey. Sigh.

But why does there need to be a list? Or if there is a list, why isn’t it all the amazing things about my body? And why aren’t gaining some weight and grey hair amazing? Thinking about all of this makes me want to eat more chocolate. Which then makes me feel like a failure. And so it continues…

Does this spiral of negative thinking sound familiar to you? Yours might have a different spin to it, but the black hole of negative body image is powerful for so many of us. Throw in a peri-menopausal mood swing or twelve and it’s a supernova.

breaking the spiral

I can get to a pretty dark, negative place in my feelings about myself – I spent a lot of years hating and hiding my body, and I got really good at it. Learning to like my body has been a slow process, and it is a path I have to take consciously. It isn’t second nature or effortless, and it very likely never will be.

How do I break the spiral?

When the negative body image thoughts get going, the first step is to say, “Stop.” Say it in your head or out loud if you need to, but definitely say it. Disrupting the pattern of thinking is key.

It’s really important not to be hard on yourself for the negative thoughts – acknowledge that you are feeling them. What helps to change them is to move through them to a different place. Saying “Stop” is a way to acknowledge them and begin a new trajectory.

Then ask yourself, “What would I say to a friend if she were saying these things about herself and her body?” Then SAY THOSE THINGS. To yourself. Out loud if you need to! Say them again. And if you find yourself arguing with the kind – and true – things, say “Stop,” and try again.

As for the too-tight pants. This could be a trigger of negative body image every. single. morning. Here’s the thing – they are just pants. And the number on the scale is just a number. To be honest, I haven’t weighed myself – I don’t need to – I know the number is higher because of the too-tight pants! No need to feed the shame cycle with seeing the higher number on the scale. Here’s what I do instead:

I put on bigger pants.

Ones that fit my body right now, today, this week, or however long I’m at this current weight. Another news flash – weight can fluctuate or change as much as your mood during peri-menopause. Wearing too-tight pants just makes you feel bad. So don’t do it! Heck, maybe I’ll wear a skirt or dress today!

And then I tell myself: Which pants I’m wearing, the number on the scale, the number of grey hairs on my head – these things do not determine my self-worth. How I treat myself, how I let others treat me, how I treat others; these are the stuff of self-worth. How I show up in my life is what makes me ME. Not the too-tight pants.

How I treat myself, how I let others treat me, how I treat others; these are the stuff of self-worth. How I show up in my life is what makes me ME. Not the too-tight pants.

two steps forward

My two steps forward for positive body image are taking care of myself and dressing in an intentional way. Making an effort to keep my body healthy and strong with good food, exercise, mindfulness, sleep (another peri-menopause rollercoaster), and permission to indulge sometimes keeps me in touch with my physical well-being.

Embracing my body as it is right now and dressing intentionally to feel my best keeps me in touch with my psychological well-being. Feeling good about what you are wearing helps you to feel good about your whole self. Dressing intentionally is a way to say “Stop” to the cycle of negativity in a tangible, visible way that also helps you bring your best self to the world. It’s called “enclothed cognition” – your clothing affects your confidence levels and overall psychological state.

I will always have the one step back in the positive body image dance, but I’m still moving forward. With each setback, I use the practices I’ve learned to treat myself with the compassion and kindness that I deserve. I want that for you too. Every person – particularly us women – deserves that.

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4 thoughts on “2 steps forward, 1 step back – the positive body image dance

  1. I love this post! I have been having some big struggles with body image, and even thought I have had these same conversations in my head, this gives me more peace of mind that it is OK. Thanks Nancy!

  2. Good grief this is timely! Nancy, you are a godsend. You acknowledge what all the rest of us are thinking but not wanting to say out loud.

    Wanna set a date for a proactive walk-and-chat in the park in June? Let’s do it…we are long overdue!

    Thank you,
    Heather

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