bodyshame part II: shame vs. love

This month, I’m blogging about body shame, which is the #1 source of shame for women.  At the end of body shame part I, I shared how I was able to leave behind destructive eating habits, but I still needed to change my mindset and develop a healthy relationship with food.  In this follow-up piece, I share how my mindset has evolved over many years as I practice self-love and focus on wellness.  If you haven’t read the first post in this series, please take a few minutes to read my personal story before reading this post.  Thanks!

Please join me on Instagram (shedreamsbig1) and FB throughout the month of March to end body shame by sharing body positive images with #noshame.

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

XOXO Christina


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Source: prettypearbride.com

I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer experience body shame.  I’d be lying if I said that I don’t care about my weight and that I’m not actively trying to lose the “extra insulation” I gained after moving to Alaska.  I’d be lying if I told you that I’m completely content with being a comfy size 8, that I’m not hanging onto a few of my svelte size 6 clothes in hopes that SOMEDAY I’ll squeeze my post-partum hips back into them.  I’d be lying if I claimed that I no longer use food to comfort me when I’m feeling anxious or blue (nope, never- now where did I hide the chocolate???).

The truth is…

In my adult years, I have worn size 4’s to size 14’s, and I perceived myself in the same way regardless of my dress size.  The number on the scale or size on a label didn’t make a difference in changing how I felt about myself.  I wasn’t any happier being a size 4 than I was when I was a size 14, and I certainly wasn’t freed of body shame.  The same shame demons still haunted me, convincing me that, without them around to “keep me in check,” I was one Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup (my drug of choice) away from needing a forklift to leave the house.  Sometimes, I’d feel a little high when I dropped a few pounds or I fit into a smaller size, but it always was a fleeting surge of egotistic pride followed by a sharp slap of shame.   Whether I gained or lost, the demons found a way to shower me with a shame storm.  I eventually recognized that what I needed to lose was the shame, not the weight… or at least I needed to find a sturdy umbrella to protect myself from the storms!

So, while the shame storms continued to rage over the years, I carefully constructed my umbrella from the finest sources.  Wanna know what holds my umbrella high?  I thought so.  Now keep in mind that what works for me might not work for you, but I think these three elements are pretty critical if you want your umbrella to stand a chance against shame.

  • TRIBE:  I choose to surround myself with women who care more about making a difference in this world than the size of their thighs. I choose to socialize with women who embrace healthy, balanced living like I do.  They fill their bodies with wholesome, healthy foods yet they aren’t ashamed to order dessert and finish the entire slice of decadent goodness on their plate.  Because they are busy changing the world, raising babies, and generally kicking-butt, they don’t spend HOURS at the gym trying to whittle themselves down to a size 0. They choose activities which makes them feel empowered and ahhhhmaazing.   They are the kind of women who will stay up late drinking wine and inhaling copious amounts of cheese and chocolate with me.  They are women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures whom I admire and adore, not because of how they look but because of WHO they are.  You are my TRIBE, and you form the base of my umbrella.  A shout-out to my husband, Mr T, because he’s also a big part of my anti-shame tribe.
  • WELLNESS: I choose to focus on wellness, instead of weight. I choose to define myself by WHO I am, not by a number on the scale or a dress size.  I acknowledge that weight is important to wellness, and I choose to strive for what feels healthy and realistic for my height and build. I choose to appreciate each part of my body for how it has served me and honor how it looks and feels today.  I choose to nourish myself with delicious, wholesome foods every day.  I choose to eat a healthy diet which allows for indulgences (why hello there, Reese’s!).  No food is off- limits, no food is “good” or “bad,” but I choose to minimize or eliminate foods which are allergens or toxins.   I choose activities which I enjoy and contribute to my physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.  I honor my body when I am tired, hungry, injured, or need of extra TLC.  I deliberately choose to read, watch, or listen to media which reinforces body-positive messages (e.g., Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back”).  I choose to define what wellness means for me and live accordingly. I’m a positive—not perfect– role model to my family and friends. Wellness forms the ribbing, or spindles, of my umbrella.
  • SELF-LOVE: I choose to love my body as it is today.  I am deeply grateful for my body and its unique design.  I choose to speak lovingly of my body and treat it with respect, especially in front of my children.  I nourish my body because I love my body, and I exercise because I love my body.   I choose love instead of shame to “keep myself in check.”  I let self-love guide me in making healthy food and exercise choices.  When I make mistakes, I learn from them, forgive myself, and move on.  Self-love, not shame, is what motivates me in reaching my wellness goals.  I rely on my inner wisdom to indicate when I need to adjust my choices: when it’s time to cut back on snacks and sweets, when it’s time for extra sleep, when it’s time to switch from high-impact to low-impact, etc.  Self-love determines how I spend my time and with whom I spend my time.  I choose activities which I love, and I surround myself with people who love themselves and encourage me to do the same.  Self-love forms the rainbow-colored, super- shame-fightin’ canopy of my umbrella.

