How Bruised Is Your Body Image?

I came across this post on Margarita Tarakovsky’s blog a couple of weeks ago. I read through each of her 7 signs, and gently nodded my head to every one of them. Here are are my top three four.

1. Notice only negative things in the mirror? Yep.

2. Tough time accepting compliments? Yep.

3. Compare yourself to everyone? Um, this pretty much sums up my whole life.

4a. It takes forever to pick an outfit? On days when #1 is happening, definitely.

4b. You criticize your body regularly? Way too often!

She offers five simple solutions for dealing with these bruises. The one that I relate to the most to is thinking about the amazing things my body can do for me. Our bodies are so capable of so many things, but we never even think about or give ourselves credit for them.

It’s sort of a catch-22 though. If you’re so busy thinking about all the negative things, the things you hate, how could you possibly think about the good things? I know for a fact that negativity breeds negativity, so if you can just get a little bit of positivity in there, it can do a world of good!

When I was in college, I had a counselor tell me that I should try to view my body as a whole instead of as parts. I had no freaking clue what she talking about or how to do that. All I could see were my thighs, full of cellulite, my face pudgy and full of acne, my arms without definition or muscle tone. It was all parts to me.

It took me years to figure out that the reason I couldn’t understand her was because I wasn’t there yet. I wasn’t ready.

We can’t jump to positivity if we’re full of negative. We’ve got to start with the first step.

Step 1. Walk away from the mirror.

If you can’t think anything good, don’t think anything at all. Stop looking in the mirror- it’s only giving you more fodder for your negative monologue. Get busy. Do something else. Go for a walk. Wash the dishes. Call a friend. Knit something.

Step 2. Look for something positive.

It might take weeks or months before you can do Step 2. That’s okay.

When you set eyes on yourself in that treacherous beloved mirror, don’t let habit take over. Instead of allowing your gaze to go to your “trouble spots”, find something that you like. Maybe it’s  the way your hair looks, or the tone of your skin, or the curve of your ankle, or your collarbones. Whatever it is, find it. Observe it. Be nice to it. Commit it to a place in your memory.

Steps 1 & 2 are preparation for repairing your bruised body image. There are lots more steps. But unless you can do 1 & 2, the steps beyond that don’t matter. So give it a try.

What did you do when you walked away from the mirror? What can you find in the mirror that you liked? What happened the next time you looked in the mirror?



Those thighs

Growing up, I lamented over the thickness of my thighs quite frequently. I didn’t like to wear shorts, certainly not short ones, because it would show my dimply cellulite.

I remember driving in the car with my cousin when I was about 12. She had just gotten her driver’s license. I looked over at her legs to see what they looked like, smooshed against the seat. They were wide, taking up most of the seat, and they touched, a lot. She was a swimmer, and had long, thick muscles throughout her body. Her thighs were no exception. The exception was that she didn’t seem the least bit concerned about how her legs looked. (And for everyone’s safety, it’s a damn good thing! But that was not in my perspective at age 12.)

This, to me, was a foreign concept. Even as a preteen, I had years of practice obsessing about how my body appeared to other people.

A few years later, I was getting ready for a school dance, and inspecting my outfit carefully. I said something about my thighs, about the fact that they touched. My mom said, “Oh honey, you’ve got those German thighs. Big and strong. Those are your Gutman genes. Nothing wrong with that.”

Immediately, I pictured my friend Jessica, a German actually born in Germany, whose thighs were basically concave. They did not touch, and never had as long as I could recall. What happened to her German thighs? And who were the Gutman’s anyways? I was a Danto and my mother a Boyd and a Levy.

What followed were years of leg lifts, lunges, and careful selection of any clothing that exposed the skin above my knees. My legs, thighs especially, were the part I hated the most about my body. It wasn’t until I started jogging that I looked at my thighs differently. In 2004, I trained in San Francisco for a half marathon, and my legs took me across many miles. They didn’t change much in size or shape, but they became strong and firm. They enabled me to celebrate my body for once, for taking me places I never imagined: through Golden Gate Park, across the Presidio, down Russian Hill, up the Great Highway past Sutro Baths, on the Lands End trail, across six miles, and then eight, and then 10. My body took me places that even my mind couldn’t.

After running came hiking- three miles into the Grand Canyon, up Mt. Diablo, through pastures, across creeks, to beautiful vistas. My thighs even grew, but I didn’t mind because they were taking me places I had never been, giving me confidence and belief in my physical self that I had never experienced.

