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.

bikini rebellion

how do you get a bikini body

So the bikini. What feelings do you experience when you think about wearing a bikini? With your body, as is, right now. Fear and shame, or a big, “Hell, yeah!”

For pretty much my entire life since beginning adolescence, I fell into the first category. I LOVE to swim – I was on a swim team for years, but suddenly stopped in high school. I hated wearing swimsuits. Not just bikinis; I hated wearing all swimsuits. In a swimsuit, all my body image issues were painfully exposed to me.

Well into adulthood, I still hated them. I always covered up with a towel or shirt whenever possible. A bikini was out of the question. I couldn’t bear to show my stomach.

Ironically, it was at age 44 that I decided to say “Eff You” to the body image monsters in my brain. After giving birth, which changed my waist, left me with (more) stretch marks, and did something weird to my belly button area making it wobbly and “schmoogy.” Add aging and weight fluctuations to that, and there’s sagging skin here and there, general wiggles and jiggles, and cellulite. Awesome!

And yes, it is AWESOME. All these “flaws” are the roadmap of my LIFE, on my body, representing MY amazing experiences. Having my beautiful daughter. Gaining the upper hand on negative body image. Trying hard to age with strength and empowerment, rather than succumb to the unrealistic, ridiculous “ideals” our culture tells us we should meet.

These “flaws” are the roadmap of my LIFE, on my body, representing MY amazing experiences.

blue bikini

So the bikini. I wear one now. And guess what – I LIKE IT.

I have worn one since my family spent a year in Europe in 2012, and I saw that every woman – literally, every one except me – was wearing a bikini when swimming. No matter her age, size, body type, or weight.

Talk about standing out like a sore thumb – people actually did double-takes at my tankini that covered me all up. They did double-takes because they thought it was weird that I would cover myself up like that for swimming and time at the beach! It vividly illustrated to me how our – the United States’ – cultural norms around women’s bodies are completely ridiculous.

If all of those women could do it, so could I. So I tried it. I’m actually physically more comfortable in a bikini, because having less wet fabric against my body makes me less cold. I still have niggling negative thoughts sometimes, but that’s where #bikinirebellion comes in.

#bikinirebellion

Last year, lifestyle and fitness coach Neghar Fonooni started the Bikini Rebellion as way to fight against the idea of a “bikini body,” meaning that to wear a bikini you have to look a certain way. The movement has exploded, and on all social media platforms women are posting pictures of themselves rocking a bikini.

Who says we can’t wear a bikini if we aren’t of a certain body type? Who says we can’t wear a bikini if we ARE of a certain age? If you want to wear a bikini, WEAR a bikini. If you don’t, that’s your choice too.

That’s the thing. To me, bikini rebellion isn’t about the bikini, per se. It’s about embracing yourself, including your beautiful body, AS IS. Meaning, don’t deny yourself self-love and feeling beautiful. Do it now. Wear that something that you’ve always wanted to wear, but felt like you shouldn’t because of X, Y, or Z. Be it a bikini, or a party dress, or skinny jeans, or shorts, or a swimsuit of any sort. Wear it, and love yourself for it.

Live your life. ENJOY your life.

Don’t deny yourself self-love and feeling beautiful. Do it now. Wear that something that you’ve always wanted to wear, but felt like you shouldn’t because of X, Y, or Z. Be it a bikini, or a party dress, or skinny jeans, or shorts, or a swimsuit of any sort. Wear it, and love yourself for it.

the big, bad internet

I’ve just posted photos of myself wearing a bikini on the Internet. I am a person who has historically hated wearing swimsuits, much less being photographed in them. What the heck am I doing?

There’s the ugliness that so many people feel free to engage in through the anonymity of the Internet. And once an image is out there, it’s out there forever. Once it’s posted, that’s it – you no longer have control over it. These are valid concerns.

But that’s just it. There’s something extremely empowering about taking control of how you perceive your own body image. And putting THAT out there for others to see feels amazing. Saying to the world, “I am embracing my body and showing love for myself by doing this,” is what it’s really about. That is the power of the #bikinirebellion movement.

I am embracing my body and showing love for myself by doing this.

You don’t have to post a photograph on the Internet to accomplish that. Do what works for you. My bikini photos are my way of grabbing negative body image by the horns and showing it who’s boss.

What makes you want to grab the bull by its horns? What can you do for yourself today that makes you feel strong, confident, and amazing?

bikini power

Bikini Power!

shedding the sweaters: embracing your body

Every Spring I go through a little mini-crisis relating to body image.

What? As a wardrobe consultant, I’m supposed to have it all figured out, right? Not even close. I have made big strides in embracing positive body image in that I see the negative messages for what they are and mindfully dismiss them. I do this most of the time. I still have days, though. And I try to be forgiving of myself and to give myself the same care I give my clients, friends, and loved-ones.

There’s something about shedding the sweaters – literally wearing less clothes as the weather gets warmer – that triggers the old anxiety for me. Layers of oversized clothing were my old way of hiding my body.

peanuts snoopy steals security blanket

Those cozy sweaters are like wearable security blankets, and I resist giving them up, even though I’m THRILLED with the warm sunshine. I have to wean myself from sweaters, usually by switching to tailored jackets or lighter-weight layers – but still layers.

shedding_sweaters

Add aging into the mix now, and it gets even messier. Those “Around the Web” ads on the Web that come up promising quick fixes for “crepe skin” are particularly horrid. Skin changes as it ages, and we’re supposed to think that is disgusting, not just a natural process. It is exhausting to think about all the things we’re supposed to hide, camouflage or fix – at any age.

Let’s BE PROUD of our bodies, and especially our skin with all its freckles, wrinkles, and marks! It means were here LIVING. Get over it Internet.

shirtdress_cropped jeans

So when it’s time to shed the sweaters, I do my little thin-layer thing – using camis underneath (just another version of a security blanket), fitted tunics and short dresses over cropped or skinny jeans, a close-fitting denim jacket as a shirt with a fun silk scarf. And I slowly start to reveal more skin and more body definition. By the time it’s warm enough for shorts and sleeveless tops in Minnesota, I’ll be ready!

Embrace your body – it’s the only one you’ve got. Take some slow, deep breaths and mindfully tell yourself, “I am beautiful. I deserve to show that to the world.” Say it again. And again.

Keep saying it until you feel your heart rate slow, your body calm, and your mind catch up with what you know deep down is true. You are beautiful. You deserve to show that to the world.