Here’s what I know: we are losing too many important contributions from women. Instead of speaking up we are camouflaging our stomachs. Instead of saying “no” we are nodding. Rather than swimming, we are staying covered in a chair. We opt out of jumping on the trampoline because our boobs and butts are too jiggly. We are modeling this for the next generation, too.
It would be better if it ends, now.
Everyone comes from a different place. The voices in our heads are unique. Our experiences and criticisms are all different. How we got where we are is as different as our fingerprints. I do believe though that we have some common ground; we all have room to love ourselves more, we could all benefit from increasing our self-worth, most of us would have better lives if we were happy in the bodies we are in, and all of our lives would be better if fewer people told us what we need to be happy.
How do we get there? Gosh, just google it and a million people will give you their “how-to”. Many suggest we follow their ten-step plan. It does feel easier that way- doing a plan somebody else created for us, even though they do not know us.
Self-Worth for Women
In my experience, it’s much harder than that. It’s more work, thought, intention, and time. Our goals and endpoints will all be different. The way we get there will run parallel and even cross sometimes, but it will never be the same path. Our roadblocks, closets, and foundations all contain different stuff.
We don’t have to do any work. We don’t. We can stay as we are. Sometimes it’s too painful. Some of us have been so shattered we need to stay where we are. We find contentment in the life we have.
Though unfair, some of us are able to start to peek into our closets and take the first timid steps through our roadblocks. We are able to rebuild our foundation with new thoughts and memories so that the fresh construction on top is stable, known, intentional- so that when there is a crack we better know how to repair it to make it strong again.
We may not all be capable of doing this work. Life is not just. Some of us have more than others. Some of us get more than others.
Self-Worth for Women
I have no call to action. I have nothing I can sell you, offer for you to download, and no link to my calendar to book a coaching session. Maybe one day I will have something more to offer.
All I have today is my own personal experience of being lucky enough to miraculously find the strength to pull myself from the bowels of self-worth, mental health, and emotion. I’d never be able to tell you how I did it and if I could it wouldn’t matter. My path is not the same as yours. Sometimes what matters is only knowing that another has done it. For me, this acted as a lifeline.
I can share a few of the resources that helped me start to think there might be life left in me. Maybe another time I’ll find it in me to share more of my story and the resoruces I continued to use to not only pull myself out, but build myself up.
Why Is Self-Worth for Women Important?
I want more women to be able to feel better. I want us to stop being duped and start being empowered to heal the parts of us that need healing. I want us to know we are worthy of the time and effort it takes to love ourselves and to stop being exploited and victimized by industries that profit from lowering our self-worth. I am coming to believe the only way we can do this is by finding our self-worth and then reaching a hand back to help other women do the same.
So, for now, I will share these resources in hopes they might be helpful to some of you. You are worthy of feeling better and I hope it can happen for you wherever you are in your journey.
Here are some of the first resources I used when I was in crisis. They are helpful and useful whether or not you are in crisis:
Self-Compassion is a term most of us have heard but it may be different than we think. I dismissed it for years as weak, or woo. It’s neither. It’s important and Dr. Neff has a straight-forward and direct way of sharing it with us. Click here to buy the book.
This was the first book I read when I knew if I did not start to come up right in that moment I would likely not come up ever again. It shattered me open in a positive and helpful way. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown gives us an understanding that we are worthy as we are, even with our imperfect humanity.
For those who don’t know my story, I quit drinking when I realized how dangerously poor my mental health was. I had been self-medicating for years, and I stopped. I needed a way to fill that time at night so I started walking. I walked and I walked and I walked. I walked around the streets of Denver for two hours every night listening to music. (I do sometimes drink alcohol now, but not very often and not very much).
At one point, I realized that when I listened to female musicians I felt better- that something inside me stirred and I felt hopeful… like I might be able to get better. I started to wonder how I could pump the voices of strong women into my head to drown out the voices of self-doubt and unkindness. This was when I disocovered podcasts and ultimately started my own (click here for Real Women’s Work Podcast).
