I recently read a book that my undergraduate mentor Renee Engeln wrote (https://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Sick-Cultural-Obsession-Appearance/dp/0062469770). I expected it to be good, because Renee does cool research and she’s just overall an amazing person. But I didn’t expect it to teach me so much about how I think about my body or for it to inspire me to make more positive changes in my life.
One entire chapter focused on shame and how our culture teaches us to use shame as a motivational strategy. We think it works, but it doesn’t. It just makes us feel worse about ourselves and typically has the opposite effect (e.g. shaming ourselves into losing weight makes us gain it). This chapter blew me away. I found myself crying as I read it because I related to it so strongly. I didn’t realize how much my strategies in improving myself- especially my body- involved shame. I shame myself into dieting, exercising more, and even into doing the hobbies I wish I were better at. I’ve been forcing myself to track my weight every day, to count calories, and to work on a noveling project that I’m not really interested in. What’s changed? Well, I’ve been eating worse, exercising less, and having less fun doing things I used to love. I feel worse about myself, and I haven’t changed any of my habits.
I have heard advice from so many different sources about how the best way to change yourself is to love yourself and accept yourself unconditionally. But I’ve always wondered- how do you do that? If you want to change, doesn’t that mean there’s something about yourself you don’t accept?
The book also spent a good deal of time on how it is that we improve our self-image and feelings about our body. Focusing on what your body can do, rather than how it looks, can help your self-image a lot. This was another shocking finding to me. Forcing yourself to exercise so you can look better makes you feel worse. I’ve been wondering why I hate exercising so much and I think this is the reason. Exercising makes me feel bad because it reminds me that my motivation is to change my appearance. It suggests that who I am isn’t enough. Somehow, I never thought of changing this strategy. Thinking about what skills I might want to gain or what I might be able to do if I work out. Changing my mindset made me excited about exercising in a way I never was before. I thought about how much I love swimming and how I really wanted to see what martial arts classes were taught near my home. Just changing my mindset from forcing myself to exercise to wanting to learn something new completely reversed my feelings about it.
So. Another resolution. I am resolving to no longer force myself to diet and exercise to lose weight. I am resolving to no longer weigh myself every day. Instead, I’m going to listen to what my body needs- to eat when I’m hungry and eat what I want to eat (even when that means eating desert!) I’m going to explore my town and see what it has to offer- to meet new people and try new activities. For fun. Because I want to. Not because I need to look good or fit into my college clothes.
I encourage you to try and change your mindsets too! It will be hard and I don’t think I will always succeed, but I think it will make me a happier and healthier person overall.