Stumbling Toward a Perfectly Imperfect Body Image

Photo by Evie Shaffer from Pexels

I still fall victim to the very thing I coach others on.

Nutrition, weightlifting, and health (including recovery from an eating disorder) have been the main focus of my life for the past five years. They led me onto a competitive bodybuilding stage twice, and into a nutrition and fitness career where I coach others on the importance of accepting your body as a prerequisite to changing it…yet I still fall victim at times to a poor body image.

The majority of the time, I feel comfortable in my clothes and comfortable in my skin, regardless of my weight, body composition, or current goals. But every once in a while, I find myself obsessing over perceived flaws, and deeply unhappy with how I look.

A year ago, when I started working with a new training and nutrition coach, I decided that no matter what else was happening in my life — including beach trips with my boyfriend— I would prioritize building muscle over losing body fat.

As part of my intention, instead of telling myself (or my coach), “I need to lose weight for my upcoming vacation,” I would say, “I’m going on vacation and this is my body right now.”

I forced myself not to interrupt the trajectory of my long-term goal. I completely handed the reins of my body over to my coach, and put on more muscle in the last year than in the previous 4 years combined. Mission accomplished, right?

Except that my insecurities still wriggle their way up to the surface, poisoning my self-image.

The most recent time they resurfaced, it was my friend Casey that brought me back to earth with a simple Instagram post. It was a photo of her at the gym in a crop top with the following caption:

“I’m a little terrified of posting this but here goes nothing.

A year ago I NEVER would have gone to the gym in a crop top. But…I was kind of feeling myself at the gym this weekend. Did my body feel perfect? No. Was there a bit of an orb around my belly from my side view? Yup.

It was warm and the color of this thing is cute and I wanted to wear it, so I did. I just ignored everyone else. I didn’t want to let any reactions kill my vibe.

I then had a stellar workout. I felt how much strength I’ve gained in my upper body working with my coach friend. I kicked my own ass and it felt glorious, even with my crotch sweat marks. That ability made me feel sexy. I always thought people saying that strength made them feel beautiful was crap, but man did I feel it this weekend.

I don’t have a how-to guide on how to get there. I just tried letting go of the hatred I had for different parts of my body — a hatred that sucked so much energy from me — and focused on what it could DO. That led to a joy-filled, confident gratitude for my perfectly imperfect body. It felt amazing.”

Just before I read this caption, I was in the midst of the “comparison flu,” making myself sick feeling like I didn’t measure up, that I didn’t deserve to post pictures of my own body because I’m not as thin, I have cellulite on my legs…you get the idea.

After reading Casey’s post, my flu was cured. I was able to remember that my body doesn’t make me unworthy of anything. It’s a reflection of everything that makes me me: my genetic makeup and how years of habits have accumulated and affected the expression of those genes.

Photo by Life Of Pix from Pexels

I still have goals that I’m working toward, but the shape of my body at any given moment does not have to impact my feelings of happiness or self-worth.

Like Casey, I don’t have a how-to guide on how to get there — wherever “there” is. In many cases, the ideal body for each individual is a moving target.

I do know that getting to a place where you feel strong, confident, sexy, and grateful for the body you have is NOT just about changing your body. It’s about changing your self-image, and while that is not straightforward, Casey’s caption holds a couple of promising leads that worked for her and I that may work for you too:

  • Consistency in self-care: If you’re not happy where you are, actions that aren’t aligned with where you want to be are not going to make you happier. Taking consistent action to make positive, healthy changes is satisfying because it’s proof you’re not stuck where you are. You’re in control, and you can see progress.
  • Gratitude: Humans are not good at processing more than one emotion at the same time, so one of the best ways to push out negative feelings is to flood your mind with positive ones. And it’s hard to hate something when you’re feeling grateful for it.
  • Voicing feelings: When you express yourself either in speaking or writing, you’re both more likely to believe and identify with them, but you’re more strongly reinforcing them than if you were to only think them.

Getting to the other side of a body image transformation is like working toward any other goal: it takes self-awareness, the process takes more time than you think, and you will occasionally fail.

Feeling at home in your own body is also a feeling that’s available to everyone, and something that I don’t think anyone should miss out on.

While the path to self-acceptance is not a clear road, there’s no good reason not to look for it.

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