The Seven-Week Itch: A Lesson on Body Image and Self-Love

It's the final countdown. My husband comes home from his overseas deployment in a few weeks. I am beyond excited to be reunited, but some nasty little doubts have been creeping into my head lately, and I wanted to share them here because I know I'm not alone in this. 

I recently had an uncharacteristic moment of panic about the state of my body. First things first - I have great self-esteem, I practice all kinds of self-love habits, and I preach body positivity to anyone who will listen. I fill my social media feeds with encouraging, uplifting women whose work it is to spread similar messages, women like Erin Brown, Jen Sinkler, Molly Galbraith, Stefani Ruper, Neghar Fonooni, and Jessi Kneeland. But despite the strong walls I’ve put up against unrealistic and unhealthy goals that are purely physical in nature, goals that society at large bombards me and every other women with in the grocery store check-out lanes and every time we turn on the television, some self-doubt crept in.

I started to think that I hadn’t worked out enough, that I wasn’t thin enough, that I couldn’t see my abs enough, and that I wanted to be more perfect for when my husband came home.

WHAT. I know better than this. 

I KNOW that I value strength and vibrant health more than body fat percentage. I love my body, not in spite of “flaws,” but because I am unique and beautiful and petite and curvy and strong as hell and always trying my best. My body, on a cellular level, is always trying its best. AND I have a husband who loves me, heartsoulmindbodyspirit, and who by the way would be excited to see me if “my ass was on the ground." I am not defined by my thigh gap or lack thereof (#closethethighgap). I am not defined by whether or not you can see the ripples in my rectus abdominus muscles more than the ripples on the back of my thighs. I am not even defined by what I can do – my one-rep max back squat, or my speed on a sprint – but by who I am and what I say, by how I love and by who I touch. I am defined by what I do with my one wild life, to take inspiration from the poet Mary Oliver.

And my life is NOT going to consist of constant self-scrutiny or a sense of failure, over and over again.

I thought all of these things, with all of the ups and downs that comes when you argue with yourself. It was messy. The internal conversation went a little like this: I thought about the one time I was depressed and ended up getting really lean as a result of that sadness, and how I could mimic that diet again. But then I realized that I would be a limp rag doll of a woman, unable to go on a hike with my parents or play with my CrossFit friends if I undertook that. I thought about how I could go to the gym every day and push myself really hard in the weight room, but then I realized that those activities would eat up all of the time that I’d rather spend with my family. I thought about how my new bikini would look perfect if only I lost this and shrunk that, and then I thought about how ridiculous all of those thoughts were because I have a body and a bikini and, thus, a bikini body, and I feel all the right things when I wear that bikini – hot and sporty and playful and confident – extra inches or pounds be damned. I got mad at myself for being tempted by the siren song of “society says.” So, to cure myself I put on a skintight red dress and pranced around in public with no shame, only pride for who I am and what I believe.

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I tried to practice what I preach and, you know what? It worked.

I’m telling you this not because I want attention. I don’t want a confidence-booster. I want to be one of the many strong female voices standing up for where we are right now, at the intersection of health-consciousness and self-deprecation. This is a very dangerous crossroads. Where it is now, we have this intermingling of self-scrutiny via the lens of health. There’s too much over-exercising and orthorexia that is disguised in the name of health, but ends up playing into the old trap of becoming smaller, becoming less, shrinking away and glorifying in the moral superiority of our smallness. It’s up to us to keep shouting over the fray that we are enough and beautiful and perfect just as we are, no matter what the social or cultural standards say, in order to push the norm over from the side of self-deprecation to the side of health and happiness. The balance should be tipped in such a way that there is fitness and play and good food and self-care because those are good and nourishing things, not because they’ll make us lean.

Because it all comes down to worthiness.

Worthiness does not come from size or shape or achievement. It comes from a deeper place.

I am worthy of love and admiration not because of the way I look, but because I just am. You are too. Believe it. 

There are so many incredible things happening to push the collective perspective in this direction. The Remodel Fitness and Girls Gone Strong communities are two great examples, and the recent Bikini Rebellion challenge from Neghar Fonooni spoke right at the heart of the issue. Search the hashtag "takingbackfitspo"on Instagram for more body positivity warriors, women and men who are pursuing amazing lives unencumbered by the weight of societal expectations. Although the media chatter trends more toward body shaming than body positivity, it's really up to each and every one of us to change the message. When you're with friends or your mother or at the gym or alone in your own head, gently turn the tone from one of self-hatred to one of authentic appreciation for who you are, both apart from and together with your body.

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I was at my amazing CrossFit box a few months ago, feeling challenged by the workout and inspired by the caliber of people around me, when a woman who was new to our gym came up to me and said, “I love your body.”

I said “thank you, I do too,” and left it at that. I wasn’t being egomaniacal or prideful, but honest. We’re trained from a young age to be self-deprecating when someone offers a compliment, but in my opinion the best response is a simple, heartfelt thank you, particularly when that "thank you" has the opportunity to shine light on and improve the bigger problem. 

Now I'd love to hear from you. Please, tell me, do you struggle with this too? How do you quiet the voice that says you're not enough or too much? How do you spread the message of beauty and positivity?

As a bonus, here are two links to keep the conversation going: this smart article, The Not-So-Sexy Origins of Body Shame from HuffPost, and this hilarious feature of one man's attempt to live off of food marketed specifically to women. If you've ever choked down a Luna Bar, you'll love this one. And finally, this insightful post from the lovely Erin Brown truly captures what she aptly names the "slim down syndrome."