How to Be Happy with My Body

enoughThis is a repost because one of the most common questions I get from readers is how to go from being able to appreciate everyone else’s body to being able to appreciate their own body as well.  I have been there, so I’ll just speak from my experience.  I’m betting my commenters will have other awesome ideas, because that’s just how we do it here.

I will also say that I know that there are people who prefer to opt out of the concept of beauty altogether and I completely understand and support that for them.  I prefer to think of  the ability to perceive beauty as a skill set – so if I can’t see the beauty in someone, I understand that it’s not a reflection of their beauty, but on my ability to perceive it – it means that I haven’t properly developed that skill set.

For me, the thing that triggered the idea that I could ever be happy with my fat body was the realization that I didn’t feel about other fat bodies the way that I felt about my body at the time. I still believed in the efficacy of dieting and was trying to quit a ridiculous diet program that had me eating less than I had with an eating disorder and wouldn’t allow me to exercise, and I was still gaining weight.  When I told them I was quitting, they made me go into a little room with a little poster about not quitting (literally, a kitten on a rope) and a woman brought in a binder with pictures of fat women, and she started flipping through it silently.  She said “You might not know it, but this is what you look like and these women will die alone eating bon bons in front of the television and is that what you want for yourself? And aren’t you tired of hating your body?”

What I realized in that moment was that I didn’t find anything wrong with those women’s bodies, in fact I thought that they were beautiful.  I didn’t expect that they would never find love (and I didn’t know what bon bons were but that’s another thing.) So it occurred to me: if I thought that their bodies were beautiful… and if I looked like them…then maybe it was possible to think that my body was beautiful.

Of course that was the beginning of a long process.  I started that process by focusing on what my body does instead of how it looks.  I made a massive list of all the things that my body does for me– I included things like blinking and breathing, I included standing, walking, reaching,  hugging and any other action I could think of.  I included that I love my curly hair and my eyes that change color.  I wrote down anything that I could think of that I liked about my body, or that my body did.

Then I committed to really paying attention to my thoughts and every time I had a negative thought about my body I would replace it with a positive thought from the list.  Every time it crossed my mind I would thank my body for doing anything that I could think of  – hey, thanks for breathing! I appreciate you reaching for that!   Whatever I could think of.  Let me also be clear that I was coming at this with all of the privilege of someone who is temporarily able bodied and neurotypical, as always your mileage may vary and if you are someone living with disabilities, chronic health issues, mobility limitations  etc. this process may be quite different for you.  My understanding from speaking with people in that situation is that the key for many of them was learning to look at it as them and their body against issues rather than them against their body and if you have insights that you would like to share I would absolutely love for you to leave them in the comments.

Of all the work I have ever done around this, the process of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones cause the most significant shift and improvement in the way I view my body.

At the same time I made a point of noticing something beautiful about every body that I saw.  When something about someone caught my eye because it was outside the stereotype of beauty, I focused on what was amazing about it.  When I had negative thoughts I reminded myself that I had been spoon-fed these ideas by industries that profit from my thinking them; and that if they didn’t serve me or didn’t feel authentic, then I was free to replace those thoughts with thoughts that I came up with on my own that did serve me and felt authentic.

And I had a lot of compassion for myself.  Changing thoughts and patterns that are ingrained, and often reinforced by the culture around us is really hard work.  It takes time, there will often be backslides and mistakes, and for me the best ways to NOT succeed are not having compassion for the learning process, not having patience, and trying to rush it along. I know for me I decided that I was going to get there, and then I held that thought all the way through, even when I was really struggling.  Patience, persistence, and belief that I would get there were the keys to my success.

So now I’m at a place where I am truly happy with my body and easily able to see my own beauty.  It took a lot of work to get here, and it takes work to stay here, but it’s been worth it.  I was going through dance footage for a reporter and I found this routine that inspired this post today – my coach Rowdy Dufrene and I, in our second year of dancing together, performing to I’m Beautiful (Damn It) by the incomparable Bette Midler.  Enjoy!

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Published in: on February 4, 2014 at 9:52 am  Comments (28)  

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “You might not know it, but this is what you look like” UGH. Because fat people don’t know how to use mirrors. Because we never get told we’re fat. Because it’s not like we have to go to whole separate shops and sometimes whole separate malls to find clothing big enough for us. How stupid do they think we are? *stabbity*

    But yes, that was what made me stop hating my body, too. I saw the Adipositivity Project and thought: these women are beautiful. Some of them are really sexy to me. I look like these women. I am probably not the hideous mass of shame and disgust I always imagined myself to be. And so it started, and while life is not easy for me because I’m still superdeathfat in a culture that hates fat, I’m working with myself and protecting my well-being instead of working against myself with the people and institutions who want me to be miserable and starving. I finally believe I have the right to healthcare, and I won’t tolerate doctors – or anyone – mistreating me.

