Over the past few years, there have been extraordinary strides towards body positivity and body acceptance. Movements have been formed, advocates are coming out, and changes are noticeably happening within the fashion industry. More than one body type is being represented, and women are slowly gaining confidence in how the world sees them. There isn’t just one beauty standard anymore, people are beginning to break the social norms that exist in the beauty culture. Body acceptance, the acknowledgement that more than one size be represented, is creating ripples among women.
With this, women and men are beginning to change their attitude with how they see others’ bodies. However, where positive strides are progressing to bring body awareness to the world, another problem remains at a standstill.
Women finding value in their self worth, or self-acceptance.
We have all been guilty of comparing our personal value to someone else. I want to focus on this, because despite the changes being made in the fashion industry, there are many women that continue to battle with loving or caring for their bodies. Images of photoshopped perfection continue to subtly point out flaws in the female form, reprogramming the mind to only see imperfections. Media directed at girls seek to quantify beauty through the number of views and likes, rather than focusing on the potential of women to become exceptional individuals.
With strong influences pushing thought processes every which way, a picture of futility is painted. How are women ever going to feel confident in who they are if the world finds value in what they are not? Even with the positive steps with body acceptance, it will be all for naught if women do not find value in their bodies at their worst and best. It will take women becoming mentally and emotionally strong to fight back against those manipulative forces trying to sway them. The question then becomes, how can women find value in what their body brings to their life? What in their life motivates them to push past the negative and seek after the positive to bring them happiness? How can we support our loved ones in living up to the potential they have? If I have lost my feelings of self-worth, how do I find it?
Even though I have come a long way in how I personally feel about my body, I admit I still have moments of weakness. The times I feel the most week are usually when I have big changes in my life. A perfect example is the baby I just had. I wouldn’t say that I hate my body, but instead I become more aware of the limitations I have physically. The reliance the baby has on me combined with sleep deprivation, causes me to enter a space in my mind I don’t like to be. I start to see my small imperfections. My patience with my body dwindles. I want to get back into the amazing shape I was in, but at the same time I know my body needs time to heal properly. It is when those thoughts start getting at me that I have to remind myself to be calm and keep perspective. I remind myself of the long lasting goals I have, and how negative thoughts move me in the opposite direction.
As I have faced these internal battles, my thoughts have gone to my friends and loved ones who have struggled with their bodies. I recently made an effort to reach out and understand some of the trials they faced. Listening to each of them share their stories, reminded me of how insignificant the small voices from the world really are. However, even if those whispers seem insignificant, words still hold power over people. I wanted to outline situations that I have seen or been told, and share some insight from other perspectives. This post and the three following, are for those trying to heal or for those seeking to support people they care about. I hope by doing this, my experiences as well as those from my loved ones can connect with someone who needs it. Also by sharing, I have hope that perceptions can shift from not only being accepting of the physical form, but also on how women can positively perceive their bodies.
I Do Therefore I Know
It is now a common practice across social media or vloggers to point out an individuals’ flaws or imperfections. Whether it is done purposefully or subconsciously, it is done nonetheless without consequence. A common phrase I hear is, “It is not my place to tell you what to do with your life, but you are unhealthy,” or “you need to change your habits to make you happy.” This usually ends with a plug where complete strangers tell you how healthy his/her body is, and the lifestyle choices they do to keep them healthy. Now, I am not condemning health practices in any way, because I have my own health practices I follow. What I am condemning is the attitude that because it works for me, it will work for you. If this is an attitude that is prevalent when you seek to help, chances are you will do more to anger people than actually promote the life choice you desire to share.
I am guilty of doing this, most recently with my father. Both my parents are making health a priority in their lives and both have found great success in their ventures. However, my father’s success was something I had a difficult time recognizing, because of one single behavior that from my perspective was a concern. My focus zeroed in on something he enjoys: drinking diet soda.
Having spent a year prior to my pregnancy focusing on my own health journey, I sought to leverage my experience as a way to influence what I considered to be a bad habit. I told him all the foods I ate to help me lose weight, and all the exercises I did that he should try. Obviously, if it worked for me it must work for him. I mean why wouldn’t it? I have half of my Dad’s genes, so there are bound to be similarities in how our bodies cope with losing and gaining weight. As I continued with my rant, it became very clear that my dad was tuning out. You could see by his expression that he was clearly not interested in the lecture I was so graciously putting forth. How could that be? Didn’t he find value in his daughter’s words and life choices? I had started out with the best of intentions, but slowly realized I had lost sight of the purpose of why I was talking with him. I filled my own ego instead of inspiring him as I had hoped.