I wanted podcasts by women only. Women interviewing women. I found Vibrant Happy Woman Podcast and Employee of the Month. I listened to those women speak their messy, challenging, imperfect truths with total vulnerability. I listened to how they had learned to live with their imperfections and sometimes even find their worth.
I listened to strong women share how they became who they are- the absolute shit they overcame and I started to feel connected. I credit these podcasts as much as I do books, therapy, and medication with helping me climb out of the abyss.
These are resources that helped me. They may help you. They may not. If you know someone who is living in a way that is authentic and attractive to you- reach out to them and ask if they have resources to recommend. If you have resources to recommend please, please put them in the comments below.
I hope this post is helpful to you in some way. I hope something in it resonates and sets something off inside that gives you permission to find your worth if its missing. I am coming to believe it is the most important thing we have.
Me: “I only work out when I feel like it.”
Them: “pssht. If you only work out when you feel like it you’ll never work out.”
Me: “ I do workout. When I feel like it.”
Them: “I workout a lot because I like to eat.”
Me: “I like to eat.”
Them: “but I like to eat a lot of pasta and sweets.”
Me: “me too.”
Them: “but that’s why I workout. So I can eat a lot of that stuff.”
Me: “I eat whatever I want whenever I want.”
Them: “But if you don’t workout and you eat whatever you want whenever you want you’ll get fat!”
Me: “that’s not my experience and not what research supports.”
Them: “well you’ll never lose weight that way.”
Me: “I’m not trying to lose weight.”
Them: look at me up and down trying to be conspicuous.
Them: “Well, you’ll never make any progress if you don’t workout consistently.”
Me: “I’m not trying to make progress.”
Them: “well then why do you workout?”
Me: “because I feel like it.”
Them: “how often?”
Me: “Sometimes a few times a week. Sometimes a few times a month.”
Them: “but if it’s not to lose weight and not to make progress why do you even workout? I hate working out and if I didn’t have to I’d sit on the couch all day eating ice cream!”
Me: “I only workout when I feel Like it- when I’ll enjoy it so it’s not a chore. It’s a thing I always look forward to. I never have to talk myself into it. I’m glad both when I am on my way and when I’m done. To me, that’s really taking care of myself. There’s no self hatred tied to my workouts. No berating. No winning or losing. It makes me better without making me worse. I don’t spend hours dreading, talking myself into, or thinking about working out. I have no goal other than feeling good.”
Them: “I only feel good after I workout, or I feel so much better after I work out.
Me: “yeah. I remember feeling that way too. For me, it in part led to a massive mental breakdown because it wasn’t authentic self-care. I was doing something because somebody else told me it was what would make feel better.
I was a double session gym goer- I went every morning and every evening. I spun. I stepped. I lifted. I sweat my ass off. I was a size 6 always trying to be more fit. I always felt good after. But I was there to make my body pleasing to others, not because it was in my best interest. That took a toll. Now I’m fat. When I workout I lift weights causally and walk.
I still fight the demons that try to push me to do what others think is my self care. Fortunately, I found my worth internally and learned how to really take care of my self and now, I’ve never felt better, happier, or more content. I’ve also never been healthier.”
Them: “Wow. I guess I never thought of it that way.”
Them: “No wonder she’s fat.”
Either response is okay. Either way it does not change that I have stopped working out as a from of self-hatred and started working out as a form of self-love, when I feel like it.
Self-worth is essetnial to living a happy life, I think. I did not realize it, though. How about you?
Everyone is looking back at their year, it seems. There are lots of posts and conversations about greatest accomplishments. I love reading them. I love hearing about how you made something happen. I love to see you celebrate! It got me thinking about what my greatest accomplishment is this year and within seconds of wondering, I knew the answer: this year I found my self-worth. Not superficially. Not in theory. Not because I’m on-trend. I deep down, for real, understand my worthiness for the first time in my life.
