Painting by: Aleah Chapin
One issue that comes up again and again for Woolfers—and for women in general—is the question: How can I love my body, “warts” (read cellulite, “meno-pots,” sagging breasts) and all? On our Facebook page, women have suggested the following wise responses to this question, echoing the advice of psychologists, nutritionists, doctors, feminists, and other experts:
Keep a Gratitude Journal.
Neuroscientists have found that expressing gratitude activates the part of your brain that releases dopamine, so that by keeping a gratitude journal, for example, and thanking your body for all the great things it does for you, you, in turn, feel amazing, and can even change the behavior that makes you feel bad about your body (and yourself) to begin with.
Say a Mantra.
Behavioral psychologists tell us that when we replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations, the negative thoughts become less frequent, while the positive thoughts become more habitual; the trick is to make sure the affirmations are realistic and truthful. For example, if you begin to think, “I hate my thighs,” don’t replace that thought with, “My thighs are beautiful,” because you won’t believe it. (Also: who cares?) Instead, replace your negative thought with a positive affirmation more along the lines of, “I will not determine my self-worth based on my appearance.” (For this and other positive affirmations, some of which you may find helpful click here.)
Be Instagram Wary.
Researchers have found that Instagram is the worst social media site for mental health and well-being. Since personal photos (which can be altered and filtered, of course) take center stage, the site received the worst scores for body image and anxiety, according to Time. If you don’t want to give up your Instagram habit (and I don’t), then at least fill your feed with great women to follow: you can start by following @thewoolfer, of course, and then check out who/what they’re “following.” My personal inspirations also include: bodyposipanda; thebodyisnotanapology; curatedbygirls; thevulvagallery; baddiewinkle, and halleberry.
Toss Your Scale.
If you feel your self-worth is at all linked to a number on the scale, if you’re happy when the number is on the low side (whatever that means to you), and upset when the number creeps up, then experts say the best thing to do is get rid of it. Remember, your friends and family members don’t love you because of how much you weigh, but because of who you are. Not having a scale around helps you keep that point straight.
Be Your Body’s Best Friend.
Woolfer, bra fitter and coach, and self-love advocate Kimmay shows us how in her blog post titled “How to Be Your Body’s Best Friend”.
Maybe Don’t Try to Love Your Body at All.
Emily of XO Jane says she’s doesn’t love her body, and she doesn’t feel like she should have to. What she wants to do is stop thinking about it at all.
Think About What Your Body Does by Exercising.
The most helpful piece of advice—at least, the one that has helped me the most—is to think about what your body can do, as opposed to what it looks like. Perhaps the best way to do this is by embarking on an exercise routine.
I’ve been exercising regularly—a combination of cardio and strength training at the gym, plus barre3 classes (which I look forward to all week), as well as a little yoga—for a year and a half now. At first, I’m sure I sounded like my wheezing nine-year-old pug every time I hit the treadmill, but I didn’t care. I stuck with it, and I have come to love exercising again. It’s a stress buster. It’s ME time. It’s self-care. It makes me feel strong, confident, healthy, and powerful.
Research has shown that not only is exercise good for you (it makes your heart and bones stronger, lowers your risk for chronic disease, keeps your weight under control, reduces feelings of anxiety and depression, and increases your self-esteem), it also increases your sex drive. Studies have shown that women who are physically active report greater sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction than women who are sedentary, and that women who frequently exercise become aroused more quickly and are able to reach an orgasm faster and more intensely. In other words, if someone could crush this thing into powder and sell it by the pill (Want to live longer? Be happier? Feel sexier?), it would undoubtedly cost about a million dollars a pop. (The pharmaceutical companies would make sure of that.) And all we have to do is lace up our sneakers and go!
Of course, I know that some of us don’t have the option to lace up our sneakers and go. I know that some are in wheelchairs. Some are not healthy enough to join gyms. For these women, feeling good about their bodies—even what their bodies can do—is a different kind of struggle, one I respect. Those of us who try to make peace with our healthy bodies are truly privileged.
I try to keep a gratitude journal, or at least count my blessings daily. I admit that rather than mantras, I tend to employ magical thinking when negative thoughts come into my mind. (“Look at that cellulite!” “You know, that’ll go away if you stop looking in the mirror.” *Turns away from mirror.* “Hey, that worked!”) When I’m on Instagram and come upon the pictures of the perfect and filtered, I remind myself of Theodore Roosevelt’s words: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” (If this doesn’t help, I tell myself that my inner life is richer than theirs.) I do have a scale, but it’s been many years since I’ve tangled my self-worth or my mood to the number on it. I take Kimmay’s advice and treat my body the way I would a best friend—though I admit, I don’t always succeed. (Am I being a “good listener” to my body, the way I’d be to a best friend, when my body is dead tired but I force it to stay up until one in the morning reading “just one more chapter”?) I’ve come to love my body for what it can do, for how many miles it’s walked, for how far it’s taken me (literally and figuratively), for birthing my daughter, for all the people it’s loved and hugged, and most of all: for keeping me alive.
And just maybe, after 40, keeping us alive is the best reason to love our bodies of all.
Kelly Dwyer is the author of the novels The Tracks of Angels, Self-Portrait with Ghosts, and the forthcoming Ghost Mother; she is also a playwright and freelance writer whose articles often appear on www.FirstForWomen.com, where she writes about issues concerning women over 40. A native Californian, Kelly was graduated from Oberlin College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and now lives outside Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, 16 year-old daughter, and pug, where she dreams of warmer winters.