Today I was listening to a podcast and at the end of the audio, they offered up a challenge to the listener. The challenge was to spend some time thinking and journaling about the person you want to become by the end of the year. Every year I set goals but, in many cases, I don’t take time to truly think about the areas of self-growth that I want to experience. I also started reflecting on how many of the goals I set usually don’t revolve around how I perceive myself but rather how others perceive me. Almost every year I vow to lose weight. I get a gym membership and tell myself “this year I will go every day and every week”. Unfortunately, my goal is often so ambitious that I set myself up for failure. This usually leads to strong feelings of guilt for not being able to keep up with this goal. As a result, I am left feeling defeated and my failure reinforces the idea that “I am not good enough”.
Losing weight is one of the most common goals Americans set each year. Women in particular deal with a shitload of scrutiny about what the perfect body should look like. We are constantly receiving messages that make us believe our bodies are not good enough and if we just lost weight, our lives would be so much better. These messages often come with promises of love, energy, opportunity, to name a few. These messages are all around us. The media is a major source of stress when it comes to weight loss and body image. Movies, television, and the internet are filled with pictures of unattainable bodies as the norm rather than the exception. Clothing brands also cater to those who fit a particular body type, usually tall and slender. It’s difficult for me to verbalize or explain the level of defeat I experience when I can’t find anything that will fit my body after spending hours trying on clothing. Yet, I can imagine I’m not the only one. Very few stores have clothing that includes larger sizes. Which often amazes me since there is a substantial number of women that don’t wear the traditional small to large sizes most retail shops offer. In this way, clothing sizes reinforce the idea that you have to change yourself to fit into what society deems is the norm.
Even discussing weight is challenging. It has become such a sensitive topic and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. Along with external societal pressures, there is also the internal psychological stress. For me, I often find myself wondering what people think about me and if they are judging me because of my physical appearance. I try to be extra nice and outgoing in the hope that people will look past my physical appearance and see a different side of me. But, I often find that most people do judge a book by its cover. In a lot of ways, I can’t blame them because they are also being fed the same bullshit messages. Finding relationships is another area that is extremely difficult. My mind usually bombards me with automatic negative thoughts like, “why he would want me when he could have someone much better” or “He’s too good for me”. It’s a vicious cycle reinforced by society and internalized in my soul. The pain of struggling to find value in myself and understand the value that others see in me often makes me want to scream.
“The media is a major source of stress when it comes to weight loss and body image”
My struggle with my weight and physical appearance has had a constant presence since my childhood. I was always active, playing multiple sports in any given year along with dance classes that include tap, jazz, and ballet. In P.E. classes, teachers would underestimate my abilities and assumed that I wouldn’t be able to do things like handstands, cartwheels, or summersaults. As a result, they would pick the skinny kid, even though I was in the same dance program as them and was often better. As an adult, I still get strange looks when I tell people that I took dance classes for 14 years. The same happens when I talk about my love of running, and how I’ve completed five half marathons. Usually, when I share this with people I am met with a look of disbelief.
Even with all these messages and judgments I never let them stop me from doing the things I love. The feeling of accomplishment I get when I finish a marathon is unlike anything I have ever experienced. When I run I feel a strong sense of connection with the deepest parts of myself physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s as if even my whole body is telling me to give up, but something inside finds the strength to push forward. People may assume things about me simply by looking at me, but I know that I am capable, even if I have to sometimes remind myself more frequently.
That is why my main motivation for being so vulnerable in this post is because I know so many people also struggle with similar feelings. As I reflect on the question I asked in the intro, “who is the person I want to become at the end of the year?” I can honestly say that I would like to become a person who values her own self-worth. A person who is also able to support others on their own journeys. And finally, I want to be able to say that, “I am okay with who I am”, so that I can prove I am capable of loving myself every step of the way and that I am worthy of love. These are things that will take more than the gym, eating healthy, or fitting into a smaller size. These are things that require us to work our minds, hearts, and spirits to achieve self-love.
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Photo by Katherine Dominguez