I look back on that experience and realize I did the very thing I hate that others do to me. I used my own experience with health to dictate to my father what he should do with his. It wasn’t that my intentions were bad, because I genuinely care for my parents’ health and wellness. Even so, my genuine concern became distorted when I sought to solve my father’s problems rather than celebrate his successes. That doesn’t mean I can’t share what has worked for me, but instead I need to be mindful of everyone’s unique circumstances, and that mine is not a one size fits all solution.
This is a situation that I am sure we have either been the recipient of, or the donor to. Our perceptions should not overshadow another’s success, nor should our experiences corner others onto a single path. Remember to be humble in the face of someone else’s struggles, and supportive in their victories.
Might I recommend this acronym, which is hilarious, yet appropriate for when you find yourself being a little too overzealous on the giving side.
(Yeah, I know it sounds silly, but sometimes you figuratively have to slap yourself to keep from being stupid. So bear with me.)
Offering advice or help can start off with the best intentions, but like with my example, can be veered off course. In my enthusiasm, I wanted my dad to hop on the health bandwagon like me. However, my motives became warped with my own self-gratification. If like me, you catch yourself in this situation, the best thing you can do is stop. This can be before the conversation starts or even midway. Just stop.
It is a bit hard to know when you are saying too much, but a good indicator for me is when I see glazed over eyes, or the conversation goes from a two-way to a one-way conversation. An open discussion will always prompt talking both ways, but a lecture will be you talking at someone. This principle doesn’t just apply to health, but in any situation where you seek to help someone. If you find you are talking at someone, then stop yourself. Just that action alone shows that you are recognizing when you have gone too far.
In High School, I had an amazing opportunity to be a part of a program called Natural Helpers which trained kids to act as mediators to their peers. Before we even got into the deeper parts of mediation, we spent hours on one specific mediation tool: Listening.
Our mentor used the example of his wife to show us that you don’t need to say words to help someone. My mentor and his wife were visiting France one year and his wife was on a train headed home. She ended up encountering a woman on the train who was completely distraught and in tears. My mentor’s wife did not know French like he did, so she just stayed silent and let the woman talk. In moments where she felt inclined, she would nod and take the woman’s hand in comfort. By time they reached the woman’s stop, her tears had slowed and she thanked the wife before leaving. She wasn’t sure how much she helped that lady on the train, but she learned how powerful the act of listening can be.
Sometimes that is all people need. They aren’t looking for advice, all they want is to know that they are heard. The simple act of remaining silent isn’t just beneficial for the person you are helping, but it is also a learning experience for the person listening. It allows you to ponder the things you are being told, and be more understanding in how you should reciprocate your own feelings. It allows one to show empathy more than just be sympathetic to another’s burdens.
With listening, don’t be afraid to ask if you can share your own experience. We go through things for a reason, and I have the strong belief that our own trials are to better serve the people around us. Our experiences can give good counsel, but it only does good for people who are wanting it. Never be afraid to ask, because it could indeed be beneficial.
However, if someone turns it down, try not to be offended. It is not your loved ones intention to hurt you by not listening to your experience. They may instead not desire it in that moment, or they may just want comfort. The act of asking should be to indicate what you should do as their friend, more than to show you know what is best for them. Your loved one knows what is best and what they can handle, so do your best to respect their wishes. You will find it means more down the road for both of you.
This word I know is the one that every person on this planet struggles with in one way or another. It is a practice that us as humans will always struggle with, because it asks of us to wait and think of others. It is the act of being selfless, which is a difficult concept to grasp. Nevertheless, just because it is difficult doesn’t mean that practicing it won’t come without reward.
In this context, I want to encourage people in two ways: First, to have patience with loved ones and their needs. Second, to have patience with yourself when you make a mistake while helping. Like I said above, we are imperfect. It is hard to wait, and it is especially hard to learn and forgive ourselves when we make an error. Understand that there is a learning curve with everything, and that some people may be better or worse at it, but that doesn’t mean you are the worst. Give yourself a little credit with your growth and don’t beat yourself up when you make a mistake. Remember to be humble, and if you forget how, then start by saying sorry. Be the first to come forward in humility. That action alone already bends that learning curve in a positive direction.
In conclusion, trust yourself, be open to learn, and acknowledge when you may not be right. I am not perfect and I still falter, but I hope that if you find yourself in the same situation, you remember and can apply this to your life. I have the desire for women to genuinely love themselves for who they are and what they bring to the world. Sometimes it starts with changing the mindset of one size fits all. It may also on occasion take a literal or figurative S.L.A.P to wake us up and do the right thing.
If you connected with this, please like and share! Make sure to keep an eye out for the next three parts as I continue to share not just my experience, but others in regards to self worth.