Much like practically every other woman in America, I have struggled with my body image for as long as I had body awareness. As I kid, I was on the chubby side and realized pretty early on that I was bigger than my peers. I was always very tall (a full head and shoulders taller than average) and was just thick. I had a belly and was uncomfortable in jeans because my baby muffin top would press into the button fly. I avoided physical activity because I believed it wasn’t meant for me. I would rather write and sing with my sister.
The funny thing is, once I hit my growth spurt around age 12, I turned into a bean pole with curves. I had no awkward adolescence. I went straight from chubby girl with dirty fingernails to woman-sized with braces. Now I was the only 5’9 7th grader in school, and though I realized I was no longer overweight, I did everything I could to try and take up less space. I hated that everyone could see me in a crowd. I was embarrassed and felt huge. In photos from middle school and high school, I am completely hunched over with the look I like to call the “vulture neck” to try and appear shorter. This stayed with me until… about last year. It took fifteen years. FIFTEEN YEARS OF VULTURE NECK!
I’m still 5’9, thick legs for days, and have a broad back. I’m not dainty. And I’m not small. What baffles my mind lately is how long I obsessed over how much I hated myself for taking up space. I gave myself back and vocal problems from how much I hunched myself over. I dieted constantly, deciding that if I had to be tall, maybe I could at least be stick-thin. I worked out obsessively. And though at one point I made it all the way down to 138 pounds, I was always exhausted, miserable, and anxious.
It hasn’t been until the last year or so before i realized that regardless of how small or strong I got, I still felt uncomfortable in my body, and thus uncomfortable with myself. My body is really all I have, and I spent my entire life hating it for what it is. Who cares how good I looked in a pair of jeans if I still envied other girls who were pretty, funny, strong, or successful? I couldn’t let go. I couldn’t stop hating my body and being jealous of other peoples’ bodies, faces, hair, skin…
This is my Sad Dragon. It’s loudest voice is the one that roars that I need to be thinner. I need to be smaller. I need to take up less space.
The change finally occurred when I started accepting that my body is awesome. It’s strong. It’s tall. It can make kids laugh. It can run 6 miles at a time. It can belt super high notes at karaoke. And it couldn’t do any of those things if IT DIDNT TAKE UP SPACE.
Through theatrical projects, conversations, meditation, journaling, and looking at THOUSANDS of photos of REAL women all over the internet, my thinking finally started to change. I stopped punishing myself with diet food and exercise, and instead I learned about how my individual body works– discovered which foods make it feel its best and which work out routines make me feel stronger and more available for the things that give me joy. If I’m tired, I nap and eat tons of brown rice and veggies. If I’m feeling strong and badass, I go for a long run with my favorite music. I set goals and try to meet them. But I never beat myself up if they don’t happen because the whole thing is a process. Some days are better than others. And that’s okay.
I know that this is a huge problem for a ton of women. Often times I think that the Sad Dragon is pissed off about something we may not even realize, and the easiest pathway to roar at us is the one that attacks our body. Maybe we are hurting about a past relationship, so instead of dealing with that problem, we listen to the voice that says we are overweight and useless. Maybe we are struggling with finding a job, so we come to the conclusion that if we were just prettier that maybe we would be more likable in an interview (or audition, in my case). Maybe we can’t accept the fact that we are getting older, so we curse and try to cover our wrinkles and gray hairs.
Whatever the case may be, BEFORE you decide on a diet and exercise routine, make sure you are loving your body for where it is. Right now. It is beautiful and capable. It’s the packaging for your heart, soul, and mind. Love the SHIT out of it for what it is, no matter how it looks. The diet and exercising is secondary to this necessary part of your life’s puzzle.
To sum up, if you can’t love yourself when you eat a pizza, you can’t really love yourself when you run a 10K either.
So go run a 10 K.
And go eat a pizza.
And be proud of both.