Becoming Body-Neutral: A Journey

“Your obituary won’t read: She was x weight and we fondly remember her six-pack. It will talk about your relationships, passions, and the kind of person you are.” – Jennifer Rollin

I’ve been intending to write this post for over two years now, and over that time, I’ve slowly been working on it, writing down thoughts and ideas when they came to me during periods of hating my body, periods of loving it, and everywhere in-between. My relationship with my body is arguably the relationship that I’ve put the most into. It has been my most gruelling and emotionally difficult relationship, but because of this, it’s one of the most beautiful.

Looking back to when I first started writing this post two summers ago, I was really only beginning my journey of self-acceptance. I remember it was that summer that I let myself buy a pair of shorts that were a bigger size than I had ever been comfortable with even trying on. I didn’t like the way that my usual size fit me, so I sized up. Such a simple thing, but I remember feeling empowered in some way because for the first time, I let the way I felt in something be more important than the number on the tag. That was the first moment that I can pinpoint as the start of a shifting perspective, and a realization that I could actually let myself off of the roller coaster ride of emotional turmoil and self loathing that I had learned was just supposed to be a part of life, as long as I wasn’t stick-thin.

I think that maybe somehow I intentionally didn’t finish this post back then, because I wasn’t in the right place to talk about it yet. My relationship with my body and accepting it was newly changing, and it was complicated. And realistically, it is still complicated, and will very likely remain that way. But something is different, and this is not because of any changes my body has gone through since then. It is because of the only thing that will ever make you feel at peace in your skin – it is a change from within.

If you’re here looking for a sugar-coated pep talk about how to learn to love your body, and how to see nothing but perfection when you look at yourself as you whisper in the mirror that you are beautiful, I’m sorry to tell you that this is not going to be that. This is my real and honest experience, and I have a strong feeling that my experience is similar to many of yours. It is hatred, and yearning, and wishing, and desperation, and learning, and un-learning, and accepting.

I remember the first times that I thought about my body and how it looked. I remember the first time I noticed the stretch marks on my inner thighs at roughly age thirteen, and I remember google-searching what they were and why they were there. While I didn’t necessarily think they were cute when I first saw them, it wasn’t until my search lead me to the hundreds of remedies telling me how to get rid of them, that I realized that they were not something I wanted to have. My search taught me to hate them, and to spend time and money trying to fix them. **Spoiler alert, nothing I tried ever got rid of my stretch marks, and it turns out that those few were just the first of many that have found their home on my hips and thighs over the years of living and growing.

I remember when I first thought about wanting to lose weight. I remember listening to the older girls at figure skating talk about going to the gym, and I remember wishing I was old enough to do the same. I remember the years of thinking I needed to lose a few pounds, and looking back at photos of myself from years prior, longing to live in that slightly thinner body again, even though I spent many days hating it while I was living in it.

I was about seventeen when I did my first juice cleanse and tried my first crash diet. I was young, vulnerable, and insecure (as most seventeen-year-olds are), and not even done growing. But I did it because I had convinced myself that I was just trying to be healthier, and it was something that my parents were doing as well at the time. It was also around this time that my naivety and desperation to have a flatter stomach and thinner thighs allowed me to be fooled by some internet company selling weight loss supplements. The ones that are supposed to boost your metabolism and suppress your appetite. I remember my mom finding out about my purchase when she was looking through credit card bills, and I remember the embarrassment and shame I felt in having to admit that I wanted to try something that was supposed to help me lose weight.

As I’ve grown up since then, the struggles and attempts to look my “best” have not been fewer, they’ve just been different. They’ve been in days when going to the beach with friends meant I would eat nothing that day beforehand, or when summer’s approach brought on waves of anxiety because it meant I couldn’t hide my imperfections with a pair of jeans that actually made me feel confident.

A couple of months ago, I was cleaning out some drawers, and I found a piece of paper that I had written on with a detailed schedule of meals and snacks. It was a crash diet known as the “boiled egg diet”, which claims to help you lose ten pounds in a week (yikes), and consists of eating 2-4 boiled eggs per day, along with nothing but vegetables, fruit, chicken, and fish. This highly restrictive crash diet had me eating “meals” that were only a couple hundred calories each. But hey, it was all for the sake of looking skinnier for an upcoming summer party where I would have to be in a crop top and bathing suit. What could possibly be more important than that??? Looking back, I can tell you with absolute certainty that not one of my friends noticed a change in how I looked. Yes, my stomach felt flatter, I mean, how could it not? But I certainly did not feel any less insecure. That’s not something a week-long crash diet can fix.

