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Finding Purpose Outside Your Appearance

Finding Purpose Outside Your Appearance

I recently saw the movie Mean Girls in theaters. As a body image and eating disorder therapist, I could not help but notice how the myriad of messages about appearance and unrealistic beauty standards influence the characters in the film. At one point in the movie, Cady Heron, the new girl, is desperately trying to fit in with the popular clique. She is gathered with the three coolest girls in school as they begin to pick apart their bodies, commenting on everything from their hips to their weight to their complexion. 

Cady grew up in Africa without the internet, living in the middle of the safari with just her mother. Homeschooled and spending most of her time in nature or studying, Cady was not socialized to hate her body. She is visibly shocked by this communal dislike that somehow feigns bonding. Cady wonders why these girls are being pitted against their bodies, their ultimate strength. As the girls stare at her, she awkwardly mutters, “I’m not sure what we’re doing but… me too. I’m ugly too.” 

Sometimes I fantasize about all we could accomplish if our focus was not consumed with food and our bodies. How much more energy would we have to connect with loved ones? What if we invested all that brain power in a hobby or passion? Even though you are confronted daily with messages about how your body should look, you are meant for so much more. You have people to connect with, memories to make, and new experiences to savor.

This month, Dr. Anna Packard and I invited our Embodied Body Acceptance group members to create a “mission statement” related to their life’s purpose and meaning. I invite you to reflect on your own mission statement. Consider the following questions: 

What is your unique purpose and how much does that pertain to what you look like? 

Where do you find passion and meaning in your life? 

What draws people to you that has nothing to do with your appearance? 

What do you want to be remembered for? 

What do you want others to know you believed in and stood for? 

One of my favorite writers, Rupi Kaur, shares her thoughts related to her body’s true purpose in Home Body: “I want to leave this place knowing I did something with my body other than trying to make it look perfect.” Consider your connections, your passions, and your purpose—outside of the shape and size of your body.

The Year of Self-Compassion Goals

The Year of Self-Compassion Goals

Maybe this is the year…

  • You make memories instead of resolutions
  • You count smiles instead of calories
  • You cut the sizes out of your clothes instead of cutting out sugar or bread
  • You sign up for more sleep instead of more fitness classes
  • You step into your own abundance instead of trying to shrink yourself in all possible ways
  • You practice self-compassion instead of shame
  • You move your body how and when you want to and not how and when you think you “should”
  • You get a new friend instead of a new PR
  • You find curiosity instead of judgment
  • You collect resiliency instead of counting failures
  • You find joy in the details instead of stress in the big picture
  • You find unconditional self-love instead of conditional expectation
  • You see your wholeness and strength instead of your brokenness 
  • You recognize your unconditional, unchanging worth instead of the hustling to prove your value to the world
  • You slow down instead of speeding up
  • You breathe into the unknown instead of trying to control all the outcomes
  • You scream for fury, rage, grief, and joy instead of holding it all in
  • You decide to “want to” instead of “have to”
  • You take things OFF your To Do List instead of chronically adding to it
  • You connect with yourself and others instead of metrics and milestones
  • You look back and celebrate how far you’ve come instead of looking ahead at how far you think you still have to go
  • You step into 2024 knowing you are complete, whole, beautiful, and loved, just as you are

Nurturing Self-Compassion: A Journey Away from Overthinking About Your Body

Nurturing Self-Compassion: A Journey Away from Overthinking About Your Body

In a world that often emphasizes external appearances, it’s easy to find ourselves trapped in a cycle of overthinking about our bodies and self-image. The constant comparison to societal standards can lead to stress, anxiety, and a negative impact on our mental well-being. Are you left feeling empty, constantly stuck in your own head, and wondering- is all of this thinking about myself and my body ever going to stop?   The journey toward cultivating self-compassion and breaking free from the cycle of excessive self-focus is possible! 

Understanding the Roots:
To embark on a journey of self-compassion, it’s essential to understand the roots of our overthinking. Reflect on experiences, societal pressures, or personal expectations that may have contributed to this pattern. By acknowledging these factors, we can start to unravel the complex web of thoughts that surround our body image.

