Looking back: Why we need to love who we were

In starting teachers college, I’ve done some looking back on my social media and internet presence to make sure that my digital self is not doing anything that a teacher ought not to do. I’m kind of the one who’s always arguing for safety first and going home from parties early, so there wasn’t too much fear that I’d find anything I need to hide.

In the process, I started to come across photos of myself over the years. One of the things I noticed was the way I would look at some pictures and want to judge my body in them. When I started to think about it, I tried to be compassionate. That girl—whether she was big or small, smiling or pretending to smile—is part of who I am today. It is hard when I look back to not be a little upset with myself—How could I starve myself? And how could I binge and purge? And what would my life be like if I hadn’t spent so long hating and abusing my body? What would I be doing? How would my body be now? The questions could go on for days.

But I know that there’s power in acceptance. I know that I cannot go back and change things. And I also know that just as I encourage my personal training clients not to look at their “before” photos and beat themselves up or feel bad about them, the person we were years ago, 6 months ago, or at the start of our journeys is the person who made us into who we are today.

remember where you come from

Anyone who has gone through a recovery process or who has undergone some kind of transformation (from an eating disorder, around their weight, through an addiction) should give some credit to who they were in the throes of their issues. It was that person who found the strength, the motivation, and the means to start the process of becoming who we are now and who we will be in the future.

suffering start

Looking back and feeling ashamed is a disservice to who you are now. We have to be okay with where we’ve been, and I argue that we have to be proud of who we were then just as much as we ought to be proud of where we are now—on whatever journey we might be on.

love yourself as if

Conditional acceptance: The problem with the performance focus

I’ve blogged about the need for believing we’re worthy before, but it’s an issue that’s close to my heart and that I’m continuing to work on, so here we go again.

Before I start, let me add: I say yahoo! to anything that shifts the emphasis for women away from how it will make their bodies look (Will pilates give me the toned abs I’ve always wanted?). But the more I read about woman after woman finding her self worth in her abilities, the less comfortable with the whole idea I get.

For my thesis, I’m reading issue after issue after issue of CrossFit magazines and The CrossFit Journal and looking particularly at constructions of healthy femininity. One theme that comes up a lot is CrossFit saving women from their body image woes. Time after time, women are saved from their eating disorders or years of self-abuse thanks to learning to appreciate what their bodies are capable of. In general, these are women who are extremely talented at CrossFit, pictured in sports bras with six packs, and who echo the same sentiment: the route to empowerment is via doing.

I call (at least a little bit of) bullshit.

The route to empowerment is different for all of us. Basing it on ability leaves out those who aren’t able, firstly, but it also sets us up for a conditional kind of self-acceptance that I don’t think will give us the kind of lifelong healthy relationship with our bodies that I am working on creating for myself (and starting a discussion about via this blog and my work in the world).

As it relates to me, I know that athletics helped me a whole lot to appreciate my body. I’ve mentioned before the way I keep my picture of my big ol’ deadlift PR around for when I’m feeling shitty about myself. I hang my latest race bibs around to remind myself that I’m badass for signing up for things that force me outside of my comfort zone on a regular basis. And moving away from the need to burn calories and burn off food to testing out my performance and seeing what I can do with the body I’ve been given has certainly helped me feel better about what I’ve been given.

capability

But.

Since I’ve started to focus on triathlon training again (with lifting things on occasion more for fun than anything and because I like to feel strong), I’m not as strong as I used to be. I can’t do as many pull-ups as I once could, and I sometimes find myself beating my self up for letting myself slip. And on the triathlon front, I don’t run or bike as fast as I did when I was in the midst of my eating disordered days.

But.

I’m healthy. I have balanced hormones. My weight went way up and then has started to come down a bit (not much by the standards of those who employ 30 day challenges or body transformations, but 10 pounds over two years without losing my period). I like training and understand that when my body is whispering no, I should listen so it doesn’t scream. These are perhaps more important than winning an age category at a race or impressing people in the gym and on instagram.

priorities
So in my recovery and body love journey, I’ve seen that impressing myself with what I can do is certainly a tool for me to, like I said appreciate my body. But acceptance requires me to dig deeper. Yesterday I got a migraine and missed my workout. If my self-worth is based on what I can do, what’s a girl who’s stuck in bed and only wants to eat cereal and chocolate to do?