Physical activity gave me the confidence to release my obsessions with appearance, lines, and size. It allowed me to feel strong and capable, and to embrace my body for the things it could accomplish, the heights it could reach, and the mental barriers it could overcome.

Now, those thighs, those German, Gutman, thick thighs, have helped me hold Goddess pose, and Warrior II. They have supported my weight through four days of labor, childbirth, and stair climbs. Those thighs which were once the least valuable part of my body are now my most treasured asset. Not because of how they look, but because of what they’ve helped me do for myself.


Things Are Not What They Seem

It’s happened to me before. I’m feeling good, strong, beautiful (insert encouraging descriptor here). I look in the mirror, expecting to see that feeling reflected back to me. And what I see is not what I feel. The mirror is lying to me!

There are a few things I take away from this. The most obvious: do not trust the mirror. What’s more important, the way I look or the way I feel? For me, it’s definitely the way I feel. I do not have the time, or desire, to be so hung up on what I see in the mirror that I let it affect the way I feel. Some days I am better at this than others, but today I choose not to allow the mirror to make me feel bad about myself.

A less obvious aspect of this experience is that what I see when I look in the mirror is not true and factual; it is a product of my perception. What each and every one of us see when we look in the mirror is a result of our experiences, expectations, and habits. So how do I know if that cellulite dimple is really there? Or if my muffin top is actual noticeable? Couldn’t it be that I am sensitive about both of these things, and therefore I am more likely to see them?

There’s actually a psychological term for this. It’s called confirmation bias– the idea that we look for information that upholds things we already believe. This is why, once you are pregnant, you see pregnant ladies everywhere. It’s why stereotypes exist and why we believe them. It’s why we believe people we like and assume that people we don’t like are lying (think Presidential candidates). We are selective about the information we take in and even pay attention to, subconsciously choosing that which confirms an idea we already have.

Perfect example: I am extremely aware of the amount of cellulite on my thighs. I have spent many hours wishing away its existence, squatting and lunging it into expected oblivion, and have only miraculously stopped short of purchasing cellulite reducing creams, simply because I am too cheap and too analytical to go for any of those quick fixes.  So, when I look in the mirror, the lenses I see with are already looking for information to confirm my cellulite’s existence. They are rose-colored, or in this case, cellulite-minded would be a better way to explain it. They want to see evidence of “cottage cheese thighs”. So can I really trust what my shady eyes are picking up? Are they really truly seeing me? No, of course not. My perception of my physical self is undoubtedly influenced by my mind and my thoughts. So when I look in the mirror and see cellulite, or hanging skin, or stretch marks, it does not mean that my body looks any different than it did yesterday. It simply means that there is something about my mental state that makes me think I see evidence of a difference.

Of course, I am human, and it’s not always easy to remind myself of the tricks my mind plays. I prefer to live in a space of acceptance and self-love, and so I focus on something other than what I “see” in the mirror: how excited I am to wear jeans tomorrow, or that I’m looking forward to my new yellow sweater, or that I feel comfortable in this sports bra and these yoga pants.I try to bring it back to the feeling, to my internal body, rather than the exterior.

What tricks does your mind play on you? How have your experiences changed the way you actually see your physical self? Share in the comments below.



The Beginning

So, I’m starting a blog. I’ve wanted to write one for a while, but I had no unified theme or real purpose. Then, direction came. Enter purpose. Enter blog.

I am woman. I am fierce, independent, and kind. I am a yogi, a mother, a partner. I have struggled with my body image, and I know countless women have struggled in the same way. I’ve learned to work through the struggle, and come out mostly on the other side.

I want this blog to be a place to inspire, share, create conversation, and be really honest about the things that affect each of us, but yet we never discuss.

I spent an inordinate amount of time being critical of myself, especially my physical self. And when I finally learned to think differently about my body, my person, and my mind, the world opened up. It cracked, some things shattered, and the negative thought patterns became a little confused. I started to see the things differently, to experience them in a more genuine way. To be able to be present, without preoccupation about what someone might think of me.

So this blog is predicated on the idea that we as women have an incredible amount of power, and we’re giving it away to things we don’t believe in, that do not serve us, that only make us feel sad and defeated. This blog, and whatever projects come out of it, are about claiming our power, taking it back and using it for our own benefit.

My posts will revolve around my thoughts, challenges, and perspective on body image and self acceptance. I’ll share tidbits of my own journey in the hopes that they’ll help you on yours. But the real value comes in the interaction, so please comment below and share something about your own journey to self acceptance and body positivity, no matter where you are in it.