What does this mean? It means when I enter a room or conversation I think about the people and the conversations we’ll have rather than if I’ve camouflaged my stomach enough. It means I no longer think about whether the food I’m eating is good or bad and have alllll that time freed up for far more important things and thoughts.
It means I no longer judge myself for living in a way that’s best for me even if it’s atypical. Whether that’s a different sleep schedule, wearing comfortable clothes instead of fashionable, or embracing true food freedom, I love myself and know these are good choices even when the person in front of me stares incredulously.
Finding my self-worth means that when I don’t understand something or think I should know a piece of information that I don’t, I no longer fall down a shame spiral. Now I know this doesn’t mean I’m stupid or less wanted. It just means I know different things.
Having high self-worth has allowed me to see the worth in others. I can see now that even though someone is living differently than me it’s not necessarily better or worse- it’s worthy. I can set boundaries so that if the way someone else lives negatively impacts my life I can step aside or out of it.
This year’s accomplishment in finding my self-worth is life-changing. It has set me up for the second half of life so much better than the first. I suspect it won’t feel like the same person living it. Except it is. And it’s all those fuck ups, poor choices, and irresponsibility that helped me to get here.
We all start at different places. I wish I’d started with higher self-worth. I’m not grateful for starting where I did. Life would have been better if I’d had self-worth before turning 45. My life would have been better if certain things had not happened. I don’t believe it all happens for a reason.
Hopefully, all of this work I am doing is allowing my kids to start with high self-worth. I mean it is. I know it is. I see it in them every day. And that’s what we all hope for, right? To give our kids a better starting point than we had?
My vision for this year is to share the tools and resources that helped me get here in case they are also useful for other women. The more women I talk to the more I understand how too many of us have been robbed of self-worth.
It’s not that I hope other women have the same experience I do. Of course not. I just want more women to have access to living a life unaplogetically and without so many of their thoughts being stuck on how lousy and unworthy they are.
We read about women stepping into their power and for me it was easy to dismiss this idea as corny or woo. Now, of course, I see that it is neither. Stepping into our power allows us to live in a better way. This doesn’t mean grandiose or famous or rich. It just means better in whatever better means to us- better boundaires, relationships, work, self-love, self-talk, or whatever makes life better, happier, for you.
With all of the struggles, injustice, and wrongs we women live with, it seems we also live at an exciting time. We are stepping into our power and talking about it- sharing what works, spreading our confidence, role modeling boundaries, and stopping ourselves in our tracks from apologizing. It’s not right that we have all this work to do but we are doing it anyway.
Here’s to us stepping into our power and putting our hands down to pull up another woman along with us. Has there ever been anything more hopeful?
Do you have resources that have helped you raise your self-worth? Will you share them in the comments? The more we women help each other the better the world gets for all of us!
Here’s something I’ve learned about boundaries: if someone has a good handle on boundaries and has them set, it doesn’t matter if you think the boundaries are appropriate. That’s the point. They are their boundaries.
In fact, the more we judge, disapprove of, and try to dismantle those boundaries, the further away from us that person will push. They will include us in their life less. We will not approach the glorious space of intimacy because we cannot be trusted to be respectful, trustworthy, or capable of holding relationship.
It’s a fascinating thing, really. There are all sorts of memes about it and quick one-off thoughts. There is a real disconnection that comes from not understanding and appreciating boundaries, though.
Boundaries and Self-Worth
I’ve noticed that people with higher self-worth tend to hold boundaries. I don’t know which comes first- does high self-worth come from understanding boundaries, or when we have high self-worth do boundaries just come with it? I also suspect people with high self-worth don’t challenge the boundaries of others.
Personally, I find it much easier and safer to be with people who understand and implement boundaries. Not only do these folks appreciate my personal boundaries, but I know them better and better understand how to be in relationship with them because they have their own strong boundaries.
