Do you ever see a photo of yourself and cringe? Yeah, me too.
Cue my self-talk: Wait, aren’t I supposed to not have any body image issues because I’m an expert on all this stuff?
Am I, as an objectively small, white, cisgender woman, even supposed to talk about, let alone experience body image issues? What do I really have to whine about? Sure, I have some cellulite. I have fat rolls, too, but don’t those come with most healthy, normal female bodies?
It’s not like I get the side eye (and worse) when I step onto an airplane. I don’t have to scout out restaurants in advance to see if I’m going to have to slide into a booth I can’t fit into or squeeze into a chair with arms that cut off my circulation.
Could I just stop this nonsense and get a real problem?
Start with self-compassion
I don’t know how I’m supposed to be or what rules I’m supposed to follow. But let’s assume I turn down the volume on my inner critic. What if I’m supposed to be exactly who I am? What if I make the rules on what I’m allowed to talk about?
Someone won’t like it. And if that makes me feel bad, fine. Because it would feel worse to say and write only what I think everyone will like. (Plus that’s boring.)
So instead of worrying about what I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to say, I’ll give you the messy truth:
I am someone who is surrounded by diet/wellness culture while trying to reject it.
I’m a professional in the intuitive eating space, I’m in a smaller body, I’m working on acknowledging and releasing my own weight bias. I’m a flawed human being, and I’m trying my best.
I am a work in progress.
(And if that resonates, download episode 50 of the Real Fit interview with Gillian Goerzen because we go super deep into that whole conversation.)
But about those cringey photos… I had an amazing time at the Steamboat Gravel Race last weekend. When I got the email saying my race photos were available for purchase, I clicked on the link.
Almost immediately, my anticipation turned to shame. I looked like that!?
As my friend Stephanie so eloquently put it, I thought I looked downright ethereal yet somehow the camera caught me looking like a muppet. I clicked through picture after picture, hoping for at least one that I could get excited about, but they all looked pretty much the same.
Widen your perspective
So I went back through them — this time with a different lens. Instead of scrutinizing my body, I searched each image for clues as to where I was on the course, how I was feeling in that moment, and who I’d been chatting with just before and after the photo was snapped.
Here’s what I noticed: My smile, the blue skies above, and the mountain vistas in the background. I saw the joy and the relief on my face in the photos they took just as I was crossing the finish line and in the few that followed immediately after. I saw my cherry red helmet and thought (not for the first time) that it was a solid choice. (There were so many colors to choose from!)
Noticing those things didn’t make me suddenly, miraculously decide I looked like a (conventional) fitness model in those pictures. But it took the focus off my physical appearance and helped me focus on what was good and beautiful.
Choose a different focus
And I remembered all the sunrises I’ve tried to capture on my phone. They’re stunning in real life, yet in my camera roll, the images always fall flat. I remembered hiring someone to do my headshots and how, after 20 minutes and dozens (maybe hundreds) of photos, I was excited about half a dozen shots.
In other words, it’s the rare picture that can accurately capture the beauty of the real thing. I realized there was a choice to be make — I could obsess about how my body looked in those pictures or I could try my best to hold the memory of how I felt in my body on that day. I chose the latter.
Get curious about your body image story
And as I write this, it occurs to me that my body shame is based on the belief that my body is supposed to look a certain way.
This is where my self-talk stands up for me and says “WTF. That’s some serious patriarchal, diet culture, sizeist bullshit.” Because that belief didn’t come from me and it’s not true.
The truth is, my body is supposed to look exactly how it looks in this moment. I learned that it’s supposed to be smaller, thinner, leaner from diet culture. I saw it in magazine articles, on Instagram posts, in movies.
As a kid, I heard it every time the adults in the room laughed at or made a fat joke. I heard it when I was 15 and I asked my pediatrician how to get a flat stomach and she told me to try doing crunches instead of assuring me that my body was perfectly fine and that many normal, healthy bodies have bellies.
TLDR: You saw a photo of yourself and now you feel body shame. Now what?
- Don’t beat yourself up for feeling bad about your image. Meet yourself where you’re at.
- Widen your focus. Look at aspects of the picture that aren’t your body. What beauty or goodness can you see in the photo?
- Remember: it’s actually really hard to capture the essence of a moment or a person in a picture
- Ask yourself: Would I rather focus on how you looked in that moment or how I felt?
- Question the thoughts and beliefs that got you feeling this way. Are they true? Are they serving you? Can you find a thought that’s true and doesn’t make you feel like garbage?
I hope this is helpful.
Need more support on your journey to accept your body just as it is and stop stressing about food, exercise, and your weight?