Habits. Tell us one habit you would really like to undo in the new year – what is your strategy? Will you replace it with a good habit instead?
I have a lot of bad habits.
I am quick to anger. I am sometimes quick to judge. I stare into the abyss of my phone before I go to bed, even when a book is lying right next to me. I snack when I get home from work– and not on carrot sticks. I pile my things on the table in the Bob Dylan Room (this is our back room, because we have no formal entry or mudroom to speak of, and it is full of Bob Dylan memorabilia) and I do not clean them up. I seem incapable of watching only a single episode of Grey’s Anatomy at a time on Netflix. I hit the snooze on the alarm clock. I bite my nails.
Habits to give up? I have a few.
But the one I have been working hard to undo, and will continue in the new year, is the habit of negative talk about my own body. Many call this body-shaming, but to me that always makes me think of the big, bold sweeping statements we say when emotions are high. When I say those things, I generally know right away that I shouldn’t and I catch myself and correct. My much nastier habit is the micro-assaults I launch at my body on a regular basis.
It’s there when I say, “Well, girls who look like me can’t wear that” or “I could never pull that haircut off.”
It’s there when I change out of a shirt that fits nicely and I like but I won’t wear because it makes my shoulders look too big (newsflash: I do have big, broad shoulders).
It’s there when I dismiss my natural hair wave as a “bad hair day” because I didn’t blow dry and flat iron.
It’s there when I retake a photo two dozen times until the light is just so and my neck looks longer and my face healthier and my teeth whiter and my hair shinier.
I am in good company. Some research suggest women think negative thoughts about their body an average of 36 times per day. Sometimes, I participate in negative talk about my body only because I am in the presence of other women who are putting their bodies down. Other statistics suggest as many as 97 percent of women have regular negative thoughts about their bodies.
I’d like to meet and learn from the other 3 percent.
Obviously, I haven’t mastered ending this negative self-talk, but I have relied on a few strategies to manage and lessen it overall.
1. Notice it. In order for something to change, we have to first see how it happens. I started paying more attention to when I was talking negatively about my body and whether or not certain events triggered it. And it turns out, there were some key moments that I was more likely to engage myself in negative self-talk about my body– during certain points in my menstrual cycle (because it’s actually pretty damn hard to pull off a nice outfit when you are bloated and weepy), when I was with other women talking about bodies, when I struggled to put together an outfit that I like. Knowing that, I am able to intervene on my own behalf. I donated a lot of the clothing that doesn’t make me feel 100% and I loosely plan my work outfits for the week. When other women speak poorly about their bodies, I try not to join in but I also try not to chastise or judge. Instead, I often say things like, “Ugh. It’s so easy to get down about the way our bodies look!” and leave it there. Frankly, I don’t really have a plausible solution for menstrual bloating and neither does modern medical science. I presume that is because the field is dominated by men who have No Idea.
2. Stop comparing. Because it’s dumb. And maybe she is prettier or slimmer, but maybe she isn’t as funny or adventurous.
3. Counterstatements. Say a negative thing? Counter it right away with the truth. “My calves are too fat to fit in ANY skinny jeans” is wrong, and should be followed with, “My calves are strong from running and cycling and it is not my job to conform my body to the clothes– it is the designer’s job to make clothes for my body if they want my money.”
4. Take a deep breath and ask myself what matters. My grey hairs and crow’s feet are not hurting anyone. My shape and size do not build or destroy nations, relationships, progress, hope, or community. There are several important discussions we could have about my body– it’s strength and performance in sport, they way it has been victimized in the past, the significance of the beautiful tattoo on my thigh. None of them have to do with how it looks as compared to the “ideal standard of beauty.”
At the end of the day, I simply remind myself over and over again that I am beautifully and wonderfully made. Inside and out.