For the last 30 years, my family and I have vacationed at the same resort over the winter holidays. As I lay by the pool last month, I reflected on the wide spectrum of body types I have occupied over time in those chaise lounges. I also tried to recollect how I felt about my body at those times in my life.
As a cuddly 4-year-old, my biggest concern related to my fingertips wrinkling when I played in the water all afternoon. Moving into adolescence, I recalled feeling uncomfortable as my body started to soften and develop new curvatures. At age 16, I remembered hiding under my bathing suit cover-up, feeling shameful of the 40 extra pounds I carried as a high-school sophomore. I also thought about the self-consciousness I experienced as an emaciated 25-year-old doctoral student as I was recovering from a life-threatening illness.
This year, I had fully expected to feel completely at ease in my bikini. I am in arguably the best shape of my life, having recently developed a passion for weight lifting and yoga. I am part of a community where “strong is the new skinny,” and I usually take pride in my “guns.” However, as I looked around the pool at some of the willowy figures around me, I suddenly felt like a linebacker. The old voices of self-doubt started whispering, “You’re so bulky. Those women look much better than you.”
Fortunately, a wise part of me could step back, observe my thoughts, and be curious about them – rather than immediately accept my thoughts as facts. After all, our body image is a subjective experience, reflective more of our current emotional state than of the reality of our physical shape and size. If you are one of the many individuals who struggle with poor body image from time to time, try the following:
You only get one body in this life. Care for it. Respect it. Learn to love it … just as it is right now.