I think the answer lies in realizing that we can’t find the kind of self-love we want outside of ourselves. Some of us look for it from guys, some of us keep on trying to show that we’re good enough by taking it out on our bodies, and some of us don’t even realize that we want it.

This all comes back to a piece of advice worth repeating over and over again ‘til we get it: we are inherently worthy. Whether or not we work out, whether or not we can lift as much as someone else—or our former selves, whether we run faster than we did last year, whether we put pants on in the morning, whether we eat “clean” or choose cookies. Loving ourselves doesn’t require us to be better than yesterday, because we weren’t bad or unworthy yesterday.

can be already are

Loving our bodies doesn’t require that we do exceptional things with them. I think our bodies are exceptional just by virtue of the fact that they let us live our lives. It’s great when we can also appreciate what they’re capable of, but getting to a place of acceptance is another worthy goal, in my opinion.

Sometimes I forget this. As a goal-oriented and ambitious person, I struggle with feeling worthy unless I’m productive, or I work out, or I do this or that. But I for one would like to accept my body so that when things that stop me from performing as I might like to – injury, pregnancy, illness, life – come around, I still feel like a boss. While we by all means celebrate what we’re capable of, let’s give this acceptance thing—no conditions required—a go!

love yourself first

Do you struggle with this? What’s helped you?

Photoshopping, Instagram, and Playing Nice When it Comes to Bodies

This morning, as I was going about my normal caffeination process and getting lost on the interwebs, this article about a woman who photoshopped her body into what commenters on her instagram account suggested would make for a perfect body came my way.

I like the video portion of the process, where we see each of the steps from normal body to “perfect” in action:

The responses to her photoshopped photo on Instagram might be the most upsetting part of all this—some people thought she still wasn’t good enough, others applauded her for losing weight or for having a great body—albeit one totally faked.

Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.29.50 AM

“Photoshopping and body image — all of that — is such a big problem that a lot of girls deal with because magazine covers are Photoshopped, and even people on Instagram Photoshop their photos,” she told People. “You really don’t know what’s real and what’s not anymore.”

And reminding me of my post on Monday about being in this health and fitness industry, I think Ho’s message in the end of it is one worth sharing:

“I realize now that I am not just an instructor at a gym, but that I am a role model and leader in the fitness industry. It is my responsibility to do whatever I can to help people get healthier while feeling confident and happy in their body,” she told Forbes.

The video gets at the way in which it seems ridiculous to force one single woman to do this to herself. But for some reason, we accept it every day. The fact that day after day, we strive to “fix” our imperfections, telling ourselves we’re just not good enough, makes me as sad as this video did. We judge one another and we judge ourselves, and it’s maybe even sadder the way that we think it’s despicable to do it to someone else, but do it to ourselves nonetheless.

I hope that today, thinking about this all, we can be a little kinder to each other—and to ourselves. Our bodies are beautiful, and health can take a whole lot of different shapes. Let’s celebrate them and celebrate what we do and who we are!

e kind

Did you see this video?
What do you think about the idea of “photoshopping” on instagram? Are filters and selfie sticks the same as this?

Unconditional Acceptance: Believing We’re “Enough”

I’m sick. Yesterday, the couch was my best friend. I alternated episodes of Girls with periods of writing where I felt like my fingers couldn’t keep up with the ideas coming out of my head. I’ll call that a win for my thesis, but I beat myself up yesterday: I feel like I was on top of the world on Wednesday — I wrote, I ran, I taught a spin class, and I did some yoga on my own — and a big ol’ failure on Thursday, confined to my couch.

This is the fourth time I’ve been under the weather and needing to take antibiotics in the past year. Everything has been minor, and for that I am grateful, but I’ve noticed that when I’m sick, I can get realllllly antsy about “not doing anything.” Whether that “anything” is the workout I was going to do, or writing a paper, or cleaning the toilets, or folding my laundry, or writing a blog…there’s something around not being productive that makes me feel like I’m not doing enough.

“Enough.”

