Body Love and Body Kindness, Healing Difficult Emotions, Self-compassion, Self-Love and Self-Directed Kindness, Uncategorized

How I Stopped Chasing Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Found Something Better: and I am Happier and More Resilient Because of It

I was originally going to title this post “How I Gained Weight and Went Grey, and I am Happier and More Resilient than Ever.” And I still kind of like that title, but perhaps it is a little misleading. Because in this post, I’m not going to try to convince you to gain weight (or lose weight), to go grey or to color your hair. You are the boss of your body, and you are in the ideal position to know what is best for you.

What I am going to suggest instead is that if we want to be happy, healthy, and resilient (able to bounce back from difficulties), one of the best things we can do is to stop making external standards like weight, size, and certain beauty standards a priority and, instead, make internal goals a priority–goals like becoming friends with our body and whole self; showing compassion to our self; practicing playful movement and a love-centered approach to eating (you can read more about these things at the end of this post.)

I will discuss how to do all those things shortly, but first, let me talk about gaining weight, embracing grey hair, and finding myself.

Adventures in Finding Myself

In another post, I have detailed how when I was younger, I suffered some painful bullying instances that caused me to be terrified of gaining weight for most of my young adult life.[1] (You can find the link to this post below.) These bullying instances caused me to equate being smaller with being safe. In addition, distorted media messages I was exposed to also influenced me to believe that I was only beautiful or worthy if I met certain media standards of beauty—like extreme thinness.

This caused me to be rigid about my eating and exercise habits for years, which eventually caused me to develop increasingly problematic symptoms of body dysmorphia (distorted body image) and orthorexia (an obsessive-compulsive disorder focused on eating healthy food.). This is not just something I struggled with. Recent research suggests that an increasing number of women in America struggle with some form of disordered eating, even if they don’t have a full-blown eating disorder.

And while I have been so fortunate to have so many wonderful people and things in my life that have given me great happiness, my symptoms of body dysmorphia and orthorexia caused me a great deal of unhappiness and anxiety for a while.

In fact, they eventually caused me so much anxiety that I had to find a different way to live. And I did. I decided that I was going to honor my worthiness and my light at whatever size I was; eat food that nourished me and that I loved; focus on living a life filled with joy, magic, compassion, and adventure; and develop authentic relationships with other people based on honoring the light in all of us. I call this way of being Living from the Inside Out.[2]

During this process, I have gained weight; lost weight, and stayed the same. (I have repeated this cycle several times).  It may seem strange to say this, but in a society that prizes thinness almost above everything else, I am grateful for the weight I’ve gained.

It taught me that I could gain weight and still…

Be safe

Shine my light and be my own beautiful self

Have magical adventures.

Be worthy of love.

And of course, all of this was true all along, but I had to experience it myself to believe it. And whether I lose weight or gain weight or stay the same in the future, these things are still true about me. They are true about you, too.

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I have had a larger body and a smaller body, and I discovered that feeling good in your own skin has very little to do with the size you are and has very much to do with the body beliefs and practices you adopt. People can be extremely thin but feel horrible and anxious in their own skin because of their harsh, self-punishing beliefs and practices. On the other hand, people can weigh more but have a beautiful relationship with their body because of their loving beliefs and practices.

Letting Go and Learning to Live

My adventures in becoming friends with myself has been good (even awesome sometimes), but it has also been painful at times. It can be difficult and frightening to try to undo years of rigid eating and exercise habits. I often found myself mourning the loss of the sense of control, and the accompanying high, that being rigid about food and exercise gave me (when it wasn’t making me absolutely miserable).

It can also be frightening to give your body permission to do what she needs to do in order to be healthy and strong when you are constantly bombarded by images that communicate “Thin is better” and “Thin is beautiful”, which women pretty much are from their first conscious moments. (I believe men are increasingly facing this same pressure.)

In my process of becoming friends with my body, I sometimes felt like I was losing my one, guaranteed way to gain people’s approval (or so I thought)—losing weight and being thin. When you’ve been a people-pleaser your whole life (I am a recovering one), losing this kind of people-pleasing mechanism can feel terrifying.

As I have gone through this process, I have often felt like I was learning to breathe and live again.

Learning to Breathe Again

Nevertheless, despite the process being painful and even scary sometimes, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am healthier overall and more resilient now because of it. (Resilience is our ability to rise to the challenges in our life and to bounce back from difficult times.) Here’s why:

I survived the one thing I used to fear the most: gaining weight. And I realized that it’s not a big deal and that I am still safe and worthy.

I learned how to stop focusing on weight as a measure of health, and instead, I have formed a confident partnership with my body, and I have developed more confident and loving habits.

