A couple weeks ago, I wrote about negative body image triggers. Now I'd like to talk about how to deal with them. No one wants to be stuck in the negative feeling shame spiral for long. It feels terrible - like running in place while having a seizure and hot flashes at the same time. I hate that business.
In the awesome Beauty Redefined article I posted before, they say that the first step is compassion.
Self-compassion is all about acknowledging that suffering, failure, and inadequacies are part of the human condition, and that all people—yourself included—are worthy of compassion (Neff, 2003). There are three basic components of this strategy that have GOT to be cultivated in the midst of our objectifying culture and self-objectifying tendencies: 1. Self-Kindness: Extending kindness and understanding to oneself rather than harsh judgment and self-criticism; 2. Common Humanity: Seeing one’s experiences as part of the larger female experience rather than seeing them as separating and isolating; and 3. Mindfulness: Holding one’s painful thoughts and feelings in balanced awareness rather than letting them define or overwhelm you.
Yesterday, I had another body image trigger: my engagement ring wouldn't fit. There are a number of reasons why this could be - weight gain, hormone fluctuation, the fact that it's a lot more humid than usual, water retention, the fact that I am mostly doing pull-up practice these days, so my fingers might be swollen, etc.
The point is: it doesn't matter, my ring doesn't fit. My brain immediately flew into the "if I hadn't gained all that weight this year, they would still fit! I've undone all that good work! I'm a failure, and fat, and ugly, and this is ALL MY FAULT."
Immediately, I reached out for help, both to a Facebook group about ED recovery that I belong to, and to my two best healthy body image friends, Lacy and Julie. Everyone said the same thing - that who I was a year ago was actually worse than who I am now. As denoted here, last year I may have been thinner, but this year I am stronger. And per my new credo, I want to be BETTER, not smaller.
But even knowing all that, I have to overcome YEARS of negative body conditioning. As much as I may know all this stuff, I have yet to really internalize it, because I've been groomed to believe that thinner is always better. If I don't have the constant struggle to be thin, who am I?
It occurs to me now, that as part of self kindness, the first step of compassion, that I need to accept where I am Right Now. It isn't self-loving to believe that there's something wrong with me. I really need to excise the belief that in order to be acceptable, I need to be thin. It's not true, not helpful, and it causes a lot of hurtful behavior.
I'm also not alone in this struggle. Belonging to that Facebook group and connecting with a lot of you here shows me that. This struggle is a part of our shared common humanity, and no one is exempt. We are all struggling.
One of my favorite bloggers, Jen Dary, wrote a post about accepting the continuum of growth:
Big and small. Mature and immature. Rookie and pro. Stumble and sprint. These are not starting and end points; these are two points on continuums that we bounce along our whole lives. We grow for 18 years and then we're designated adults, but this means almost nothing.
The point, it seems to me, is to get better at forgiving yourself for sliding back and forth. No one has it nailed. We're all growing. Every single day, every single year, every single chapter in our memoirs reduces the growth but it's there behind everything.
So keep moving.
We're all on one big continuum. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard. Sometimes we master it, sometimes we don't. The point is to be aware of it, to do your best, and to let the rest go. And most of all: to be kind to yourself about being a gorgeous, strong, creative, and perfect-on-your-own-terms human being.
Lastly, Josey asked me yesterday to try to be mindful of all of these feelings without ascribing a narrative to them, to feel them without trying to figure them out or put a story to them, to let them wash over me and let them go. I may just give that a try in my daily meditation practice. Watching those feelings in awareness gives me a little separation from them, allows them some space. Then I don't get as stuck, and I don't have to believe bad stuff about myself. I'm going to give that a try.
And in the meantime, I've started wearing my engagement ring around my neck with a necklace from our wedding. There might be a time where it fits around my finger again, or not, but I'm wearing it, and that's what counts.