Most of us know what it is like to struggle with body image. But when you look at it from another person’s point of view, it can change everything. Body image can be tricky. It’s something even the most beautiful women I’ve ever known have struggled with.
I’ve had three kids and I’m no longer 20. There is plenty to miss. How many outfits have I refused to wear? What fun activities did I turn down? At which social events did I feel out of place because I didn’t measure up for some imagined reason?
That seems to be how most of us live. As kids we learn to be ashamed at far too young of an age. Society teaches us an ideal and we buy into it, we feed into it. In doing so, we become part of the cycle.
I’ve never liked the emphasis society placed on physical ideals. I believed them to be shallow. Somehow, in spite of my beliefs, I still fostered my own pockets of shame. I still judged the parts of my body that just didn’t seem quite right, but in one moment, one woman changed my entire outlook on shame.
How Will You See Your Body as You Age?
For years and years, my job was to learn the eating and physical activity habits of thousands of patients. As a part of this, I evaluated fat and muscle stores to their personal baseline and healthy goals, then did everything in my power to assure they healed to their highest ability.
One day I went to provide care to a woman in her mid-80’s who had been admitted to the hospital. She suffered a mild illness and would be going home in a couple days. Since she was low risk, the evaluation was simple. I began by talking with her about her eating habits and hobbies as I checked her upper body strength and energy stores.
Then the conversation moved to the limits she faced in walking. I started to check the muscle tone in her legs when out of nowhere, she apologized. I asked, “Why?”. It seemed odd and out of place in the conversation. She said, “I’m sorry my legs are so fat.”
I looked at her and believed she was exactly as she was intended to be, and that she was perfect. I replied with my insight, “You are perfect”, and she smiled.
In that moment, I know I couldn’t change the way she viewed her body. It wouldn’t be fixed so easily, even though every part of me wanted to take that burden from her. But in that moment, she made me question the way I saw my own body and helped me to redefine how I saw myself.
How Was Your Body Image As a Child?
I look at my daughter and see the same thing. She is beautiful, innocent, and loving. My heart broke when she came home at the age of four and asked me if she was fat. It came out of nowhere. She has the gangly thinness only a child can possess. By no stretch of the imagination was she “fat”, but kids can be terrible to each other.
I wanted to scold every girl in her class, but that wouldn’t fix it. Luckily, my daughter didn’t hold onto what was said. I can’t help but wonder if the girl she heard it from sees herself like that. The other girl could only have been 4-5 years old at the time. It seems so young to hold onto such concepts.
I guess in my naive mind there is a time in our youth we should be allowed to live free of such judgements. I also believe there should be a time in our old age when we should be set free as well. The closer I try to define these ages the more they blur. When you think about it, how young is it ok for your daughter or son to hide their body in shame? How old do you have to be to no longer feel the need to apologize for your body?
Looking at it this way, there is never a good time. Life is hard. Life is short. You will love, suffer heartbreak, work too many hours, party too hard, have babies, and grow old.
I hope to wear a bikini at 76 and not care in the least what anyone thinks. I regret the shame I had in my 20’s. When I look back now I wonder what the heck I was thinking! I am one who will always cheer those who are willing to live in their skin and ignore the world around them. Having an imperfect body is of no moral consequence. Having a positive body image, loving yourself, isn’t something to be ashamed of either.
Shame has no place in the matter of body image — love yourself.
When we respect our bodies we achieve our goals faster. Guilt and shame hold us back. These beliefs foster the crash diets of punishment we cannot maintain. Believing in ourselves, seeing our strength, and having faith carry us forward. That can last us a lifetime. That eating plan will take us to our goals.
Respect your body, love yourself. You only get one body, one life. Enjoy being in the body that allows you to experience life.