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?

bodyshame part I: “Big=Bad”

For the past two months, I’ve been blogging about topic which makes people cringe: shame.  In my first post, “A Year without Shame,” I shared my intention to experience a deeper, more spiritual level of joy in 2015, which meant continuing to let go of the shame, grief, and pain which blocks me from experiencing supernatural joy.  In my second post, “The Joy Robber,” I tackled a recent experience which triggered shame, and how I was able to confront how I was feeling and release myself from shame’s grip by speaking my truth.

Since I’m finding freedom in writing about shame and inspiring so many other women to do the same, I decided to write this month’s post about a deeply rooted issue for many of us: BODY SHAME.   As I started to write, a waterfall of memories, emotions, and insights flowed from my heart to the page, and I quickly realized that this topic deserves more than just one post.  This month, I’ll be publishing two posts:  the first to share my “shame story” of how body shame wormed its way into my psyche, and the second to explore how I feel about my body today and how I continuously work on surrendering my body shame.

This post differs from my previous posts because I’m writing about my formative memories and pinpointing when…

body awareness: “I’m aware that I am different”

transitioned into

body consciousness: “I feel self-conscious about being different”

and eventually into

body shame: “I feel ashamed that I am different.”

I’m not writing this to blame anyone for my shame– I’m simply sharing how a young girl (me) interpreted the messages she received from her parents, teachers, classmates, and the media about her body and how her feelings evolved over time.  Some of you reading this post will remember me as a bright, talented, independent, creative young girl who danced to the beat of a different drummer and wasn’t afraid to take the stage.  You may be surprised to read about my hidden body shame, but I believe my story will resonate with many of you who also excelled in school and extracurricular activities, while hiding painful insecurities and shame about your appearance.

I hope you’ll read Part I with an open and compassionate heart, and that you’ll reflect on the messages you received about your body as you were growing up and how they continue to influence you as an adult. If you are a parent, I hope you will think about the messages you are sending your children about their bodies and what you can say and do to be a positive role model.   Most importantly, I hope you will do what I did as I wrote this piece:  Hug the little girl inside of you as you wipe away her tears.  Forgive her for what she didn’t know and release her from the mistakes she made.  Let her know how proud you are of her.  Let her know that you love her just the way she was and is today.  Set her free to be who she was intended to be.

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

XOXO

Christina

PS:  Spoiler alert: it’s a LONG one… get comfy and grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea, maybe some Kleenex nearby if this is a sensitive subject for you too.


I remember when I first became aware of my size….

In 2nd grade, I was the first kid in my class to own a ten-speed bike.  Unlike my schoolmates, my 7 year old legs had outgrown the kiddie bikes, so my parents gave me a shiny blue ten-speed for my birthday. I was pretty proud of myself– I knew that being tall made me unique and eligible for special perks like ten-speed bicycles.  YEEEEEEEHAAW!!!!

Dancing Queen- age 7

Dancing Queen- age 7

In 3rd grade, my teacher (Miss Johnson- still my fav!) asked for volunteers to perform the Mexican Hat Dance for an upcoming celebration and my hand immediately shot up.  “YEEESSS, PICK ME!,” my heart screamed.  I never turned down an opportunity to dance!  Miss Johnson then faced the challenge of finding a suitable male dance partner as no one had volunteered to dance with me.  I vividly recall that height was the selection criteria as I towered over most of the boys in my class.  She settled on the tallest boy in the class, Peter, as my dance partner.  I don’t think he had a choice in the matter.  The take-away for 8 year old Chrissy was that boys should be taller than girls, and boys don’t want to dance with girls who are towering over them.  (In retrospect, 8 year old boys probably don’t want to dance with ANY girl, but this wasn’t how I saw the situation at the time.)

Then, in 5th grade, I remember riding on the bus next to a classmate who called me a “she-man” referring to both my height and sturdy build. I was 10 years old, and my shoe size was the same as my age.  I certainly wasn’t an overweight child, but I wasn’t built like my petite girlfriends.  I left elementary school with an acute awareness of being taller and bigger than my peers, including the boys.  My mom always reminded me of the “perks” of being tall, but I really just wanted to look my pixy-n-pretty friends… you know, the popular girls who the boys thought were cute.  From my childish standpoint, BIG=BAD.  I couldn’t really see any perks in that equation.

At home, I only found evidence that supported my BIG=BAD theory.  My tall, Scandinavian mother was constantly dieting and talking about losing weight with my dad and her friends.   To this day, I DESPISE Wasa Crisp bread because I associate it with my mom being a diet and replacing our sandwich bread with this tasteless, cardboard substitute.  While I never remember her as overweight, I know my mom felt ashamed of her size and worked very hard to maintain a certain size.  I remember digging through her closet and finding a love letter that my dad had written to my mom shortly after they married. In the letter, my dad wrote that he would love her “even if she weighed 150 pounds.”   My dad, having grown up with an overweight and domineering mother, liked his women skinny and subservient.  He also dieted, and boasted about his quick weight losses.  In my childish mind, I determined that love must be conditional, linked to one’s weight.  To be loved, you must stay thin.  THIN=LOVABLE.

Middle school was a self-esteem minefield, as it is for so many kids. Even though my peers were catching up thanks to growth spurts, I was still tall, still sturdy, and STILL growing.  Us girls were starting our periods, developing breasts, and growing hair in unexpected places.  I started to wear baggier clothing to hide my changing figure.  When it was my “time of the month,” I tied a sweatshirt around my waist to hide any potential leakage (golden rule: never, ever wear white pants) and safety-pinned my pads to the inside of my waistband.  Girls who carried purses were targets for teasing because everyone knew that they were having their periods and needed to carry a purse full of pads.  Body shame was rampant as we couldn’t control or hide these bodily changes, and the school bullies preyed on our vulnerability and awkwardness.

