“I think the reward for conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.” ~Rita Mae Brown
On Sunday of this week, I got on a scale for the first time in at least six years. And for the first time in almost a decade, I actually looked at the number that appeared when I did.
This, you guys, was a big moment for me.
Mostly because the number didn’t terrify me or change how I felt about myself or really mean anything at all, honestly.
You see, in my mid-twenties, after years of measuring my self-worth by what some stupid scale told me about how many pounds of person were tucked into this body of mine, I decided to completely sever my relationship with scales and weight, and to stop allowing one silly little number to determine how I felt about myself on any given day.
And so, in the past nine years or so, I have only been on a scale once. At a doctor’s office. Because they made me.
And I stood backwards on the scale during that appointment so I wouldn’t have to look at the number as the nurse wrote it down.
Afterward, I breathed a sigh of relief and was certain I’d never get on a scale again ever. At least not by choice.
Until Sunday. When I finally did.
The full story behind why I decided to step on a scale doesn’t matter. But I will say curiosity was my primary motivation. Curiosity about what I actually weigh at this point. Curiosity about how seeing that weight reflected in a concrete fashion might affect me.
And so, although I was secretly afraid my self-worth might suffer if the number I saw was significantly — or even slightly — higher than I was expecting, curiosity got the best of me.
As did my determination to not give so much power to something so unimportant.
I went into the bathroom, stripped down to my underwear, took a deep breath, jumped on the scale, saw a number appear (which, admittedly, was slightly higher than I’d expected), and thought to myself, Huh, that’s interesting. Then went back downstairs to join my boyfriend on the couch.
Totally anti-climactic. In the best of ways.
Because that number? It felt totally insignificant. And definitely inconsequential to my sense of self worth.
Which felt huge considering there was a period of time during my undergraduate years when I was weighing myself 3-4 times per day, with my feelings about myself and my ability to enjoy my life each day existing in direct relation to the numbers I saw on the scale.
It was terrible and destructive and completely lacking in joy. And stifling to my self-expression.
And just completely heartbreaking in retrospect.
And it got in the way of my ability to do good, meaningful work and be helpful to other people and have healthy relationships and be my best self.
Hating my body and focusing so much energy on how it looked and what it weighed was time-consuming and energy-draining and such a waste of my energetic resources.
And also: It just really, really sucked.
Which is why I wish I could make sure that no one else has to feel that way ever.
Except I know that I can’t.
What I can do is take what I’ve learned and share it. And continue to love and appreciate my body in spite of its imperfections.
Hell, because of them.
I can choose to define my self-worth in other ways. And then encourage others — women, especially — to do the same.
Because I want us all to truly engage with our bodies and love them and use them as agents for massive (or middle-sized or even tiny but important) change.
A wise woman once suggested that I turn my attention away from what my body looks like and how others see me and focus instead on how I feel. Which has been a surprisingly profound shift for me. And has really changed the conversation I’m having with my body — and myself — on a daily basis.
How do you feel in your body?
When you’re tempted to focus on your physical imperfections and worry about whether or not your appearance conforms to an arbitrary (and totally boring) societal standard, ask yourself this question instead.
How do I feel in my body?
The answer might surprise you. And it just might lead you down an unexpected path towards greater self-acceptance.
If you’re willing to pay attention to the answer.
Over the past 9+ years, I’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy to figuring out how to live in harmony with myself in this body. A body to which I am forever adjoined — for better or for worse.
And I’ve learned the hard way that our world fosters disconnection — from ourselves, from each other — and that finding connection in a disconnected world means consciously choosing it on a continual basis.
Which starts with really listening to your own body and actually feeling what you’re feeling.
A skill that most of us have to (re)learn in adulthood.
And a skill that, I believe, is essential to every other aspect of your life. One that can nurture a sense of self and self-worth that goes much deeper than any number — pant size, dress size, weight — and is rooted in how your body feels and what your body can do instead of how it looks on any given day.
Acupuncture has played a big role in helping me cultivate this skill. Which is, ultimately, what I hope to offer others when they step into my treatment room.
But there are a handful of other tools I’ve employed over the years that have been fundamental to my capacity to tune into and appreciate and see my body as an ally. And to get on a scale without giving a rat’s (or anyone else’s) ass what number shows up on the screen.
Here are three of my favorites:
1. MOVE your body. Daily, if possible.
And do it for the way it feels. Find others who are doing it for the same reasons and then move together.
I grew up playing competitive team sports (soccer, mostly), where there was a surprisingly ever-present undertone of wanting to look a certain way even while athletic performance purported to be the primary motivation. It was a tough act to balance. Once I completed my final year of college soccer, I resigned myself to working out alone forever, tired of comparison and always feeling less than and missing out on the good feelings because I was worried about my size and my shape and just ugggghhhh.
I recently started working out at a place where the focus is absolutely on feeling better and getting fitter and testing your boundaries. Where I have never once heard anyone utter anything about how anybody (or any body) looks. Where the first question before every workout is How does your body feel?
Unbelievably refreshing. Try it.
2. Manage your media intake. SERIOUSLY.
Stop reading publications and looking at photos that make you feel like shit. The ones that glorify a certain body type. Especially when that body type looks nothing like your own.
Start looking around and appreciating real bodies. Of all shapes and sizes. And realize that the people you love and admire all look completely different from one another. And that you love and admire them anyway.
And probably think they’re all beautiful. Because they are.
(And P.S. You are, too. Beautiful, that is.)
3. LOVE yourself. Literally. (Gasp!)
I might lose some of you here, but I don’t care. Because I really believe that tapping into and exploring your sexuality can be a super powerful way to truly engage with your body and understand how amazing it is.
(And ladies? I’m mostly looking at you on this one.)
I grew up being told that my sexual urges were shameful and should be repressed. And I sort of believe this is when I started feeling badly about my body. Which, for the record, totally sucks.
Luckily, I’ve healed the majority of these old wounds. And stepping into myself as a sexual being and proudly owning it has been empowering and confidence-boosting and has helped me appreciate my body in new and unexpected ways (ahem) that have nothing to do with how it looks.
As a final thought, I would like to acknowledge that this process — of falling in love with yourself, of learning to inhabit and actually like your body — is not easy.
Believe me, I know. I’ve been there.
But I do believe that it’s possible. Even if right now, in this moment, it feels entirely out of reach.
And I also believe it’s important. And can profoundly enhance your life.
It’s also absolutely worth the effort.
So, let’s change the conversation about bodies.
Because all this talk about how they look? BORING.
And it completely misses the point.