Recently I attended a 4 day music festival, which involved camping with hundreds of people. The women’s bathing facility was a 3 stall, door-less, shower house, with an attached ante-room where you were expected to get buck naked, wrap yourself in a towel (or not) and wait in line for your 5 minutes in the shower. Getting naked with a bunch of other women allowed me the opportunity to listen to how women of all shapes, sizes, and ages spoke of their precious selves.
It was painful to hear. I heard women causally refer to themselves as “fat pig”, “ugly”, “stupid”, and “hopeless”. I heard women who had survived cancer or physical violence, who lost breasts or limbs, refer to themselves as “hideous & deformed” – I saw women shower in t-shirts because they could not bear the thought of their scars or saggy breasts being seen. I saw beautiful women with bodies I considered perfect avoid looking at themselves in the mirror because they judged themselves to be too fat or skinny, ugly, flabby, too muscular or weak, too tall or short. I saw women like me, who had lost massive amounts of weight, and cringed as they made sarcastic and unkind comments about sagging skin and body parts. I cringed, because I heard them make some of the same loathsome remarks about themselves that I have thought about myself.
It made me sad that we judge ourselves so harshly… that it’s socially acceptable to speak hatefully of ourselves and is, in fact, the norm. Shifting self-talk from abusive & shaming to loving and affirming is necessary – non-negotiable actually – if we are to live healthy lives in healthy bodies.
Making this shift is challenging, requiring us to question long held truths and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. It demands that we are honest about what we really want and what we are both willing and unwilling to do in our pursuit of health and happiness. It necessitates that we be accountable for our behavior and how we show up in the world. It requires us to take 100% ownership of who and where we are, accepting that we alone are responsible for our happiness and our suffering. The journey itself teaches us to be brave, to make kind and loving choices for ourselves, to choose peace instead of drama and fear. And it takes practice. Lots and lots of practice. Years of it.
Our other option? To continue to chase elusive fixes to ease our suffering. Doing what we’ve always done and getting the same results.
So these last two weeks I’ve been questioning some long held beliefs and pushing myself to step beyond them. Small shifts which increased my happiness and freedom:
1) I have never been sleeveless in public, believing my upper arms were too hideous to reveal, no matter how hot it was. It was 107 in Laytonville and I opted to go sleeveless for 7 days. I was insanely uncomfortable the first 3 days. But the truth is; no one stared or made comments, no small children screamed in terror, and I was much cooler. Handsome strangers asked me to dance and as I danced I did not give my angel wings a second thought.
2) Sometimes it’s hard for me to take in compliments, as I often don’t believe them. After my experience in the showers I decided that I would shower sincere compliments at every opportunity and that I would consciously accept as truth any that came my way. When I received a complement, I paused, took a deep breath and took it in as I looked the giver in the eye to say thank you. It felt good to see the best in people and it also felt good to be seen.
3) I am an introvert and shy by nature. I chose to hear music that my friends weren’t interested in and made a point of talking to everyone I sat next to at the different stages. Without exception everyone I made an open hearted effort to talk to, engaged in conversation and later approached me at other events. Crowds don’t feel so scary to me anymore.
What I know for sure is this – doing the work is worth it.
Every time you catch yourself thinking self-loathing thoughts or calling yourself names; pause, take a deep breath, and replace the negative thought with one that is positive and affirming. You don’t have to believe it when you say it. Your goal is to interrupt the self-depreciating, negative yammering in your brain and replace it with words reflecting self-respect and love. Empowering you to stop reinforcing what you don’t want and start affirming what you DO want in your life. Every time you make a conscious choice and own it, it gets easier. As you shift your attention from what’s “wrong” with you, to what’s “right” with you, your choices become kinder and healthier. With practice, both your self-respect and esteem grow, and you fall in love with your perfectly imperfect self. And the world itself becomes a happier and better place.
Sharon McKenzie, RN is a licensed BSCI Bariatric Educator who facilitates Back on Track, a 6 week course designed to support those experiencing plateaus or weight regain as they get back on track and kick-start their weight loss. Classes start August 18th.