However boundaries come to be, what we do with another person’s boundaries very much determines how well we get to know them- how we get to be in their lives. The more we fight to break through the boundaries of another the further apart we will get, the less we will be trusted, the less we will be invited *in*.
Growing up is tough, isn’t it? 🙃 It’s so worth it though.
Will you share a thought on boundaries in the comments below? It’s so helpful!
A couple of years ago I was in the darkest, scariest place I’ve ever been. I was diagnosed and treated for Generalized Anxiety Disorder before my kids were born. I got better.
Then we went through a bunch of life and just as things started to point up and get happy and exciting, bam! I had an intense and long-lasting mental breakdown. Looking back I think it probably came then because my mind knew it was the safest time to not be able to hold on.
There came a day when I knew I was in a dangerous place. I was sitting on our porch waiting for my kids to wake up, in a state of something near prolonged paranoia. My mind had crafted the most horrible non-reality and I was living in it.
Hopeless. Terrified. Thinking that at 42 my life was ending- not by suicide but by the number of years I’d lived. It was not depression. I still found moments of joy with my children, but those moments were quickly sent to the depths of a dark and all-consuming abyss.
When I look back at that woman I feel so much compassion for her. I want to comfort her. I want to sit with her, hold her hand when she wants it, make her delicious food, buy her the most comfortable clothes, and find her the resources and tools she needs to move out of that space.
In retrospect, I did do that for myself. It’s exactly what I did. Sitting on my porch that day I knew that if I could not find a way to turn things around starting right then- there might be no turning around.
I got on medication. I started taking a particular B-12 and Magnesium. I reached out to a friend who had made herself visible about a similar struggle. I asked her for resources. She gave them to me and I used every one. I did a lot of work. Hard work. Work I really did not want to do but I also knew where I’d end up if I did not.
To be crystal clear: some people with mental illness cannot change their outcome no matter how much work they do or what kind of medication they take. Literally every day of my life now I pause and offer love to those people. It’s a tragedy and I have so much compassion for people who have to live in that space all of their lives.
As I sat there trying to think of a simple, basic, actionable step that I could actually take, I evaluated what, if anything, made me feel better and what made me feel worse. Again, I was very lucky to be able to do this even though I was in such a horrid place.
Food and Clothing- Interesting, Huh?
The first couple of things that came up for me were food and clothing. I had been on a near lifetime of enmeshment in diet culture- constantly berating myself for what I did or did not eat, obsessing about food (either what I’d eaten, wanted to eat, or what I “could not” eat). It was, literally, all-consuming, and decreased my self-confidence, self-love, and self-worth.
Though I was a full-fledged member, I did not yet know about diet culture. All I knew at that time was that I did not have the mental space, energy, or resources to think about food for one more second of my life. So I stopped. I was in crisis and what I weighed, or if my cholesterol got high (I had not learned about diet culture yet remember) it did not matter. If I didn’t take my obsession with the restriction of food off the table to move toward feeling better, I wouldn’t have survived long enough to have my cholesterol matter.
The truth is, poor mental health is fatal for many. Just like Cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I needed to do whatever necessary to increase my chances of survival. So I stopped thinking about food and ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I had no idea at the time that this would become one of my core self-care tenants. You can read about it by clicking here.
The next easy actionable step I could take was to wear clothes that made me comfortable. I had long given up shapewear and heels, but I was still wearing clothes for the main purpose of trying to cover up my fat. I spent hours and hours in dressing rooms looking for the best option. Comfort did not matter. The style did not matter. All that mattered is if it helped cover up the worst parts of me (oof. It’s so hard to know those words were true for me for so long).
I started wearing leggings from LulaRoe (I’m not going down the rabbit hole with you. I don’t sell them. I wear them. I love them.). I wore clothing from J. Jill because it had an elastic waist, a great cut, and incredibly comfortable materials. I found t-shirts that were comfortable and fit well and wore them with shorts.
