Growing up, I was always finding something wrong with how I looked.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to lose weight and have a flat stomach.
Those two thoughts would consume my entire mind every single day. It was a constant loop of wanting to lose weight and what I could do to achieve it. My mind would constantly be dreaming of different diets I could try or some new exercise routine that would be the answer to all my problems.
I remember comparing my body to all the other girls around me in school. It was like an automatic reaction; every time I saw a girl walk by, I would think about how she looked compared to me.
And the thought was always that I needed to change something about my looks; I was always the lesser of the two.
Sadly, most girls I know grew up thinking this way, too. Society told us that we had to be thin to be accepted. Thankfully, I see the narrative changing, and we are exposed to all types of bodies instead of just one. But growing up in the 90s and 2000s, it was not so inclusive.
Every TV show, movie, and advertisement had the same type of body: thin. Low-rise jeans and crop tops were all the rage. If you couldn’t wear them then you needed to diet or feel terrible about yourself.
These negative beliefs about my body stayed with me for almost three decades. I wasted so much precious energy and brain space hating the way I looked. I let these beliefs fool me into thinking I couldn’t find love and no one would desire me until I lost 20 pounds.
I took these beliefs to be 100 percent true and did everything I could to change my external appearance.
But it wasn’t until my mid-20s that I suffered from extreme burnout from overexercising and undereating, which forced me to question everything.
My five-day-per-week gym class routine paired with only eating chicken and broccoli was seriously affecting my health. I couldn’t keep it up anymore and had to get real with myself.
I had to stop chasing this idea of perfection and the belief that everything would be better if I lost weight. Because here’s the thing, when I did lose the weight, my confidence was the lowest it’s ever been. I was so hyperfocused on my body that nothing was ever good enough. So if losing weight wasn’t this magic pill, what was I even doing?
I made a promise to myself that I would try something different for the first time ever. I would finally focus on my mental health over my clothing size. I wasn’t going to waste any more years of my life at war with myself. I had to find self-acceptance and start loving the person in the mirror.
So I dove into the world of self-development and read every book I could get my hands on. I sought out coaches and enrolled in courses in order to rewire my mindset. I wasn’t allowing myself to be the victim anymore. I knew that if I wanted to find happiness and love, it had to start with me.
Once I started to accept and love the person in the mirror, everything changed. My confidence grew faster than any diet could ever provide. Instead of finding flaws in the way I looked, I discovered all the amazing qualities about myself.
And now sitting here, many years later, I realize that the path to my dream life started with body acceptance. I am in a loving and committed relationship, I am inspiring women through my writing and coaching, and I am fully confident in the woman that I am, inside and out.
It may have been a bumpy ride, but it was worth it. And as I continue to learn more and expand the relationship I have with myself, I realize the importance of acceptance. Because self-acceptance is the root of all desires you wish to fulfill.
Here are five life-changing lessons that this wild ride has taught me with some reflections for your own journey:
1. Your self-worth cannot be based solely on how you look.
When you base all your worth and confidence on how you look, what you are really saying is that there is nothing else special about you. That all you have to offer is your physical body. And I know that is not true!
You are ignoring all the gifts you have been given. External looks absolutely do change, so why focus on that? Instead, start to think of all the things you love about yourself that aren’t physical.
Maybe you are an incredible listener and caregiver. Or maybe you love to make people laugh and be an entertainer. I know for a fact that you have many gifts to share with the world and others; you just have to uncover them and display them proudly.
Reflection: Do you equate your confidence and worth based on your physical looks? What are nonphysical aspects about yourself that you love?
2. No amount of dieting or exercising will lead to happiness if you still have underlying negative beliefs about yourself.
For years, I was chasing the wrong thing for happiness. I thought that just one more diet or one more gym class would be the thing I needed. I thought if I “failed” at one diet then I just wasn’t trying hard enough, so I had to switch to a new one.
I thought if I wasn’t going to the gym six days a week then I was slacking off and being lazy. But when my exhaustion forced me to stop, I realized that it was never about the diets or exercises. It was all about my underlying beliefs about myself and my worth.
Reflection: Do you have a strict physical routine but still struggle mentally? Do you often use exercise as a distraction or punishment for yourself?
3. The right people will love you for your authentic self instead of an image you’re trying to uphold.
In the quest for self-love and acceptance, you will realize that you are lovable just as you are right now. The same goes for dating and the people in your life.
Those who truly love and care about you will never expect you to look a certain way. If you think you need to diet or weigh a certain amount to find love, you will attract the wrong people.
Start by unapologetically accepting and loving yourself first; then you will see high-quality people enter into your life. Once you show yourself the kind of love and care that you deserve, you won’t accept anything less from others.
Reflection: Are you trying to change your physical appearance in hopes that you will find love? Do you equate your attraction purely to how you look? What are some nonphysical aspects about yourself that a partner would love?
4. Your underlying beliefs and fears may not be your own, but it is your job to heal them.
Our brains are usually filled with all kinds of fears and doubts at some point in our lives. But have you ever stopped to think about their origins? Once you start investigating them, you will soon realize that many are not your own.
Maybe your mother had an unhealthy body image and passed those on to you. Or maybe a close friend judged how you looked and you still are affected by it. What we don’t realize is that these outside opinions and external beliefs can quickly turn into our own beliefs.
While it may seem unfair that you carry these, you have every power in yourself to heal them and move on from them for good. This is where working with a coach or healer is incredibly powerful.
Reflection: Do you hold onto negative beliefs about your body, some even so intense that they follow you daily? Are you willing to do the work to heal them once and for all? Start to think of ways you can confront these fears and break up with them for good!
5. True self-acceptance comes from accepting all parts of you.
This is the most important lesson that I can teach you. True, unbreakable confidence comes from complete self-acceptance. Even those parts you wish were different, otherwise known as your shadow side. The side of you that you may be ashamed of or try to hide.
Once I realized that it was okay to be sensitive or that I needed more downtime than others, I started to see those for the gifts they truly are.
I also had to accept that I may not ever reach some arbitrary goal weight, but I am still deserving of everything I desire. Accepting these parts of me is what made those limiting beliefs disappear.
Self-love and acceptance do not mean you have to trick yourself into loving yourself. True acceptance means that you recognize that you are not perfect, but you are still deserving of everything you desire.
Reflection: What are your “shadow sides” and how do they show up for you? In what ways can you start showing acceptance of the parts you are ashamed of? Start to imagine that you have full self-acceptance, how would you feel?