I had a realization about a year ago—that I’d never really been proud of my body.
I’m not sure exactly what prompted this realization, but it was one that made me so sad. It made me sad for my tween and teenage self. For my early-twenties self. For my current self.
Let me elaborate: other than a few sports accomplishments, I realized that most of my body image was tied up in falling short of unrealistic aesthetic goals. Sure, I’d had fleeting moments of pride on my high school soccer and swim teams, and there was that one time my freshman year of college that I trained to do one pull-up and ended up doing five (!). But mostly I compared myself to peers with flat abs and toned arms. I beat myself up for not being more routine-oriented and not maintaining a consistent exercise regimen. I saw my body as pretty good, but not something of which to be proud.
So I made the conscious decision last fall to stop judging my body based on what it looked like, but instead to celebrate what it can do. That combined, of course, with abundant grace for what my body cannot do. After practicing yoga, I started thanking my body. In my barre classes or gym workouts, I (silently) chanted the mantra “you’re stronger than you think.” And here’s what happened:
I started to be kinder to myself in my internal dialogues. Instead of being upset about a pair of jeans being tight, I could celebrate my thighs for their ability to hold a chair pose, or make it through a barre class, or hike a volcano. Instead of feeling compelled to go to the gym to maintain weight, I got excited to work out and get stronger. Instead of obsessing over how wide I thought my hips looked in the photo above, I could see someone who looks at peace and grounded (I literally can’t do a headstand if my mind is not still and focused). I found pride in completing workouts of any length–not because of burned calories or the potential to get toned–because I honored my body enough to exercise.
None of this is a magical fix to all of my body insecurities, but the shift in perspective sure has been welcome. I wanted to write about it just after the new year, but it felt like cliche timing, and honestly, I wasn’t ready yet. Around the time I took that headstand photo in the Canary Islands, I had an ah-ha moment. It was near the end of a 10-day vacation and we’d eaten a LOT and I didn’t feel great about how I looked in a bathing suit. In that moment, though, I found peace and pride in my body. But I needed to keep it to myself a little longer. I needed a year of gently changing the way I spoke to and saw myself.
I think it’d be easy to say all of this if I changed my mindset, started working out more, and ended up with the body I’d always wanted in the meantime… but that’s not what happened. My thighs touch way more than they did five years ago. My butt got bigger. My waist is thicker. And I’m around the heaviest I’ve ever weighed. However, I’m the strongest I’ve ever been. My body hurts less (it turns out that my flexible joints needed more muscle to support them). I’m much more at peace with my body, and I find myself being proud of it regularly.
One more bit I’d like to clarify–I haven’t transitioned from a looks-based evaluation to an achievement-based one. It’s not about judging my body based on what it can do. In fact, it’s about moving away from the evaluation altogether. It’s about finding ways to celebrate my body and be proud of what it’s doing each day, not relative to anyone else. Some days I celebrate the fact that I listened to my body’s need for rest (or skipping a vinyasa). Some days I’m just proud that my legs carried me up the stairs of my house. It’s really about gratitude, I think.
I’m grateful for and proud of this body I get to steward. And I’m so happy I can say that for the first time, even if it took nearly 30 years.