Mindful Awareness:
Begin the process of breaking free from overthinking by cultivating mindful awareness. This involves being present in the moment without judgment. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings about your body without attaching value judgments. Mindfulness allows you to observe your thoughts as they arise, creating space for understanding and acceptance.

Challenge Negative Self-Talk:
Overthinking often involves a barrage of negative self-talk. Challenge these thoughts by reminding yourself: I am working to cultivate an existence that doesn’t involve such intense focus on my outward appearance. Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Remember that your worth goes beyond physical appearance; you deserve self-love and acceptance.

Embracing Imperfections:
Shift the focus from perceived flaws to embracing imperfections. Recognize that everyone has unique qualities that make them special. Consider the incredible things your body does for you daily, focusing on its strength and resilience. Celebrate your body for the amazing person she is, rather than fixating on perceived shortcomings.

Cultivating Self-Compassion:
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with the kindness and understanding you would offer a friend. Acknowledge that everyone has insecurities, and it’s okay to be imperfect. Replace self-criticism with self-compassion, recognizing that you are deserving of love and acceptance just as you are.

Healthy Habits for a Positive Mindset:
Engage in activities that promote a positive mindset. Exercise, meditation, hobbies, and creative pursuits can contribute to improved mental well-being- and give you other things to focus on and think about! 

Seeking Professional Support:
If overthinking about your body becomes overwhelming, seeking professional support can be invaluable. Individual and group therapy can offer a safe space to explore and navigate these thoughts. Professional guidance can provide coping strategies and a deeper understanding of the factors contributing to excessive self-focus.

Breaking free from the cycle of overthinking about your body is a journey of self-discovery and self-compassion. Embrace the uniqueness of who you are, cultivate a positive mindset, and remember that your worth extends far beyond physical appearance. By nurturing self-compassion, you can build a foundation for a healthier and more fulfilling relationship with yourself.

Body Reflections

Body Reflections

If you struggle with body image, your relationship with the reflection of your body in the mirror might feel complicated. Maybe you find yourself spending too much time in front of the mirror, picking apart your reflection, and feeling upset about what you see. Or maybe you find yourself avoiding glimpses of your reflection, not wanting to see your body because you don’t feel good about it. Maybe you experience a mix of both. If your body’s reflection is a source of stress in your life, you aren’t alone–body image stress is something everyone experiences at least occasionally and something many experience chronically.

For today’s blog, I want to take the word “reflection” and use its other definition–not the one that means an image thrown back to you by the mirror. Reflection (noun): thought or consideration. The end of the year is a time when we naturally reflect–look back on and consider our experiences, thoughts, and emotions. If body image is a struggle for you, you might find it helpful to do some reflection on your relationship with your body beyond its reflection in the mirror. Here are a few questions that might help you reflect.

  • What were some meaningful experiences I had this year? How was my body a part of those experiences?
  • Where did I struggle in my relationship with my body this year?
  • Where did I grow in my relationship with my body this year?
  • How did my body support me this year? How did I support my body?
  • What were the sensations my body enjoyed this year? Think about experiences with each of your senses: touch, taste, sight, sound, smell.

Focusing on the reflection you see in the mirror can distract you from a deeper, more meaningful type of reflection. What you see in the mirror only tells you a small part of the story of your body and its experience, function, and meaning. Looking deeper–into your relationship with your body, into the experience of being alive in your body–yields so much more complexity and so much more meaning than looking in the mirror does. 

Your Best Might Not Always Be the Best

Your Best Might Not Always Be the Best

My clients know I use a LOT of metaphors in therapy. It’s just how I roll! Here is a metaphor that I’ve shared with a couple of clients lately that might resonate if you’re dealing with perfectionism.

Let’s pretend you’re driving a car. What if when you were driving, you felt like you always had to “do your best?” In some ways, “your best” might mean driving at maximum speed and power, engine revving at full capacity, and really showing everyone else on the road what your car can do. What if you felt like you had to push your car to do its “best” ALL the time?

