Having body image issues almost feels like a rite of passage as a teenager. And while it is a good way to realize even the women you look up to the most have their days, it’s also not a necessity. Why do we have to feel like sh*t for a few years before we can come into our own?
Body image issues (that resulted in an eating disorder) were a huge part of my high school and college life. Diet culture and a society obsessed with thinness made me feel like my body wasn’t right. I felt like I had to try every fad diet — these ultimately led me to use diets as a way to hide that I was restricting and bingeing. I hated myself because I felt like I didn’t have willpower, and I decided my body would be the reason I didn’t meet the other goals in my life, such as my career and relationships.
I’ve gone through quite the journey to becoming confident in myself, and accepting the things I can’t change about myself and working on the things I can. I recognized my mindset was the first thing I needed to change if I wanted to love myself, and that happened when I got real about body image and what it means to me. While I’m aware that I had to go through it to get to where I am now, there’s a hell of a lot I’d tell my younger self about confidence. If you’re still on your own journey to confidence, take note.
Don’t let your body hold you back
I had a very obvious sense of style all of high school. I was never afraid to rock clothes other people weren’t wearing yet. (My black leather pants were a staple in my eleventh-grade closet!) I followed trends and pulled all my outfit inspiration from magazines, Tumblr (lol), and bloggers. I was so confident in my style, but I felt like I was in a different body most of the time. Plus-size writers have talked about the phenomenon of “feeling like a skinny person in a fat girl’s body” before, and that’s exactly how I felt. I felt like I had the confidence everywhere else, but my body held me back.
Adulthood has taught me that my body is merely a vessel for the talent I possess. My intelligence, passion, drive, resourcefulness, and strength is what is going to get me where I want in my goals. You can’t walk into an interview wondering if a potential employer will deny you based on your weight or think about how your body stops you from getting a date or making friends. Pay attention to the traits that actually make you you — those are what propel you.
Everyone is so focused on their own bodies that no one is looking at yours
When you go to the beach and worry about everyone seeing that back roll or focusing on how your swimsuit clings to your stomach, you’re only doing yourself a disservice. When was the last time you sat on the beach looking at another girl’s body in any way other than admiration? (If you can recall a time… I’d say that’s the first thing to tackle.) We’re so focused on our own bodies that we rarely have time to judge someone else’s. Stop worrying about what other people are thinking of your body — if they have the time to do that, they have their own problems to deal with.
There should not be rules for food
Diet culture and #wellness have been around forever — it all just looked different. What’s known to us now as green juices and keto diets were once Atkins, low-fat, and chia seeds. While there are certainly things we should eat more than others (broccoli certainly has more nutritional value than cupcakes), it is false to believe there are foods that are “good” and “bad” (cupcakes do have value, and it is deliciousness). Creating rules for what foods you can and can’t eat and how and when you should eat them (have to eat on an empty stomach, can only eat carbs with one meal a day, etc.) creates an unhealthy emotional and mental connection to food. It’s OK to enjoy eating and to have cravings — food becomes unhealthy mentally when we use it as a way to soothe or as a way to control something in our lives. Focus on reminding yourself that food is fuel, and carbs are as good in the form of pizza as they are in quinoa.
It’s OK to talk about your body with others
Body talk can be awkward. We don’t want to complain too much a la the scene in Mean Girls where they tear apart their bodies, but we also don’t want to brag about how bomb our butt looks in these new jeans. We’re not taught to talk about our bodies in a healthy way, so most of us have no idea what it even looks like.
I’ll give you an idea. Talk about your successes and failures. Tell your friends when you’re not feeling well mentally and physically. “My back is so sore today” and “I have serious PMS cramps right now” is a start. However, you can also be open about your mental thoughts about your body too. It’s not a crime to say you’re feeling insecure. It’s OK to open up to your friends when you’re going through a rough patch with your body image.
You should also talk about your successes too. Tell your friends when you feel confident in yourself, and explain what it is you’re doing that makes you feel good. Whether you ran a faster mile than normal, you got a great haircut, or you’ve been gratitude journaling in the mornings, talk about what’s keeping you at a 10 and encourage your loved ones to try it too.