We live in our own bodies, but there are times when outside influences can impact how we view our body image (both negatively and positively). The better we understand how these influences can affect us, the better we can react to them. Everyone’s experiences are different but these are a few that impacted my body image and how I learned to change my reaction to them. My hope is that reading this may help others reflecting on their own body image.
[ Restriction ]
Ballet was a big part of my life growing up. We wore tights & leotards and practiced in front of a mirror 10+ hours a week which made me feel a lot of pressure to be thin. I reacted to this pressure negatively by depriving myself in hopes of becoming thinner. I aimed to eat no more than 1000 calories a day which led to overeating impulsively, along with angst towards my body (would not recommend).
turn negative to positive by E a t i n g W e l l
I try not to associate food with calories, counts, being “good” or “bad”. Feeding my body well means I have energy for working out and getting stronger. When you think of eating well, think of these two things… WHAT you eat, HOW you eat.
WHAT you eat - Feeding your body well can mean different things to different people but for me it means water, protein, carbs/grains, fruits, vegetables and *treats* as needed. I group my “approved foods” into categories; breakfast, lunch, snack or dinner and then rotate week over week so I don’t get sick of things.
HOW you eat - Eating well takes planning. Plan what you are going to buy, bring your meals/snacks with you, and keep track of times when you are planning to go “off path”. Failing to plan makes me more susceptible to making impulsive food choices so planning is just as important as what I decide to eat. I bring a list to the grocery store and stick to it. I bring my food on-the-go and that’s what I choose to have.
Have a positive relationship with food! You are absolutely in control of what you put in your mouth. The more consistently you eat well, the better you feel, and the more it becomes second nature.
[ Comparisons ]
Social media highlights carefully curated moments (perfect body, makeup, clothes, vacations etc). The pressure to look good is something that I think many women struggle with today. When I rediscovered fitness I’d see photos on IG that made me think “I wish I could look like that” and it bummed me out. The bottom line is, you can’t be someone else. Use social media as inspiration but not to dictate your own path or timeline.
turn negative to positive by B e l i e v i n g i n Y o u r O w n F i r e
Look in the mirror and find features that you like about yourself and emphasize those. Identify health and fitness goals that are attainable for you and make that your focus. Track your progress, celebrate your successes. You don’t know what’s behind someone else’s photo (hair/makeup, filters, photoshop, etc). The best you can do is wake up everyday and aim to be better than the person you were yesterday. Believe that you are fire in your own way. Also know that fire isn’t just about what you look like to others, it’s the positive energy you exude when you are confident and happy with yourself.
[ Sharing Yourself ]
I mean a few things by “sharing yourself”… 1) your presence online, (stories, snaps, photos), 2) your actual physical presence (going on a date or being intimate with someone).
I used to post more photos of myself online because I felt like it was part of my fitness journey but after a while, people would have false expectations that because I showed my body in photos that they were somehow entitled to see my body. Showing your body does not translate to sexuality. Personally, I was developing strength and confidence (see above: believing in my own fire) and photos were part of documenting that. But some people couldn’t relate to the context and assumed that I was looking for attention or “acting provocatively”. I’ll skip the details of the second one for now.
turn negative to positive by P r o t e c t i n g Y o u rs e l f
It took a lot of hard work to get where I am; work that I’m not about to let another person compromise. You have to protect yourself from other people’s perception if it has the potential to impact you negatively, which is why I generally share less on social media or just share with people who understand me as a person. Don’t be afraid to remove people from your life if they no longer are part of your journey. Health and fitness have absolutely changed my life, does everyone understand that? No. Do they need to understand that? No. If someone no longer shares your vision be empowered to remove them from your life. On physical presence, connections are an 'act of trust' so trusting someone with your body is part of it. When you trust your body with people who don’t respect you you are giving them the opportunity to hurt your body confidence. Don’t put yourself in situations where someone can take your hard work and break it down.
In conclusion… Notice when I spoke about negative experiences those were visual cues, but when I talked about turning negative to positive - those were feelings? Body image doesn’t have to be about how you look, body image can be just as much about how you feel (such as strong, confident and in control). I think back on times I felt bad about my body because I was thinking about how it looked to other people. But over time I’ve learned to love my body for how it makes *me* feel everyday. I am so grateful that I rediscovered weight-lifting and that it has made me a stronger person. I’m a big fan of cooking and enjoying food. I protect my mind and my heart because they too can be the strongest or weakest parts of my body.
I love my body for all of the things it can do and especially, the joy it brings me when I dance! Ask yourself, what do you love your body for and how could you love it more?
Photo Credit: Huge thank you to my friend Laura of Riverway Studios. She is very artistic and does a lot of ballet-inspired illustrations so I knew she would be the perfect person to capture these photos.