I’m preparing for several talks in early 2018. One looks at supporting kids toward positive self and body image.
These early preparation stages for a talk are challenging, painful, interesting, and immensely fun, all wrapped together. My outline and slides can change daily for several weeks as I add stuff in and then toss it out and then decide maybe I liked it before thinking I need to scrap the whole thing and start over yet again. An interesting time!
The specific topic of positive self and body image — oh boy. There is much rolling around in my head, much to potentially share. I struggled for years with feeling okay about and as myself. My own body image was in the toilet for two decades. I became bunkmates with depression, eating disorders, numbing out, and all around feeling like a failure (but trying to appear okay and “I have it all together!” on the outside). What to share and what direction to go?
As I sift through experiences and ideas and consider what was actually helpful during that time and what keeps me out of the pit now, I find myself returning to several points and thought they’d be interesting to share today. (And they might even make it into the talk!)
Learnings key to healing and thriving with self and body image:
- You can’t hate yourself into loving yourself. (Thank you for this thought, Annette Sloan!) It doesn’t work that way. The way to actually loving yourself is to act kind, compassionate, and loving toward yourself. Every time I told myself “You’re not trying hard enough. Why can’t you get this?? You wouldn’t be good enough until you lose five pounds,” I was reinforcing and strengthening the energy of anger, pain, and unhappiness. No wonder using those messages didn’t help me feel better or anything change.
- You can’t fail at life. Life is existing — and we all exist. So our A is in the bag. Yes, we may need to tweak things here and there. This human-ing thing is a messy experience filled with mistakes (it’s how we learn!). There is no perfect. Try, see how it goes, tweak what we didn’t like, try again — that’s the process on this journey. Ups and downs don’t mean we’re failing — they mean we’re living.
- The fastest way to have a problem? Tell yourself (over and over and over) you have a problem. Eventually you will. An alternative when something feels off or we don’t like where something is going? Change out “problem” for “opportunity to learn” in our thoughts and words. It might seem silly or insignificant (and that’s okay if it does!). This swap starts scratching the internal record and opening us to other possibilities, which is how we’ll get unstuck.
- Life is about the long game. It can be easy to focus on the short term, what is happening in the “right now, this second!!!”. And many times in the now we won’t see anything happening despite our efforts, because those lovely life lessons can take a long while to learn. We might make the same mistake over and over again before we get it (“Right, that doesn’t work. Maybe I actually do want to try something different…”). Or it may take a thousand teeny tiny baby steps over days/months/years, which are hard to see if looking at them individually, before we start to see a change on the outside. It doesn’t mean things aren’t shifting and changing. It’s that things take time. Note to self: Remember the long game!
- What our parents said is true: food, drink, sleep, and exercise choices actually do matter. When you feel crappy it’s hard to show up. I look back on the years when things started to go downhill, and one commonality is that I’d started eating and drinking much more processed food-like substances rather than food with ingredients I could read and understand. My body was not happy, from my skin to my mood. With an overload of junk in my system and my body like “what??”, it’s no wonder, looking back now, that my mood started heading to the crapper as well.
- On outside support, especially from parents and other caring adults: Modeling is huge. HUGE. It’s hard to consider another way to do something if we’ve never seen it. Looking back on the gymnastics years, I was surrounded by coaches and older teammates who disliked their own bodies, expressing their displeasure and constantly trying to change how they looked through diet, exercise, and willpower. During this time, whenever I’d feel off/tired/unhappy, I’d default to thinking something was wrong with me. And “I need to change my body — that’s the way to happiness and success” was the main thing I knew. As I began to encounter adults who actually cared about themselves, particularly after my college years? It sparked the thought: “Huh. Maybe there are other ways to be and live. Maybe it is possible to actually like myself…”. Yes, it took time to move from my default “Something wrong? Must be my body” thought pattern. However, the seeds those adults planted by modeling self care and self love were critical. They helped begin to show me other possibilities, other ways I could act, and different ways life could be.
For those in the Northern CA Bay Area, I’ll send out info once details have been finalized for anyone interested on talks open to the public (one may be). We’ll see what makes it into the final version!
On a related note, as a parent now, I hope my kids don’t go through the same depths. And — they may, whether with similar types of struggles or different ones. Life has its contrast and pain, and everyone experiences their own variety of challenges, struggles, and hard times. Life is messy.
I keep reminding myself it’s not my job to fix everything for my children (or anyone else), nor do I need to save them. And even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. After experiencing my own variety of depths, I see that no one needs to actually be fixed or saved. We’re not broken (or we’re all some version of broken, and there is the offer of beauty in the cracks). Outside support can be helpful (and needed!) in rising from the depths, though we must be our own main anchors. Otherwise we wouldn’t have the chance to collect the jewels available to us on the climb out. And the jewels rock.