It has taken me 36 years to wear shorts comfortably. So many of my summers were spent denying how hot it was while sweat pooled up in my jeans, affirming my preference for capri pants or looking like and old timey safari guy in knee-length shorts. Since the dawn of time, I have hated my thighs. Hated.
I look back on pictures of me as a teenager, and my legs look like tiny, yogurt-covered pretzels to me now (Side note: I am extremely pale). Why did I hate a part of my body so much? How could my body image be so warped? For starters, I received negative messages about my body at home starting as a small child.
Thunder thighs, as my mother so “affectionately” nicknamed me. My reaction to hearing this name now is still so visceral that hearing a joke about it on the cartoon Teen Titans made my stomach turn. So essentially, I’m going to make my therapist very, very wealthy.
I remember my mother making negative remarks about her own body in front of me as a child. So I just learned, oh, hate your body. That’s what you do.
Women are bombarded with negative messaging about their bodies by consuming virtually any media. When I was really cementing my negative body image in my teen years, the Internet was just becoming a thing, so we didn’t even have social media to contend with.
I remember comparing my body to the bodies of girls in Delia’s catalog (90s kids, holla!) and Seventeen Magazine. I remember comparing my body to my peers’ bodies. I remember comparing my body to the completely imaginary and subjective ideal that I had subconsciously compiled from years of consuming media.
My discomfort in my own body grew as my body itself grew. With each child came extra weight, and with that weight came increased depression and anxiety and poorer self-image. And it wasn’t until very recently, when I started really taking care of my mental and physical health, that I’ve started to come to terms with my body as it is.
A few pivotal things that happened that made me start to reconsider my self body-shaming:
I was speaking (and actually, really just regurgitating things we say without thinking because they’re what we are conditioned to say) to my wise and wonderful friend, Julie. I told her that I refused to buy any more pants in the size I’m wearing. She said, “Why are you waiting? Don’t you need pants now?”
“Well, yes, I suppose I do.” I said.
“Then just get the pants. You’re worthy of pants no matter what size you wear.”
For some reason this just blew my mind. I slowly repeated it to myself, this alien concept. I…am…worthy of pants. I am worthy of pants. I am worthy of pants, damn it!
I don’t know why it took someone else saying that for me to get it, but something clicked. Why am I denying myself a basic human need — clothing (unless you’re a nudist in a warm climate…no judgement). Because I’m not happy with the number in the tag or I’m not living up to the impossible standard of beauty in our culture?
Another pivotal moment for me came when I read a wonderful book (and I HIGHLY recommend it), Shrill, by Lindy West. She discusses her own body image, coming to terms with her size and the amount of bullying she has endured for virtually her entire life. I could really relate to how she internalized society’s view of her body and came to question it as she grew more confident and learned to love herself. Hearing someone else mirror virtually my exact thoughts and how she pulled herself out of the mire of externally-induced, internal struggle really helped me start to do the same for myself.
I will leave you with a handful of tips, if you’re struggling with self-image:
- Watch how you speak to yourself – You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger on the street and point out her cellulite or how one of her boobs is slightly larger than the other, so don’t do it to yourself. This is a skill that takes practice if you’re someone who regularly engages in negative self-talk. Be mindful of it and build a habit of speaking kindly to yourself.
- Take care of yourself – Big or small, if you’re taking the best care of your body you’re going to feel your best. Eat to fuel your body and move as much as possible. This is not necessarily about losing weight or changing your body, it’s about feeling strong, confident and having the wonderful endorphins that come from exercise.
- Break the cycle – If you’re a parent, you don’t want to inadvertently pass along body image issues to your kids. They’re little sponges, so whether or not you know it, they’re absorbing everything you do and say and internalizing it. Don’t criticize your body, don’t comment on their bodies. And, for the love of all that is holy do not ask them, “Does this dress make me look fat?”
- Be a consumer of positive information – Listen to podcasts, read self-improvement books and memoirs, strategically position yourself around people who lift you up. You subconsciously internalize positive information the same way you internalize negative information, so surround yourself with good vibes if you want to start loving yourself.