Recently I was on a night out with some of my favourite ladies when they started talking about their bodies.
After one of our group listed the things she hated about herself the others joined in the conversation, until one commented: “But that’s normal. None of us like what we see when we look in the mirror.”
It totally wowed me.
Here I was with a group of beautiful, successful, intelligent and all round wonderful women, and every one of them nodded their heads in agreement.
Yet what wowed me even more than the fact that they all did that so willingly, what the fact that for all of my sadness, I also wasn’t in any way surprised. And I’d bet that as you’re reading this, you’re not surprised either. In fact, you’re probably wondering why I’m even remarking on something so damned obvious…
But come on, step back from the “normality” of that idea and think about it.
What in the hell has society done to us that now we’re almost comfortable in the knowledge that we’re “meant” to hate ourselves?!
You know me, I’m all about empowerment. Hell, I consider it a personal mission to empower every woman in the whole world if I can. And so I talk a lot about standing in your power when it comes to jobs, relationships, your emotions, behavioural patterns and the overall story of your life.
But along with that there’s an even bigger situation that we all need to reclaim our power over, both individually and for each other; and that’s the way society leads us to see and feel about ourselves.
And let me just say here that I’m not just talking about women – it’s something we all suffer from. I guess the difference is that we women are so damned used to it now that hating ourselves has become our most basic norm.
Now I’m not here to tell you to pick up your placards, set fire to your bras and march, not today anyway ;-) (Although I’d never advocate bra burning, they’re way too pretty and too damned expensive for that!) But I am encouraging you to protest in your own way, by reclaiming power over the way you see yourself. I’m encouraging you to stop hating the woman in the mirror and take a stand by falling in love with her again instead.
I know it’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds written down like that, but it is possible. And more than that, it’s worth all the hard work to get there. I know that because I have first hand experience of it.
I’m a millennial woman, of course I grew up hating my body. I was too short, too curvy; my face and belly too round and my bum and boobs not perky enough. I started getting silvery highlights (not out of choice!) at 22, and have a chin that looked double even when I was my very lightest.
Time and time again over the years I bounced from diet to diet and exercise fad to exercise fad, punctuated by issues of controlling my food and a continual feeling of self loathing. Shudder.
Looking back I can’t actually tell you what inspired me to change that, but I do know that one day I looked in the mirror and realised I didn’t want to hate the look of the woman frowning back at me.
It started with a real, forced effort. I would look in the mirror every morning and make myself stare straight into my own eyes – the only part of me I had never disliked – and recite the pretty lengthy affirmation:
“I love, honour respect and accept myself mind, body and Spirit.
I love my chin, I love my eyes. I love my arms, I love my thighs. I love my tummy, I love my smile. I love myself completely.”
I did this every single morning. At first it felt no different At first, I would curse every word of that second line, and as soon as I finished speaking my eyes would return to my tummy in absolute disgust at how round it was.
And then one day I realised – in the same way you do the first day after days of a cold you realise that you’re no longer congested – that I wasn’t doing that anymore.
I wasn’t silently correcting every word of my affirmation with an example of how that wasn’t the case, and when I got to the end of it I was actually smiling at myself for a second longer rather than letting my thoughts immediately turn back to self loathing. And so it began.
The road since then has been a long journey, and I’m not saying that I don’t have the odd down day of feeling awfully bloated or that little bit older than I was last time I looked, or of grimacing at particularly unflattering photos. But now I look in the mirror and see a woman I love who happens to have the odd wobbly bit, rather than someone I can’t bear to look at or call anything better than “alright”.
Try it for yourself; begin by focusing on the things you like about yourself. And if none of those spring to mind then begin by focusing on the things other people compliment you most on.
And then look at the things you struggle most with and think about the positives of them; yes my boobs are saggier than I’d like, but that’s the result of the most amazing experience of bungee jumping. And yes my chin will never quite look the way I want it to, but it's also a chin I share with many of the wonderful women that I love.
Learn how to connect and listen to your body; how it tells you if it’s unhappy, how it likes to be looked after etc etc etc, and then treat it with the love and respect that you deserve.
Remember that your body is not you. You are so much more than a package of skin, bones and sinew and it’s only by appreciating that physical, outward part of yourself that you can really open up to let the real, inner you shine through.
However that physical part is important too. It’s the suit that will carry you through life and the thing that enables you to experience this amazing human journey. After all without your physical body how would you dance, kiss, walk outdoors or eat cake?
If you ask me those are all pretty bloody awesome things, and damned good reasons to shake off that whole idea of self hatred that society has told you is “normal” and instead concentrate on loving every part of yourself – wrinkles and all.