Friday, June 18, 2010

ignoring the weeds and loving our bodies

I've spent a bit of time in our yard recently and realized that I don't enjoy it. I only see the weeds. I sit in my swing that I longed for, and pop up after about 3 minutes to pull weeds. Yesterday I walked by the side of the house, bent down to pull a bunch of weeds–my head was 3 inches from some gorgeous and delicate pink roses– but I didn't even notice them. I stood up to move on and caught a hint of their delicate perfume. I stopped. Looked at the roses, bent down and inhaled their fragrance. It calmed me, it made me happy. It got me thinking.

I hear moms say all the time, "I don't want to pass my body issues on to my kids." How many of us spend our lives only seeing our own "weeds" and ignoring our wonderful bodies? Do you look in the mirror and only see the pimple, the tummy roll, the bulge under the bra strap? We miss out on so much wonder and beauty, and spoil the experience of being in the garden ("life"-sorry for the cheesy metaphor) when all we see are the weeds.

It's not easy to turn this around. But here are a few thoughts. Consciously think about good things about your garden-body. At first this will likely take considerable effort, but let's rewire those brains and see what happens!

Write them down if you have to. Five things every day. Like,
1) "I went for a walk today and my feet didn't hurt." (I've had major feet problems over the years.)
2) when I smile, others smile back at me
3) It felt good when I got a hug this morning. M likes sitting on my knee and giving me hugs.
4) My hands can cut a red pepper into one long strip that coils up and is fun to eat.
5) I liked talking to my friend on my walk today, and I wasn't out of breath, even on the uphills

Focus on what feels good, what attributes you are proud of. This is not easy. We have largely been raised in a culture that encourages us to judge our worth based on our appearance, with a wholly unattainable ideal to compare to.

If you worry about passing on a negative body image to your children, maybe fake it at first. Start with being very conscious about not saying things out loud in front of your children. ("I hate my thighs," or "I can't wear a bathing suit with my tummy hanging out...") Both comments I have heard from women varying from sizes 0 to 18. I know I have far fewer "bad body" days since consciously watching what I say and think (it's pretty effortless now) for the sake of my daughter initially, but I have been happier as well.

I'm currently reading "Life Doesn't Begin Five Pounds From Now" by Jess Weiner about stopping the fat talk. I've also read Roth's "When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair." which I thought was fine as well. And remember, studies show what we know in our hearts, self-loathing and shame are not good motivators for being happy and taking care of ourselves. So back to the garden metaphor. Take time to smell the roses, and ignore the weeds. Fertilize your little garden with things that refresh and fulfill you. A walk? Some funny TV, spiritual practices, a few minutes with a book and some good chocolate?

A disclaimer: I am not an expert on this issue, and would love to hear from my readers about helpful resources etc. Am I off-base? How have your lives changed if you've been able to "rewire" your brain and forget the weeds, even if just for a little while?


  1. I had a much better figure twenty years ago but I love my body better today because of exactly what you said, I stopped focusing on the weeds and instead saw a lot of great roses.

    And it changed the way I look at other people. Now instead of seeing their physical weeds I see the beautiful things about them. Someone might be balding but they have gorgeous eyebrows. They might have crooked teeth but a charming smile. It's all in how you look at things.

  2. Thanks. I agree about how the love can be directed to others as well. I know that I had weight-biased feelings (as most docs do) as a result of my biased medical training. Having unlearned and unbrainwashed myself about weight and disease etc, has helped get rid of the sense of judgment towards others that I know I had. (You know, you hear the mom say, "He's fat because he eats too big portions of unhealthy food...") I think that if you believe that folks can control their weight if they just "wanted to" (yourself included) you do tend to have a lot of negative feelings and judgment. I used to be down on myself if I gained weight, had lumps etc, and now I know better. I'm thankful, and the kindness is catchy.