I learned to show myself compassion; breathe more deeply; eat food that makes me feel good; move in ways that make me feel good; feel magical in my own skin, no matter if I lose or gain weight; comfort myself when I feel gross in my own skin (because it is normal to have both good and bad days in our skin); stick up for myself; and be my own best friend in good and bad times.

I tolerate much less tomfoolery (which is a fancy word for bullshit) from people. I’ve realized that when people are cruel, bullying, and controlling, it’s about them and not about me or you. No one has the right to be cruel to you or to me, to bully us, or to try to control us. So, I have stronger boundaries now and generally refuse to allow people to engage in this behavior with me. (And I’m still learning how to do this.)

 I eat more fruits and vegetables because they are full of magic and sunlight and make me feel good.

Fruit and veggies (2)

Tofu and salad (2)

Cauliflower and couscouse and cabbage (3)

I don’t think I will become a food blogger any time soon, but I do love taking pictures of colorful food.

I also eat more pizza, potato chips, cookies, fried chicken, and chocolate, and it’s not a big deal. I don’t binge on any of these foods anymore, and I also often get tired of them sometimes and go a long time without eating them—primarily because they don’t make me feel very good, and now that I can eat them any time I want, they have lost their allure.

Cheese and chocolate (2)

Food #1 (3)

 

Food #2 (2)

I move and play almost every day and am stronger now in some ways than I used to be even though I am about fifteen years older, and I also still have some areas of strength I am working on. For example, I have better endurance now, but I still need to build my arm strength.

I know that I can survive hard things and come out on the other side more confident and loving towards myself.

I am more compassionate towards other people.

Surprising Discoveries in Nutritional Research

I still have a lot that I need and want to learn about building a strong partnership with my body. I also still have some moving, eating, and thinking behaviors I engage in sometimes that make me feel poorly, just like I did before I became good friends with myself. The difference now is that I have fewer of these behaviors, I engage in them less frequently, and I have an excellent set of tools to address the issues.  I also know that I am headed in an increasingly confident direction.

Building a strong body partnership is a daily and continuing adventure. Health is about our mind, body, and spirit, and these different aspects of our life change from day to day. Thus, body partnership is always an adventure in process.

New Medical and Nutritional Discoveries

Overall, I am grateful for the confidence and happiness this process has brought me. And it is not surprising that I would find that I am now healthier, happier, and more confident in many ways. There is a growing body of medical and nutritional research that suggests that our fixation on diets, clothing size, and numbers on the scale is helping approximately no one and is harming a great many people. (You can read about this here, here, and here.)

This same body of research suggests that the as people forge a mindful and attentive partnership with their body, the more likely they are to achieve physical and mental health. You can read about this here and here.)

Our country’s long-term focus on scale numbers and sizes have, unfortunately, given many people a skewed position on health. We tend to automatically equate thinness with health, but that is far from an accurate and holistic perspective of the issue.

Someone can be very thin but engage in extremely unhealthy physical and mental habits to maintain their weight like starvation, chronic under-eating, over-exercising, yo-yo-dieting, bingeing and purging, self-hate and self-criticism, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. The more a person engages in behaviors like these to control weight, the less physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy a person is, no matter his or her size.

On the other hand, someone can weigh more and even be considered overweight but be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy because of the habits he or she adopts. (You can read more about this here and here.)

Thus, an increasing number of doctors, nutritionists, and everyday people are shifting a focus from weight and size and focusing more on life-giving habits like self-acceptance, self-compassion, body kindness, mindful eating, and joyful movement.

Cemetery #2 (2)

Here are some of the folks that have inspired me the most in this area: nutritionists Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch; Dr. Michelle May; Dr. Linda Bacon; Mary Jelovsky; Ashley Graham; Sarah Nicole Landry, and nutritionist Rebecca Scritchfield.

Watching these women on their inspiring journey has validated my own experiences and given me the confidence to continue down the path I am already on.

I see this confidence spilling over into other areas of my life.

Embracing My Silver and Grey

For instance, I recently decided to let my hair go silver and grey.[3] When I made the decision to do this about six or so months ago, I had been dyeing my hair for ten years, and it had started to cause me a lot of fear and anxiety. I had wanted to let it go natural, but for years, I had heard messages about women’s hair that amounted to this: “Grey hair is unattractive, and it’s all downhill from there.”

So, I kept dyeing my hair, even though I increasingly hated the process; hated all the trash I was putting into landfills because of it; and hated that I felt afraid of folks knowing I had a lot of silver and grey hair. GASP!

