How often do you look in the mirror and only notice how awesome your hair is, or how beautiful your smile is? How often do you take a moment to celebrate yourself and ignore any flaws and imperfections you see?
Probably not often--or never (especially if you just laughed out loud)! Most of us pick at ourselves endlessly, seeing the zit that no one else does or the teeniest flyaway hair or bit of puffiness after a night of margaritas with friends. Modern researchers have now coined the phrase “compare and despair” to refer to contrasting ourselves with carefully constructed social media images and, in turn, ending up feeling bad about ourselves.
I’ve endured quite the battle with my own body image in the past. My biggest nemeses were my legs (I was obsessed with the width of my thigh gap) and my upper arms. I’d force myself to work out in ways I actually dreaded, such as pushing myself to run a certain number of minutes every day or dragging myself to a boot-camp class. I would feel like crap and be moody if I didn’t get to work out for “enough” minutes every day. I think it’s safe to say that I didn’t have a healthy mindset.
Now, instead of staring at the mirror for an hour wondering if it looks like I have more cellulite on my thighs, I’ve learned to focus on the positives that stand out to me about my body: I do like my thick, wavy hair (albeit the frizzy nest that it often is!), and I’m grateful that I like my hands and my stomach is strong and flat.
Yet this certainly was not my natural inclination. It took time and work to retrain my mind. There really isn’t a magic pill you can take to suddenly feel total body acceptance. Change takes time, and some effort, yet it’s a practice we can build on, like learning how to cook. Focus on small changes, then build from there. Train yourself to focus your attention on three things you love about your body, and highlight them. For instance, if you love your legs, wear the pants or skirts that really show them off more often. If it’s your eyes you want to emphasize, wear your hair back or in a way that frames them. To show off your smile, you can get a special lip gloss that makes you feel like a million bucks when you smile out in the world. This little bit of extra accentuation on the positive can build and expand the light of confidence.
I’m happy to say that I now only exercise in ways I absolutely love, which these days are mostly my barefoot beach walks, with the occasional hike with a friend and some yoga thrown in. I’ve had some really challenging times in the past few years, and I have found the beach walks keep me feeling the most grounded and centered. I’m okay with my arms not being quite as strong as when I did dozens of daily chaturangas (a kind of yogic push-up) when I was doing more regular yoga asanas. And while my backside might certainly get more lift if I did some kind of barre class, I avoid such sessions because I personally don’t enjoy them. Being happy and being outside are more important to me than a few inches of difference. Of course, some of us do enjoy such classes, or those few inches do make a big difference mentally. So there is no one way that is “right.” It’s all about being authentic to what feels good to you, versus being primarily motivated by running after approval or what other people think.
We all care about how we look, and that’s just how it is. Yet we can also go beyond and connect deeply with our whole selves. Put your attention on how you feel in your body, and create practices and exercise routines that make you feel amazing—the healthy recipes in this book will certainly support that effort. You can focus on being in touch with your energy, strength, and intelligence (you fill in the qualities) and consciously direct your attention there so you don’t fixate—and pick apart!—your outer appearance.
And you know what? As much as our society emphasizes perfect blowouts, toned abs, and flawless skin, nothing is more irresistibly attractive than being comfortable, happy, and feeling “good enough” just as you are. It’s a magnetic energy that can’t be bought. If you find yourself consumed with one little body flaw (as we all do sometimes), refocus on the three things you love about your body, and remind yourself that everyone in their own ways has a perfectly imperfect body, too.
Detoxing Body Shame
Body shame is a deep-rooted toxin that many of us carry. Statistics reveal that, even as children, we start to experience shame about our bodies, often because of what we’ve picked up from our parents and the adults around us. In fact, an online, nationally representative survey found that a whopping 94 percent of girls and 66 percent of boys had already experienced body shame by the time they became teenagers. Research on college women actually shows that shame can predict more poor health outcomes later, and negative body image is associated with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.
Body shame doesn’t affect us just from a health and wellness perspective. It has been shown that girls with low body image tend to be less assertive, which can hold us women back professionally. It can also keep us from asking for the support we require and stating our needs, which are essential ingredients in the life recipe for feeling balanced and happy. Most of us have been raised to feel that being heavy or overweight makes us less worthy, due to the societal prevalence of “antifat” attitudes. A 2014 survey reported that 85 percent of adolescents had observed overweight classmates being fat-shamed or teased in gym class. It’s no wonder why we all too easily shame ourselves for gaining just a few pounds, or not being quite as thin as someone we happen to see on a social media hashtag! Weight discrimination, or fat shaming, has been shown to lead to declining physical and mental health over time. Imagine the detrimental, lifelong effects on your own health if you constantly shame yourself and your body.
Practicing compassion toward ourselves is a huge part of our own healing. We can know this on some level, yet harsh thoughts and judgments can easily slip in. Incorporating practices every day can help, as they support us in feeling consistently good from the inside. When you feel good, you’re less likely to be mean to yourself.
Powerful practices I recommend include following a morning routine, taking some time to make nourishing recipes for yourself, and practicing the kindergarten rule of saying something nice to yourself or nothing at all. The path to detoxing body shame is something we probably have to keep working on throughout our lives. We’re all longterm works-in-progress together.
Excerpted from RECIPES FOR YOUR PERFECTLY IMPERFECT LIFE Copyright @ 2019 by Kimberly Snyder.
Photograph copyright @ 2019 Ylva Erevall. Published by Harmony Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House.