I wrote a series of Instagram posts a year ago discussing this idea of body-obsession and the habits I put into place to quit the obsession. These have been so helpful to me, and based on the responses, helpful to many others as well.I wanted to compile them all in one place because I think this is important. Being body-obsessed means you’re constantly wading through a lot of lies and discontentment rather than using that brain space to think of lovely and meaningful things, and I desire for you to free that space up in your brain. So here it is.
Healthy body image, body-positivity, and self-love are hot topics right now, rightfully so in a culture that is all about obtaining the perfect body. I think it’s safe to say that the majority of women struggle on a spectrum of dissatisfaction with their bodies, while at the same time wishing they could be content with what they see. And it turns out that obtaining that a certain ideal look is not only unrealistic but not the cure for body-image sickness. It turns out much of our contentment stems from what our brain thinks about things, hence the move to get women to love and accept themselves no matter their look.
I’ve also come to believe that moving from self-hate to self-love is only part of the battle.
We are part of a body-obsessed culture, thus a large part of the battle is ending the obsession. If we devote less brain space in general to thinking about the shape/look/change of our body, there becomes less and less space for negative thoughts to exist. It takes time, new thought patterns need to be created, faulty scales of importance need to be corrected, but it’s possible.
Habit # 1: Stop doing things out of guilt, only do things because you want to.
Last winter I refused to do any exercise or change any eating habits if it I felt like “I should”. If my brain said something like “I should really go to the gym because It’ll make me look better”,”I should run because hard working people run”,”I shouldn’t eat this baking because I’m gaining weight”, I would force myself to totally ignore those thoughts. Sounds counterintuitive, I know. But I was tired of guilt and body-obsession being the driving factor for my decisions, I wanted to do an activity because I LIKED the activity! So I waited. I didn’t do any (intentional) exercise for a couple months. I ate the Christmas baking that I wanted to eat, and I repeatedly closed the door in the face of guilt. And then one day I wanted to feel the sun on my face and that sense of burning alive-ness that comes after a run so I went for a run. And it felt great. And some days I like to eat nachos but eating them every day doesn’t make my stomach feel good so some days I eat smoothies because I like those too.
Stop doing things out of guilt. Do them because you like them.
How things look a year later: The difference between my reasons for practicing physical fitness in this postpartum period, versus last, are vast. I’m still running, because it has become one of my favourite things to do. I cut back on processed sugar because it’s pretty much universally accepted that it’s not great for your health, and my health goals have changed from “change your body” to “live as long as you can”. On the whole, I have minimal expectations on, and a greater trust in, my body to do what it needs and change when it wants (or not).
Habit # 2: Stop name calling.
This one seems so simple but it has a profound impact. Stop name calling your body or parts of your body. Fat, flat, flabby, bat wings, chicken legs, pancake thighs, ETC! I cringe at those adjectives now, stop using them. When you look at yourself in the mirror, try to make simple statements of fact. “That is my stomach.” “Here are my arms.” The same goes for how you describe others: “She has a body. That is her body”. This could also apply to how you talk about food. You aren’t “bad” or a “cheater” because you eat something.
The point is to stop applying good or bad values to our bodies. The look of our body and the things we consume should reflect NO value on who we are as humans. This truly has had a major impact on me mentally because I no longer look in the mirror and attach all these hurtful descriptors to my body, nor do I compare it to others. My body is just that. A body. So is yours.
How things look a year later: It sounds funny but I actually see the most progress in this area when I look at a photo of myself. Hands up if you immediately pick out all your flaws in photos of yourself? I am aware of photos that are more or less flattering, but I kind of…don’t care? That’s just how I look at that moment.
A sub-habit that goes with this is being cautious about what you are visually ingesting that may have an effect on how you talk/think about yourself. When I used to go on Pinterest frequently, I made an effort to hide or consciously ignore all Pins that said things like “Muffin Top Melter” or “Say Goodbye to Bat Wings” because I didn’t want to encourage that culture nor did I want those names sticking in my subconscious. It really worked: I don’t get served pins like that anymore and I actually had to go to the “Health” category of Pinterest to find some titles for examples. Even if you don’t completely cut media out, be sure to be aware of what tv/magazines/advertisements are trying to make you believe (and thus, sell you)
Habit #3: Take fitness off the top shelf.
In our body obsessed culture, fitness seems to be valued as a more worthy pursuit than others. I’ve long felt as though people who worked out were better people than me: more dedicated, hard working, valuable people. But for many of us, fitness is just a hobby, like any other hobby. I really love to read, but I don’t look at English majors or professors as better people than me because they have pursued their love of books to a higher degree. I don’t look at a professional singer and think: I am a lazier and less valuable person because I didn’t work as hard at singing as they did. Let’s stop viewing fitness as this higher pursuit and instead appreciate it as a fun hobby that we get to do.
The benefits of this are twofold. First, we stop letting our level of pursuit (or lack thereof) of fitness reflect our value. Second, it allows us to respect, admire and learn from those who pursue it to different degrees without taking part in damaging comparisons.
How things look a year later: This is probably the habit I struggle the most with, but for reasons beyond the body-obsession. I’ve discovered I have some definite perfectionist tendencies when it comes to sports and what they say about me as a whole person (e.g. lazy versus hard working, a quitter versus dedicated) and so I’m continuing to work through those beliefs to reach a more healthy and balanced thought pattern.
It HAS helped in how I perceive others who are at different skill levels in fitness and how that makes me think of myself. I am far more capable of cheering others on for their pursuits without feeling like I suck because I’m not doing what they’re doing. I’ve also significantly improved in the area of ‘not comparing your beginning to someone else’s middle’ or whatever that line is. This is definitely still is a work in process.
So there’s that, three little habits.
I’m telling you the truth when I say that I spent a decade wishing and praying that I could stop destroying myself for the way I looked, and it finally happened, largely in part to changing those brain habits and breaking the obsession.
In a podcast on body image I listened to recently, author Hillary McBride asks:
“If you woke up tomorrow and didn’t have anymore body image issues, how would that change how you dress, eat, move, act, relate, shop, think?”
While I still have moments where I don’t feel totally great about myself, I spend significantly less time looking in the mirror, significantly less time stressing over the clothes I wear, significantly less time agonizing over a bad photo, significantly less time sizing myself up to others and finding myself lacking. That’s a lot less time cutting myself down and a lot more time to think, to do, to be, to love. I’m 100% more likely to commit to any physical health habits because I’m either doing them for longterm health or just because I like them, not because I think I need them to make me a better person. I find my relationships with other are better, more wholehearted, because I’m not stuck in comparison.
What would it change for you? How can you start living now to make that a reality?