Body Confidence has become somewhat of a buzz phrase of late. We all have a Body and we all strive to be Confident – nothing wrong with that! But I’ll admit, this term sometimes bothers me. I don’t ever want anyone to accept feeling lousy and being at risk for disease because they’ve embraced being overweight in the name of body confidence. On the other hand, I believe that we are ALL deserving of love and self respect regardless of what we look like or how much we weigh. In fact, self love and acceptance are so important that their absence negatively impacts our ability to make and stick to healthy lifestyle changes. I also don’t think that anyone should feel obligated to pursue the insanely unattainable beauty standards that our culture pushes on women.
So, how do you simultaneously love yourself right where you are AND love yourself enough to change? I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll share my story in hopes it helps some of you.
I won’t go into all the details my past disordered eating in this post, but suffice it to say I’ve flirted with fitness and various diets (healthy and not so healthy) all my adult life. I was inconsistent until my 30s when I finally felt bad enough physically and emotionally that I decided it was time to actually DO something about it rather than just complain. Changing my diet at that time seemed so overwhelming, so I decided to start with exercise. I was overweight, but more than that I was tired, struggling with depression, and felt pretty hopeless.
I joined the gym because I knew I needed to exercise, but I was NOT looking forward to it. I needed motivation, so I started meeting a few friends at group exercise classes to hold myself accountable. Luckily, I found some amazing Zumba classes and was hooked. I’ve always loved music and dancing, and losing myself in a good beat with a room full of people was the most fun I’d ever had at the gym. And BONUS: they have childcare. As a mom of 3 young kids, I needed something that was just for ME at that stage of life. And I needed a break from Dora and refilling sippy cups.
I got a great workout, but the experience of moving to the music and feeling the energy of a group of people was also a spiritual experience. It became my church. It broke down walls in me and helped me find myself again. It’s difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but for that hour each day I stopped worrying about my muffin top or who needed a snack and I just enjoyed the feeling of my mind, body, and spirit being in alignment. It was pure JOY. After 6 months of taking classes, I decided that I wanted to teach Zumba so I could help other people experience that feeling. Teaching has been an incredible journey and I’ve grown more confident, become more fit, and stayed consistent because of the responsibility of that role.
Today I’m a Personal Trainer, Certified Health Coach, and a Precision Nutrition level 1 coach, which means I know a lot about getting strong, eating well, and changing behavior. But it doesn’t make me immune to criticizing myself or comparing my body or my fitness level to others. As a trainer, I measure and weigh my clients, analyze their body fat percentages and BMI, and then track that info as we tweak their exercise and nutrition. I train people of all shapes and sizes, and sometimes they are thinner or more fit than I am. That’s OK, because they aren’t paying for my looks or how heavy I can lift, they are paying for my knowledge and coaching. But sometimes, the pressure to look the part of “fitness professional” can be tough.
Recently I was measuring a client whom I perceived to be thinner than I am. As I measured her, it seemed that our numbers were very similar, but I would have sworn that she was thinner. We don’t have the same build, but our waist and hip measurements were very similar, and though I weigh more I’m also taller. I kept trying to figure out how our waist to hip ratio could be identical and the actual measurements so close, and yet she could be so much thinner. I even took my own measurements again, because there was just NO way we were the same size. To my surprise, the measurements were not the issue. Numbers don’t lie! The real problem is my own perception of myself.
For all the body confidence I feel like I’ve “earned” at this point, sometimes I still look in the mirror and see my flaws more than I see my strengths. Now don’t get me wrong, for the most part I’m happy with my body. At 41, I’ve given birth to 3 children and I have no delusions of looking like a Victoria’s Secret model, but I can wear just about whatever I want with confidence, I’m strong enough to haul my own groceries and rearrange the furniture, and that’s enough for me. But on any given day I can go from feeling like a million bucks to focusing on the “fat” (aka SKIN) that hangs over my jeans. Blame it on hormones, a lousy lunch, or the unfair beauty norms our society tries to shove down our throats, but most women have days like this. My point is that you are not alone.
Let’s face it, we live in a society that seems to be consumed with the way we look. Thinner, fitter, curvier, bigger butts, smaller waists, bigger boobs, smoother thighs….everyone is chasing the next goal. In my life and in my job I’m surrounded by strong, fit women, but very few of them are actually happy with where they are right now. Why is that? Is it ever enough? How do we stop focusing on the GOAL and just stop and be grateful for what we ARE right here, right now, in this moment?
Here’s what I know. It starts with what we say to ourselves. Too many of us are walking around replaying ugly words from our past. We repeat these words so often that we believe they are true. So what if we STOP calling ourselves names, berating our food choices, picking apart the way we look in an outfit, and give ourselves the love and respect we need? And I’m not saying it’s OK to do that only WHEN you lose 10 pounds, eat the “clean” meal, go to the gym… I mean even when you just finished off the entire sleeve of Ritz crackers. When you hit snooze for the 87th time and missed your workout. When you have to wear your stretchy pants because nothing else fits. THAT is the moment when you really need to love yourself. Because you wouldn’t keep doing the things that sabotage your goals if you weren’t hurting and in need.
I’ve been calling February the month of self love because that’s what I’ve needed this month. Sometimes self love looks like feeding myself a big, yummy salad that’s jam packed with superfoods and sometimes it looks like a glass of wine in the tub. It never looks like shoving handfuls of chocolate in my face through tears, though I’ve certainly been there before.
Sometimes self love is a yoga class or sleeping in instead of a brutal weight lifting session. Sometimes it’s putting yourself to bed early with a good book and sometimes it’s getting dressed up and going out with people who bring out the best in you. Loving yourself has a whole lot to do with listening to what you need and giving it to yourself and absolutely nothing to do with what you look like. It doesn’t involve shoving feelings down with food, alcohol, sex, or whatever your drug of choice may be. So maybe that’s the real issue I have with Body Confidence – it shifts the perspective back to our bodies, which we spend so damn much time thinking about already. What I want is soul confidence. Mind confidence. ME confidence. To KNOW who I am, what I need, and how to get it. And to think about that more often than I worry about what my butt looks like in my yoga pants.