Reflections of a former self-loather and how I am learning to love myself again.
For most of my life, I’ve hated my body. I’ve hated every curve, every roll, every pimple, every scar, every part of me that wasn’t up to standard. Ironically, that “standard” was based on something that was anything but standard. My view of what is beautiful has forever been skewed by the media, by the models on the cover of the “Swimsuit Edition” of Sports Illustrated, by this imaginary picture in my mind of what I think I should be or what I should weigh.
I have struggled with my weight off and on for most of my life. I’ve had a hate-love relationship with fitness and food for the majority of my life. I looked at the gym as the means to an end: namely, a way to eat whatever I wanted, but in order to do that, I had to put the time in at the gym. I had to spend an hour on the treadmill. Or I saw the gym as “punishment” for poor food choices I made over a weekend or after a night out with friends.
For part of my freshman year of college, running was my coping mechanism for one of the most difficult seasons of my life after a messy breakup, but it was paired with another unhealthy coping strategy: starving myself. I became obsessed with running and eating as little as possible. Food became my idol or rather the lack thereof. I think in my mind I thought if I lost enough weight, maybe that boyfriend would take me back. Maybe he would see me and realize what he had lost. Looking back now, I realize that those thoughts were just negative self-talk and lies I was telling myself. I was rationalizing some of the most awful coping strategies. Thankfully, I had friends who made sure I would go to the cafeteria to eat. They would ask if I had eaten and told me that I didn’t have to go run another mile (after already running four that day).
Later, after tearing my ACL and being sidelined from any physical activity, my demons would return only in the form of a depression I just couldn’t shake. I was in counseling for the better part of my junior year. It was then I began to wrestle with my demons of self-image, self-worth, and what I believed about my body. I made some progress, but I had only begun to peel back the first layer of a multi-layered “onion” of issues.
I moved to China after college, and it was there, I began to explore what it meant to see fitness as something to be enjoyed, rather than a means to an end. I discovered Crossfit (power lifting) and indoor rowing, two things I still really enjoy to this day. However, I still really hadn’t addressed the root of my self-image issues: a deep self-loathing of my own body and the skin I was in.
After returning from China, I soon discovered another practice where I would begin to address that self-loathing and hatred toward this body I live in. Usually, when I see myself in the bathroom mirror, those voices in my head about my body shape or the pounds I feel like I have to lose or the way I relate with other people in my relationships can sometimes become overwhelming. Not good enough. Not skinny enough. Not ___________ enough. NOT ENOUGH.
However through my practice, my yoga mat became a place where those voices weren’t allowed. It became a place where those voices quieted to the point of being non-existent, despite the fact that I was looking at myself in the mirror, studying my reflection and the position of my body as I moved through pose after pose. I began to see grace as I saw every imperfection and began to realize that I was created to be exactly as I am. It was on my mat that those voices of judgment began to be overruled by voices marveling at what I could do and what my body is capable of. I might not have been able to wear a size 2, but I learned to shift from Crow pose into Chaturanga Dandasana in one single motion. I might have had to fight to find jeans that fit exactly right, but I often found myself in Half-Moon pose, balanced on one leg with arms extended. Through yoga, I began to find grace in the imperfections.
Probably the most significant decision I made in my journey was when I decided that I needed to go back to counseling. For many, this decision to seek help is one of the most difficult. For me, this was no exception, but once I jumped in, I found that peeling back the “onion” of my self-image and self-loathing problems, while challenging, was rewarding. I began to see the reasons for my struggles. It all began to make sense. My self-loathing and self-hatred was rooted in one simple word: shame.
Shame has played a significant role in my relationship with fitness, my relationship with food, and my relationship with my own body. For many people, shame is that constrictor that paralyzes and limits. Shame actually hurts the people around us too. My husband often tells me that it’s upsetting when I talk so negatively about myself. He often reminds me that he loves me for who I am, not for who he wishes I was. He’s been a key part of my own journey and I am so thankful to have a partner who is so encouraging and wanting to see me grow and learn to love myself just as I am.
While I haven’t completely worked through all of my struggles, I am finding that every day is a little easier than the last. The voices of judgment in my head as I see myself in the mirror are beginning to quiet. Some days, I don’t even hear them. There are bad days where the negative self-talk returns, but it’s all about getting up and trying again. I have found grace and encouragement in community. The gym I am a part of has become a team, a family of sorts for me. The trainers and other people I sweat with and celebrate successes with are people that have become the final piece to my puzzle. As I see growth in my own abilities, as my capability with weights and mileage grow, so does my own marveling of what my body can do and what I could truly become.
I am learning to love the skin I’m in instead of hating it. I’m learning to see my body as strong instead of loathing every imperfection. The journey hasn’t been easy. But it’s been and continues to be worth it.