Step 3: Bodies as Instruments, Not As Objects

Today's post is about Step 3 of my series on how to bounce back from negative body triggers: thinking about your body as an instrument, not as an object.

Beauty Refined points out:

When women learn to value their bodies for what they can do rather than what they look like, they improve their body image and gain a more powerful sense of control. Ideas of “feminist embodiment” that have been pinpointed in research include using our bodies to dance, play, move, and be outside the confines of being looked at. As early as grade school, research shows that girls’ activities and thoughts are more frequently disrupted than boys, and those interruptions are often related to weight and appearance. Experts suggest we can resist self-objectification by participating in non-aesthetically-focused sports (like competitive team sports) and other kinds of physical activity. Finally, STEP AWAY FROM THE MIRRORS while exercising. Research shows people who work out in front of mirrors can’t perform as well because they are consciously and subconsciously wrapped up in how they look instead of what they can do.

There's always been an element of look-ism in female sports.  When I played varsity tennis, I was often pretty concerned about looking cute in the outfit, at least until the first serve.  Nowadays, I don't think about it as much - well, until I go to do a handstand and have to remember to tuck my shirt in, lest anyone see my ghost-pale stomach, but even so, I don't spend much time looking in the mirror at the gym, because that's not what I'm there to do.  I'm there to get a good workout, sweat, get red in the face, and get strong.

Love me some kettlebells!

Love me some kettlebells!

It is so, so important to find exercise you like.  Hear me babes, it is VITAL.  Exercise should not be punishment.  You don't have to do it to earn anything.  You don't have to do it "or else".  You don't have to follow anyone else's rules.  Move your body because it delights you to do so.  That is the only way to make it sustainable.  The only way.

Pick something you love.  For me, that was roller derby, then CrossFit, and yoga.  I delight in all of those things.  I want to make out with rollerskating, I get a thrill at learning my body's capabilities at the box, and I love the presence and bodily awareness yoga brings.

I used to do shit I hated.  I do not like long-distance running.  Look at me, up above.  I have the body of a sprinter.  I am not cut out for marathons.  Long-distance running is not for me.  I hate long runs with ever fiber of my being and I want to punch the ground I have to cover in the face.  And yet for years I ran because I felt like I "had" to.  Bullshit.  I'm a grown-ass lady.  I do what I want.

Like hanging:

Like a damn monkey. 

Like a damn monkey. 

If I look happy here, it's because I am.  I finished the WOD, perfected my power snatch, and had a generally bang-up time!  Now, it's not always like that -- some WODs (Workout of the Day) are an effing SLOG, and I fight for every rep.  But you gotta love the general trend of what you do.  It has to be workable.  You have to look forward to it sometimes.  Even in my darkest, most drama-ridden moments of derby, the moments by myself spinning around the track felt like home.

And plus, when you are busy doing something you truly love, you don't give two shits about how you look doing it.  You are in the zone, in flow, and I strongly believe that everyone in that space is totally, undeniably gorgeous.  True love is absolutely beautiful, and contagious.  Watching someone do what they love makes you fall in love with them a little too, otherwise, how do we explain celebrity crushes?

So find that thing you love.  Find something you're good at.  Praise your bod for all the rad things it can DO.  Focus on that, not what it looks like, at least for awhile.  When you feel down about your body, remind yourself of how it supports you, carries you, lifts stuff for you.  Look at your latest personal record, or even praise yourself for getting up and doing the daily grind for one more day.  Because that's a day you didn't let those stupid negative unproductive jerkface internal voices get you down.  That's a day you said, "No thanks, I'm too busy rockin' it over here to care one fig about what you say, jerks.  Now STFU, while I kill this workout."


Treatment Plan for Negative Body Triggers
Step 1: Compassion
Step 2: Feminist Beliefs

Step 1: Compassion

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.