Hi everyone! It’s Liz here today. I am writing this post a few weeks in advance because the day you are reading this I will be taking some time off for my wedding. As I thought about this post, I decided I wanted to share about my experience with this season of my life and some of the things that come up for women I work with around body image while planning a wedding. Perhaps you’re in a similar life season? I also wanted to talk about love and the power of acceptance because these are such prominent themes in my clients’ journeys so maybe they will resonate with you too.
Even with all of the work I have done on my own relationship to food and my book and all of the work I have done with women to help them heal their own body image, I started thinking more about my body and its size during this wedding season than I have in years. These thoughts initially caught me by surprise and my first reaction was to tell them to be quiet and ignore them. Which worked temporarily and then I noticed them creep in again. I thought “What the heck Liz, this is completely against your values and all that you believe and support other women in, what is wrong with you?!” My judgement about having the body image thoughts grew meaner and more critical and I was feeling upset and frustrated with myself for having these thoughts. I didn’t change the way I was eating or moving. I didn’t start actively trying to change my body. But I felt so much shame that the thoughts were even there to begin with.
It can be very frustrating, but our brains are often wired for criticism and judgment based on our temperaments and life experiences. We have come to believe that if we criticize ourselves it will help us to be better – more lovable, worthy, safe, etc. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t work. We cannot criticize and shame ourselves into being “better.” I love the saying, “What you resist, persists.” Instead of rejecting and shaming yourself for having the thoughts you don’t like or attempting to ignore them, I encourage you to acknowledge them, be curious about them, and be compassionate towards them. In my case that looked like, “Liz, it seems like you are thinking more about your body then you would like to while planning a wedding. That’s hard and I know that’s painful. Why might these old thought patterns be popping up again?” I was able to get curious instead of judgmental.
My response then was, “It’s okay Liz, planning a wedding means is a lot of change. You are becoming a wife and a parter and joining a new family – that is a huge transition and life change. You’re feeling anxious and scared and excited and many other feelings all at the same time. There are also all sorts of uncontrollable stressors and unplanned issues that arise while planning a wedding, so you are probably just trying to regain a sense of control to soothe your anxiety. That makes sense, you are feeling scared. Oh and Liz, it’s not your fault, it’s not just you! We live in a society where so much wedding talk is about losing weight for the pictures, the women at the dress shops are asking you about it and when you respond that you are not trying to lose weight, it almost seems unheard of!” This dialogue with myself brought me back to being present and compassionate with myself and accepting of my thoughts with curiosity and then understanding. Sound cheesy and over the top? It probably does and it probably feels uncomfortable to imagine being kinder to yourself because we are so use to be self critical.
The reason I share this is that so often, I work with women who have come a long way in changing their behaviors. They no longer restrict food or exercise to change their bodies, however, some of the diet mentality and body image thoughts persist which causes tremendous pain and frustration. I hear so many women say, “I hate these thoughts, I just want them to go away. I thought I was further along on my journey!” Often, behaviors change before thoughts and thoughts change before emotions. So if you’re feeling this way it’s totally normal.
For example, these thoughts are often present to distract us from other feelings like sadness, fear, anger etc. When we notice these thoughts it’s a helpful alarm and reminder to check in with ourselves and our emotions. Maybe we are feeling scared about starting a new job and wondering if we are capable, but instead of allowing ourselves to experience that fear and work through it, we blame our bodies because it’s easier to do that. I find it so helpful to remind women (and myself) that these thoughts are trying to fill a need. However, they aren’t actually filling the need. So when we are present enough to notice them we have the opportunity to figure out what we really need, offer that to ourselves, and then with time, the thoughts diffuse as they are no longer trying to fill that need.
I hope this post was a helpful reminder that during stressful times, old familiar coping skills might come up and that’s okay and totally understandable – no matter how long you have been working at this! We are all human. Anticipating this reality helps us plan for it so that we can approach our feelings and thoughts with curiosity and seek to understand and accept instead of becoming critical, harsh and judgmental. These kinds of thoughts let us know that we need more nurturance, compassion and tending to, whatever that means for our life. Maybe that’s slowing down, journaling, calling a friend, or being outside more. We can work with them instead of against them.
As I look forward to my wedding and think about the man I soon get to call my husband, I know that he loves and accepts all parts of me with compassion and understanding. Don’t get me wrong, he does not like everything I do (ha) but he sees and accepts all of me and me of him. And as I enter married life, I also vow to accept and love all parts of myself even those parts I don’t always like – like the anxious ones that want to feel in control. I’m human. You’re human. We’re all human. Love to me means acceptance and compassion and I hope you can reflect on how these ideas might help you as you navigate anything you are currently struggling with!