As it turns out, wearing comfortable clothes was another core tenant of self-care for me. Each night when I picked out my outfit for the next day it was a gift. It was a way of saying to myself: “tomorrow you will be comfortable all day. When things are bad and you do not know what to do, the comfort of your clothes and body will not make you feel worse. They will not be a distraction from getting better.”
Gratitude, self-talk, listening to music, self-compassion, changing the voices that I allowed in my head (which is how my Podcast started Click here to read more), sleep, play… all of these were other practices I would adopt in the name of survival. What I did not know then was that all of it was helping to raise my self-worth. Low self-worth had led to low self-love for me. Couple that with poor mental health and it is no wonder now that I was near death.
If you met me now and I did not tell you, you would have no idea of where I’ve been. I’m stable. I’m productive. I’m happy. I’m optimistic. I’m authentic. I’m engaged (in life. I’ve been (mostly) happily married for 16 years). I’m friendly. I’m conversational. I’m excited. My passion is back. Though I am not at all new-agey, I really am stepping into my power and it is awesome.
But I was there. And now I am here.
Learning what real self-care is combined with medication is what saved my life. If I had been practicing these sooner, I never would have lived in the depths of despair.
You don’t have to have poor mental health or be at rock bottom to start using real self-care practices. Whether you are a stay-at-home mom who loves her life or a corporate executive who travels 50 percent of the year doing work she adores, we are all being fed a list of “must-dos” when it comes to taking care of ourselves. Too often, I believe, these come from people who have not practiced it themselves and their self-care directives are superficial.
I think it’s so important that we all start to learn what taking care of ourselves really looks like. Personally, I don’t know of a better or more beautiful way than sharing our stories.
Pondering Jen is a place where I will share my story in hopes that it will help other women. I look forward to learning more about your story, too, if and when you are comfortable sharing.
Welcome. I am so glad you are here.
Last week I published a post about weight loss and how it makes us fat. (Click to read). I was impassioned and shared the post around anywhere I could. I desperately wanted women to know the truth about diet culture. The more I thought about how many women, like me, have spent so much of their life wasting so much time, energy, thought, and resources on losing weight -when it actually makes you gain weight- the more confident I grew sharing the piece.
It was shared on a page about diet culture where it ended up getting attacked. “Fatphobic” and “cringe-y” were just two of the insults quickly thrown. They got mean and more descriptive.
Imagine My Embarrassment
I cannot exactly remember what I first felt when I read the words that described my writing. I think it was a sick to my stomach feeling with the realization that I had hurt people’s feelings. (This is not a people-pleaser behavior, of which I am recovering from. Rather, it stemmed from me being ignorant and not fully understanding the weight of what I was saying). What I said was offensive -even to myself. I just did not know it until it was pointed out.
As the comments came in I realized that some who were throwing the critiques likely had not read the piece. When this used to happen to me I would completely dismiss the person’s comment and call them out in a not very kind way about how ridiculous it is to comment on a post you have not read.
Maybe the title of my piece was offensive but the content of the piece was anything but (I thought). If these people would just take 5 freaking minutes and read it they would not be making any of these comments! I guess I was annoyed.
I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of years though. I’ve grown so much. After my mental breakdown the world became different. I had to learn what real self-care looked like. For me that is engaging in causes that feel unjust to me in a way that won’t send me back to the depths of despair and disconnection.
Be the Change
So, in this case, I paused for a moment. I took a look at what these commenters were saying. I stepped back for a moment and considered my words from their perspective. When I really looked, it did not matter whether they had read the article. The very title of my piece was hurtful, offensive, and perpetuated the very myth and damaging stereotype they have spent so much of their lives trying to debunk. It did not matter what my words after that said. Whether or not they read the post, my words would have been tainted anyway. I was wrong.
Instead of being defensive or justifying what I had written, I engaged. Instead of looking for a winner and a loser, I had a conversation.
