Many women spend the healthy years we have being alive distracted from living because we feel shame about our bodies. Many women engage in a tremendous amount of self-judgment and self-punishment around food and weight. Even Oprah, one of the most successful women on the planet, probably goes to bed feeling guilty because of what she ate that day. Time spent being disappointed in yourself can be a remarkable time-sink in a person’s life. Research shows that the average women spends 31 years of her life dieting. How much time have you spent in past decades telling yourself that your body was flawed? Look at pictures of yourself from those olden days; do you now realize how wonderful you actually looked? From an objective vantage point, you can appreciate the smile on your younger face and look in your younger eyes, and not hone in on just how thin (or not) your legs looked.
Kerry Egan is a hospice chaplain, and she writes in her book On Living:
There are many regrets and many unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me before they die. But the time wasted spent hating their bodies, ashamed . . . over the years not appreciating their body until they were close to leaving it – are some of the saddest of regrets. These are lives lived thinking that bodies are something to criticize or at best something to tolerate. (Italics mine)
Simply put, time is the most precious commodity you have. It is better to be an agent for choosing wisely on how that time gets spent. The sooner you decide to speak to yourself about your body with the same compassionate voice you use on others the better. The sooner you lose a sense of needing to be some sense of perfect, the better.
Unplug from society’s messages about women’s bodies
Heeding this advice -- to spend your valuable time appreciating your body -- will require you to UNPLUG from some of society’s messages about what you should look like. That sounds easy, but it is hard to actually UNPLUG and refuse to receive signals that society or your zip code send your way about what women should look like. In my workshops we identify specifically which signals you are receiving from which you will need to unplug. It is different for everyone.
A new documentary on body image, EMBRACE, speaks directly about UNPLUGGING. In the movie Taryn Brumfitt, the filmmaker, was dealing with the struggle of accepting her rounder body after having 3 kids. Her first plan to deal with post-baby body was to lock herself in food prison and work out like a crazy woman. After four months she entered a muscled-women’s body competition in a very teenie bikini! This is her in the picture.
Reaching the end of someone else's rainbow . . .
She had these pictures taken of herself, and sent this Before and After picture to the media to illustrate her positive body image message -- to accept or EMBRACE your body. In the before picture on the left, she looked great by society’s standards, but felt deprived, exhausted and unhappy at that muscled-women's body competition. She realized that she had actually reached end of the rainbow -- the body standard that society valued -- only to find the pot-of-gold was empty. She was hungry, missed her kids by spending so many hours at the gym, and felt empty inside. She then realized she was at the end of some one else’s rainbow, not her own. In her after picture on the right, she is smiling and much happier being herself. She is not worrying about every morsel of food she puts in her mouth and not spending crazy hours of her day in the gym, but spending her time doing things and being with people that bring her joy.
SUCCESSFUL UNPLUGGERS vs. UNSUCCESSFUL UNPLUGGERS
Taryn went on a journey profiling other women who were struggling with their body image. EMBRACE is a discussion of society’s messages for women through these women’s stories. The lesson I took away was of the critical factor for successful UNPLUGGING from society’s messages about women’s bodies.
To me it seemed the determining factor in SUCCESSFUL UNPLUGGING from society’s negative messages, was where a woman went for validation of herself. All of the SUCCESSFUL UNPLUGGERS went within for validation - it came from inside themselves. They were their own judge and jury for how they should look. They were able to see society's standard of beauty in their time as flawed, rather than seeing themselves as flawed.
All of the UNSUCCESSFUL UNPLUGGERS had in common a search for those warm showers of validation from others: men, other women, or judges of a body competition. Their search for external validation seemed eternal because that was how they were choosing to hold up their own shaky belief in their beauty. The need for constant external validation can be all consuming, like the Taryn's efforts to win the body competition. Many women eternally search for external validation. They are looking for wherever they can find it: in a picture where they looked good, a 'like' on Facebook, a number on the scale, or acceptance and approval by a wide swath of unknown men.
How do you know when you look good?
Is it when you look in the mirror?
Or is it when someone says something?
It is a good message for us and for our daughters to not need to "depend on the kindness of strangers" for our own feelings about ourselves. The stories in the movie confirmed to me that your precious time alive would be better spent cultivating your own internal validation system.
Kerry Egan, On Living, 2016.
"The trouble is, you think you have time." --Buddha