Tag Archive: Body image

Inner Beauty

Yesterday, as our family was getting ready to head out to run some errands, I decided to try on a dress that I hadn’t worn for a few years. I’m working on decluttering our home, and part of that is getting rid of any clothes that I can’t wear at my current size. In the past 20+ years, I have swung like a pendulum between a size 10 and a size 16, so I have clothes of all sizes in my closet and really need to figure out which ones I want to keep.

About two years ago, at the recommendation of a friend, I read Health At Every Size by Linda Bacon. The scientific evidence of the failure and detrimental effects of dieting were shocking to me. For so many years I had tried over and over to be skinny. I thought I was a failure, but when I read this book I realized that I was not a failure. The diet industry and society had failed to tell me the truth: that I was wonderful and beautiful no matter my size, and that getting skinny would not necessarily make me healthier. In fact, it was likely to harm my health because, among other things, I would almost definitely gain back the weight I had lost and more.

I read the evidence and then looked at my own experience. I’d been dieting since I was 11 years old. My mom told me then that I was a little chubby and it would probably be a good idea. I don’t blame her, she was probably just telling me what everyone believed at that time. But that’s what got me started, and I had been a faithful follower of whatever the current fad diet was ever since. I yo-yoed up and down from that point until I read Health At Every Size, when I finally understood that if I continued to diet I would be harming my body instead of helping it.

Now I focus on moving my body in fun ways and eating intuitively, which is to say that I try to feed my body what it needs when it needs it. I don’t adhere to a breakfast, lunch, and dinner schedule; I eat when my body is hungry. I no longer weigh myself, and I have accepted that I will most likely never be smaller than my current size. My goal now is not weight loss, it is health and learning to love my body.

As I was looking at myself in the mirror, trying to decide whether or not I would be able to wear that particular dress, fretting about certain bulges here and there that I didn’t have the last time I wore it, my daughter came in and told me I looked beautiful. I turned to her and said, “I’m not sure whether I can wear it. I don’t really like this…” and I pointed to one specific bulge that made me cringe a bit. Her response, “Are you afraid to show your inner beauty?” And I realized that she loves every bit of me, even the parts that I may feel are worthy of less love. It’s all beautiful to her because it’s me. And if my 8 year old looks at my body and sees its beauty, I can too.

I realized that I was worried that someone who saw me would think I shouldn’t be wearing something that so obviously showed my fat. But I have fat. It’s part of me. I could hide it, but it would still be there. It was as though I woke up and finally saw things clearly. If we’re not thin, society expects us to hide the fat they’ve been convinced is disgusting. Well, it’s not disgusting, and I’m not going to try to hide it anymore. I no longer care if someone else thinks I shouldn’t be wearing something that makes me feel beautiful (or comfortable). They can decide what they wear on their body, but they don’t get to decide what I put on mine.

I wore the dress. And guess what happened when I walked out of the bathroom? My husband looked at me, smiled, and said, “You’re beautiful.”

Even very young children perform rudimentary e...

Even very young children perform rudimentary experiments in order to learn about the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What if you never saw your reflection? If you only knew what you looked like from your own first-person perspective (think first-person shooter video games), how would that change your life?

In this modern world, we grow up knowing what we look like because we have mirrors and photographs. Now imagine the world of the past, before there were any mirrors. One day you happen upon a still pond in the forest. Thankful for the water on such a hot day, you walk over to it. You crouch down to take a drink and you see your reflection for the first time. Enraptured, you stop and stare. Long minutes pass and still you can’t look away. You find yourself studying every tiny detail. What part of your face most interests you? Are you at all like you imagined? 

I’m on Day 8 of my vow of silence, and I’ve found that when you stop talking it’s easier to listen – to everything. For the past few days I’ve been paying attention to my internal dialogue whenever I see my reflection. I thought this exercise would be interesting, because I’ve recently come to a place where I feel like I’ve made some fantastic progress in self-love. But even with all of the progress I’ve made, the things I say to myself while looking in the mirror still really sadden me. I only now understand how much further I still need to go in my journey of self-acceptance in order to override the more than 30 years of negative messages I’ve received from society and my family.

One of the thoughts that struck me as I was pondering my reflection was that even with a mirror you still don’t accurately see yourself from another’s perspective. Your reflection is a reversal of what others see when they look at you, plus you see yourself through your own filters and self-judgments. Add to that the fact that each person’s experiences, preferences, and filters change how they see you. Now what? How do you look to others? How do you know what parts of you to modify in order to be “better?” Even if you change the things you see that are “imperfect,” how will you know if those are the things others see as flaws?

On reflection (no pun intended), it seems like I use mirrors to seek out the flaws that I’ve been told could make me unlovable or unworthy. Once I find them, my mission, should I accept it, is to somehow try to hide them. I’m so tired of that game, so I’m spending the next little while trying not to look into mirrors. I’m getting in touch with how my body feels, telling my body how amazing it is, and how grateful I am for its strength. I’m learning how to truly appreciate all my body does and has done for me, and I’m hoping to fall in love with it so I can change my internal dialogue.

I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts, and I’d love to hear what you think would happen if you did any or all of these things:

  • What if you painted your mirrors, or covered them with fabric, or removed them entirely? Would you start to see yourself as a better version of yourself? Would you be kinder to yourself?
  • What if you started imagining that you had a more beautiful body, and started loving your body? Would you take better care of it? Would you be more confident? 
  • What if you started choosing clothes based on how they look on the hanger and how they feel on your body instead of how they can hide your flaws? Would getting dressed be easier? Would shopping be more fun? Would you stop caring what other people thought of you?
Light and Blessings,
Anya Phenix 

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