This all became so stressful that finally I felt like I had to find a different way to live, much like I felt when I decided to stop pursuing unrealistic body standards.

Soon after I made this decision, I found a community of women online who have let their hair go grey and silver and every shade in between. (The group is Curly Silvers.) They are spunky, exuberant, youthful, and beautiful, and their courage validated my own desire to go grey and gave me permission to continue down the path I was already on, much like the women I listed above who have given me the confidence to make friends with my body.

I have never looked back, and I feel freer, more confident, and joyful. It has also, once again, made me more resilient. I realized I could face a fear I had (letting my grey hair show); be my authentic self (grey hair and all); and admit that I am indeed–spoiler alert–no longer twenty years old. And the world wouldn’t fall apart.

In fact, the world has not only not fallen apart, it has gotten better.

Silver and Grey Selfie (2)

What I have Learned from All This

Most women (and increasingly men) face constant pressure to meet external standards of beauty set by other people (none of whom have our best interest at heart.)

We are constantly told that we must be a certain size; weigh a certain amount; have a particular body shape; look perpetually youthful; have (or not have) a certain color of hair; have perfect teeth; wear a certain kind of clothing; and the list goes on and on and on and on.

Not only are we pressured to meet all these external standards of beauty, it is also implied that we are only worthy of love if we meet them. So, most of us spend a lot of our life running around trying not to fail and to meet all these standards so that we will finally have the love we desire and be happy.

And all the while we become more anxious, stressed, miserable, and fearful in the process. And it’s no wonder we feel this way because these external standards are not created out of love or care for us. They are created by people who want to control others, make money from them, or to create artificial groups of “haves” and “have nots” based around looks, youthful appearance, and body size.

These standards ignore and even set out to destroy our unique goodness and beauty. Because of this, they inevitably bring pain and suffering everywhere they go, and everyone who lives under their heavy hand eventually longs for escape.

And there is an escape. The escape is finding our way home.

We find our way home when we stop chasing external standards of beauty and worthiness; make friends with our self; and realize we are already worthy–worthy in our body, worthy in our self, and worthy of love.

Being worthy doesn’t mean that you never make mistakes or that you don’t have bad habits sometimes. It doesn’t mean that you aren’t a jerk sometimes and don’t need to apologize for your behavior sometimes.

Being worthy means that you possess a unique goodness that no one else has. Your unique goodness is a combination of your mind, body, emotions, and lived experience.

#4 (2)

You already understand unique goodness on some level because you appreciate the beauty of a wide variety of plants, flowers, trees, and animals in the world. You know that each of them have their own unique goodness they share with the world. So, for instance, a rabbit is not supposed to look like a horse, and an oak tree is not supposed to look like a birch tree. Each of these things is supposed to look like itself and share its unique goodness. Human beings are this same way, but we often forget this.

When you express your unique goodness through kindness, compassion, and respect to yourself and others, you make the world a more magical place.

Anyone with any appearance or any body size can do that.

By the way, I am on a mission to help people develop Basic Body Confidence, which is a set of beliefs and practices anyone can develop to understand their body’s unconditional worth; to feel peaceful in their own skin; and to develop a confident partnership with their body. The second part of this post is about four beliefs and four practices that you can adopt to help you develop Basic Body Confidence. That post is coming later this week.

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[1] You can read more about this here.

[2] You can read more about Living from the Inside Out here.

[3] You can read more about my silver and grey journey here.

[4]You can read about this in her book Fat is a Feminist Issue.

6 thoughts on “How I Stopped Chasing Unrealistic Beauty Standards and Found Something Better: and I am Happier and More Resilient Because of It”

  1. Wow! Great post! It resonated so much with me (I also struggle with Body Dysmorphia, OCD, and ED).

    I actually had an epiphany today that was almost word for word what you wrote – I’ve been many sizes in my short life and my happiness level was about the same when I was thin as it was when I had little more meat on my bones.

    I’ve also gained some weight after losing a bunch, after gaining a bunch, after losing a bunch 😛 And this time, I’ve decided I don’t want to be on that roller coaster again so I’m working on appreciating my body at any size. Posts like this are very affirming and helpful so I thank you for sharing <3

    1. Friend, thank you so much for writing and for this lovely comment. I really enjoyed reading about your journey, and I deeply sympathize with it. I have gone through a similar experience. I am so glad you found this post affirming, too. I am currently working on writing a book and program that help people in their adventure to greater body peace and confidence, and I definitely want people to feel affirmed in this process. The ideas in this post are the kinds of ideas I write about in my book and program, so I am so glad you found it helpful. Stay tuned for more articles on the topic!

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