The other day, while sorting through old magazines, I came across a tall, colorful stack of papers that took me down memory lane in the worst way. This stack of papers reminded me of every moment that I had wasted hating my body instead of enjoying my middle and high school years. This stack reminded me of every moment I have sought to undo since adopting an acceptance of my body.
Maybe I’m the only one who remembers this, but back in the day, every issue of Seventeen Magazine had a workout plan, ready to tear out. They were bright, colorful pages filled with various exercises, sometimes emphasizing certain areas to work on, sometimes just supplying a general slim-down regimen.
When I was younger, I collected these plans with a vengeance. I had notes scrawled across these pages, declaring which day of the week, what time of the day the plan would be assigned to, usually based on the area the exercise plan was focused on. Workouts focused on abs had the most days assigned to them, as I was desperate to have a tiny waist and the popularity to match. All throughout my early teen years, I would look forward to a new magazine every month just for the exercise plan, all while dreaming of what would happen if I slimmed down, followed my carefully constructed workout plan for each day.
Here’s the catch though—I was already skinny. If anything, I needed to gain weight, my ribs sticking out as I skipped meals, whittled myself down to 105 pounds, but I didn’t realize that until years later. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be skinny so bad. It wasn’t obvious to me then—if you had asked me from the age of eleven up to the age of sixteen, I would have told you that my favorite thing to do were acting and writing, not hoarding workout plans and skipping meals.
But now, as I sit here at the heaviest weight, I can’t help but think back to the first few days of unlearning my behavior. It took me three years to unlearn my bad body behavior, and I dreaded every step of the way. Looking back now, I wish I had someone to teach me what I needed to do to unlearn my bad body image. True, the journey is different for everyone and true, the steps to acceptance are different as well. However, these are my steps to unlearning bad body image.
1. Embrace Health, Not Weight Loss
Being healthy does not equal losing weight. Again, let me repeat: being healthy does not equal losing weight. True, there’s a possibility that by getting healthy, you will lose weight. But there’s also the possibility that you gain weight, as well as muscle. There’s a chance that there will be no perceptible change in your physique, but you feel better.
Plus, the difference between getting healthy for the sake of being healthy versus working out and eating differently for the sake of losing pounds and inches is huge. With diets and forcing yourself to work out, you find your life dictated by your drive to lose. There’s a lot of guilt there too: if you should indulge in a craving, you may feel like you slipped up, and either punish yourself for it or just give up altogether. Getting healthy to be healthy becomes an afterthought once you get into the swing of things. It can still be stressful at times, but there’s less pressure on outward appearance and more on inward feeling.
2. Embrace Self-Care
Body positive self-care differs from person to person. Some girls I know have essentially blocked any “skinny is pretty” imagery from their Instagram feeds. Others give themselves all around cheat days so that they don’t feel that they’re using just food as an incentive/reward.
How you approach this is all up to you—if you listen to your body and get to know it for your needs and wants, that can lead not only to a great self-care plan for you, but also self-awareness, which is never a bad thing!
3. Accept the Bad Days with the Good
There will be some days where you’re doing everything right but you still hate your body. That’s okay! You’re allowed not to like your body some days. That doesn’t mean you’re falling off the body positive bandwagon—it just means that it’s a bad day, and if anything, it means that you’re making progress!
Unlearning bad body image is not something that will happen overnight. It takes time. It takes patience and endurance and understanding that some things will feel uncontrollable. And that’s okay. Find people to support you as you begin to radically love yourself. Find what motivates you, and you can do just about anything, including loving yourself.
Image via Arianna Marie Torres