See, November 2016 changed a lot for a lot of people. Many of us were left in disbelief. The impossible happened and it was incredulous. We couldn’t imagine it getting this bad but it has. When I woke up the morning after the election the first thing I said was “this is what happens when we don’t listen to each other”. I believe those words still and that single morning changed the way I look at everything. I knew I needed to be the change I wanted to see and I had to be it hard.
But How? Have You Even Been on the Internet?!
So I listend. I engaged. I asked questions. I considered. I detached myself from the emotion and embarrassment I felt so that I could change my piece to make it inclusive.
I have to tell you, this experience was beautiful. It was humbling in a way I have not experienced before. Admitting how little I know is not something I have ever had a hard time with. I have a hard time though when it seems like people are just trying to be trouble makers. I’ve assumed the latter far too often.
The conversation that followed the initial attack was so helpful- for me, and for my piece. My piece will now benefit more women. More women will be able to read it and receive it’s message. And you know what? All I had to change was the title.
Hopeful and Empowered are Good Results
A lot of times I have felt hopeless about how to affect change. It’s easy for me to get lost thinking one person is not enough to make a difference and get overwhelmed with the possibility of it all. The conversation this group and I have had over the last week affected change on a global level. It did. I have no doubt. What a powerful and empowering realization.
Some of the folks on that thread were absolutely just looking for trouble, or maybe they were just angry. Maybe they are fat and have faced discrimination and hurt their whole lives and were reacting to the awful title I had written. No matter which parts of this are true we modeled something different that day- we modeled understanding, vulnerability, kindness, compassion, humanity, growth, and making the world better for women. Worst case this thread was shut down to the ridiculousness of trouble makers with intelligence, honesty, and a willingness to listen to each other. Best case we unintentionally modeled discourse for the greater good in front of a whole bunch of people.
Lest anyone think I am trying to pat myself on the back (well, I mean, I am. I am really, really proud of myself for how far I’ve come, but that’s not why I’m writing this). I used to be the angry one. The one who lashed out quickly, shut the conversation down, and shut people up- and don’t get me wrong- sometimes it was absolutely justified and necessary. It became my default though and I carried the weight of the hurts I’d caused for a long time. For me though, now, being the change I wish to see involves more listening. It requires me to replace winning or losing with a conversation.
Instead of being filled with shame this last week for behaving like an asshole and getting in an internet war I have become less ignorant, had more connection, and feel steady and confident moving forward in social justice issues because now I know I can trust myself to be the change I wish to see in the world.
I don’t know about you, but for so long I thought this nice quote was for big important people- people with lots of reach and influence. This week I learned that’s not true at all. It’s for all of us who have the mental space and capabilities to practice it in our every day lives, even when it’s hard.
Note: this piece was published on a different blog by the same author in 2013.
Moving away from family is sad- no matter how exciting the prospects.
It’s not that I don’t want to go. It’s just that I don’t want to leave.
I have spent most of my life in a 60 mile radius. There was an exception for college, and for two years when I turned 4, but the rest of my life has been spent close to home. My sisters each moved away for a while, and for the first time since high school, my whole family has been back together- something I always wanted.
Now it is my turn; to try something new, to live somewhere else, to know who I am outside of the surroundings that remind me of who I am supposed to be. This is something else I have always wanted.
But now I have kids, and my son and daughter have grown knowing what it means to have ready access to their grandparents and aunts and uncles- to feel the confidence that comes from being accepted, loved and adored for who they are- by so many people. I didn’t expect my kids to have best friends at 3 and 5 years old. So it’s different.
It isn’t that we have to go- though we would be foolish not to- but it is more than that. It is a chance to experience a different climate, and new people… a lifestyle that offers outdoor activities all year long and sunshine 300 days each year. It is an opportunity to know a different part of our own country and for my husband to grow professionally in a way that is exciting for him and for us.
