If you haven’t visited Michelle Cantrell’s wonderful site Venus Vision, stop what you’re doing right now and go check it out. Its purpose: To promote self acceptance and help you love the person you are. If my encouragement to check out Venus Vision doesn’t get you to, maybe Michelle’s post below will.
If you’ve read some of my more personal posts on VenusVision, or you otherwise know me, you know my body image and food issues go way back. In fact, my first diet was the Beverly Hills Diet at age 7. I don’t remember feeling fat at the time, but for some reason my mom and I went on this diet together (for the record, she wasn’t fat either).
The main thing I remember about the diet — which I didn’t realize as such — was that all the nuts and dried fruit were having an “effect” on my digestive system. I was worried about all the trips to the bathroom, but my mom explained that the food was doing its work “cleaning out my system.”
Other early memories include giving my pudding away because I knew it would make me fat, and later on in elementary school, being offered incentives to lose weight (though again, I wasn’t fat, but perhaps on the high end of “normal” and therefore bigger than most of my peers).
The diets increased, though the weight loss never came, and as for so many girls and women it became nothing short of a quest. I was searching for the Holy Grail of weight loss because surely with it would come the label of success which I otherwise felt unable to reach.
I graduated from high school as an honor roll student after pulling my grades out of the gutter. But it didn’t mean anything when I put on my graduation dress and it was tight, revealing my large tummy. (As soon as I took off my graduation gown, I immediately changed out of my dress as well before anyone could see me in it.)
I graduated from college, again with high marks, but still didn’t feel as though I had reached success because I had not lost weight.
I earned a black belt in Karate, but could never stop thinking about how my Ghi pants never got looser during my training.
I ran half marathons, but felt defeated after looking at the race photos and seeing my flabby legs.
I birthed two children but always lamented my flabby middle from which they came.
I completed a triathlon, but worried about how I looked in my wet suit, and cropped the after-race photo before sharing with my friends to avoid showing my legs in my bike shorts.
No matter what great accomplishments I succeeded in, it was always overshadowed by one thing. My failure to lose weight.
Once, actually, I did manage to lose a fair amount of weight, reaching the lowest number on the scale I had ever seen as an adult. When I reached what I thought would be my “goal” weight, I wasn’t happy. That weight did not reveal the body I desired. So still, I felt like a failure.
And of course, any temporary weight loss I ever did manage to achieve was met with what seemed like far more recognition than any other accomplishment. I learned early on to judge others by their weight and assumed accordingly that every person judged me by mine.
So if I was able to do all of these other things, why couldn’t I succeed at the one thing I had been working at my whole life? At least that’s one way of looking at the situation. Of course, another way of looking at it was to ask myself why I defined success almost entirely by a number on a scale or the size clothing I was wearing? And, after living and thinking that way most of my life, how was I going to change that way of thinking?
Well, it’s taken a lot of work, much of which was done with the help of a professional. I have worked on reframing the constant barrage of negative thoughts that used to invade my head 24/7. In the past, I would take note of every body (not ‘everybody’ but EVERY BODY) that came into my visual range, and compare my body to theirs.
Was I thinner or fatter than each person in the room, I would think to myself. Now I still notice everyone in the room, but instead of seeing what might be noted as flaws, I look for their unique characteristics that make them beautiful.
By judging others less on their appearance, and stopping the constant comparison of myself to them, I was able to begin the work of accepting my body, and end the cycle of constant dieting/deprivation/calorie counting that has made me miserable for so many years.
Of course, there were many elements to my progress, many of which are highlighted in the article Celebrate Your Body.
I have come a long way, and most days, I can look in the mirror, noticing all the things about myself I used to see as flaws, and simply see them as they are — parts of me. At the same time, my reflection in the mirror has little do with any of the things I accomplish day to day.
All of my successes, both large and small have come about through hard work and dedication, and are — I realize now — completely unrelated to a number on the scale.
Some days, every now and then, the old thoughts come creeping back in, and a voice starts telling me I am fat, but I know now that I need to ignore those voices, not just because they are negative, but because they are irrelevant.
Yet, what I have noticed, is those days crop up when other things are bothering me, and I don’t want to — or don’t know how to — deal with them. Dealing with feelings of self loathing may be pretty terrible, but they are familiar. And like an abusive spouse, you sometimes take comfort in what you know, even if it’s unpleasant.
With new coping tools and more attention to self care, I am now able to concentrate on the deeper issues. The effort it takes to push back at times like this is considerable, but I also know I have come a long way, and the effort is worth it. More importantly, I can finally look at all of the amazing things I have accomplished and take pride in each of them, rather than feeling inadequate.
Do numbers still define your success?