When I got to thinking about this, I noticed a pattern. I used to drive myself crazy on my rest days, and while I’ve gotten a lot better at taking a darn break, I do still find myself having a lot of “fat” days on the days that I don’t work out. What the heck is going on? A rest day is a way to take care of our bodies—to give them the time to heal and come back stronger. I know that!

But I think along the way in my body acceptance journey, I’ve started placing more and more emphasis on being proud of what my body can do. And while I love and celebrate how amazingly capable our bodies are, I think I’m ready for another leg on my journey.

Right now, I feel entitled to a sort of conditional confidence when it comes to my body. The kind of acceptance that’s okay on the days where I might be chubby, but I ran 10km so I must be okay. Or when my clothes don’t fit, but I’m back squat more weight than ever. Or when I don’t like the way my body looks, but I’m training for a half ironman so I’m a boss.

That kind of confidence, with its conditions and requirements, is fleeting. The days when I’m on the couch because I got sidelined by a kidney infection, for instance, it’s nowhere to be found. What is? The gremlins. You know the ones. They say “you’re not good enough” and try to convince you that you’re worthless.

What am I realizing? That I don’t think that the solution to loving our bodies can lie solely in appreciating what they’re capable of. I think it needs to come down to unconditional acceptance. Without that kind of acceptance that doesn’t rely on what we do or don’t do, we’re doomed to questioning whether or not we’ve done enough to “deserve” to feel good about ourselves. Without a sense of worthiness and confidence that we retain regardless of where our back squat is at our what our 10km pace is, or how much muscle we have, we are doomed to keep on searching for more ways to prove that we’re good enough.

The pursuit of “enough” leaves us exhausted. Living from a place of “enough,” however, I think leaves us inspired.

One of my favourite life coaches out there is Christie Inge, because she talks about how we are all inherently worthy (she calls herself an “Inherent Worth Warrior”). I always hear her voice reminding me that I’m inherently worthy when I start to think about all this stuff. Brene Brown talks about worthiness too–and the way that people “hustle” for it, unsuccessfully. She’s got good news: “There are no prerequisites for worthiness.” Amen!

christie inge

So where did we learn that we’re not enough unless we prove it? I think it’s a combination of places. Maybe it was our families—something like getting rewarded for doing things “right” and being taught that we were bad if we did something wrong. But more importantly–and harder to see–we live in a world where people think they earn everything. Those abs? She must have earned them.

...I beg to differ.

…I beg to differ.

The grandest myth I can think of is that people who are successful are entirely responsible for it—I’m all for determining your destiny, but we’re born into conditions that are entirely outside of our control. In this context, we feel like our bodies, for instance, are direct representations of the “work” we put in, even though some people are born with six packs and others with thighs that will touch forever.

So in relation to our bodies, we assume that enough effort and work will give us those bodies we can feel proud of earning. But I know people who work their butts off and still don’t look like magazine models. It’s widespread and “normal” to feel like you don’t measure up, and people realize they’re pursuing something largely out of reach. But they don’t stop trying, or question what the feeling of not being good enough does to their lives.

This “not good enough” epidemic is convenient for the people who want to sell us the solutions to our issues. If our bodies are never good enough, never “healthy” enough, never beautiful enough—of course we’ll keep on top of our body projects, buying the diet books, paying the gurus, and trying to find worthiness outside of ourselves.

But, what if our worth didn’t depend on what we do? What if we were all born worthy? What if this journey of self-acceptance isn’t about proving to ourselves that we deserve our own love, but unlearning all the messages that told us otherwise?

Repeat after me:

  • I am enough.
  • I am good enough.
  • I am pretty enough.
  • I am healthy enough.
  • I am smart enough.
  • I am happy enough.
  • I am ______________ enough.

…unconditionally. Regardless of what I do or don’t do.

Living from a place of worthiness or enoughness doesn’t mean that we don’t take care of ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we can’t still read self-help books, or buy makeup.

As Geneen Roth, one of my favourite writers on self-acceptance and the journey towards loving and accepting your body and yourself says:

“When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you. You walk around ashamed of being yourself. You try hard to make up for the way you look, walk, feel. Decisions are agonizing because if you, the person who makes the decision, is damaged, then how can you trust what you decide? You doubt your own impulses so you become masterful at looking outside yourself for comfort. You become an expert at finding experts and programs, at striving and trying hard and then harder to change yourself, but this process only reaffirms what you already believe about yourself — that your needs and choices cannot be trusted, and left to your own devices you are out of control. … You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved. But you won’t discover this until you are willing to stop banging your head against the wall of shaming and caging and fearing yourself.”

