It’s 2:39 in the morning and I can’t sleep. I finished an episode of Girls about an hour ago and it brought to the surface some things that I usually manage to keep sitting below. It sounds stupid, I know, it’s a TV show, but fuck, when things hit you, they hit you. The show triggered a lot of difficult feelings for me, one of them being my hatred for my body. My body, that’s something I don’t ever talk about here.
You know it’s funny, we do everything we can to present this image of perfection to one another. But here I go, talking about how imperfect I actually feel. Some mornings I look in the mirror and I feel disgusted with myself. I hate what I see. I’ve gained 15 pounds in the past year and I agonize over it. What I wouldn’t give to have my old body back. And here’s the really sad thing, when I was 15 pounds lighter, all I could think was how much I needed to lose 10 pounds.
I’ve been reading this book lately, The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, and there’s a segment that really got me. She talks about loving yourself – loving yourself now. That that doesn’t mean you can finally love yourself once you’ve lost 10 pounds. It means now, now. Too bad if you’re not perfect yet. God that woke me up. That’s what I do to myself. I put myself in this constant state of waiting, where I’m not allowed to be satisfied until I reach this goal. And even if I do reach my goal, it’s inevitably not enough.
So the solution to my problems is seemingly simple. I just need to love myself now. Well fuck. Who the hell knows how to do that? That’s probably the hardest thing in the world to do. But Brené goes into more depth. She explains that there is a connection between the way you feel about yourself and perfectionism. She then explains that there is a fundamental difference between perfectionism and self-improvement. “Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth. Perfectionism is a belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame.” Whereas self improvement is about asking how you can improve and be healthier in a non-judgmental fashion.
What Brené’s book has helped me to realize is that I need to stop punishing myself. There’s no point in looking at myself in the mirror every day, going down the road of disgust and wishing I had a flatter stomach or smaller arms. Those thoughts aren’t ever going to help me feel happier, nor are they going to get me anywhere in life. I need to stop myself when I start to go there and instead remind myself to have some compassion. There are things I like about my body. I can focus on that and at the same time I can strive to be happier and healthier.
From a practical point of view this means making a few changes. First off, I need to stop obsessing about numbers. I need to leave the scale alone because that doesn’t realistically reflect how healthy I am. Secondly, I need to stop using food and a punishment or a reward system. Healthy eating should be about health. And third, I need to find joy in self improvement. Going to the gym has a tendency to be perfection-focused for me. That doesn’t mean I need to stop going to the gym altogether, but I do need to change my self-talk when I’m there. I also tend to enjoy myself more when I’m doing dance class or playing badminton for example. I find that way I’m getting healthy and having fun without concentrating on my body image.
So where do I go from here? After all, internalizing what you’ve learned is completely different to simply having learned it. Brené’s book has helped me to open my eyes to my dysfunctional thoughts, but trying to reform the way my perfectionist brain thinks and my unhealthy habits is something I will always have to work at. There are going to be days where I look in the mirror and I lose the battle of having some compassion, but on the other hand there will be days that I will win that battle. It will be a slow and trying process to tip the scale in my favour, but it’s a process that I can’t afford to give up on.