On Body Image and Radical Self Love

Rooting it all in Radical Self Love.

Whether we like it or not, we all have our own brand. We didn’t always refer to it as our brand, thank god. But I remember knowing some of the Moms of my friends were into crafts, some were really into church, some were always baking or cooking, some did jazzercize. Every adult of every generation finds things they latch onto that form part of their identity. Usually it’s about hobbies or socializing or some special skill set.

For all practical purposes, I would say that a big part of my brand my entire life was: SELF IMPROVEMENT. Even as a kid I was trying to lose weight, or trying to do better in school, or trying to be a better Catholic. I remember setting these challenges: Go to before-school mass at least twice a week. Or, take all of my notes neatly the first time instead of having to rewrite them later.

(I would later learn that information becomes more permanent in my brain the more I rewrote my notes so I gave up on that and eventually built “rewriting my notes” into study plans in college.)

But as far back as I can remember I was on various quests for self-improvement.

I’ve been blogging here since 2004 and I always had some sort of category or tag for all of my self-improvement content. Once I called it: “A Better Me” and another time I called it “Baby Steps” but it was always where I wrote about ways I was trying to improve myself. Better myself. Upgrade myself.

As I work through all of my toxic mindsets around my body and food and fitness and diet I have had to take a hard look at all of the groundwork on which I built my obsessions with self-improvement. I believe it all started with Penance in my 12-years of Catholic school. I would walk away from confession feeling like I was a brand new sin-free baby and so I would set these goals: No gossiping. No lies. No disobeying parents. I remember these efforts as some of my earliest school memories.

But woven into all of these quests for self improvement from my elementary school desire to quit gossiping to my college-student efforts to quit skipping class…was a large amount of invisible self-loathing.

I say invisible because I don’t think I ever considered any of my thought patterns as self-loathing. But now that I’ve learned to dig into the foundations of some of my “truths” that I tell myself, I have seen how much self-loathing there was in my heart. I always wanted to be better, because I felt like I was always a failure at everything.

Fast-forward to present day. I’m on the other side of some intense years of therapy and treatment around body image and health and fitness and food. I have worked to destroy so many toxic foundations and hard worn paths in my brain surrounding weight and health and fatness and aging. And now? Now I’m working on building new paths through the forest. I blocked the old ones, the undergrowth is starting to fill it in but now I have to clear the new trails to make them more obvious so I can follow them without thinking.

And to me, the biggest difference with any change I look at making is that I root everything in an abundance of self-love. Whenever I think about changes I’m going to make in my life, I am obnoxiously reinforcing my present self in every other thought. It’s kinda like when my daughter asks my “honest opinion” on an outfit and I make sure to give her 1,000 positives before I say, “I just feel like the length of that shirt is weird.”

You often hear people discussing marriage or relationships between parents and children, or even dynamics in an office: There needs to be positive reinforcement. Thinking about ourselves negatively comes naturally, so if you have to deliver a negative critique to someone then make sure you regularly give them positives so they don’t think: This person hates me. Our kids tell us this all the time: “All you ever do is nag me!” And we know it’s not all we do but because the negative stuff stands out, we really have to do 10-times the positive stuff in order for it not to feel misbalanced to the person listening to the critiques.

This is how I look at myself now. I need to build myself up so often and so regularly that when I think about things I want to change, I know it’s rooted in love of self.

A friend once said that she likes to look at a change as a gift to her future self.

Take my water intake. I’ve been really trying to be better about drinking more water the last year or so. But it’s because I was constantly getting dehydration headaches. Drinking more water helps me gift future Kim a bedtime without a headache.

I also get headaches if I eat too much sugar, so when I go to a movie and don’t eat candy (which was unheard of in my ED years because I had such a weird relationship with bad/good foods and I basically forced myself to binge at movies because that was my “allowance” and I often planned ahead and built long runs around those outings) it’s because I’m trying to avoid giving Kim in a few hours a headache.

And I never, never beat myself up if I don’t drink enough water or if I do eat the candy and then end up with a headache. I just wrap myself in love and remember how good the candy tasted and that the headache will pass and nothing changes my worth as a human being.

It’s not a flip I switched where I know: This is where I looked at change rooted in self-loathing and there is where I looked at change as loving gifts to myself. That’s the hardest lesson in treating my mental health issues is that I don’t know I’m getting better until I just…know I am getting better. No medicine works over night, no coping tools stop all of my panic attacks, no one session with a new therapist will suddenly change 100% of my mindsets.

There have been pivotal moments that have helped…powerful books or lessons that helped shine light in areas I struggled to see clearly. But I just know: I used to root all of my efforts to change in self-loathing, and now I root everything in self-love.

And honestly? I don’t look to change much anymore. I used to always have a list of several things I was working on in my life. Now? It’s mainly just trying to make decisions throughout the day that I won’t regret later. Trying to remember how everything effects future Kim because I love her too and I don’t want her up late because she had that diet coke at 7pm and I don’t want her feeling gross in the middle of the night because she didn’t brush her teeth and I don’t want her scaring herself because she forgot to wash her face and woke up with mascara all over her cheeks.

It’s not easy. Especially being constantly bombarded with ads telling me I need to take better car of my skin because: WRINKLES BAD. Or ads with expensive hair products because: FRIZZ IS BAD. Or messages on social media telling me I need to be a more active Mom or a more productive citizen or a more powerful woman. Everywhere we turn social media and marketing and entertainment is painting pictures of what perfection looks like and criticizing those of us not meeting it.

Which is why I have to work hard to rebuild those paths of self-love in my brain so that they are easy to remember even if I’m being blinded with messages encouraging self-loathing.

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