From growing up with a mom who was constantly on a diet to being teased by boys because of voluptuous derriere to dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault, my body and I were at constant war with one another. I’m going to share with you how after gaining 50 pounds, I finally began to understand, heal, and learn to love my body.
So many women feel shame around their bodies.
Because from a young age women are primed to feel ashamed.
The shame I’ve felt around my body started young.
Growing up, I listened to my mom constantly criticize her body. She was always on a diet; always losing or gaining a couple of pounds. I used to love to watch her try on outfits before she would go out. I would think she looked beautiful in everything she put on, but she would pick herself apart and explain to me that she couldn’t wear certain things because she hadn’t lost the weight (yet).
This taught me that the way I looked was an important part of my worthiness.
In junior high, I felt awkward — tall, too thin, and lanky. The braces and frizzy hair didn’t help (we’ve all been there right?). I remember looking at the other girls who had developed way more than I had and feeling inadequate; like I wasn’t a real woman because I looked like a boy.
This taught me that I had to look a certain way in order to belong and be accepted.
In high school, my body changed. I developed curves for the first time and had hips and a booty. I remember boys making comments about my new curves and feeling mortified and embarrassed. I hated the attention I got from it. I felt like I didn’t belong in this body; like this body was not supposed to be mine.
This taught me that having curves was shameful because I was asking for trouble.
My freshman year of college, I was sexually assaulted. This taught me that my body was unsafe and only equaled pain.
In my 20s, I tried every diet and workout there was. I would starve myself then binge. I was on a constant roller coaster of weight gain and loss, gaining 50 pounds over the last couple of years. I felt like a complete and total failure, and that I was only worthy when the scale showed a certain number.
This taught me that it was only safe to be in my body when I was a certain weight. Being thin eliminated my curves and made me feel less feminine, which felt safe.
Gaining weight also did the same thing. It was my body’s way of protecting itself. By looking “less attractive,” I felt safe.
Now, in my 30s, I’ve realized just how much shame I had been carrying around towards my body. And I know how many women have felt the same; it starts at a young age and creates the inner dialogue for how we live our lives.
We’re taught to be ashamed, to close our legs, to not wear that, that our worth is dependent on how we look, that it isn’t safe out there, that curves mean you’re asking for it, that boys only want one thing. So we hide, starve, purge, binge, over-exercise, don’t exercise, criticize, and judge our bodies instead of loving and appreciating them.
I’ve been conditioned to believe mine is bad. My body was a big source of pain, so what happens when you something feels bad or painful? You don’t take care of it — you ignore it; you treat it badly.
I was so fed up and frustrated with gaining the weight and not losing it, I finally decided that I was no longer going to be at war with my body. I was determined to heal this. I was going to listen to what it was trying to tell me.
I began by asking my body, “How is this weight serving me?”
My body responded by saying, “I’m trying to protect you”.
It was a call for help, for love, and for safety.
The body can put on weight as a form of protection, like a shield. The body feels like if it has a shield around itself, it will become less visible and therefore keep you safe from future hurts.
It’s not your body’s fault, it’s only trying to protect you; so take a moment to thank your body for keeping you safe.
Here are the steps I took to end the constant battle I had experienced with my body:
Treating yourself holistically (meaning mentally, physically, and emotionally) is the best way to ensure that your body knows it is safe, that it can trust again, and to begin healing the shame and negative relationship you have with it.
Get out your journal, and every day, write down five ways you felt safe and were able to trust. For example, “Today I felt really safe when I spoke with my best friend. I opened up to her and told her how I was feeling and she made me feel really loved and supported. I know that I can be vulnerable around her and tell her how I feel and it is safe to trust her.” This is giving your subconscious mind a clear message that it is safe to trust.
This one might seem a little bit silly, but trust me it works. You can do this in one of two ways. Get a picture of yourself as a child, and keep that picture with you wherever you go. Whenever you start to feel unsafe or feelings from your past start to come up, look at your picture and remind your younger self that it is safe, that you can trust, and that you are deeply loved. I also like to imagine my inner child in a really cozy room; one that just feels warm and inviting with lots of fuzzy things and people who I really love. Whenever I feel unsafe, I just imagine my inner child in that room. Instantly, the feeling of not being safe dissipates and I can get right back to what I’m doing.
There is something that’s so raw and primal in feeling like you can protect yourself if you ever needed to. Taking a self-defense class or any kind of martial arts class is a great way to learn how to actually physically protect yourself. It sends a signal straight to your brain that you’re safe and can protect yourself. Try Krav Maga, kickboxing or boxing, Jiu Jitsu, or Tae Kwon Do.
Gaining 50 pounds was not a punishment from the body gods or bad genes; it was my body sending me a signal that there was some deep healing that needed to take place. It was when I finally stopped looking at it as the enemy and started looking at it as something that needed to be cared for and nurtured, that I learned to fall deeply in love with it no matter what the scale said.