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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Where I'm at Right Now in My Self-Love Journey

No makeup, no filter, no self-loathing.

I love the present-day self-love movement. I like to think I was a part of it way back when, when I first started this blog with my best friend. Social media has made it so easy for amazing organizations like So Worth Loving, Operation Beautiful, and Raw Beauty Talks to spread the message. I love all the self-love-themed songs that keep coming out - I even wrote my own (which I’ll happily post once I copyright it), and my current favorite is Colbie’s “Try.”

My own self-love journey has been one of winning lots of battles here and there but maybe never truly winning the war. Maybe that’s just a part of being human and experiencing ups and downs in life? I go through phases where I absolutely adore myself inside and out…and then something might trigger a downslide into a mini depression about it. It might be a picture of myself that I didn’t think was flattering. It might be comparing myself to another girl. It might be the way my stomach looks that day. In fact, it’s probably my stomach. I seem to feel good about myself as long as I like the way my stomach looks. When it is bigger from a meal or at the end of the day, I can get very self-conscious about it. Sometimes I sneak looks at it a billion times a day to see how it’s “holding up.” It doesn’t change the way I eat very much; I love to eat, and I still think if I want a donut, I’m gonna eat a donut. But how much of my day am I spending thinking about my stomach when I could be thinking about so much more worthwhile things? I mean, really. It sounds so unimportant when I spell it out in words. It feels so important at the time when we’re caught up in it, though, doesn’t it? Why do I easily and truthfully believe that all body sizes and shapes are beautiful...for everyone but myself?

I’ve gone through times when I embraced myself (stomach included), only to sink back again into worrying about it. I’ve gained and lost a little weight a few times. But I’m always me. My me-ness is still there, and my happiness with myself shouldn’t rely on my weight or appearance. Why does it sometimes? It’s not right that I love myself so easily when I’m at the weight I want to be and not as much when I’m not. Now, I do have a weight range that just feels best inside my body. I have more energy there and feel less sluggish, and my clothes that I love so much fit better. But it still shouldn’t be the end all, be all. That number is actually higher than most people’s my height, and it took me a while to realize that a number on the scale really is unique to the individual. It helped when nurses weighing me at the doctor’s office would do double-takes at the scale and say they thought I would be ten pounds less than that - as shallow as it sounds, it helped me see that my number looks fine on me. I don’t know if I just have heavy bones or what, but I’m good with it now. When I was in high school, I thought I was supposed to be 115 pounds. I didn’t realize then how vastly different that number looks on different bodies. If I were to actually go down to 115, people would start worrying about my health (they started worrying when I was only two pounds below the low end of my ideal weight). I know people making comments about weight either way can sometimes be destructive, but I’m glad they did in this case, because my own image of myself in the mirror had become skewed from reality.

So what do I believe in my core, even when I do things that go against my beliefs like Stomach Watch 1991-2015? I think healthy (or at least semi-healthy) eating is kind to your body - and I also believe indulging sometimes is kind to your spirit. I believe in exercising or dancing or doing some kind of movement to keep your body healthy, strong, and fluid even as you age - whichever one resonates with you the most or a combo. I also believe in not taking it to the extreme for the sake of being thin or pushing your body too hard. I love makeup and clothes and actually am sort of addicted. I’m not going to say none of that is for the sake of impressing people by looking good. But most of it is just because I really enjoy it. I also finally got to the point a few years ago where I didn’t have to have makeup on everywhere I went. Most of the time, I can now feel just as good about myself in pajamas and no makeup as I do in a great outfit and my face done. I like that I can experience both of those things without going to one extreme or the other. I don’t begrudge anyone who’s at either end of the spectrum, though; a balance of both is just what feels right for me. I believe you should change your appearance if you want to and leave it be if you don’t. If you do, make sure your motivations are in check. Outside validation feels good; it just does. But it can’t be the main source of how we view ourselves. Most likely, you’re already great exactly the way you are.

