Trust Your Core
2014 was a big year. It was the year that I turned 40 and the year that I had been looking forward to my entire life (see, Age Truths). It was also the year that I embarked on a series of life changes. It is a matter of perspective as to whether anyone else would consider them to be major life changes or not, but the intent was, and still is, to challenge head-on what came to be my personal life norms. Life is a culmination of choices, and my choices led to some places that I had expected, some that I had not, some that surprised me, and some that really disappointed me. As a result, there was an extensive list of "adjustments" that I wanted to make and I while I will spare you the details of how long the list was, let's just say that I'm still very much engaged with them. I call them the "Big Things", and one major Big Thing gets challenged, by me, in every fresh year of my forties. You may accurately surmise that one of my Big Things included redefining beauty and self appreciation; a giant and long overdue gift to myself. My intent was to confront societal standards that I knew to be utter garbage, but never had the maturity or courage to dissent from. My intent was to pursue and bravely represent what I knew to be beautiful. My intent was to face my fears of whether this would be a realistic undertaking, or even possible. I had no idea how many legs this thing would grow.
I took this photo last year for National Sports Bra Squad Day, a movement that aims to shift mindsets of what is considered beautiful, strong, and successful. Depending on the day or hour, this photo makes me feel equal parts proud and nauseous. Depending on the individual or culture, this photo could be perceived as inspiring or disgraceful. From early stages of our existence, we are conditioned by endless sources that shape our perspectives of what we are expected to be in this world. Typically, the objective is conformity and for the most part well-intentioned; but sometimes, the objective is to control and to shame to someone else's advantage. Our negative experiences regarding personal value may have stemmed from those closest to us, whom we relied on the most for trust, validation or support, and thus exacerbating the emotional damage. Our experiences are deeply personal and unique, but also at the same time, unified.
Fast forward a few decades following my own youth and I see not much has changed. I applaud these young individuals that rise above the toxicity of social media. I cannot guarantee that my younger self would have weathered the pressure that these platforms can deliver as successfully as they do. I still see this toxicity in my own peers, those who have carried these scars well into their adulthood and are passing it down the generational line, consciously or subconsciously. Sincere support networks, at any age, can be non-existent and the courage to "unconform", incomprehensible. Like many, I bear the scars of years of self-harm and misdirected disgust, as a result of being shaped by shame.
I have a tattoo that reads, "If not now, when....". My Big Things were developed around this familiar quote and serves as an empowering reminder that right now, in the present, is the most opportune time to shift paradigms. So, where to begin? Well, before I delved into deep self-awareness, I simply threw out the scale. My honest definition of beauty never involved numbers, whether they be size, weight or age. Only my dishonest one did. I also promised myself that my dieting days were over. There will be no more dieting for any reason, but especially not for vanity, insecurity, competition or approval. Notice that I do not mention calories or proportions or grams of this or that in my recipes...IT DOESN'T MATTER. True appreciation for myself and my body would be based on a foundation of respect and balanced, whole food nutrition. Beauty from the inside out, respect from the inside out, performance from the inside out. You get the message. And by the way, being vegan doesn't make one automatically healthy; it is the quality and nutritional value of food choices that does (and I definitely had some room for improvement there). Food should be fuel, yes, but it should also engage the senses in a positive display of vibrant color, flavors, aromatics and absolutely the occasional indulgence. I desired a relationship with food that was nourishing and rewarding, not plagued by punitive restriction or otherwise trickery that my body does not recognize. I had my work cut out for me, as I had previously spent a lifetime self-soothing and simultaneously reprimanding myself with food in a vicious, abusive cycle. I have found that the best way to approach Big Things are with forgiveness and a cease fire of suffocating demands.
Same tune for fitness. All fitness, whether it be nutritional, physical, restorative, mental or spiritual, had no staying power in my life if the purpose was solely for vanity. They needed to be reintroduced into my life as positive self-care routines. In the past, I had achieved polarities of ultra athleticism to virtual sloth (and back again), for all of the wrong reasons. Reprogramming unhealthy fitness conditioning is a challenging paradigm to shift, but one the most rewarding. It began with ditching the scale, yes, but it also required seeing things from a fresh perspective. Again, a perspective of forgiveness and respect. It was no longer about achieving the perfect shoulders or defined abs or losing 20 pounds by the following week. The new objective called for self-respect, longevity and honest joy; things that were admittedly somewhat foreign to me. Once my body reignited its relationship with strength, flexibility and endurance, it mattered less what I looked like, but mattered more what I FELT like. This was the desired path. Slowly, but consistently, my body image and appreciation was successfully redefining itself towards a representation of strength, determination, grit, perseverance and clarity. There simply was no longer any place for nonsense thigh gaps or the influences that demanded them from me.
Speaking of influences, a not-so-quick note on that. I had to have a very frank conversation with myself on how I spent my free time and what had been cunningly fueling my self-image and insecurities. These things we tell ourselves are innocent, innocuous "escape-isms"...well, I don't believe them to be the case. We are all conditioned and shaped by the things we allow into our lives, whether we are consciously aware of it or not, or whether they are even healthy for us or not. It's the usual suspects of social media, reality shows, gossip sites, advertising, environment, and even our peers and our family. There is an entire industry that makes a lot of money off of our insecurities (and ensures we remain that way), while cloaked as well-intentioned resources. It is a painful breakup, yet such an interesting confession, to have found myself so besotted and beholden to, for so long, confinements of "fashion" and "beauty" from this industry that had absolutely no interest in my well-being or my healthy development. In fact, many times, it was a catalyst for the opposite. So, I made my own list of what I admired, who I admired, what qualities I would possess as my highest self, and what I considered to be quality living. I reshaped my social media to ONLY reflect these positive, empowering images and kicked out the noise. For me, this involved the arts, travel, plant based living and organic gardening. For you, it would be your own unique representation. Nonetheless, I would encourage you to question an industry of "experts" that insists beauty lies in less than 1% of all things, perfection is real, and trends are marketed as fact. Beauty lies in absolutely everything, so that advice doesn't sound like any expert that I know. Be very wary of allowing anyone or anything else to define what your self-worth and perception of beauty looks like. That needs to be a one person job.
This week I consulted an ART (Active Release Technique) specialist to improve my running. For my first visit, it was recommended that I wear shorts, so that my treatment could be accurately measured and assessed. My first reaction was to outright cancel the appointment in sheer horror of anyone bearing witness to my unsightly and hideous thighs. I'll be ridiculed out of the office. No one will believe I'm a real runner. Even today, that shape-shifting inner voice, that suave manipulator, is never completely silenced. I targeted the thought, isolated it, laughed it off, and promptly forgave it. My voice has had years of experience, but now as an adult, I consider it a privilege to manage. I will forever co-exist with body dysmorphia, it is simply a consequence of my experience. So, I've developed compassion for it, as we've survived a lot together.
I will always support self-care that promotes sincere appreciation for my body. Whether it be ART treatments in shorts, float therapy in a swimsuit, mindful nutrition or restorative practices, our bodies deserve to be honored, not punished by standards and expectations that are of no benefit to it. After all, that tabloid-esque, "bikini bod" mentality did not get me across that marathon finish line in March, but a self-governed and self-defined one sure did.
No one is the expert of you, but you. Destroy, redefine, and nurture your own fresh perspectives of beauty, strength, and success. Make it as expansive and as diverse and abstract as you possibly can. And then, go out and paint that gorgeous picture. Be your own best example, not just for yourself, but to pay forward. You'd be surprised who looks up to you. Live your version of beautiful, because if not now...when?