Monday, October 10, 2016

Body Beautiful

In August I wrote "The Change Factor."  My intention for this entry was to focus on the internal dialogue we must have with ourselves to make the necessary changes to affect change.  One of my readers commented about body image and the messages we tell ourselves about the way we look.  This is a topic I have been dancing around since I started this blog: body image.
I look so mad!  Just putting my game face on after a good workout.
How does my physical appearance affect the way I think about myself?  How do those feelings affect the internal dialogue I have with myself about my goals, future, abilities, strengths and weaknesses?

My struggle with body image started when I went through puberty.  I hated the overly generous size of my breasts, the width of my thighs and the girth of my hips.  I was never really happy with my hair either.  I couldn't find a style that suited me.  I was genuinely dissatisfied with my appearance and this marked my demeanor.  I was shy too, so this combination wrecked havoc on my self-confidence.  While I have grown up and most people would not characterize me as shy or lacking self-confidence, my perception of myself and my appearance is something with which I still battle.

The next time you take a shower, take a long hard look at your reflection before you get dressed.  If you are genuinely happy with your reflection, you don't need to read this blog entry.  But if you're not, I want you to identify the areas you want to change.   Even today, almost three years after I embarked on this journey towards fitness, there are things about my appearance I would still change.  Yes, I've lost over 80 lbs.  Yes, I wear a size 4-6 pants/ dress.  Yes.  But a lifetime of looking at my reflection in the mirror and never seeing it as good enough, has marked my perception of who I am.  I know I am not alone in this struggle.

Even though I have childbirth scars you can't see too well (trust me, they are there), I think I looked pretty good in this picture.  That said, I have gained several pounds since this was taken and I am disappointed with my appearance.  But this is not where my value is found.
When it comes to our physical appearance and makeup, some things are within our control and some are not.  We can change the color and style of our hair.  With exercise and proper nutrition, we can somewhat control the shape and size of our body.  There are skin treatments to help with acne and dry skin.  But without drastic measures, there are certain features we must learn to accept...the shape of our nose, chin, if we have a full head of hair or are bald, if our breasts are small or overly buxom.  The truth be told, the bottom line is each of us need to accept that we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
Psalm 139:4

The media does not help at all.  Fashion magazines typically feature airbrushed models who weigh less than I did at age 12.  TV shows geared toward teenagers depict perfectly beautiful girls and boys.  Even the most beautiful woman on the planet can't be perfect, not when a former Miss Universe is characterized as "Miss Piggy."

For me, it's not the media that plays in my head.  Maybe it's because I am 47 years old and I frankly could care less what he, who shall not be named. has to say about the appearance of any woman.  For me, it's what I think about my own appearance.  It's coming to acceptance with myself.  Seeing myself for the gains I've made on this journey.  Accepting my weaknesses and flaws as part of the wonderfully made creation I am.

This is NOT easy to do.  In fact, my shoulder injury in June slowed down my physical training to the point where I have had a brand new internal dialogue about my training and appearance.  I can't do the things I could do six months ago.  I just can't.  And there is nothing I can do to change that right now.  While this has set me back tremendously, my focus has to be on recovery and healing, not on what I can't do.  I can hike and walk, and enjoy the beautiful fall foliage.  While I may not feel it, I am strong.  I will work through this and come out on the other side okay.  Better than okay.

Fitness is a continuous journey.  It's not just about how you look.  Don't get me wrong!  I understand the primary reason most people go on a diet is to be thin, not just to be healthy.  I get that.  But to maintain your weight and fitness level, your focus can't be on your appearance alone.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight.
1 Peter 3-4

Our self-worth and self-image, can't be based on that which is physical.  Whether you are a spiritual person or not, who you are comes from the person inside, who God made you to be.  Whether you are skinny or plump, muscular or not, whether your girth is wide or thin, if you are an "apple" shape or a "pear" shape, none of this matters.  It's how you reflect God, the creator that makes you beautiful inside and out.

This takes a LOT of soul searching to fully accept and I am NOT saying I am there.  Not at all.  Today, at age 40+ something, it's the number on the scale that makes me a little crazy (if I let it).  Even though I wear a size 4-6 pants/dress, I see my legs as thick.  At the gym, I see a roll of flab in my middle and think, "If only I could get rid of that."  This, even after losing 80+ pounds.  But what I should be concerned about is how do I reflect Him?  Am I patient?  Loving? Generous?  Kind?  How do I treat others?
Learn to differentiate between what you look like and how you feel.  Fitness is about feeling good, not just looking good.  Be content with small steps in the right direction.  Learn to accept the things you cannot change.  Refuse to quit.  Be persistent.  Don't allow your inner fears and insecurities to throw you off your game.

Your inner dialogue should NOT be controlled by your appearance.  If you are too curvy or too skinny, if you don't like the size of your breasts or your nose, if you are overweight and feel like you will never lose the weight, if you think you've tried everything and failed... STOP now!!  Start telling yourself you are worth it.  You can't do much about your nose or your breasts.  But you can change your weight.  Expecting immediate results is the biggest mistake, so focus on small goals and encourage yourself daily to stick with it.  I still have to do this, even when a series of bad days makes me feel like I just can't do it anymore.  You are worth it.  You are!

What do you think?

I posted a survey on the blog, asking if you are happy with your appearance.  Between the survey and the private messages, I received a variety of responses.  Most people said they are not happy with their appearance and it was their weight, stomach or legs that they did not like.  A few had some positive things to share.  This was my favorite, from Bridgette:

When I look in the mirror I love what I see.  My body is the product of hours of work and moving lots of heavy things.  I'm at the heaviest I have ever een but I'm also able to DO more things than I ever have.  Would I like to wear a 6?  Sure but my body doesn't maximize activities when it's that size.  I got married last month at 168 lbs. and felt better than I have at 140.  I look at my body and see my competition totals and the future totals I will put up as I progress.  I see a body that will not worry about osteoporosis.  I will have children someday but I don't think that will change my vision of self because I envision my body as the sum of the things I can do.

I want to continue with this theme in future posts.  Stay tuned and come back for more!!

Questions for you (answer in the comment section below):
What one thing did you like or dislike most about yourself when you were a teenager?  Have you come to grips with that yet?  

Side note:  

On Saturday I shared some personal things I have been going through.  I received several private messages and texts of encouragement.  I wrote this post for two to keep  me accountable  to my own journey and two because I want you to know that I get it...we have problems, life is not all peaches and cream.  Sometimes we fall down. The key is to get back up.  I am doing much better the past couple days.  Thank you to everyone for the love you showed me.

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