I have a three-year-old daughter. I don’t want her to catch me sneaking stomach peeks. And do you know that even when kids don’t see us doing those things and don’t hear negative self-talk from us, they know when we love and embrace ourselves and when we don’t. They pick up on it. I know because I picked up on it from my mom. No matter how beautiful and perfect she thought I was (and told me), I knew she didn’t think she was. And that sends a powerful message. She passed away before she could ever experience true self-love, and it breaks my heart every day. I don’t want that for myself or my child. It’s crucial to me to guide my daughter into keeping the same self-love she has now at three for the rest of her life - because I think most kids start out with it, only to have it slowly evaporate over time. I hope I’m giving her a good foundation to build on so that she can see herself the way I see her. And I want to see myself the way my mom saw me.

Think of whatever girl or woman tends to trigger your negative feelings about your appearance the most. And then realize that even she has those feelings about herself sometimes. Victoria’s Secret models get nervous and self-conscious - and don’t roll your eyes and say, “Boo-hoo for them,” because we’re all human, with insecurities, doubts, and fears. Everyone on this earth can always find in someone else some quality they wish they were more like. And someone’s looking at you the same way, trust me. Sometimes I have poise and confidence as I walk through town; sometimes I trip on a crack in the sidewalk or over a table at the coffee shop (true stories). It’s a beautiful gift to be able to laugh at yourself and realize that everyone else in the world feels what you feel at one time or another. It’s not until we start talking about it with each other instead of hoping no one notices - and thereby knowing others actually relate to us - that we can start freeing ourselves of our self-set traps. Simply talking about it or writing it down to share with someone automatically releases some of the power your insecurities have over you.

Something that also helps me, which I learned through coaching, is to visualize going inside your body into the area that causes you grief. Describe what it looks like - what color it is, how it feels (warm, cold, texture), how it makes you feel being in there. You can talk to it and tell it you love it - or tell it why you don't love it but that you really want to learn how to. This isn't a once-and-done exercise, at least for me, but whenever I make time to do it, it helps me. Visualizations where you walk up to your childhood self (or whatever age you were when something happened that changed the way you saw yourself) and tell her you love her and want to heal her are also really powerful.

I’m actually miles ahead of where I used to be, and I’m proud of that and thankful. I don’t want to beat myself up for my off days either, because that’s still questioning my own worth. I’m no longer trying to achieve perfection in my self-love journey or in myself. I think if I can truly love and embrace myself inside and out the majority of the time, that is something to celebrate.

Conversation with my daughter today...

Her: (singing "Try" while building Legos)

Me: That song is about loving yourself and being happy with yourself.

Her: (gleefully shouting) I LOVE MYSELF!!!!

Me: I am so glad to hear that. I love myself too. 

Her: Does everybody love theirself?

Me: Sadly, not everyone does, even though they should. I hope you always love yourself as much as you do now.


Keely said...

Love this post. And you.

Shybiker said...

Beautiful post, full of insight. Sometimes raising a child gives us a second-chance to face our dilemmas and handle them differently, as seeing through the eyes of our child gives new perspective. Of course you don't want your daughter to suffer as you did when you were young. I admire your continuing struggle with this issue which affects almost all women in our society.

Anne M Bray said...

How glad am I that Ally "introduced" me to you this morning? Words cannot express!
Your post about your meet-up was so heart warming. You are lucky to have each other in your lives.
This post is one of those ones to read, save, and read again. I'm one of those "moody" artist types and go into hibernation for months. It used to worry me: "OMG, I'm having a creative block and I'll never paint anything worthwhile again". Now I know that I can't be "on" all the time, or I'd expire like a roman candle. With age, wisdom and self knowledge (thank goodness).

Jenarcissist @ the closet narcissist said...

Nice to meet you, Anne! Thank you. Something my coach told me years ago that has always stuck with me is that life and feelings move in waves just like the ocean. It applies to everything. So many other facets of nature work on a wave principle as well; it's just the natural way of the universe to work in waves going gently up and down. I like to remember that whenever I sink back down into anything. It's just one wave, and the next one that brings me back up is just approaching.

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