Memoir of a girl in the early 2000s
The first time I remember realizing I was self-conscious of my body was in fourth grade. We were in class and a group of high school or college students came in to do a survey about elementary school kids and body image.
They asked us to draw a self-portrait of our body, then to write down anything we would change about our body if we could. I remember drawing myself with disproportionately large thighs and writing, “I hate my thighs and hips. They’re huge.” To repeat, I was in fourth grade and just 9 years old.
Looking back, it makes me so sad to think about that little girl. I see photos of myself in fourth grade and I see a silly, strong, and smart 9-year-old girl — not someone with giant thighs. But that’s what I saw when I looked in the mirror then.
Most of my friends were skinnier than I was. Everyone on TV was skinnier than I was. I secretly wanted thin legs, just to be like everyone else. I was a child but wanted to get smaller.
Obviously, this goes against human physiology. Kids grow. Vertically and horizontally. Did I really think I could go against human nature just in an effort to be thin? Why was being thin so important for a 9-year-old?
Growing up, my favorite sport was football. I wanted to be the first female player in the NFL. Playing football in school was not only empowering because I was the only girl playing with the guys at recess (GIRL POWER!), but it also was a respite.
Playing with the boys helped me focus on what my body could do, not what it looked like. I loved how free it made me feel. I loved feeling strong and powerful. Realizing how good I felt through physical activity kept my body image issues at bay.
I started weightlifting in high school, and I fell in love. It was uplifting. In the weight room, my thighs were a source of power and strength rather than a source of shame or insecurity. Being strong felt good. Whenever I doubted myself or started to compare myself to others, I would remind myself what my body could do and how much I appreciated it.
That mindset shift helped me a lot, especially as my body grew and matured. This transformation is something I see all the time in my clients and a big part of why I wanted to be a trainer and work with women to teach them about weightlifting and strength training.
The beauty standard is designed to be unachievable. It’s elusive so that you’ll focus your attention on “perfecting” your body, trying to adapt and mold it to fit the ever-changing ideal.
If you can heal your relationship with your body now, you’ll have a better body image for the rest of your life — regardless of how the ideal changes throughout time. The beauty standard will change. Your value and your worth won’t.
Why is the voice in my head such a mean betch?
When talking about any problem, I always like to dig deeper to get to the root cause. When talking about body image, I think it’s really important to acknowledge the culture and society we live in.
When we understand the context of why having a positive body image is so challenging, and how these ideas are implanted in us from a young age, I think it’s easier to logically question and combat your negative self-talk.
So let’s explore where that voice has come from and how it’s been developed over the course of your life.
We live in a capitalist society where a culture of competition drives a cycle of comparison and jealousy. Capitalism also incentivizes profits over people.
It’s profitable and easy to inundate consumers with images of the “ideal” body in order to sell you products that promise to get you there. Who is profiting off of your insecurities? Who profits when you see a part of your body as a “flaw” that you need to fix?
We live in a patriarchal, misogynistic, and sexist society that thrives off of the oppression of women. Women are conditioned to think they have to be both great at their job and fit a specific beauty standard while doing so.
Objectification of women’s bodies in the media teaches girls and women to put much more stake in our appearance — and that can negatively affect our body image.
The beauty and diet industry thrives in this society. We’re taught to spend our time and money trying to perfect our perceived flaws rather than perfecting our skills and abilities or seeing the already beautiful parts of our mind, body, life, and soul.
We live in a racist society that continues to oppress Black people and people of color. White supremacy, racism, and colorism are ingrained into the media’s portrayal of beauty and the beauty standard.
We’re taught that specific features are more attractive, acceptable, professional, or desirable than others. Not having enough representation in the media you’re consuming can negatively affect your self-image.
Please know that this isn’t an exhaustive list. What systems within our society can you think of that may be contributing to your negative body image?
Understanding these aspects of how our society has been functioning for centuries has pushed me to ask myself where my critiques are coming from. That voice in the back of our heads that keeps telling us that we’re not quite enough is coming from the systems listed above and more.
That is why true self-love, having a positive body image, and being self-confident are all so radical and revolutionary. You’re combating those systems of oppression just by loving yourself for who you are.
Once you break down the context for why you think a particular thing about yourself and your body, then you can start to recover from a life-long internal battle of hate, judgment, and failure and turn towards acceptance, appreciation, and love.
7 steps to reframe your body image now
Think about someone in your life you so genuinely love and cherish. Let that relationship fill you up and consume your mind for a moment. Now write down three things you adore, love, and appreciate about that person.
I have no idea what you wrote down, but I’m guessing you didn’t write that you love your mom because she exercises every day, has a thigh gap, and sticks perfectly to her diet plan. You didn’t say the reason you love your dad is because he has a six-pack and a full head of hair.
You love these people for bigger reasons. They were there for you when you needed them. They’re compassionate to others. They’re really funny and easygoing.
