Body Image: Learning to Accept Myself in All Forms
As I sit here struggling to formulate the perfect words for what feels to me like the most important subject I may ever cover, I have to first give myself grace and acknowledge that experiences in life serve as the most valuable forms of education. I just finished recording as a guest on a podcast about body image and body positivity (linked at the bottom of this post), and as I immediately began writing this post thereafter, I started by referring back to the first body image blog post I wrote in 2019. As soon as the post loaded on my screen, I cringed as I felt a familiar warmth throughout my neck and face.
It didn't take more than reading the title to immediately feel disappointed in myself for thinking that I had it all figured out two years ago: "Body Image: Learning to Love Myself." As if that weren't enough evidence that I was nowhere near a place of peace in the journey toward body acceptance, the quote that immediately followed the title states: "My goal is to fall in love with everything that I am." Sigh.
Here is where giving myself endless amounts of grace is critical. Before I can even stomach the thought of reading the rest of the post from 2019 (spoiler alert: I didn't), my initial response in my head was to degrade myself for being so off-base and a huge part of the problem entirely. This, friends, is a shame reaction, and I know before I go head first down that spiral that I genuinely didn't mean harm in what I shared two years ago. My opinions in that post and at that time in my life were based solely on the experiences and knowledge (or lack thereof) that I had at the time.
In the era of Instagram where I spend most of my time connecting with my blog community daily, I often have to remind myself and others of the core purpose of The Honest Mama Blog. Mixed in with fun conversations, family, home decor, brand collaborations, business promotions, and product tutorials and reviews, you will find the mission of this blog which was founded on sharing real life experiences and being vulnerable with the members of this community. I'm here to tell you that I don't have it all figured out and most likely never will. In the same respect, I'll never stop learning and working to better myself and share my experiences with this community, because the connection in shared human experience and feeling "seen" is what matters most.
Let me begin by explaining my mindset when I wrote the post over two years ago, thinking I had finally conquered a lifelong battle with body image issues and a disordered relationship with food and exercise. In January 2018, I began my first journey with therapy as an adult as I was finally able to admit that I was in the trenches of postpartum depression and anxiety and had been for over a year. In my journey to overall "wellness," I set out to get my body to a healthier place as I had put myself last on my list of priorities as a new and first-time mom.
True to form with everything I take on in my life, I threw myself full-throttle into a new mission of overhauling my entire life. My "healthy body" journey very quickly became an unhealthy obsession that I wasn't able to recognize at the time. I created extremely strict rules around food and exercise which impacted my social life and ability to enjoy simple moments with my family. I found myself obsessed with the scale and worked diligently to maintain the lowest weight I had ever reached. While I've been open about my struggles with anorexia and food deprivation during my teenage years, when I began what I formerly referred to as my "healthy lifestyle," I did not have the experience or knowledge to understand that I was back in a disordered relationship with food and exercise because it was simply wrapped in different packaging.
After living through the pandemic and a complete 180 in my life, I slowly but surely abandoned my rules around food and exercise and worked through the process of acceptance in therapy and in my every day life. What I know today from research, experience, and weekly therapy sessions is that recovering from a negative body image is a lifelong process and disordered relationships with food and exercise are not "one size fits all." We live in a society that is obsessed with idealizing bodies and diet culture is everywhere we look as there is always a new fad diet or gym making endless promises to change your life.
A healthy relationship with food for me is one where I listen to my body's needs and am able to enjoy experiences without fear of food or restrictive guidelines. Intuitive eating is a brand new journey that I'm on where I am learning to listen to my body's signals and one that doesn't involve labels such as "clean," or "junk," or "good" and "bad." A healthy relationship with movement is one where I choose forms of exercise that I enjoy - ones that make me feel strong and clear-minded, and that don't have stringent rules around them or come as forms of punishment in attempt to control my physical appearance.
Contrary to the initial body image post from 2019, true body positivity has absolutely nothing to do with being in love with your body and has everything to do with understanding that our bodies will change many times throughout our lives. Body acceptance and appreciation is about honoring our bodies through all of those changes regardless of what they look like, or the numbers reflected on a tag or scale, because we deserve to exist and be loved for who we are. True acceptance is realizing, no matter what society has tried to tell us, that what our bodies look like is the least significant piece of our story.
Accepting ourselves in all forms is possibly one of the hardest obstacles to overcome mentally. I was recently tasked with the mission to pay attention to the messages about body image that surrounded me for a few days, whether in real life conversations or forms of media I consumed, and that's when my true awakening began. It's no wonder we lose such a huge part of our lives obsessing over controlling our bodies when the messages we are consuming over and over, day in and day out, through every possible outlet is that the way that our bodies look is relevant and open for commentary.
The light at the end of this exhausting tunnel is that I truly believe the narrative around body image is slowly but surely changing for the better. A wide variety of body types and photoshop-free images are now being promoted by large brands, and some social media platforms have started to ban weight loss advertisements. More body positive celebrities, bloggers, and influencers are popping up each day with active efforts to end this toxic culture and normalize a life that isn't devoted to adhering to outdated societal rules. The real joy in this for me is being able to envision a future where my daughter doesn't feel the pressure to succumb to diet culture or face the lifelong struggle to be anything other than who she's meant to be.
To listen to my podcast conversation on body image on The Road Jess Traveled, visit this link: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/body-image-issues-learning-to-love-yourself-not-just/id1504874540?i=1000529826117.