Finding that piece of paper broke my heart a little bit. I just sat there, thinking of all of the energy that I have put into hating my body and trying to change it, ever since I was a teenager. I felt sad for that thirteen year-old girl who felt devastated over the new markings on her body. I felt sad for the seventeen year-old girl who felt insecure in the shorts she had to wear while playing a sport she loved, and who’s un-developed mind was being shaped by a society that told her she should want to be thinner. I felt sad for the twenty-one year-old girl who thought that she had to take extreme measures in her diet in order to be accepted and desired by her peers. I felt sad for the girl who up until recently, felt like she had to edit her body in photos because it wasn’t good enough the way it was.

Through writing and reflecting on all of this, I cant help but feel broken for all of the others who had it worse than I ever did when it comes to body image, and it makes me incredibly sad to think of the young girls now growing up in a world that is, while more accepting in some ways, much more harsh and full of comparison than the one I grew up in.

When weight loss and those “problem areas” are such commonly talked about topics by the people around you, it is inevitable that those ideas make their way into your own head. “If everyone else wants to lose 5 pounds, I should want to lose 5 pounds”. “If everyone hates their stomach, wants a thigh gap, wants thick thighs and a big butt but a small waist, then I should want those things too”. It’s only natural for these dangerous thoughts and habits to become a part of your own inner monologue.

We tell ourselves that if we could lose ten pounds, or have our “old body” back, or tone up our stomach or have less cellulite, that we would be happier. But in my own experience, and I can guess in many of yours as well, I was no happier in my younger years when I was a bit thinner and didn’t have cellulite. I’ve tried all of the crash diets and gimmicks that promise to rid your body of “imperfections”, and let me tell you a secret. None of them worked, and none of them made me any happier. Yeah, a couple of them helped me lose a few pounds here and there, but ultimately they would always find their way back, and I would go back to beating myself up for looking my perfectly normal self.

The only thing that has truly made a difference in my happiness and contentment with my body has been learning to accept and appreciate it for what it is, and for what it allows me to do. I know, easier said than done. It’s taken me awhile to get to where I am now after realizing that for years, I was doing it all wrong. I was putting all of my negativity and hatred toward myself, when I should have been putting it toward the media and societal structures who had been telling me and millions of other girls (and boys!!) that we weren’t good enough the way we were.

I remember that day that I decided to start buying clothes that fit me and made me feel good right in that moment, rather than ones that I thought were a bit snug, but would be motivation to lose a few pounds. I stopped holding onto clothes that I had been keeping in my closet for when I could fit back into them. I stopped caring about the number on the tag and started caring about how things made me feel.

I learned that as long as I knew I was eating right and exercising regularly, there was no need to obsess over a number on the scale. So I put the scale away and haven’t touched it for quite some time. I highly recommend not weighing yourself (unless u have to at the doctor’s or something) because that number truly does not mean much. Focus instead on how you feel. Every body is different and has a different composition. 130 or 160 or 200 pounds looks different on everybody, depending on your height, how muscular you are, etc. So literally whoever told us that we should base our worth simply on a number can suck it.

Above anything else I’ve done or learned that has contributed to my new and changing relationship with my body, is the active limitation of comparison, particularly on social media. While it’s likely impossible to completely avoid or eliminate opportunities for comparison in the world we live in, we can drastically decrease our exposure to them. One morning, I was doing my daily Instagram scroll while still laying in bed, and suddenly it hit me that almost every day, I expose myself to so much toxic information and make so many comparisons before even starting my day. I’m no expert, but I think it’s safe to say that having some of our first thoughts of the day be that someone is prettier than us or has a “nicer” body or cooler style, is problematic to our mental health. So right then and there, I went through my following list, and unfollowed every person, celebrity, and influencer who made me feel worse about myself, or who didn’t represent me and what I want to expose myself to. Believe me when I say that contrary to popular belief, you really don’t care that much about what face-tuned photo Kylie Jenner is posting of her incredibly unrealistic life today. Doing this was the best thing I’ve done for my mental health, and I truly cannot recommend it enough. It’s also important for me to note that what you see on social media, whether it’s the fancy vacations or expensive clothes or the perfectly toned body, is part of a manufactured highlight reel. It’s shocking how much a good angle or certain pose can change the appearance of your body, so try to remember that the next time you’re laying on the couch feeling bloated and looking at someone else’s flat stomach and perfectly rounded butt.