If you were to drive this way in real life, of course, there would be some negative outcomes. Even if there were no traffic laws to pay attention to, constantly pushing your vehicle to perform at its “best” would actually do damage to the engine, the tires, the transmission, the brakes, etc. Helping your car perform well in the long run, and extending the life and utility of its engine, tires, etc. might actually mean driving at a capacity that is far below your car’s “best.” Sure, you might want to occasionally push your car to show off its full potential in certain situations, like if you were drag racing, trying to outrun a tsunami, or auditioning for a stunt driving role (please don’t do any of those things unless absolutely necessary), but for the most part, taking care of your car would mean driving fairly conservatively.

Even if you feel pressure to always “do your best,” running yourself at full capacity isn’t something you can do all the time, at least not without consequences. You might feel like you have to stay up all night to do “your best” on a project for school. You might feel the need to be extremely rigid about your exercise routine in order to do “your best” physically. You might feel like you have to say “yes” to every opportunity to help someone in order to be the “best” friend/child/sibling/partner you can be. Perfectionism might make you feel like it’s not ok to put in less than 100% effort ever, for anything, even if you’re feeling stressed or burned out.

Remind yourself that, like a car, you aren’t meant to run at full capacity all the time. In fact, most of the time, it’s more effective and sustainable to pace yourself, and conserve energy for the long road ahead. Life sometimes does happen in bursts when we need, and benefit from, using our full capacity. However, more often than not, going at a speed that lets you get things done AND take care of yourself will end up feeling more sustainable and satisfying than pushing yourself to do your absolute “best.”

Welcoming Darkness

Welcoming Darkness

Have you ever thought about the reality that almost everything that has life began life in darkness? Giant Sequoias began their life as small seeds nestled into the dark, damp earth. Potatoes and carrots start and finish growing inside the dark earth. You and I, we began life enclosed in the soft, rich, and profoundly dark wombs of our mother’s bellies. As I contemplate all the variety of life that I know of, I can hardly come up with any exceptions to this reality: It is in darkness that growth begins.

The environments we all began in were full of everything we needed to develop and progress. They were nutrient-dense lodgings that infused us with all we needed.  Was the darkness a bystander witness to our processes? Or a necessary, intimate part of that development? 

I like believing that darkness is a vital companion in our growth. I like believing that darkness is an insulator, a protector, and space holder for the hard work that is growing. It helps me reframe the sense of foreboding I feel as daylight savings ends and we are officially plunged into the darkness of impending winter. And not to be the harbinger of bad news, but for those of us in the northern hemisphere, we will continue to march toward more darkness until December 21st.

Darkness is the hardest part of winter for me. I can handle cold and wet and ice and snow. It’s the darkness that feels the heaviest to hold. 

But maybe darkness isn’t something that weighs me down but rather offers to enfold me? Maybe the darkness isn’t a foe or force that is somehow “against” me, or something to endure. Maybe the darkness is actually a companion and source of potential growth? Maybe it’s in this space that more growth awaits and invites me? 

It is cliché but often true, that the most profound growth always happens in the deepest, darkest moments of our lives. Darkness offers us the most beautiful gifts this way. Darkness believes in us and holds us as we do the work that is ours alone to do. 

We’ve all heard the quote spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. said, “But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars.” Stars are found in the vast galaxies of space. They are far beyond our solar system and realm of existence. We have to be plunged into darkness to find them. In this metaphor, it is the darkness that reveals them. It is in darkness that we connect to these inspiring, expansive sources of wisdom. 

Darkness is here. Instead of wishing it away or fighting against it, I am going to let it hold me and invite me toward my work. May we all pass these upcoming months with less suffering in this way. May we be gentle with ourselves and be held in the darkness that encourages our growth. May we all look up on cold, dark winter nights and breathe in the stars revealed to us.