  3. I have finally just about stopped the mental negative talk about my behaviors regarding food and exercise and before I go to bed, I take time to thank my body for all it has done for me today, but I still can't look in a mirror, at all, I can't look at my drivers license, and I hate the thought of being in a photo, in fact, getting a photo of myself that I don't completely hate has been the hardest part of the adoption process, other than the waiting. I also hate smiling because my family always said I looked bad when I smile and now when my husband tells me how beautiful I am when I smile it makes me feel really self conscious.

    I really like your thought of counting when people smile back at you, because the other day in the grocery store, the yummiest man in the world (other than my husband of course, okay, he's yummier than my husband, at least on the surface) gave me a big old smile and it really made me feel good for several days. While I intellectually know he was just being polite, it still made me feel really good.

  4. Good for you on stopping the negative talk. Again, there are deep neural pathways that need to be changed. It will take time. I used to tell patients that it's like ruts in the road. That you've driven your wagon one way for so long it made deep ruts in the road. It feels natural and easy for your wagon to stay on that path. In fact, it takes sometimes Herculean, conscious effort to get the wagon to jump out of those grooves. Its natural tendency will be to seek out the easy, carved path. With time and conscious effort though you are forging a new road, a healthier path that you can follow. You will at times drop back into the old path, but over time, it will take less effort and eventually I believe that old road can fade away and you will travel and make new roads... Good luck!

  5. I've managed to live happily in my body for a few months now (after years of struggling with body image issues), and I have to say letting go of the body shame is like taking a weight off your shoulders. I think the problem most people have with the whole "love your body" thing is that they cannot conceive looking at their bodies and going "Oh, I love my stretch marks!" "My cellulite is so sexy!" and so on. The thing is, you don't have to "love" your body's "imperfections" – you just have to accept them, learn to live with them, and work on not placing all your self-worth on bodily "perfection". For me, loving my body means having neutral feelings about it, about all of it: I have managed not to feel disgusted by my "imperfections", but this doesn't mean going "Oh, I love these stretch marks so much, they are so beautiful, I wish I could have more!" They are a part of my body, and I don't feel happy or unhappy about them, in the same way that I don't feel happy or unhappy about having two legs, a belly button, eyelashes or earlobes. They are not beautiful or disgusting, they just are!

  6. This is awesome! I like your point. It is freeing. I also find that when I'm not feeling good about myself I can now say, "I'm having a low self-esteem day" and not put the feelings off onto my body... I think my Hub prefers me to say, "I'm not feeling good about myself" and get a hug and some love, vs. the dreaded "I feel fat." (How does a partner respond?)
    Anyway, love "they just are." Freed up the mental energy to focus and love the positives...

  7. Such a timely post for me! After doing such hard work for 3 months to become a (mostly) competent eater, I still have so many negative thoughts about my body. It's hard to accept that even though I am eating "normally" I will most likely stay at this weight--which is much much higher than I want to be.

    I will have to take you guys' word for it that body acceptance is possible because it seems so difficult. I really appreciate your perspective, Il, that acceptance does not have to equal love, that our feelings about our bodies or specific body parts can be neutral.

    One way I work on this is to stop judging other people. Definatalie had a great post awhile back about judging others that really spoke to me. I, too, have always enjoyed some snarky fashion websites, but I am finding that judging what others are wearing/look like is have a profoundly negative affect on my own self-image. I have been practicing looking at people out in the world--big, little, short, tall, fair, dark, whatever--as positively as possible. It's amazing how ingrained my own discrimination against other fat people is, so sometimes I have to work hard at seeing past the fat to the cute shoes or the great hair color or the confident stride.


  8. I discovered FA through "Overcoming Overeating," which has a wonderful section on mirror-work and looking at your body neutrally and/or positively, depending on where you were in your self-acceptance journey. When I was doing that regularly, it was an incredible gift, because I could deal with clothes shopping and other activities in a far more positive way.

    At the moment I've backslid into some of my old patterns and really need to work on that.