I look forward to all of these things. I am eager to experience understanding our family for our own dynamic; with different surroundings and people, and without the reminders that keep me boxed in to who I have always been. (Click here to read).
It’s just the leaving; the saying good-bye, the knowing that my dad is not a phone call away to remove a bat that has entered my house when my husband is away. It is the understanding that we can no longer visit my mom at work when it all is just too lonely.
It is the already longing for the impromptu sleepovers of my siblings… who are always child inclusive because my sisters and brother value my kids as much as I do. It is the wondering of who my own family will be without the support of my own.
I do not know how to reconcile this. I am unsure of how to prepare myself so that I lead my children to the exciting and positive experience we are about to have.
So I am trying to be with it. I am not distracting us. My tears flow freely. When my children ask what is wrong, I tell them; that I am sad. That I will miss my mom and dad and Momo and grandmother and Minna and Bridgey and Uncle TJ. I tell them that this is the place I have always called home- that the ocean is in my blood and that this is the blood of my family.
I also tell them that I am excited. I share all of the things that I am looking forward to- like stability, adventures, and exploration. I share with them that our whole family will never change and that the people they love are never more than a plane ride away. I remind them that all they have to do is call any one of these people and they will drop everything to come. Just as it always has been.
For now this will have to do. Once we are settled things will seem brighter. They will be fresh, new, and exciting. My children will fall asleep in the only home they have ever known; the space between my husband and I.
As time passes we will evaluate what continues to make sense for our family and adjust accordingly. In the meantime, we will take with us the unshakeable love of our family, and the knowledge that something as small as a plane ride can’t compete with connections that run deep as the ocean.
When I was in my late twenties a specialist told me my knees were not capable of being a runner. So I ran a marathon. My knees had been problematic from my early teens. Running the marathon, fortunately, did not make them worse.
I didn’t even start running until adulthood. I had not realized how much a “runner’s high” would help my mental clarity and mental health. Different things help different people and this one helps me. So I became a runner.
There are times I’ve stopped running. When I was pregnant with my first baby and had Cancer it derailed a lot of things. I put on a boatload of weight (it was Thyroid Cancer), extra time was taken up with medical appointments and surgeries (both procedures and recovery). My first pregnancy, not surprisingly, ended in a c-section. Though I tried VBAC with my second, and went a good long time in natural labor, that too ended in a c-section. With a traveling husband, two babies, two c-sections, and thyroid levels that always needed adjusting, the weight never came off. Each pregnancy and thyroid fluctuation seemed to bring additional pounds with it.
So I spent a decade or so intensely berating myself- my laziness, my inability to stop shoving my face with food, how fat and slobby I looked in the clothes I bought solely to cover up as much of me as I could. I masked it at night with wine. That added to the pounds. Can you imagine a person feeling worse about themselves? Sadly, statistics and plain old conversation show you surely can.
But I wasn’t a fat lazy slob who couldn’t stop filling her face with food. I was a human who’d been through a tremendous ordeal and lived in a diet culture that capitalized on that. Fatphobia continued to prove it.
I hit forty (click to read) and things got better- my weight did not decrease but my self worth increased. I started to see how diet culture is structured to make -women specifically- feel awful about ourselves. There are lots of reasons this is beneficial for a group of people, but that is for another post. I learned about Fatphobia, and that it is not just about saying mean things about people- it’s a practice that is discriminatory and keeps people from getting proper medical treatment.
I made the connection that scarcity thinking bred by diet culture caused me to eat more and eat things that did not make me feel good. It caused me to obsess about food. The more I obsessed, and tried to stop eating it, the fatter I got. I saw, with my own soul, that when I stopped thinking about what I ate, I ate less and had sooooo much more time to think about other awesome and exciting things!
So for a couple of years now I have basked in the living of a new found self-love. A relationship with my self that sees the many, many, many good things I have to offer myself, my family, my friends, and the world. I stopped thinking about the shape of my vessel that contributes these things and started appreciating that I have a good and healthy one.