Living from a place of worthiness is about the acceptance we all wish we had. It is about waking up in the morning without feeling like we have to prove ourselves. It is about looking at ourselves as something besides a series of problems to be addressed, things to be fixed. It means freedom and a whole new way of being in the world.

Living from a place of worthiness is about loving ourselves unconditionally.

And from that place of knowing that we deserve love no matter what happens, we can live our lives not out of fear but out of desire.

Where does “not being good enough” hold you back?
What would you give up if you believed you already were good enough?

think about it: fitspiration frustration

I’ve blogged about my stance on fitspiration (“strong is the new skinny,” etc.) before–more than once–but I think because I love me a good workout and hang around in the fitness world on the interwebs, it haunts me.

I’ll start with an apology if you share and/or like this stuff.

I do not.

This week’s offender?

fitspiration

Before I get into it, I feel like I need to at least give this image props for showing the gal’s face.

But that’s all it’s getting props for. My “are you kidding me?” instincts need to point out that wearing that much makeup is a recipe for a Good Charlotte-esque disaster.

eyeliner good charlotte

While I’m ridiculously jealous of her glad that she has beautiful long hair that can blow in the wind while she does mountain climbers or burpees or sprints or whatever is about to go down in this image, let’s get real. My hair, which doesn’t even touch my neck, drives me batty when I work out if it’s not pinned into a pathetic excuse for a pony tail (a feat that requires a whole lotta bobby pins, I might add).

I’m used to the image of the pretty girl working out and I’m used to just doing my own sweaty thing with a smile on my face instead of it. I wouldn’t say “I’m over it” but I am a little bit over it. What really made me mad about this picture were the words and the messages that came along with them.

I’m all for continuously improving. Training harder, yay. Eating cleaner, maybe (“dirty” food is dangerously close to the good/bad paradigm that is a recipe for insanity in my books, but that and words like “cheat” are a topic for another post of its own). But from there, it heads into territory that I’m not so okay with.

I’m not okay with hating yourself–even your “old” self.

This reminded me of something that Jillian Michaels said when I went to her Maximize Your Life show a few weeks ago. She’d talked about how when, at the end of the season, the people on Biggest Loser would be presented with a cardboard cut-out of their old bodies, they’d initially react with disgust– kicking their old selves down, saying mean things and calling themselves gross, etc.

That makes me sad.

Just like that “gross” person was actually the person who signed themselves up for the show and did the work to lose the weight—the strong one, the determined one—the strong person that this fitspiration is so ready to become has to come from the “old” girl.

Saying this seems stupid, but: you will always be you.

What I’m getting at is this: hating yourself is the fastest way to make yourself feel like crap, not for making lasting change in your life.

You can trust me on this one, I’ve dabbled in it.

Whenever I’ve tried to hate myself into change—beat myself up for drinking too much coffee, told myself I’m a pig and that I need to eat less, called myself lazy for not working out, etc.—it’s backfired. Feeling crappy, I end up doing more of the things that “sabotage” myself in an attempt to feel better—eating more, spending more money, etc. etc.—and end up a not so happy camper no better off than I was in the first place.

Trying to change your life is hard. When you feel bad, it’s even harder.

So what’s the alternative?

Loving yourself into and through change.

My suggestions:
Play on your own team. Notice when you’re beating yourself up and get out of that headspace. Find something positive to focus on, like what you’re presently achieving and the kind of person you’re already in the process of becoming. Be patient with yourself.

Self-esteem and the way you look at and talk to yourself matters. Put the same amount of effort into learning to love yourself that you do into attempting to “fix” yourself and I have a feeling you’ll be a heck of a lot better set up to achieve whatever your loved and happy little heart desires.

When you love yourself, you take care of yourself.

When you take care of yourself, things get better.

Love yourself now.

be nice to yourself

What goals do you set based on what’s wrong, broken, or needing to be fixed? What could you use that energy for instead?
What do you beat yourself up for?