How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Physical Appearance

How to Stop Obsessing Over Your Physical Appearance

As I reflect on past years and growing up with unrealistic expectations regarding my body, I have realized how much time we as women often spend thinking about our physical appearance. Thinking about what we could change, how to be “prettier,” or how to be valued by a society that objectifies our bodies on an extreme level. Many of us allow our physical appearance to impact our worth, both positively and negatively. We are consumed with being only a body to be viewed rather than holistic individuals worthy of love and success without having to meet unrealistic beauty standards to do so.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • How often do I allow my energy to be focused on how others perceive me? 
  • How much energy am I putting into my physical appearance or allowing that to take from other aspects in my life? 
  • How often do I conform to societal expectations so that I can be more physically pleasing to others?

If we could let go of this recurring, unrealistic pattern, what would we spend our time doing instead? Who would we be able to connect with, serve, or inspire? Where would we travel, learn, and grow? What if we could allow ourselves to be as we are, without expectations of physical change what-so-ever? 

One of my favorite ways to challenge unrealistic expectations regarding my physical appearance is to identify a list of things that I am drawn to about my friends and family. Do I spend time with these individuals because of their clothing size, hair color, or height? Absolutely not. I spend time with my circle of people because of their values, sense of humor, our ability to connect, etc. With this in mind, it becomes clear how redundant focusing on my own physical appearance is, when it is such an afterthought to anybody who truly loves me unconditionally.

If you are constantly aware of your own physical appearance, I challenge you to identify what characteristics you are drawn to when connecting with others. Reflect on the difference between what you assume others value, such as physical appearance, vs. what they actually value. Regardless of where you are with your relationship with your body, we have all been in the position to fall victim of this mindset. As we move towards living a life that is focused less on physical appearance and more on the qualities that we value within our relationships, the quality of our lives and our relationships will dramatically improve.

My Body Is a Wonder, and So Is Yours

My Body Is a Wonder, and So Is Yours

Recently, I was watching my 9-month-old baby as he played on the floor. Laying on his back, he held his hands up in front of his face, staring at them intently. I watched him clasp and unclasp his hands, clap, stretch his tiny fingers, twist and turn his pudgy wrists, seeming captivated by the movement of his own little body.

What would it be like for each of us to notice our bodies with wonder and curiosity? What would change if we could see our bodies with fascination and awe, instead of with criticism and disdain?

There have been some monumental moments in my life in which I’ve felt profound wonder towards my body. Seeing my body change through pregnancy, witnessing its power through childbirth, and feeling it heal from significant injuries have all been experiences that have made me acknowledge how astounding my body is. There are also many, many everyday moments in which I can’t help but be fascinated by my body. Over the years, I’ve tried to develop a habit of paying more attention to my body as it does everyday things. As I’ve done so, I’ve connected with a truth about my body that grows more meaningful and deeply felt as time goes on: my body is a wonder. 

I find wonder in my body as I sit on the floor and stretch before bed. Each movement of my limbs is the result of the complex mechanics of muscles, tendons, and ligaments working together.

I find wonder in my body as my fingers type this blog post. My fingers tap the keyboard with rapid, reflexive, fine-tuned movements that I create consciously but that also feel automatic and intuitive. How many neural pathways in my brain are firing at once as my fingers type?

I find wonder in my body as I stare out the window. There are six extraocular muscles that surround each of my eyes and control their movement. Those muscles contract and relax automatically, letting my eyes move and change focus from the window pane in front of me to the tree across the street. I don’t tell my pupils when to dilate, but they do, responding seamlessly to changes in the light around me. As my pupils allow in light from the outside world, photoreceptor cells on my retina turn that light into electrical signals, which travel through my optic nerve and to my brain, where my brain creates and interprets images. And that, somehow, is how sight works. (I had to look all this up, by the way. https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/healthy-vision/how-eyes-work)

I am fascinated and amazed by my body! Even as she ages, and even with her weaknesses, she is a wonder. 

Not all moments in our bodies are filled with awe and amazement. Sometimes, having a body can be difficult, painful, frustrating, or embarrassing. Regardless, I believe there is healing to be found in acknowledging the truly amazing things our bodies–of all ages, sizes, and abilities–are constantly doing for us. Noticing the wonders your body is working can be a piece of finding greater peace in your relationship with your body.