How’s that for an anti-body shame manifesto????

So, the TRUTH is that I have come a looooong way in learning to accept and love my body.  The TRUTH is I’m not perfect in practicing self-love (and it IS a practice!).  But I’ve also learned that I don’t need to be perfect, I just need to keep practicing.  Body shame took root so early in my life and became deeply ingrained in my psyche, so naturally the shame demons make a cameo appearance from time to time.  The DIFFERENCE is that I’m now uber-conscious when shame starts to creep into my mental chatter and sprinkle on my parade, and then-  snaaaaap-  UP goes my umbrella of self-love.  Through continuous practice, I’m much faster on the draw to combat these occasional, passing showers and no longer let a little rain ruin my beach plans.  The darkness of shame doesn’t stand much of a chance when met with the lightness of love.   The more I practice accepting and loving my body as it is TODAY, the freer I am to dance in the rain.

Dancing in the Rain

Dancing in the Rain by Heather Norton-Ruston


Questions & Resources:

Brene Brown writes about shame and developing shame resilience in her three books. Her theory is that shame is an everyday human emotion and, rather expecting ourselves to never experience this emotion, she believes in the importance of developing shame resilience.  In this piece, I use the metaphor of a shame-resilient umbrella to combat my body shame storms. At the end, I acknowledge my storms, albeit less frequent, are still part of life, so I’ve learned to use my umbrella to “dance in the rain.”  Do you agree or disagree with Brene’s theory on shame and shame resilience? What rings true from your own experience?

If you designed your own “umbrella” to combat body shame, what would your umbrella look like? How would you know when it’s time to take cover? How would you continuously bolster your umbrella?

Which parts of your body and appearance crave your love and acceptance?  Connect with each part and lovingly ask them what they need from you.  Thank them for showing up and serving you every single second of the day. If you are looking to read inspiring, body-positive messages which do NOT emphasize dieting or weight loss gimmicks, then I highly recommend you check out Geneen Roth’s works:  http://geneenroth.com/

As parents, one of the ways we teach our children about their bodies is by role-modelling. What would you like to teach your children about their bodies? How can you show them what it means to love and respect their bodies? What behaviors do you want to start/stop/continue as a role model?  How can you promote wellness, not body shame, in your family?

The Joy Robber

Mama & Toots just after delivery

A few weeks before Christmas, I made a rare solo trip to the local mall to finish my holiday shopping before we jetted off to sunny California.  Filled with festive cheer, I chatted with the woman standing next to me in line as we waited to pay for our gifts.  I first complimented her on her stylish attire: she was dressed from head-to-toe in Michael Kors and looked much more fashionable than the average Alaskan woman.  In turn, she complimented me on my black Coach messenger-style handbag.  I thanked her and explained that I really liked the cross-body strap as it kept my hands free when chasing after my 2 year old son.  She looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face, and asked, “Is he yours?”  (awkward pause)  “I mean, did you give birth to him?” Now the puzzled expression was on my face… of course he is MINE!!!  I felt a tightening in my chest as I replied, “Yes, I gave birth to him.”  Then she proceeded to ask me if he was my first, how old I was when I gave birth to him, and if I wanted to have any more children.  I felt a sudden downpour of shame from this series of rapidly-fired, judgmental questions, instantly drowning my holiday cheer and confidence.  In shock, I froze and mumbled a brief yet truthful reply, leaving our future “in God’s Hands.”  I figured this would end our discussion, but alas she left me with these parting words:  “Well, I’m 47, and I already have grandchildren. My doctor put me on birth control pill because he says I’m too old to have anymore.”   (Apparently she hasn’t heard of TMI…)