    And because these major improvements in my life and my self-image came as a result of seeing proud fat women who were not hiding in shame, not engaging in the culturally-demanded self-loathing we fats are meant to display all the time, not putting up with being treated as less than because our bodies are more than, I realised I can help other fat women by also being one of those visibly, vocally fat people who demands the same respect and dignity granted to thin people. I’m not well enough to work and I don’t have kids, so there are very few risks to me of speaking out against fat hate, and I have the kind of personality where I feel comfortable making people *un*comfortable by challenging anti-fat rhetoric and prejudice. So I do it because I’m aware not everyone can, but everyone needs it to be done. And I’m eternally grateful to the first FA bloggers who relieved me of the life-ruining burden of starvation and shame and guilt and hatred of my body.

    • Shira S B, I love you!

    • You know, when I was about 14 and bemoaning how ugly I was (very overweight, VERY bad skin, gappy teeth) as you do when you’re a teenager, my older sister pointed something out to me. She said, “When you look in the mirror, it’s because you’re trying to see your flaws, like your zits or eyebrow hairs or whatever. The light is usually bad, and you’re usually frowning. And it’s 1-dimensional. So really, what you see in the mirror is not what you really look like, and it’s certainly NOT what people see when they look at you.”

      And I would say, “Well, they certainly can’t miss this giant infected zit” or some such, and she’d say, “Maybe, but anyone who cares about you won’t mention it. Or they’ll ignore it. And who cares about the rest of them??”

      • You had a very wise, insightful, & compassionate older sister. She was right. And I wish she had been standing behind me while I was looking in the mirror.

  2. You can never repost this enough, thank you Ragen!

    I have read your blog for years, and over that time two things have happened. The first is I have added a few more long term health conditions to my little collection (boo), the second I have absorbed your positivity and it has allowed me to accept and deal with this so well (yay).

    Being thankful for your body, grateful for all it does and understanding of its limitations puts your body and mind on the same side tackling life and its problems together.

    I have depression, and one of the hardest things is when you start recovering from each bout some days are great, but some are terrible and that you can neither control nor predict this makes it even harder. But I found I could be thankful and understanding of my body in a way I couldn’t manage of my mind. So I say “thank you for breathing body, that is cool, don’t worry about the seratonin, I’ll cross a few things off today’s list and move them to a day when we are a little better” and it might seem crazy, but it helps.

    I have dodgy knee caps (they don’t sit in place properly) but I don’t have to worry about people judging me when I stop, because my body is great it can walk, and lift and balance. But if I ignore the pain in my knees then I will damage my body both in the short and long term, and after all it does for me how could I even think of doing that to a friend.

    I have diabetes and GERD and IBS, but it is ok, my body is great it turns all this food into muscle and fat and bone and nerves and heat and thoughts. But it isn’t great at the whole staying in the stomach or coping with carbs thing, so I give it a break, I plan carefully how long before the gym I have to eat so my body can best do its thing, and I help it out with complex carbs and plenty of protein and fat so it isn’t overwhelmed by the sugars. And I know that it will get worse, that it is no ones fault and not something to worry about, because my body and I will work together and find something that works.

    So thank you, you gave me a great gift many years ago – the gift of understanding and loving my body as a good friend – and this has helped me immensely.

  3. Wow… I’m trying to wrap my mind around the concept of being sat down, told I’m too stupid to understand that I was fat, and that therefore I was too stupid to figure out I was going to die a horrible death for it.

    I’m so happy that you were able to see that the only ugly in that room wasn’t you or those pictures — it was in the ignorant, judgmental, sanctimonious attitude that was trying to make you feel less than a person.

    In fact, I’m not just happy about it. I’m grateful. Because if you hadn’t been smart enough to begin to understand that the ugly was all in her head, you wouldn’t have been here to inspire me to change my relationship with my body and my food, and I’d still be wrapped up in my own guilt-ridden “food crazy”, which I’m finally starting to live without. And it’s been an incredible relief.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Laney. I love how you phrased it as “guilt-ridden ‘food crazy'” – can completely relate to that. I got off that “crazy train” just a month ago, after 30 years. Feels great!

  4. You do know it’s one of the great ambitions of my life to die eating bon bons on the couch, don’t you? Of course in my version I’m surrounded by good friends and a couple kitties sharing an excellent movie. Then, just as the last frame of the credits goes by, so do I.

    Did I mention I’m 97 and have a really fabulous couch and the best bon bons in the world because I won the lottery?

    What? We all have ambitions. Some of ours are just a bit more morbidly whimsical than others.

    • You are awesome, Twistie! I want to go out just like you!

      • My dear preacherjean, there will be a sofa cushion with your name on it right next to me.

