Apologize to your body. Maybe that’s where the healing begins. ~Nayyirah Waheed
In my last piece, How I Find Happiness, I talked about a number of things I try to do and/or practice in order to maintain my joy during difficult times. I’m piggybacking off of that post to discuss my body because, like it or not, my happiness is also very much linked to the relationship I have with my physical appearance. To be honest, this is very uncomfortable to share but also a necessary part of breaking down the illusions that keep us from feeling like we can’t relate to each other.
Like many young women, I started picking myself apart when I started puberty and it never really stopped. I never truly felt comfortable in my own skin and I had – and kinda still do – a warped perception of what I looked like – what my body should look like. In reality, I’m a very socially acceptable size. I’ve never been a big girl and I’ve never been very skinny either. I’ve always existed somewhere in the middle. Yet, I never felt that I was…enough.
In hindsight, I think maintaining social acceptance as it relates to my physical appearance was more important to me than I wanted to admit. I’ve always had a full face. No matter how skinny I would get, my face always remained…rosy shall we say. If I put on a little weight the first place it goes is to my face. I’ve always been extremely sensitive about it and when family members would make comments about my face getting fat growing up I would internalize it – If you’re from a West Indian upbringing you know that many parents and other family members generally have no filter and think that it’s okay to make unsolicited remarks about appearance and your life choices in general but that’s a whole other post…
That being said, I was also one of those people who relied heavily on genetics when it came to my body. I spent the majority of my teenage years and all of my twenties barely exercising and eating whatever I wanted while being able to maintain a “healthy” weight for my body type.
When I was seventeen, I started suffering from anxiety attacks – I would get sudden waves of nausea, sweats and feel weak to the point of not being able to move. These attacks would come and go, but because I suffered in silence and never did anything to address the issue, I found that during stressful times I would lose weight. I wasn’t healthy at all, but because I fit into the mold of what is seen as desirable and acceptable by societal and cultural standards, people thought I was healthy and would compliment my petite frame, not knowing part of what kept me fashionably petite was in actuality crippling my ability to enjoy life. It never really seemed to matter how small I was though, I still found things about my body to dislike.
When I turned thirty I started to slowly embrace exercise into my life on a consistent basis – and by the time I was thirty-three, I had made it a part of my regular routine. I wasn’t as small as I was when I was in my twenties, but I felt physically and mentally at my healthiest. I also noticed a significant drop in the anxiety attacks I would experience when stressed out. Then I got pregnant…
I did NOTHING for my entire pregnancy. By the time the dark cloud of vomiting and nausea during my first trimester had lifted, I was hit with some other weird and horrible pregnancy symptom. I was tired all the time and couldn’t bring myself to do much of anything. After having my daughter I had to learn how to accept and embrace the new reality that was/is my body.
My body will never look the same. I have stretch marks on my lower belly that weren’t there before, no matter how fit I get my upper abs now exist in harmony with my Mom pooch, and my breasts look like they now belong in National Geographic. I am the definition of ‘Mom bod.’ I’ve read all the articles on learning to love your tiger stripes etc., but to be honest, I don’t think I ever will. And truthfully, I’m actually tired of investing emotion into my physical appearance all the time – whether it be loving myself or hating myself. I really just want to be indifferent towards the changes that have happened to my body. I don’t want to have to force myself to love these changes, and I don’t want to waste negative energy hating the changes either. I just want to accept that they’re there and keep it moving.
I remember when I got pregnant with my daughter Neylan, I promised myself I would really work on being kinder about the way I viewed my physical appearance so that I wouldn’t project my own insecurities and warped views on body image on to her. About five months after having Neylan I started to focus on my workouts again and by the time she was two I had gotten into the best shape of my life. I was the strongest I had ever been and it really helped me manage the confidence I had lost post-birth.
In the past year, my workouts haven’t been as consistent and I’ve lost a lot of the progress I had made a year ago, but as I start getting back on track, the mental benefits I took away during my workouts the first time around are returning. My focus has slightly shifted more to what my body is capable of physically rather than what it looks like physically and this has made all the difference.
By far, the greatest benefit of working out for me has been the mental benefits. I channel a lot of my anxieties and insecurities into my exercise. It has helped me cope with depression, uncertainty and lack of confidence. It truly is another form of therapy for me, and the reason why I try to approach exercise from a holistic perspective rather than for the purpose of vanity alone.
I’m definitely that person who values a good workout but will rarely pass up chocolate and/or cookies. That may mean I never quite get rid of my Mom pooch – but hey – that’s how I’m rolling these days. I treat exercise as a part of my life, not the centre of it. My aim is to maintain a lifestyle of balance so that it is something I can sustain long-term. It’s a journey, not a destination. I will always have to work on moving my body and eating as sensibly as possible – but I will also enjoy my life. I will eat the carrot sticks AND the Cinnamon Bun, thank you very much!
I look less and less to celebrity women and Instagram models – or even people I may personally know to define the relationship I have with my body. My “body goals” are the ones I set for myself – they’re not based around somebody else’s lifestyle or an image of a ripped looking woman whose body I would probably never attain even if I were to do everything she was doing. My body goals are simply to keep active, be grateful for its health and strength and to enjoy life in it without attaching my value to it. These goals may change over time but for right now they work for me.
I have good days and bad days. But overall I’ve come a long way from the teenager and twenty-something-year-old who could never find anything about her body to love. I’ve even made peace with my full face. I stopped hating it when my daughter was born and came out with the same full cheeks as me. How could I hate my legacy? It warms my heart that parts of my physical appearance are now a part of her.
I never appreciated my body when I was at my smallest and unmarked by childbirth. When would I ever have been satisfied with it? My body was never the problem. The problem was the way I thought my body should have to look in order to be allowed to exist in this world. Once I came to the realization that I was always going to be a slave to chasing unattainable perfection, I made the mental shift away from viewing my body as a part of me that needed to be accepted by others in order to be of value and started working on accepting myself on my own terms and in the present. It’s exhausting work, but I’d rather be exhausted by the effort I put in to reject unhealthy and warped social norms specific to our bodies than to be crushed under the weight of having to uphold them.
How has the relationship that you have with your body changed as you’ve gotten older? Has it gotten better, worse, or stayed the same?
I hope you find someone who speaks your language so you don’t have…11 September 2018