Ask not what you can do to your body but what your body can do for you. That’s the theme of today’s blog but before we go there, I feel the need, despite a touch of embarrassment, to wander off on a tangent. I had a fracas with Twitter last night, and Twitter came out on top. In trying to shorten my Twitter username @JustAsIAm40Days to @JustAsIAm40, I managed to delete both those accounts. I’m now reinstated at @Just_AsIAm40. So why is this relevant to this blog? It’s actually highly relevant. Why was I messing around on Twitter at 10 o’clock at night in the first place? Well, precisely because I’m a perfectionist and nothing is ever good enough. Not content with having managed to overcome my technophobia to set up a blog, Twitter account and Facebook page on Wednesday in time for the first day of Lent, I felt the need to ‘perfect’ the whole package. But in striving for what I’d deemed to be ‘perfection’, I tied myself in knots and deprived myself of sleep. And now I’m going to have to live with the imperfection of that pesky underscore in my Twitter name! Yes, this really is how my mind works. Now perfectionism can get us a long way in our lives and careers and I’d say it’s taken me pretty far, but at what cost? So I’m doing my utmost to accept my underscore in the same way I’m trying to accept other things I’ve disliked about myself in the past. After all, I entitled this blog ‘Abstaining for 40 days from negative thinking about body, appearance and achievements‘ for a reason. That ‘nothing is ever good enough’ voice is very damaging.
It’s become clear, however, that this self-acceptance business is going to require a herculean effort. It’s not just about positive thinking, I need a total renewing of my mind, a rewiring of my brain. I know prayer and meditation help but stilling my mind is a bit like trying to stop the washing machine from shaking when it’s on the spin cycle. So I’d welcome any more suggestions on overcoming negative and obsessive thought patterns.
Of course, the critical voice in my head thinks one of those suggestions should be ‘Get a life!’ but my more accepting self feels that might be a little harsh. I did ask myself this morning – when I saw the news about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan – whether all this talk of healthy body thoughts and positive self image wasn’t a little trivial and somewhat indulgent. But the eating disorder statistics quoted in yesterday’s blog say otherwise. I’ve wondered before whether I needed some sort of personal tragedy to jolt me out of negative body obsession but then I lost my Dad to cancer 4 years ago and that didn’t stop the cycle. I’ve also seen enough misery, devastation and destruction in my journalism career – from the Asian tsunami to the Haitian earthquake – to develop a better sense of perspective. But that perspective never lasted. I guess the truth is we all have our personal battles, irrespective of what’s going on out there in the world, and they’re all valid. They’re part of us and tragedy won’t necessarily change that. What might, however, is a daily effort to challenge the negative thoughts, to practice gratitude and self acceptance and to turn away from behaviours that have done us harm in the past. So in my case, I’ve learned – once again and the hard way – that once I’ve made a decision I deserve to embrace it fully, that once I’ve set out on a path, I deserve to keep my eyes firmly focused on what’s ahead and not look left or right or back the way I came.
On that note, back to the topic. What has your body done for you today? Focusing on what my body can do rather than what it looks or doesn’t look like is part of my journey to greater self acceptance. Today, my body took me on a cycle around the park. Now, I truly love exercise. I love feeling fit and healthy. Self acceptance for me is definitely not about sitting around on the sofa (or at least not for very long). I’ve never been much of a coach potato. In fact, I’m probably more of a hot potato, constantly on the move. Today, though, I treat exercise as a way to renew my body and mind and to get in touch with nature, rather than a self-punishing calorie-counting regime. I love how my body heats up as I exercise, how my heart rate rises, my cheeks turn rosy and how I sweat or perspire (the latter perhaps more in keeping with my very feminine-looking blog). Our bodies really are miracles. But how many times do I stop to appreciate that my limbs are all in good working order rather than groaning about the aches and pains and the niggling injuries or my body’s shape or size? Today, I’m also appreciating my sense of balance. I’m good on two wheels – scooter or bicycle – and I’m really grateful for that. I feel mobile and free. If this sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet, it really isn’t meant to. It’s novel for me to note down some good things about my body. It’s just sad it’s taken me so long. I’ve been a healthy body weight for many years now but despite that have been ashamed to show my arms, legs or curves. Two days off my 40th birthday, it’s really time for that kind of thinking to stop.
So I can proudly announce that today I successfully challenged my negative body image issues and bought a figure-flattering, feminine dress for my 40th birthday party on Saturday night. Quite an achievement. My dear friend Anne will be proud of me.
One final thought for today: I learned something else from last night’s Twitter debacle to prove that no experience goes to waste. I learned what I’ll call from now on the three Bs: blogging, boundaries and balance. I deserve to set some time boundaries around my work, be that blogging or other work, and around when I log on to Twitter and Facebook. This endeavour could easily take up the space that’s being freed up in my mind by renouncing negative body thoughts and that would be counterproductive. While I’m passionate about writing this blog, balance and self-care have to come first.
>There's certainly lots to agree with here. It's about time that more intelligent, strong, beautiful women took a stand against this relentless assault on women's bodies. For a long while now I've been very consciously critical of the pressures society puts on women and girls to conform to a particular very limited, and unattainable, idealised physical image. Yet despite my feisty stance on this, I find it hard to remain indifferent when my favourite pair of jeans feels that little bit tighter! I'm lucky now to have grown to love the curves I used to hate. But I've definitely had my darker moments, and I've also seen many, many other strong women wage destructive and all-consuming battles against their own bodies. So I applaud this quest to celebrate our beautiful bodies just the way they are. I'm also furious about how highly the odds are stacked against us. It takes a lot of resilience to resist the prevalent images that bombard women so relentlessly – as we walk up escalators in the Underground, open our magazines, switch on our TVs, or browse shop windows full of ludicrously tiny mannequins. These images are not attainable; they are false and distorted. I used to go to the gym, and what always struck me in those hours of boredom on the cross-trainer was the amazing diversity of female bodies. So why are the images that confront us so homogeneous? I want to see images of real women in all their glorious heterogeneity! Thank you Katherine for galvanising momentum around this important and urgent issue.
>Thanks for posting this comment Emily and for your honesty. Fortunately, there's a real movement against idealised images of women in the media and in fashion and I'll be linking to more organisations and individuals that are involved in this movement over the coming weeks on this blog. But I agree it's one thing to criticise these images and another thing to accept our bodies as they are.