One of the most humiliating and shaming experiences happened in my home economics class when I was in 8th grade (13 years old). The teacher set up a scale in the front of the classroom where she weighed every single student in her classes.  She then recorded our weights on index cards and kept them in a box on her desk.  As if the public weigh-in wasn’t embarrassing enough, the boys in the class would regularly open the box and shout out other kids’ weights.  They liked to pick on the girls in the class, typically those who were on the “bigger” side.  I remember a classmate sitting at the desk with the index box in his hand, yelling across the room, “Hey Chris, do you weigh 140 pounds?”  I turned all shades of crimson, lowered my head, and mumbled, “No, I don’t.”  Deny, deny, deny.  I wanted to crawl under the table, leave the room, jump out of the second floor window…anything to escape being shamed in front of the class. I still remember how physically sick I felt in that moment, and how badly I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.  The boys continued on, doing the same to the other girls in the class, humiliating every single one of us.[1]

8th grade

Dressed like an Amish girl to hide my figure- age 13 (approx 5’8,” 140 lbs)

So, in 8th grade, I went on my first crash diet. I remember feeling proud of myself for losing 10 pounds in a week right before my mom took my sister and me on a shopping trip. Never mind that I gained the weight back within a few days of resuming my usual habits. That summer, with my parents’ support as avid dieters themselves, I joined The Diet Center, which included a zillion mystery pills, a restrictive diet, and weekly weigh-ins.  While my skinny girlfriends were munching on Fun Yums and Skittles, I was concocting strawberry-tofu smoothies and eating eggs with wilted spinach on diet toast.  Every week, I biked to my weigh-in to log my progress and replenish my supply of mystery pills.  It didn’t matter how much weight I lost, I already felt deeply-rooted shame over my body and its inability to conform to a smaller size.

If middle school was bad, then high school was waaaaaay worse.  In high school, I hung out with a group of girls who didn’t want their thighs to touch.  We were all “good” girls who excelled in school and our extracurricular activities, but we would have preferred being called “dumb” over being called “fat.”  We all struggled with the same desire to be perfect.  We spent our evenings doing Jane Fonda exercises in our bedrooms while on the phone with each other comparing diet and exercise notes.  By this point, I had developed a full blown eating disorder:  I binged and purged, I compulsively overate, and I went on 800 calorie a day diets.  Breakfast was often a cup of yogurt, lunch was usually a granola bar washed down with a Diet Coke, and dinner was a miniscule portion of whatever my parents were serving up that night.  I would lie in bed at night, hungry and admiring how my hips jutted out.  As a slave to the scale, I didn’t want to eat in the middle of the night because it would mess up my morning weigh-in and ruin my mood for the day.  Everyone, including my parents, complimented my slimmer figure, which further reinforced my desire to be thin at all costs.  THIN=LOVABLE.  Whenever I would feel upset about my dad’s drinking and verbal abuse, agitated by my parents’ fighting, or stressed by school pressures, I would binge on comfort foods, purge out of guilt for overeating, and then hate myself for being so weak and out of control.  Sure, I lost weight, but at a significant price to my health and happiness.

After a falling out with my group of girlfriends, I gained 20 pounds between my junior and senior year of high school thanks to a summer of compulsive overeating.  That August, I remember baking myself a pink confetti 17th birthday cake, which I promptly frosted and ate as soon as it cooled. I sat on the kitchen floor, sobbing and stuffing myself with globs of pastel cake to numb my pain and self-hatred.  I was embarrassed to tell my mom the truth about the cake, so I told her that it hadn’t turned out.  A month later, I returned to school feeling horribly ashamed of myself for putting on so much weight.  Again, I just wanted to disappear, to hide, to fall off the face of the earth… I spent most of my senior year in a depression, only attending the classes required to graduate, and taking a class at the local university where I felt anonymous.

Senior Class Photo- age 17

Senior Class Photo- age 17

Despite feeling trapped in a vicious circle of restricting and overeating, my blossoming inner voice told me that I could find a way out of this hell hole by developing a different relationship with food and my body.  I took the first step by joining a support group, unbeknownst to my parents who had regularly encouraged me to diet and were oblivious to my eating disorder.  I discovered Geneen Roth’s books on breaking free from compulsive eating and I devoured them just as frantically as I had devoured my birthday cake.  I journaled and wrote poetry about my misery and self-hatred, opened up to a few close friends, and asked my parents to help me find a therapist (which they did).  Over the course of my senior year, I was able to stop the extreme dieting, binge-purge cycles, and compulsive overeating, but I hadn’t stopped believing in the BIG=BAD body shame equation.  Even though I was never overweight, I had a horribly distorted body image and poor self-esteem.  Changing my mindset and developing a healthy relationship with food took time….a long time and a LOT of self-love.

Part II coming in mid-March

[1] To this day, I don’t understand why this teacher weighed us—it certainly wasn’t part of her duties as a home economics teacher- and I don’t understand why she allowed the boys to further shame us.


Untitled

Poem written May 30, 1990, when I was 16 years old at the end of my junior year of high school

I shut the window, sealing myself into my virginal, sacred room

From my view, I watch, gaze, wonder, judge

Raindrops flattening themselves

Clouds overlapping the sun like men denied water

I feel the layers of fat building upon myself

Muddling my brain

Crushing every sane thought

I grow larger, more obscure in hopes of becoming obsolete

The drops smatter against my looking glass

A punishment in each tiny capsule

The window remains sealed, only to leak in the spring.