Alas, here we are. I started running again at the beginning of the year with probably another 40 pounds on me since I ran the Boston Marathon. A couple of months ago I started to feel it in my knees. As my distance increased and my time decreased they were getting more and more uncomfortable.
So now, I am faced with a decision: do I want to try to lose weight in hopes that it will help me allow to do the thing that helps me so much? Or do I decide that I will look for other ways to gain that clarity and mental health benefit?
See, it’s a choice. I don’t have to be thin just because that’s what society values. I don’t have to lose weight to be worthy. The contributions I make to this world do not increase or decrease with the pounds on my frame. It is now a matter of practicality with a far different motivation.
If I decide to lose weight I will leave behind the berating and the belittling and the need to do this for others. It will be a logistical choice that will bring with it more cooking and thinking about food, temporarily. It will be no different than making sure I take a medication each day for my mental health- it’s just a thing I can do so that I might be able to keep doing the thing that makes me feel better.
The good news is I need not experiment with what will work for me to lose weight and still feel good, I already know what to tap into and what program to use. That makes it easier. What will make it even more easy though is knowing this choice -either way- has nothing to do with my value and self-worth.
I’ve never run to beat a time or win a race. I’ve never run because it makes me look better or to be part of a group. I’ve never even run with a group. I have always run because of how much it helps my mind. So if I decide to lose some weight it will only be so I increase my chances of being able to run longer.
Maybe your story of weight gain doesn’t start out as seemingly exciting as being pregnant with Cancer (YAY!). Maybe it feels like your story doesn’t justify your weight gain. We don’t need justification. We owe nobody an explanation. Trust me, we are owed an explanation for how wronged we’ve been.
Some of us have bodies we love and some of us have to learn to love the bodies we have. Either way, it is our body and nobody else should get to tell us what we are supposed to do with it. Run. Don’t run. Diet. Don’t diet (they really don’t work anyway. Like, truly, backed by science don’t work). Wear a bikini. Don’t wear a bikini.
For me, tapping into what makes my own body feel good makes my life bigger, brighter, happier, and richer. Whether or not I decide to try to lose some weight so I can keep running, I will not allow myself to lose all that I’ve gained because of how others think I should look.
It starts with saying yes.
Yes to jumping on the trampoline even though everything jiggles.
Yes to the zip line even though the harness accentuates all the “wrong” places.
Yes to putting on a suit and going for that swim. Even though our self-talk is telling us that we are a beached whale.
Yes to shooting hoops even though our belly adds a new element.
Yes to thinking it might be okay to stop thinking about how “fat” we are.
Yes to thinking it might not matter what shape our body is or how much weight we have gained since high school.
Yes to letting ourselves go for 60 seconds without reminding ourselves of how lazy we must be for “letting ourself get here.”
Yes to walking into an event excited about meeting new people instead of standing in a way that best camouflages our upper arms.
Yes to being okay that a whole day has gone by without thinking about the number on our clothing tag.
Yes to chatting and laughing with our girlfriend as we thoroughly enjoy every last bit of pasta on our plate.
Yes to being excited that we hadn’t realized we never even thought about it.
It all starts with yes, it seems.
Before we know it playing is natural again. Saying yes without considering how our ass/belly/arms/thighs will look is our default.
Before we know it, we are LIVING again, or maybe for the first time.
Before we know it we realize that the people classifying our legs as thunder thighs are not our people anyway.
Before we know it we realize how many minutes, hours, years, and decades we have WASTED not saying yes.
Before we know it, we commit to breaking this cycle. So that our daughters never have to waste a minute not saying yes.
So that our sons see what women look like. That we move and jiggle and eat and laugh and play.
So that our sons see that we are people.
Saying yes may not be easy at first. It might be really uncomfortable, in fact.
It’s worth it though. I promise, it’s worth it.