Hi all! I so hope you are enjoying the last bit of summer! I am writing this post in the few weeks before my wedding! As I thought about this post, I decided I wanted to share about my experience with this season of my life and some of the things that come up for women I work with around body image while planning a wedding. I also wanted to talk about love and the power of acceptance (because duh, I am in a romantic mood in the weeks leading up to our wedding)! And love and acceptance are such prominent themes in my clients’ journeys, too.
Even with all of the work I have done on myself in regards to food and body liberation and all of the work I have done with women to heal their own body image, I started thinking more about my body and its size during this season then I have in years. These thoughts initially caught me by surprise and my first reaction was to tell them to be quiet and ignore them. Which worked temporarily and then I noticed them creep in again. I thought “What the heck Liz, this is completely against your values and all that you believe and support other women in healing, what is wrong with you?!” My thoughts about having the body image thoughts got meaner and more critical and I was feeling so upset and frustrated with myself for having these thoughts. I didn’t change the way I was eating or moving, or start actively trying to change my body, but I felt so much shame that the thoughts were there. Then I asked myself, “Liz, what would you tell a woman you work with if she were sharing this struggle with you?” and that moment shifted everything, as I talk to women about the power of compassion, acceptance, and not rejecting these parts of themselves so much!
It can be very frustrating, but many of our brains are wired for criticism and judgment based on our temperaments and our life experiences. We have come to believe that if we criticize ourselves it will help us to be better AKA more loveable, worthy, safe, etc. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t work. We cannot criticize and shame ourselves into being “better.” I love the saying “what you resist persists.” Instead of rejecting and shaming yourself for having the thoughts you don’t like or attempting to ignore them, I encourage you to acknowledge them, be curious about them, and be compassionate towards them. In my case I said “Liz, it seems like you are thinking more about your body then you would like to while planning a wedding. I am so sorry, I know that’s painful. Why might these old thought patterns be popping up again?” My response: “Aw Liz, planning a wedding and what that represents in terms of becoming a wife, and a partner, and joining a family is a huge transition and life change and you’re feeling anxious and scared and excited and all the feelings all at the same time. There are also all sorts of uncontrollable stressors and unplanned issues that arise while planning a wedding, so you are probably just trying to regain a sense of control and order and soothe your anxiety. And that makes sense, you are feeling scared. Oh and Liz, it’s not your fault, it’s not just you! We live in a society where so much of the wedding talk around us is about losing weight for the pictures, the women at the dress shops are asking you about it and when you respond that you are not trying to lose weight, it almost seems unheard of!” This dialogue with myself brought me back to being present and compassionate with myself and accepting of my thoughts with curiosity and then understanding.
The reason I share this is that so often, I work with women who have come a long way in changing their behaviors. They no longer restrict food or exercise to change their bodies, however, some of the diet mentality and body image thoughts persist which causes tremendous pain and frustration. I hear so many women say “I hate these thoughts, I just want them to go away, I thought I was further along on my journey!” I understand, we don’t want these thoughts to be a part of our lives as they keep us out of the present moment; however, hating them and beating ourselves up for having them is not going to make them any less painful for us. In fact, it’s the hating them that causes suffering. So, I invite you to practice acceptance that these thoughts are there, and be curious about why they might be here right now. What purpose are they trying to serve? They aren’t there to make your life miserable. We develop these coping skills with all good intentions to care for ourselves. Noticing these thoughts gives us an opportunity to check in about what we actually need. For example, these thoughts are often present to distract us from other feelings like sadness, fear, anger, etc. When we notice these thoughts it’s a wonderful alarm and reminder to check in with ourselves and our emotions. Maybe we are feeling scared about starting a new job and wondering if we are capable but instead of allowing ourselves to experience that fear and work through it, we are focusing on our bodies. I find it so helpful to remind women (and myself) that these thoughts are trying to fill a need however they aren’t serving us in that way. So when we are present enough to notice them we have the opportunity to figure out what we really need and offer that to ourselves and then with time, the thoughts will not be there as they are no longer trying to fill that need.
I hope this post was a helpful reminder that during stressful times, old familiar coping skills might come up and that’s okay and totally understandable (no matter how long you have been working at this)! And it’s great to know this because then we can plan for it, we can greet it with understanding, love, and acceptance and not allow it to make us feel bad about ourselves. These thoughts just let us know that we need more nurturance, love, and tending to–whatever that means in our life– slowing down, journaling, calling a friend, being outside more, etc.
As I look forward to my wedding and think about the man I soon get to call my husband, I know that he loves me, meaning he accepts all parts of me with compassion and understanding. Don’t get me wrong, he does not like everything I do (hehe) but he sees and accepts all of me. I vow to do the same with him as his wife. And as I enter married life, I also re-vow to accept and love all parts of myself even those parts I don’t always like, like the anxious ones that want to feel in control. Love to me means acceptance and compassion and I hope you can reflect on how these ideas might support you with anything you are currently struggling with! Please let me know what areas of your life you feel like need more acceptance and compassion in the comments below, I’d love to hear!