These legs…why I’m not scared to say I love my body

I’m going to go right into this one, because there’s no dancing around what I have to say…

I love my legs.

Check it out.

They’re bruised. That’s from walking into things–coordinated isn’t the first word you’d use to describe me. Check out those tan lines. They’re from riding my bike all spring. That scrape on my calf came from my trail run today. Those bumps on my thighs are called heat rash and for those of you whose thighs don’t touch, the rest of us get them when we run in shorts. You can’t see it, but the backs of these babies are covered with cellulite and a few stretch marks. I also have a piece of graphite in my right calf that’s been there since I was 7. It gives me character, makes me special, and used to make me really self conscious. Ditto for my ankles, which I always thought were “cankles”. At some point, I realized I have “big legs” from being athletic, not from being fat. I realized my thighs are kind of huge, but there’s no “thunder” to worry about–just lots of strength to bike up hills or to kick you in the face if you try to tell me that my body’s not perfect.

Okay, okay, I’m being a bit dramatic here, but after my run today, I just had a moment of pure gratitude. Maybe because it was a sunny day, the trails were gorgeous, and my body just felt all around good.

Maybe because I’m sick of not liking my body and all that stuff I kept telling myself during recovery about faking it til you make it is coming together. I remember a while back reading that we can change our behaviour, we can consciously change our thoughts, etc. but that it will often take time for body image to catch up with things. I also have learned so much about what society wants to tell us about our bodies–that there’s something wrong with them, etc. And I’ve come to appreciate what they’re capable of! And I recognize these things that are really not serving me:

  • That cover of Oxygen selling the best butt ever–tight glutes, lean legs, whatever it is that they think you want and that will sell their magazine and the products advertising in it.
  • The voice in my head that says that I’ll be happier if my thighs don’t touch (FYI I’ve been there, and I was miserable.)
  • That pair of pants that just does NOT fit my muscular thighs. – It’s not my fault I have bigger quads than most girls. It is my fault that I feel bad about this–and I intend to stop right now.
All of this has been a process. And it has taken a long time. But it’s happening!

So my tips to you, if you wanna love your legs/butt/abs/face/ears/toes/whatever you dislike include:

  • fake it til you make it
  • hang out with people who are willing to admit that there are more important things in life than how they look or what size they wear
  • take care of yourself as if you already had the body of your dreams: how would you exercise/eat/carry yourself?
  • buy clothes that fit, feel good, and are flattering, and get rid of the ones that you keep around that don’t make you feel like the superstar you are
  • watch what magazines and books you buy, and remember that they’re all about selling things
  • reflect on what your body can do for you – walk you to school, carry you up a hill, run, bike, swim, jump, play with your dog, flirt with boys, dance the night away, do a headstand in yoga, play the cello — your body is just a tool for you to experience this world

As an aside, something my therapist once said to me bears repeating. Think of your body as a vehicle. Think about your car. Think about the things you do to to keep your car running nicely. Then think about how you treat your body. You should care about them both. Put fuel in them, get them checked out regularly, fix things that don’t work, and invest time and energy in maintenance. You should keep them clean. You should take pride in them. You wouldn’t abuse your car–why do you abuse your body (overexercise, under eat, tell yourself you’re not good enough, etc.).

I know this is a bit random, but I had to share. If I–the girl who seriously hated her legs so much that I would always wear shorts even in the water at the beach and hardly wore dresses or skirts or shorts–can find love for her legs, you can too! And you should. This article by Jenni Schaefer about how she loves her body (and how you should too) was just too timely today. Please read it, and join me in saying: I love my body! And that goes along with this one: I love my life! 

Should it take guts to say you love your body? NO! I think the fact that it’s a rarity in our society is a sad sad reflection of things. I think that the idea that saying that you love your body would be perceived as out of the ordinary is backwards. Wouldn’t things be awesome if we all loved ourselves and thought we were beautiful? The more I realize this, the more appreciation I have for having had my eating disorder–this lesson is one that I needed to learn and need to share with other people.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go put on my shortest shorts and head to yoga. No harm in showing off these legs, just a little!

 

Do you love your body? Could you try?