    • Sounds good to me, Twistie. Maybe we can share those bon bons, though that means, if you plan to be 97, I will be over 100. It works for me! :-)

    • I cannot tell you how many times I have read a fabulously intelligent and witty comment here and by the end thought–what a fantastic comment, and then finally looked up and… of course, it’s Twistie!

  5. In addition to struggling with my body image, I have various other issues with self-confidence/self-trust.

    One of the books I’ve been reading lately made a comment about how instead of riding shotgun in your own life, and trusting to ‘experts’, you should be in the driver’s seat of your own life. You are the expert of your own life.

    I had to put the book down and think about this for several minutes.

    I realized how I’d been taught not to trust myself, first by family, then by media. My personal power had been usurped.

    I can’t tell you what a bizarre concept this still is to me and I have no idea how long it will be before I can let go of the idea that someone else knows more about how to live my life than I do.

    I know, I know. Ragen talks about the Underpants Rule all the time. For some reason I only applied to other people and my body, not everything else. Being in charge of everything about myself is just freaky. But it is true.

    How great could the world be if we all learned to be in charge of ourselves and leave everyone else alone?

    I really hope I can absorb this lesson fairly quickly, because I sure am tired of second-guessing myself.

    • You have already absorbed the first lesson: you should get to decide what to do with your own underpants. In many ways, that’s the single most difficult lesson there is.

      From now on, it’s about learning how to put that into practice. I’m not saying it will always be easy, but you’ve already jumped a bigger hurdle just by realizing you deserve to be in charge.

      Plus, also, and you have a whole community here to cheer you on, give advice which you may take, modify, or ignore to your heart’s content, and generally remind you whose underpants you are wearing.

      Go Linda!

      • Thanks Twistie!

    • It will get easier as you go on & I send you support & positive energy. We live in a culture & are bombarded by media which does not want us to feel as if we own our lives & bodies. There is someone constantly telling us how to live, that what we do is wong, what we are is wrong. Too many people, such as my husband & his 91-year-old mother, are extremely gullible, & believe whatever they see on tv. “It says on the news that if they give a four-ounce mouse the equivalent of 50 sodas every day, it might get heart disease, so we shouldn’t drink soda, because if we drink 50 sodas every day we might have a heart attack.” Actually, I am translating to what they are ACTUALLY saying, extrapolating from the results of greatly overdosing tiny rodents to claim that full size adults will get sick, because what he actually HEARD was “studies have shown that drinking soda increases risk of heart disease” & because my husband & his mother & many others like them have no idea how to do research for themselves or what is behind research, then tend to believe what the media says, what the culture decrees. It can be very difficult, especially for those who are as bullied & stigmatized as fat people, to own our bodies & be assertive & know what is right for us, to ignore the stupid advice & assert ourselves. However, it gets easier as time goes on.

      • And, btw, I am not suggesting that soda is a wonderful, nutritious food, only that the media exaggerates & sensationalizes everything, that we own our bodies, & that the culture & the media have no business telling us how to live.

      • Thank you for the support, Patsy!

        I’ve had a few tough moments recently when I realize how much I look like my mom. She only ever had negative things to say about her appearance, so it’s hard to see the similarities and not remember all the times she put herself down.

        I’m dealing with it by not spending too much time looking at myself while doing other stuff that does make me happy. For instance, I joined Toastmasters which is going very well so far.

        I also need to get somebody to take a better photo of me for my LinkedIn page. I would really like to do a more natural expression.

  6. I loved the video! WCS is my passion (which I teach, judge and dance) and your getting to dance with Rowdy-too cool! You’re very blessed. Great inspiration for me! Love the idea of replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones. Thank you for reposting, as this was the first read for me. It is hard to feel enough when you’ve got the world telling you just the opposite. You are such a strong, independent woman, I truly admire and can learn a lot from! Standing up for myself and my beliefs! Thanks! xo

  7. Ragen, Thank you SO MUCH for writing this, about people with chronic diseases and/or disabilities: “the key for many of them was learning to look at it as them and their body against issues rather than them against their body.”

    This just gave me one of those “click” moments (as we 70s-style feminists used to call them). That is EXACTLY what I have needed to hear for years now. I think I can learn to do this, to see my body as my ally–my trusted, beleaguered, sometimes overwhelmed but faithful ally–in our shared battle against congestive heart failure, osteoarthritis, and all the other things I won’t bother to list here. Thank you, over and over, for giving me this way to look at my body. I’ll report back in a few weeks on how it’s going!

  8. Living with a disability (fuck, it was really hard to write that down) is about learning how to read my body and navigate within those limits. My journey into limited mobility started with an injury where I did not receive the treatment I needed at the time because of fat. What I have learned to do is to take advantage of good days and accept the bad ones by modifying my movement. Do I resent it? Hell, yes I resent the circumstances that left me in this condition but, do I resent my body. No, I don’t. I appreciate the days when everything mostly works and have learned not to ‘push past the pain’ when it doesn’t’. That was a hard lesson to learn and I still screw it up some days but, it’s a process.