You wouldn’t stop loving this person if they gained five pounds, failed a test, made a mistake, or didn’t have time to work out one day. You would say, “That’s okay, I still love you because I love you deeper and way beyond any of those superficial things.”
Now how can we practice this same unconditional love for ourselves?
What’s the voice inside your head saying? When do you find yourself speaking negatively to yourself? Are there any common themes within your critiques? Is it easy for you to point out your flaws?
Are there any specific triggers for your negative self-talk? What is your general self-esteem? Are there some areas of your life where you feel a high level of confidence?
Can you list 10 things you like about yourself or your body? Can you list 10 things you dislike about yourself or your body? Which list is easier to write?
Where is this voice coming from? How did your parents and the adults around you talk about their bodies? What sources of media contribute to your self-image?
What was the messaging in the media when you were growing up? How did your friends talk about their bodies? Did you have any role models that looked like you? Did you see yourself represented in movies, magazines, and TV shows?
What systems of oppression play a role here? Who is profiting off of your insecurities? What systemic problems are being perpetuated if you play into these societal lies?
Change the content you’re consuming. The beauty of social media is that we get to choose who we follow and what messages we’re being shown.
If you want to have a better body image and relationship with your body, stop following fitspo accounts where people use Photoshop to create images of the “perfect body” and stop following people who promote the ideas you’re trying to heal from.
Follow people who make you laugh. Follow people who make you think. Follow more dogs. Need help? Send me a DM on Instagram and I will send you some of my favorite posts and accounts!
Learn to neutralize the voice. You have been taught to be self-conscious, to nitpick your “flaws,” and to have a poor body image. That means you can be taught to be self-confident, see your “flaws” as unique characteristics that make you human, and have a positive body image.
When the negative voice pops up in your head, I want you to counter the things it’s saying with logic. Stop the downward spiral and bring yourself into the present moment.
Practice loving and appreciating your body.
Write down 21* things you love about yourself.
Write down 21* things you love about your body.
Write down 21* things you appreciate about yourself.
Write down 21* things you appreciate about your body.
Don’t just write it down but think about those affirmations all day. Internalize those beliefs.
7. Have patience
Know that this is a journey. You’ll have good days and bad — but keep practicing and it’ll get easier. Don’t let your weight, size, or shape limit how much joy you let yourself have in life.
I want this for you right now. But I also want this for every little fourth-grade girl who thinks her thighs are too big. I want us to set an example for the generations to come.
How do I improve my body image?
Observe what kinds of things you’re saying to yourself. Question where your beliefs are coming from. Practice giving yourself compliments. You were taught to hate your body. You can be taught to love your body in the same way. It just takes practice.
Does weightlifting help improve your body image?
Weightlifting has flipped the script for many women. Our bodies become a source of power and strength rather than a source of shame or insecurity. Building strength feels good and helps to build confidence that oozes out into other areas of your life, including your body image.
What should I do on a bad body image day?
Go outside and be with people who love you for who you are. Give yourself some grace and know that this is a journey. You’ll have good days and bad — but keep practicing and it’ll get easier.
Don’t let your weight, size, or shape limit how much joy you let yourself have in life. Improving your body image can be challenging, so don’t expect to erase 29 years of negative self-talk overnight. Instead, treat self-love as a practice.
Help! Social media is hurting my body image. What do I do?
Do a social media cleanse. Unfollow accounts that negatively affect your body image. Stop clicking on click-bait posts that lie and show you things like five exercises to get rid of your hip dips.
Follow a variety of people with different body types and shapes. Follow body positivity accounts and follow accounts that reinforce the beliefs you’re trying to instill in yourself.
How do I stop comparing my current body to my younger self?
Bodies change for many different reasons. This is a fact of life. Puberty, aging, medication, hormones, menopause, stress, lifestyle, additional responsibilities, and changing priorities can all affect how your body changes throughout your life.
The key is to give yourself grace and know that even as your body changes, your value doesn’t. Don’t waste your 30s wishing you looked like you did in your 20s because you’ll get to your 40s and think, “Wow I didn’t know how good I had it in my 30s.”
How do I set an example for younger people?
The best thing you can do is heal your relationship with your own body. Young people are influenced by the adults around them. If they hear you complaining or nitpicking your body, they’ll internalize that.
Give compliments to young girls about their talents, abilities, and personality so they don’t grow up thinking everyone is only judging them for how pretty they are.
If you’re a parent, make sure to give your child access to content that showcases people of all races, ethnicities, gender identities, body sizes, and body shapes.
Are you struggling with body image issues?
If you’re struggling with your body image and would like to work on it with a coach, let’s chat. Through strength training and weekly coaching calls, we can work together to heal your relationship with your body, unleash your inner confidence, and feel good. Sign up for a consultation here.