As I paid for my gift and headed towards the parking garage, I found myself in an all-too-familiar state of numbness: the feeling of swallowing an ice cube, which then lodges itself at the back of my throat and numbs my brain as it slowly melts.  The brain-freeze sensation allows me to temporarily escape from the shame I feel when asked such probing questions about my age, fertility, and shortcomings as a mother.   I wish I could chalk this incidence up to a “one-off” and let it go along with all of the other junk I’ve recently burned, flushed, or otherwise released.  However, since moving to Alaska in early 2014, I’m asked almost daily why I have “just one” and if I want to have more children.  I’ve become so adept at numbing myself when I reply to these questions that I no longer notice the ice cube permanently lodged at the back of my throat.  In zombie-mode, I politely reply, divert the conversation, and then I stoically shuffle away…. Only to cry in the bathroom, in my car, or into my pillow at night from overwhelming, heart-wrenching shame.

Ohhhhhhh Shame…. that cunning thief, sucking every ounce of joy juice from my soul and leaving me dehydrated and deflated in a ditch.  Shame is quite a smooth operator: an abuser who injures me with his razor-sharp words, punctures my joyful spirit and tender heart, and then professes his “love” for me.  Shame claims he needs me, can’t live without me… apologizes and promises it won’t happen again. He wants to lurk in the dark corners of my mind and thrive on secrecy, silence, and smallness. Shame hates being labeled, being identified, or being seen for what he is.  Shame is my Voldemort, and the only way to release myself from his grip is to shine light and love on the parts of me which feel so shameful.

I spent most of my life in repetitive shame cycles: experiencing moments of sheer joy followed by a shame beating and then numbness. This pattern felt strangely comfortable—after all, I had yet to experience a life without shame and felt that I deserved such scathing words to keep me “in check.”  Yet a little voice inside me told me that I deserved better and I could live differently.  As I committed to living joyfully in 2015, I realized that shame was such a JOY-robber… the ultimate buzz-kill, a real Debbie-Downer.  If I truly want to experience “joie de vivre,” then I need to be aware of what triggers my shame, counter every cruel word with love, and then let it go…. get back down on my knees and surrender my shame to God.  I need to regularly talk and write about my shame so that it doesn’t fester in the recesses of mind. I need to connect with other women who share the same shame associated with their bodies and want to free themselves from it.

And I need to respond courageously when I encounter people like Ms. Michael Kors…

“Yes, I gave birth to my son.  He is my child, just as he would be if I had adopted him or used a donor or a surrogate to bring him into this world.  Yes, he’s my first, but he’s not my only.  He’s our miracle baby after a long wait, much heartache, and ceaseless prayers.  He chose to arrive a week after my 39th birthday and he thinks I’m the perfect age to be his mother.  We are always open for more miracles regardless of age… our lives are in God’s Hands.”

There’s no shame or sadness in my statement… just honesty, gratitude, and whole lotta love.  Another step towards living joyfully and authentically in 2015, the year without shame!

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We all have shame. No need to deny it or be embarrassed about it. I’ve been inspired by Brene Brown’s Ted Talks, books, and column in O Magazine where she speaks and writes about shame resiliency, vulnerability, and wholeheartedness. Check out her website:  http://brenebrown.com/

For connecting with your fertile heart and losing the shame associated with infertility, I highly recommend Julia Indichova’s books, resources, and classes: http://www.fertileheart.com/

Lastly, I’m also very grateful and inspired by my friends, Ali K and Jen B, who share their journeys to motherhood so courageously.  Their honesty and openness has encouraged me to do the same.