As someone who’s struggled with body image myself, this story hits close to home.
Shannon Bradley-Colleary, a 46-year-old blogger at The Woman Formerly Known as Beautiful, hasn’t always loved her body. In fact, 20 years ago, she hated it.
In addition to her own negative thoughts of herself, she had a boyfriend at the time who was always pointing out her cellulite telling her that it was unattractive. Glad she dumped that guy.
But unlike most women who would otherwise hide those feelings away and let negative thoughts fester, Shannon decided to take a look at her body from a new perspective. She had artistic nude photos taken of herself and when she saw the results, the negative thoughts she had of herself disappeared.
Where she expected to see a pudgy woman with cellulite and heavy thighs, she saw a beautiful, healthy young woman who had no reason to doubt herself or hate her body. No problem areas, no cellulite, just a beautiful body.
“I was just blown away. I thought my body was beautiful,” she said. “I didn’t see any cellulite…but instead that I could stand to gain a few pounds.”
But 20 years later after getting married and having kids of her own, Shannon arrived right back where she was before with thoughts negativity and self doubt toward her body. So, she did what she’d known to do before and had the nude photo session recreated, and then compared the two. And although she initially felt discouraged with the results, after another look and some encouragement from her husband Shannon liked what she saw.
“It’s kind of funny now because I realize that I filled out. And to be a healthy woman in your 40s, you’re not supposed to look like you did when you were 20.”
Shannon’s conclusion from the experience? “Love the body you have now,” she says. “Because if you can love and embrace the body you have now, no matter what age and what size it is, you’re going to be kind to it.”
I couldn’t agree more. As a 17-year-old high school graduate, I’d never had issues with my body. I was 5’8”, 120 pounds and toned from years of sports. My friends would often comment on how thin I was, and if I’m honest, I liked it. It made me feel good. But what I didn’t realize at the time was that all of my confidence was built two things: Other people’s thoughts of me and my weight – both of which were destined to fluctuate, and my views of myself followed suit.
My first year in college I gained close to 20 pounds, which left me feeling terrible. I worked out harder, tried to cut back on unhealthy foods and swore off desserts forever. But a few binge eating episodes and missed workouts later, I was left feeling defeated. At one point I even swore to eat nothing but apples until I lost the weight. How foolish of me.
However, I am thank to say that although it was a long and difficult road to loving my body for what it is, I’m now miles away from where I was before in terms of body image. I like that my body has some curves. I don’t beat myself up that I’m not a size 2 anymore because I shouldn’t be. And if I’m craving an ice cream cone, I have one, because life is short and I don’t intend to deny myself when I’m perfectly deserving of an occasional, or dare I say daily, treat.
I liked what psychiatrists and Today Show contributors Gail Saltz and Harriette Cole had to say on the topic.
“You are more than your body. And looking backward never really works. Because whatever you were back then is not what you are now,” says Cole. “But you have so much more to bring to your life than that 20-year-old body.”
And regarding how our bodies change as we age, which is another battle I anticipate fighting, Saltz says it’s OK to mourn the changes we experience.
“Aging is about acquiring many things and losing some things. And it’s OK. Obviously as we age, we move toward mortality…it’s OK to mourn the losses. You acquire a lot of wonderful things as you age – like children and wisdom and enrichment – and you have to appreciate the enrichment that you have.”
The way we view our bodies often determines the way we carry ourselves, how confident we are, how we dress and even how we interact with other people. So although body image can seem like a trivial, surface issue to some, it actually goes much deeper. And though I anticipate having body image concerns throughout the rest of my life because I’m human and imperfect and can’t help but be critical of myself, I love gathering bits of knowledge like this from women like Shannon and moving forward with a healthier perspective of who I am and why a number on a scale or the size my jeans doesn’t matter.