Learning to Develop a Positive Body Image
- June 11, 2015
- by Melissa Lawrence
Welcome back for another Reflection Thursdays post, in which I am reflecting on happiness, peace of mind, wellness, and being your best self! Please join me for my own personal journey, and reflect on your own.
Over the course of my life, I’ve always struggled to feel good about my physical appearance.
I grew up never feeling like I looked particularly good. My ears stuck out, my two front teeth stood separated by a huge gap … and my hair? Fine and thin, it left me yearning for thick curly locks, like Andie MacDowell in Four Weddings and a Funderal. After all, she snatched Hugh Grant. It strikes me that a lot of young women in our culture, drenched with images of perfect girls, come of age burdened by such low self-esteem regarding their appearance.
During my teens, I sported braces and retainers, sampled one perm after another, and battled to find the right style: one month I aimed for preppy, the next Bohemian.
During my 20’s, I struggled with body image issues. Obsessed with my weight, I would walk daily to my office, which was an hour away, rain or shine. Or I hauled myself out of bed at 5:30 am to go to the gym before work, no matter how tired I felt. The night before, I would pack a bag serious enough for a mini-vacation with shampoo, make-up and my change of clothes for work, so that it would all be ready to go along with my work suit on a hanger, which I slung over one shoulder in the morning as I headed out the door.
During my 30’s, I grew preoccupied with my belly (as I tried to “come back” from 5 babies), or those stubborn dimples on the back of my butt. I stopped buying bathing suits in stores because I refused to look at my derrière in the store mirror! One year a pool friend pointed out that she had seen me in the same bathing suits for five years; makes sense because I was petrified by the process of buying new ones.
Lately, I’ve developed a fear of aging. Unlike a lot of women my age in New York City, I’ve opted to not try botox or fillers (yet!), nor have I done breast implants, which I certainly could be a candidate for! I don’t judge what anyone else does to feel good, but personally I’m scared to mess with nature. Yet still I struggle when I see in a photo in which I don’t look the way I did five years ago. I must ask Marc my husband several times daily: “How do I look?, “Do I look young?”, “Do I look old?” “You look great,” he kindly responds. I ask my kids too and they are trained to say: “Mom, you look really young, no older than 30.” They have it so down pat that I’m not sure how I can find it reassuring!
But these tribulations aside, and even though I fret over looking older, I feel better now about my appearance than I did at any other stage of my life. Why?
Well, I’ve been learning how to feel good about how I look.
My good friend Melissa told me something that now sticks in my brain. “Wear your bikinis in your 40’s,” her mother advised her. “If you don’t, you will regret that in your 50’s.” Tragically, Melissa lost her mom last year. On a recent family vacation, she wore all of her mom’s old bikinis.
This story inspired me and left me with this way of thinking, my friends, which I hope you will try: when it comes to how you look, don’t look BACK. Look FORWARD, look AHEAD. Realize that 10 years down the line, you will (hopefully) look at a photo of yourself now and say “Man, I looked pretty darn youthful back then!”
If you’re like me, you’ve already missed the opportunity to feel good about yourself during your teens, twenties and thirties, so don’t miss the opportunity to feel good about yourself in your 40’s. I often regret that during my 20’s, I rarely felt young and pretty!
Think differently about you body with the goal of building confidence. Rather than worry about some extra cellulite, feel happy that you can jump in the pool and swim with your kids, walk all day without your knees hurting, and even kick a soccer ball around.
Hopefully, your body is still relatively free of pain. Hopefully, you are in good enough health that you can spend a whole day without tracking the schedule of your pill box. Hopefully, you can sleep a whole night without waking up and wondering what the heck to do at 3 a.m.
If you are in this place, these are blessings to be thankful for.
In other words, don’t compare yourself to YOU five or 10 years ago, compare yourself to an imaginary woman 10, 20 or even 30 years older, who has challenges that you currently do not have to grapple with.
Change your perspective. Look forward in time, and then grab a few moments for yourself in the present. Focus on what you like versus what frustrates you when it comes to you physical appearance, and indulge in some simple pleasures. Earrings, jewelry, a little something that makes you feel pretty. Three spray of perfume can change your day. Sometimes I put on perfume two or three times since it makes me feel more attractive. You’ll recognize me by smelling me, a 40-ish women clad in yoga clothes who reeks of Chanel No. 5.
For the first time in my life, I walked around a pool in a bikini yesterday without putting on a coverup.
I figured it’s time. I didn’t feel that I looked perfect by any stretch, but I felt proud that I was able to accomplish the goal of feeling better about myself and having a positive body image. When I jumped into the pool, Marielle asked me if she could swim on my back, and that was that. I wasn’t fretting anymore about how I would cover myself up when I got out of the pool. And with my mind free from anxiety, I had more fun that ever before.
Live happily with what you have now. Love yourself for what you are now, rather than lamenting that physically you have changed. Feel grateful to be getting older, rather than lamenting the impossible: getting younger. Embrace the freedom of spirit and confidence that age brings, and never stop learning to love yourself. Put on your metaphorical “bikini” (whatever that means for you) and strut your stuff, feeling grateful for the body that allows you to do what you do as a mom.