I am too critical of my body. My body insecurities come from feeling too fat, but I know women who feel too skinny. I fear too many of us are unhappy with our bodies, whatever the reason. My body insecurities began when I was in fourth grade. I was only 8 years old! But it was old enough to question whether I was pretty. It was far worse once I reached high school. Even though I had many friends and was involved in a variety of activities and leadership positions, I was not asked on many dates or to dances and I was sure it was because I was fat and ugly. I tried to take up running but never stuck with it. Then my brother died my senior year and I began emotionally eating. That is when my body began looking how I had previously imagined it looked. My weight and insecurities stayed with me through college. I took a running class, but my running stopped when the class did. I was overweight when I met and married my husband. Unfortunately, I brought my body loathing into our marriage. I never believed my husband when he told me I was beautiful.
After our first child was born, I’d had enough with the weight rollercoaster. I never wanted my daughter to obsess over her body size or let it affect her self-worth, so I knew I needed to set the example of a healthy, happy mom for her. I began exercising regularly and eating well-balanced meals. I lost 50 pounds and ran my first 5k! I thought I had conquered the weight loss battle. I was wrong. I went through the entire process again after my second baby. And now I am battling my weight once again after having my third baby. And it really is a battle. I see other women whose stomachs are flat. Then I look at my own flabby stomach and cry. I have been trying to lose the extra weight from my third baby for 16 months. I have lost 50 pounds. It was enough the last two times, but I gained more weight during my last pregnancy. I need to lose at least 35 more pounds to fit into my old jeans. Ugh. And I injured my knee four months ago and had knee surgery just three weeks ago so I haven’t been able to run at all. Double ugh. Sometimes I wonder if I should just give up…but then I remember how exhilarating it felt to run a half marathon after I had my second child. I remember that I could not stop smiling after I crossed the finish line of a triathlon. And I crave the feeling of accomplishment that comes from achieving an impossible goal. So I will keep trying to be fit once again. And I will share with you some lessons I am learning along the way.
Lesson 1 – Our Worth is Not Connected to Our Weight. This has been a hard lesson to internalize. I let the number on the scale control my confidence for too many years. Our worth is found in the fact that we are children of a perfect God and He loves us. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught us, “The most powerful Being in the universe is the Father of your spirit. He knows you. He loves you with a perfect love… He wants you to know that you matter to Him…This is a paradox of man: compared to God, man is nothing; yet we are everything to God” (You Matter to Him, October 2011 General Conference).
God’s love for us does not fluctuate as our weight does; His love is constant. As the apostle Paul stated, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” (Romans 8: 39). He loves us so much that he sent His son Jesus Christ to atone for our sins, strengthen us in our trials, and comfort us in times of need. Our Savior’s sacrifice is not reserved for people who are pretty enough, wealthy enough, or smart enough – it is for ALL of us. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught, “Never forget, my dear young friends, that you really are a child of God who has inherited something of His divine nature, one whom He loves and desires to help and bless…May life be kind to you, for you are indeed a child of God, worthy and deserving of His love and blessing” (You Are a Child of God, General Conference April 2003). The world has a very narrow definition of beauty. But it does not matter if we do not fit (literally) that definition. To God, we are beautiful because we are His. And His opinion matters far more than the world’s.
Lesson 2 – You Can Let Yourself Be Happy Now. It is possible to accept yourself and your life the way it is, while still working to achieve your goals. At times I thought I could not be happy until I was thinner. I thought I did not deserve to respect myself, because that meant accepting my body the way it was and it was disgusting. How sad that I thought my body – a wonderful gift from God that allows me to move and breathe and serve and love – was disgusting! We must find the balance between bettering ourselves and being happy with who we are in the process. I am happy with who I am right now, while still working to be thinner and stronger, precisely because I am trying. It is when I stop trying that I feel unhappy with myself. This is true for any goal I set.
We are bombarded by television, magazines, advertisements, and music that try to convince us that we cannot be happy unless we are thinner, curvier, sexier, trendier, richer, and younger. It is a monstrous lie. If we buy into this lie, we will never be content because we will always want more. How can we find joy if we are not grateful for the blessings we currently have? We can be enough just the way we are. I think of all I have accomplished over the past decade, most of it while being unhappy with my body, and I realize that I did not need to worry about my weight so much! Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated, “I plead with you…to please be more accepting of yourselves, including your body shape and style, with a little less longing to look like someone else. We are all different. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are round, and some are thin. And almost everyone at some time or other wants to be something they are not! But as one adviser to teenage girls said: ‘You can’t live your life worrying that the world is staring at you. When you let people’s opinions make you self-conscious you give away your power. … The key to feeling [confident] is to always listen to your inner self—[the real you.]’ And in the kingdom of God, the real you is ‘more precious than rubies’” (To Young Women, General Conference October 2005).
I am so grateful for all the times I did not let my body insecurities hold me back! For all the times I refused to allow my other talents to be hidden by my body loathing. For the times I thought I was too fat to make new friends who were more beautiful than I was, but I introduced myself anyway believing that I had more to offer than extra cellulite! My family and friends do not love me any less because I carry extra weight. And they would not love me any more if I was a walking Photoshopped image from a magazine cover! One of my biggest obstacles this past year was attending and speaking at my ten-year high school reunion. I did not want to go because I was embarrassed by my weight. I especially did not want to stand in front of everyone and give a speech! But I did it anyway because I needed to prove to myself that my weight did not define who I was. I had a fantastic time catching up with old friends and did not feel judged by my weight at all. I had been my own worst critic the entire time.
Lesson 3 – Talk Positively About Yourself. You are a child of God, therefore you are seriously amazing. So tell yourself that! Stop insulting your body. Remind yourself that you are beautiful. You are enough. My friend Kristin winks at herself when she looks into a mirror. She explained, “A wink is like my version of a pat on the back or a hug. It's a reassurance of sorts that tells me I know I'm pretty awesome.” I love that! Think of all the wonderful talents you have and the ways you use them to uplift others. I may not like my sagging stomach, but I like my smile and am quick to let it shine.
When a critical thought enters your mind, stop and replace it with a positive one. This will not only help you, but also help those who look to you as an example. This quote by Elder Holland is forever branded in my mind, “Every young woman is a child of destiny and every adult woman a powerful force for good. I mention adult women because, sisters, you are our greatest examples and resource for these young women. And if you are obsessing over being a size 2, you won’t be very surprised when your daughter or the Mia Maid in your class does the same and makes herself physically ill trying to accomplish it. We should all be as fit as we can be—that’s good Word of Wisdom doctrine. That means eating right and exercising and helping our bodies function at their optimum strength. We could probably all do better in that regard. But I speak here of optimum health; there is no universal optimum size” (To Young Women, General Conference October 2005).
I never want to pass negative self-talk on to my children, but if they hear me talking about how much I dislike my body, they will do it too. And I NEVER want my beautiful daughters or my son to think they are less of a person because their bodies do not meet society’s superficial standards! My kids know we eat whole grains and fruits and vegetables because we want to be healthy. They know we exercise because we want to be strong. I cringe when I hear my teenage sisters talk about how fat and ugly they are. They are nowhere near fat, and even if they were, they would still be beautiful.
Our bodies are amazing, no matter their size. We know we are of great worth because we are children of God and we will not less society tell us otherwise! We will strive to accomplish our goals while still being content with our current state. We will not allow a negative self-image to hold us back from living a joyful life! We will talk positively about ourselves even when we are blinded by our insecurities. And we will be strong and confident for future generations. It is time to say goodbye to body loathing and say hello to body loving.