Body image is always a tricky topic to approach. I’ve discussed it to some extent on my other blog but I thought it was about time to address it here.
I was like many a teenage of my era (make it sound like it was so long ago, it was only mid-00s, I promise!) and had terrible body image. Without going into too much detail, it affected my life to quite an extent on a daily basis. And that takes some recovering from. Every woman I know will criticise her body to some extent – we can all point out our own “flaws” and parts to be improved on in the mirror. I have friends who have had surgeries such as liposuction, ear pinning, rhinoplasty or brow lifts to correct something they didn’t like seeing in the mirror and others who have yo-yoed up and down constantly between fad diets – one week it’s the 5:2, the next it’s Slimming World, another week it’s takeaways and hating themselves.. It almost feels like something that’s instilled into us as girls to find the parts of ourselves we don’t like and to focus on them, instead of finding the parts we do like.
It can be difficult to discuss this since you all know that I’m putting myself out here on the internet, often in my underwear at my other blog, so I must seem like I’m super-confident in myself. In fact, I’m not – I’m still learning.
I’m starting to operate on a new system with myself recently though; every time I look in the mirror and zone in on a flaw or point out how much I dislike a part of my own body, I ask myself:
“Would you say that about your best friend’s body?”
And 99% of the time, that answer to that question is a big, fat NO! Not only would you not say something like that about another person, but you wouldn’t even notice that perceived flaw. We’re looking at ourselves through highly critical eyes and ones that are often not seeing the true image. I know that I personally have lived with body dysmorphia for a good portion of my life and find it difficult to see what others see when they look at me.
My new mindset is very gradually starting to change the way I perceive myself, and exercise and yoga have been a huge part of that. In my post the other day all about how I’ve stopped hating exercise thanks to yoga, I mentioned that it’s had a big impact on my body image, and that’s completely true.
First up, I’ve stopped looking in the mirror and seeing my figure through critical eyes. I’m starting to see it as something that has the ability to be fit, strong and healthy. What does it matter if my hips aren’t the size the media says they should be when I can run for miles using them? Who cares if my arms look fleshy when they can support me through minutes of planks and chaturanga?
Secondly, I’m spending time giving my body what it needs with exercise and yoga. I can physically and mentally feel a difference after working out or doing yoga.
I do need to point out that, physically, my body actually doesn’t look hugely different from before and after doing work outs and yoga. Initially I was checking the mirror constantly, trying to figure out when I’d see myself as one of those “after” pictures, but I’m starting to realise that there isn’t necessarily an “after” picture – there’s a right now and there’s how you feel in yourself, and they’re the things that matter.
There was a lot of discussion on my yoga retreat (no, I will never stop talking about it!) about health being the most important thing – several of the ladies were older and had parents who needed caring for, so it was something they were experiencing firsthand, which meant that they were making sure to give up time for themselves. That’s what I think I’m realising – you’re not anything if you don’t have your health. And being around people who had more experience in life to reach these realisations means I’ve come to it at a good time – a time where I can make decisions about my health in terms of fitness that will impact my future. So health has become more of a focus for me than image, and one that I like.
The meditation and breathing aspects of yoga have also helped me somewhat with these thoughts too, even though I’m not massively into that side of it. I find that concentrating on yoga breathing when I’m feeling particularly anxious or making sure to relax any tense muscles in a stressful situation can really help. It’s amazing how connected your body is to your mind. Remember when I talked about positivity here and on the Bronco blog? One thing we went into a lot was how your body language can affect others’ moods, but also your own. I’ve started to recognise that when I’m feeling anxious, nervous, panicky or stressed, my shoulders will draw in, my head will go down, I’ll tense all my muscles – essentially, it’s fight or flight that your body is preparing for. If I focus on relaxing where I’ve tensed, the situation becomes easier to manage and I’ll feel more confident.
So basically, I’m finding that a combination of exercise, positive thinking and yoga, as well as finding myself heading into my late 20s has made me realise some parts of things that are more important in life than just image, and I’m liking it.