    • I am so happy that you do not resent your body. I have been disabled all my life, was born with cerebral palsy, & I have spent the majority of my life resenting my body &/or feeling shame because of what it could not do well or do at all, for not looking graceful in motion, not being strong even when I lifted weights for an hour every day, not being athletic. I do have arthritis now & I know that the many years I pushed myself to work out 4 hours per day for years at a time, to walk further, refuse offers of rides even when I was exhausted & in pain, to shovel snow by myself, etc., have likely hastened & exacerbated my increasing levels of disability. And I now know that my body is amazing, strong, resilient, & that it has done a remarkable job of carrying me around & getting me through the world for more than 64 years. Regardless of what I often thought or what ignorant jackasses have said to me, my body has always done its best.

  9. Loved the dance video! I hope you post more.

  10. That video! So beautiful! It ended and I realized I had the biggest smile on my face! Thank you for making my day!

  11. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Sometimes I think I may be the most dense person on Earth. I have done the stopping the negative self talk when it starts, but I never thought about trying to replace it with a positive. You know what, that’s really hard for me to do! I can’t seem to get beyond my eyes are kind of a cool color and my hair is really thick and long, and I’m pretty strong for an old broad.
    I’ve had very few nice thoughts about myself over the course of my nearly 50 years. I’ve always heard so many negative things, both from the people I’ve had in my life and from myself. That’s really kind of sad.
    The video is great, by the way!

  12. What a great post. Somehow it’s so easy to appreciate other people’s bodies while still dissecting everything you find wrong with your own. Thanks for the reminder to spend some time remembering what we love about our own bodies.

  13. Your blog is great and you are HOT, girl! I love to dance but you take it somewhere even more fabulous!

  14. So in terms of body positivity, I was following an awesome blogger and I was learning about two things from her: the fat acceptance/HAES movements, and makeup.

    It helped that this person is a feminist and when she started going into the makeup stuff, not only was it gorgeous, but she went into her feminist perspective about makeup not HAVING to be about “correcting imperfections” – that it could be a means of self-expression and creativity, more like a painter with a canvas than a way to correct “flaws.”

    And she has an awesome, nonapologetic sense of fashion. Similarly to me, she embraces glitter and bright colors, and so I could identify with her aesthetic – and it went along with the argument that these awesome colors and sequins and things shouldn’t be barred to you because you are fat. This was revolutionary to me.

    At the time, I was both unhappy and fat, and it seemed unlikely that the fat part would change. But the idea of just being “allowed” to wear something bright and sparkly in public – and have it look good, and maybe even get compliments on it! – made me happy.

    And she posted pictures, and she did look beautiful. And the colors worked. I admired her daring as much as her sense of fashion. It was similar to how I admired goth fashion in high school but felt I couldn’t don it without being “worthy” of it, I guess. (And that could be its own separate thing, but I digress.)

    So I started trying to clothe myself in stuff I liked. Hard, but that was actually a revolutionary step. Over the years, I got pickier about clothing, when I could be. I decided that I didn’t feel like spending my well-earned money and closet space on clothing that I didn’t like or that was ill-fitting if I could avoid it.

    I know not everyone is lucky enough to be in a stable financial situation, or even if they are, that availability can be very limited. It is hard. But just the idea that if I had options, I needn’t settle for “meh” because of my size or anything else – that it was about whether I thought the clothes looked good on me, and not others – that was the beginning.

    I think once I got on the body positivity train, it just kept going. I didn’t really make a transition from thinking others’ bodies were beautiful but not mine to including my own body. If I was able to see my fat body as beautiful, others would be, too. It tends to go hand in hand for me.

    Unfortunately, the same can be true in terms of body judgment – if I’m having doubts about the beauty of my own body, it affects how I see other people, too.

    The most I came to “backsliding” recently was when there was a lot of stress and drama going on, and unfortunately one or two friends or acquaintances of mine decided to lose weight and post on Facebook about it – and they got lots of compliments and “likes.” Of course, I didn’t say anything because this was their page, their journey, their body, and their decision. I had a falling out with the first one. But I think just being exposed to that in combination with other factors causing self-doubt made it more difficult for me to see myself as beautiful in general.

    What also has helped is being around people who think I am beautiful and them telling me so. That kind of influence can be good to counteract the other kind, or even if you’re not dealing with the body-hate more frequently – it helps you feel better and farther along the body positivity train route. :)

    My husband also has told me many times that I’m beautiful when I’m happy. And I know if I’m starting to hate on my body, it means I’m probably not going to be as happy. So I focused more on happiness and health than “beauty,” as well, but the positive beauty messages were also essential!


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