Over the following days, I sought out accounts that better represented me, my body, and what is important to me. There are endless fountains of beautiful, influencial people on social media who come in shapes/sizes/colours that are different than the standard we all think we should strive to be. I have been inspired by so many of these people, and I have learned that my body is normal and beautiful and that I am SO much more than my appearance. I’ve realized that over the years, I’ve pushed aside people and opportunities, and I’ve let moments pass me by because I was too busy thinking about how my body looked. I’ve learned that we don’t grow up naturally thinking these negative things about ourselves, but we learn them. So to all of the people controlling who/what we are exposed to in movies/television/all forms media, teaching us what “perfect” is supposed to look like, I’d like to personally send a big “f-you”.

Now, as for why I’ve titled this post (which is slowly turning into a novel), “Becoming Body Neutral” – I’ve heard the term “body neutral” be used by a few people who have inspired me, as a replacement for the popular “body positive”. The growing trend and visibility of the body positive movement makes me excited for the day when people of all shapes and sizes, with all kinds of markings on their skin, can feel represented in media and in fashion, and can know they are beautiful without having to go through the challenges that myself and many of you readers have gone through. But as a starting point at least, I’ll start with body neutral. While it would be real nice and sweet if we could all just truly love what we see in the mirror every day, it’s not realistic to expect that of ourselves.

Body positivity to me is associated with the idea of toxic positivity, which basically is a growing culture of portraying yourself as being happy and positive no matter what. It’s always seeing the bright side, and not allowing yourself to be affected by or open up about anything negative. Positivity is great and all, but when it’s all you allow yourself to feel, you end up pushing a lot of things aside, thinking you don’t have to deal with them. To me, being body positive looks like waking up and staring at your reflection, and saying that you love every part of your appearance and would not change a thing. It’s wearing whatever you want, and not caring about your angles in photos or what people might think of how you look. It’s disregarding the negative thoughts that likely still creep their way into your mind and acting like they’re not there. And in my humble opinion, that’s not realistic. So instead, I’ve been focusing on being body neutral. I don’t look at my cellulite and say “I love you”, and I don’t pinch my stomach in admiration. But when I find myself thinking of something I wish I could change, I try to simply say to myself, “I don’t love this, but I accept it”.

It’s important to look at this as a journey of ups and downs, rather than a destination. I can’t imagine many people wake up one day and realize they love their body and suddenly never think anything negative about it again. Personally, I’ll always care a little about what people think, and I’ll probably always wish I could change certain things. But for the sake of my present and future happiness, and for the experiences that are to come and that I want to live in the moment through without worrying about sucking in my stomach, I will accept my body for what it is in each stage of life. I will do everything I can to properly nourish and move and take care of it, but I will not let the way it looks be the thing that I care about the most. This is what I wish for for everyone reading this, whether you’re already ahead of me in your self-acceptance journey, or if you’re still catching up.

Stolen from Pinterest or from someone who used it on an instagram caption or something, my last message is this: You are incredibly beautiful, and that is the LEAST interesting thing about you.

 

With love and lattes, stretch marks and all,

Jenna

3 thoughts on “Becoming Body-Neutral: A Journey

  1. I absolutely love this Jenna. As I read it I choked back tears to think that you had thoughts about not totally loving your body at such a young age. Then, that emotion led to a total understanding that it’s the way so many people feel all the time, including me. I’ve also lived my whole life with a love/hate relationship and varying feelings of self-worth based on my weight at different points in my life. I’ve always tried to foster self-acceptance in my daughters but I’m saddened to think that some of my own insecurities most likely have worn off on you all, although it’s the last thing I ever wanted for you.

    Despite always wanting to lose those last 5 pounds, I believe I’ve come to a better acceptance as well in my life of where I’m at. My biggest stubbornness comes from the lack of desire to spend the money on buying bigger pants when I need to haha. I love your writing but more importantly, I love you. I’m a very proud mama of who you’ve become.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. aww mom ❤️❤️ love you so much and i’m lucky to have you as a role model. i know almost all young girls feel the things i’ve felt, and i’m happy to be able to put it into words. making our way through these feelings made us stronger. you‘re the best mother and you’ve always made me and my sisters feel so beautiful 😊

      Like

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