Body image is a relationship, and therefore, it does not follow a linear path. It is rare for someone to go from feeling awful about themselves to feeling wonderful about themselves without ever falling back into harmful patterns, even temporarily. For most of us, we go through ups and downs with our body image the way any relationship has ups and downs; some days you feel happy and blissful and connected to your body, and other days you feel like your body is working against you. Unlike relationships with other people, though, your relationship with your own body is 100% your own responsibility to nurture and grow. This can be both a blessing and a curse.
Let me share with you my current body image struggles, since I fully believe that sharing our stories is what creates a sense of understanding about ourselves and others. Plus I’m fairly certain some of you will absolutely relate!
For me to go over my lifelong body image struggles would require me to write a 400 page memoir, so instead I’ll fill you all in on what’s been happening lately.
5 weeks ago, I started a part time job as a receptionist in a counseling office. We had been discussing the idea of me finding a job outside of the home for awhile, but I finally bit the bullet and got one. After a 6 day whirlwind from interview to my first day wherein I had to find childcare for my younger son, make sure we could afford said childcare, change my oldest from pick up to bus, and coordinate a schedule with my husband, I started working. Part of working in an office is wearing professional clothing. Who knew? Of course, having spent the last 7 ½ years home with my two kiddos, I had none. Literally not one pair of dress pants sat in my wardrobe and I maybe owned 3 nice tops. I improvised for the first week with leggings and flowy dresses that were still nice enough to wear to work while being long enough to cover up the fact that I was wearing leggings as pants. After the first week, I had to go out and buy an outfit.
The process of trying on professional clothing, like the process of trying on clothing in general, is one that I dread. I remember the days of high school, when I was 130 pounds and I would go to the mall and basically just grab anything that looked nice because it would most likely fit. While I have accepted that I will never in my life be that size again, I do miss the excitement of clothes shopping that I felt so often in my youth.
Now, when I try on pants, it’s a matter of both comfort and “how much does this hide?” Most dress pants that fit me nicely around the hips and legs cut into my belly, and so if I go a size up, they look sloppy. Finally at Kohls, I bought a pair of elastic waist dress pants. They don’t look like they are basically a hybrid between yoga pants and professional slacks but boy do they feel like it!
Of course, I can’t wear my yoga/dress pants every day, and after a very generous donation of nice clothing from my SIL produced 4 more pairs of dress pants that technically fit me, I have a good rotation going. The problem is, I’m at a point where literally every piece of clothing I own feels awful on me. Everything. Down to my pajamas. Everything clings wrong, pieces that used to feel floaty now feel fitted, and I find myself unbuttoning the top button at my desk when I’m wearing a longer top so that I feel comfortable but nobody can tell. It’s an awful place to be in, and the reality is, I know what I have to do to get out of it.
Physically, I need to actually move. I haven’t done anything resembling working out in months, and boy do I feel it. Running up and down the stairs is making me winded, and my joints are aching from sitting most of the day. I also haven’t been eating in a mindful way, and basically treating my body like a dumpster on fire.
Mentally, I need to forgive myself for not being where I’d like to be health-wise, and also not rely so heavily on my body for determining what kind of day I have. It’s exhausting.
When you both feel physically uncomfortable in your own skin, and just generally hate every single item of clothing you have, it can majorly mess with your sense of well-being. I can’t tell you how many times myself or any of my friends have been late to a get-together because we spent so long trying to figure out what to wear that we’ve left a representative pile of “bad” clothes on our bed. This pile thus indicating just how much our clothing determines how we feel about ourselves. I wish I could flip a switch in all of us that changes that mentality to “who cares?”, but it’s unfortunately not that simple. It’s a relationship, and some days, weeks, months, and years are just tougher than others. And while today I don’t have any answers for you, I have my story, and my honesty, and my admission that right now I am at a low point. By speaking out, I can only hope that others will see how this is a common struggle, and one that we don’t have to go through alone, though at the end of the day, it is only we who can repair a damaged relationship with our own bodies, but I believe we can. We just have to try.
Take care of yourself,