It all started one fateful day in 1996. I’d stayed home sick from school, and at some point in the afternoon, I heard a knock at the door. I opened it and to my surprise found myself face-to-face with the boy I had a crush on. I soon found out that he had been sent there by my “best friend” to tell me that he liked her and not me.
“Don’t be mad at her,” he told me. “I never would have dated you anyway.” As anyone who’s been through high school can imagine, I almost died of embarrassment—wanted to melt into a puddle. I have no memory of how I reacted in the moments and days later. What I do remember is the meaning I attached to the experience and carried as baggage through every adventure I took for the next 20 years.
That story, as I told it to myself, meant that I was broken, unlovable, ugly, and fat. Interestingly, this guy didn’t say anything like that to me…I made that all up myself.
Fast-forward 20 years (and a lot of internal work): I am now a life coach focused on helping women learn to love their bodies and live full lives now (rather than 15 pounds from now).
How did I make the transition from body shame to self-love? And how can you do the same? The following four steps are a beautiful place to start:
1. Mine your shame story.
When I first listened to Brené Brown’s famous TED talk on shame, I was mesmerized. But I walked away thinking, “Nah, I don’t have a shame story.” But within hours, that day in 1996 came rushing back. “You think you don’t have shame? Remember that horrible day when you hadn’t showered and the cute boy showed up to tell you he didn’t like you?”
The memory (and the shame I felt) flooded back. But so, too, did a higher level of awareness and compassion for my younger self, which allowed me to unpack some of the meaning and judgment I had attached to the experience.
Now it’s your turn:
What is your earliest memory of feeling like you were “not enough”? Was there a particular shameful experience to which you attached that story?
What may be a more empowering way to look at the experience?
2. Prime your brain to realize that society’s idea of a perfect body is extremely unrealistic.
The average American woman is a size 12 to 14. The majority of media is skewed. To start loving and accepting your body now, create a more realistic picture and a “new normal.”
Add some body-positive role models into your social media diet to remind you that beauty is not bound by size. There are plenty of healthy-size models blowing up Instagram with their unfiltered, beautiful bodies.
Pay attention to how social media messages affect you, and be ruthless about clearing away any unsupportive content (simply delete it from your newsfeed).
Pin a few body-positive images up in your room, on your mirror, or anywhere that you’ll see regularly. This will serve as a daily reminder of real women who are beautiful, confident, and look like you.
3. Stop avoiding your life until you lose weight.
If I had a dollar for every woman who told me she was waiting to date, go shopping, take a vacation, ask for a promotion, or start a business until she lost 20 pounds, I’d be retired on a tropical island right about now.
When it comes to obsessing about our weight, avoidance simply turns up the heat. It keeps us from fully living, which makes us more prone to emotional eating and keeps us trapped in a vicious cycle.
How do you stop avoiding and start really living? Begin by making a list of everything you would do if you were at your ideal weight right now. Then ask yourself: How can I start doing these things now? What would be possible if my size did not determine the fullness of my life?
4. Own your sexy.
I’ve come a long way since that day in high school. And though my size has fluctuated over the years, I can honestly say I’ve never felt sexier. As women, we often forget that our energy and our attitude is 90 percent of the sexiness ratio (I just made that up, but I actually believe it). Most men I’ve talked to say a woman’s body proportions matter much less than the media would have us believe. So, stop worrying about your thigh gap—or lack thereof—and start building real confidence. Sexiness is an attitude.
Ready to let out your inner bombshell? Put on something beautiful and just feel your body. The lacy underwear, the softness of your skin. Do it without judgment and in a quiet, safe space, so you can connect to feeling sexy just for you. Bonus points for lighting a candle or putting on some romantic music.
Another way to tap into your inner sexy is to search for the good whenever you look in the mirror. It may be hard at first, but just look and keep your mind open for what you can like about yourself. Do this every day for five minutes a day, and pretty soon you’ll start to really enjoy it.
Let’s support one another in loving our bodies (and lives!) more fully—regardless of size!