I am so grateful to Suzanne for sharing her wisdom and experience with us again on the blog. This powerful post about society’s obsession with thinness is a must read for ALL women. If you don’t feel this way, I guarantee you know a woman who does. – Pamela
I’ve trained hundreds of women in my personal training career, and pretty much every single one has had the same opinion of herself:
I’m too big.
The shame is palpable. Some women tell me they won’t wear shorts or sleeveless tops because they’re ashamed of their size. Others say they don’t care what others think, but won’t hesitate to put themselves down by saying “I’m fat.”
It’s not just women who are trying to lose weight, either. A 24-year-old woman I worked with was told by her doctor to gain weight because her periods had stopped. While she made significant progress reducing cardio and eating more, she still struggles with the need to live up to a certain level of thinness.
Her story may seem extreme, but women’s disgust with their bodies is just a matter of degree. We’re conditioned from birth to believe that in order to be attractive, we need to be thin. But it’s really just a cruel illusion because in our minds, we can never be thin enough.
Before social media, we had fewer mechanisms for comparing ourselves to other women. We mostly saw glossy supermodels, underweight actresses, and whoever we happened to have in our lives. But now women have more ways of comparing themselves than ever before. And there are more things “to fix” than ever before. We see Instagram celebrities with washboard abs and even women who’ve become famous for the size of their backside.
But behind the smiling faces of many women who post flattering pictures of themselves is exercise addiction, the insatiable need for “likes,” and excruciating self-doubt.
Some of the women on social media are transparent about their struggles. They talk about the challenge of taking a rest day or allowing themselves to indulge in an occasional dessert. It takes a lot of courage to say, “What you see here isn’t the whole story. I’m really not happy with my body.”
And you know what? I really appreciate that. I don’t like to see anyone suffer. But it’s important for us to realize that women with “perfect” bodies aren’t perfect. Their lives are not perfect, either.
It’s natural to compare ourselves to others to see how we measure up. There’s nothing wrong with striving to become a better version of yourself and working towards goals. But what women do to themselves goes beyond that and we know it.
Flagrant fat shaming happens (that’s a post for another day). It’s what women say to themselves that creates most suffering, self-doubt, and negative body image.
When you get down to it, it’s our own inner critic doing most of the body shaming – that mean voice we all have that says things like:
- You shouldn’t have eaten that ice cream last night. Don’t you have any self-discipline?
- Your stomach looks disgusting. It’ll be a miracle if you get into those pants today.
- You should never wear shorts, or people will see how fat you are.
The things we say to ourselves are nasty, intolerant, and unforgiving. We’d never say them to anyone else, but for some reason, we think we deserve it from ourselves.
It wasn’t until the last few years that I started the process of accepting my curves, daily water weight fluctuations, and unique shape. I used to beat up on myself for having a bloated (or “fat”) stomach. Always one to retain water, I felt “big” on and off all my whole adult life, even though my body composition has always been good. Even in my 40’s, when I saw some ab definition and I had the leanness I wanted, I hated on my body for not having enough muscle.
I’m deeply grateful that I met my business coach Jac in 2014. She taught me how to dial in my inner critic, and I now teach these skills to my clients. Instead of trying to push down that critical voice or ignore it, we can empower ourselves with several simple steps:
- When you notice a negative feeling pop up, it’s usually triggered by something (looking in the mirror, admiring someone else, or you name it). Disgust, sadness, anger, or irritability are signals that your inner critic is now active.
- Stop and become aware of your negative thoughts and feelings. Consciously acknowledge your inner critic as a presence (“Ok – my inner critic is here.”). Doing this disarms the voice and immediately takes its power away. There’s nothing “wrong” – your inner critic is just active again.
- Observe the voice with loving detachment. Cursing it, trying to push it down, or hating on it only gives it more power. It comes back with a vengeance when you do that. Instead, observe as a spectator, as if that voice is a little child trying to ruin your day.
The power you can gain by following these steps is immeasurable. I still have days when I have negative thoughts about my body. Our inner critics will never disappear completely. But I continue using these steps to get back to a place of calm and peace.
This is your body. It’s good enough. In fact, it’s beautiful. Listen to the voice that lifts you up, and the others will fade into the background.