Despite what John Mayer says to the contrary, I've never thought of my body as a wonderland. Adolescent weight struggles and a bad bout of cystic acne left me feeling extremely negative towards my own appearance until my late 20s. Being pregnant helped me see that my body is made to do more than look pretty, but I still find plenty of time each day to obsess over things like the size of my pores, the shape of my nose, the number on the scale and my lack of a thigh gap. Even though I'm proud of my body for all it's done for me and given me, there are plenty of moments when I catch myself saying negative things about the way I look.
Sometimes I get so fixated on a particular "problem" with my appearance that I spend excessive amounts of time trying to fix it. I'll catch a glimpse of my under-eye bags after a rough night of soothing nightmares for my twin toddler sons and then I'll spend hours researching the best under-eye concealer. I've even been known to go out to buy said concealer that same day. Or I'll feel my arm brush against the side of my chest while I'm playing with the kids and decide it's too flabby, and then I'll force myself to do pushups until I collapse in a heap on the carpet. I've realized that I'm not exactly sweating self-love, and that's not something I want my sons to see.
I know these self-loathing tendencies aren't good for me, but beyond my own desire to love myself a little more, I also don't want my kids to grow up with such a poor example of self-esteem. I decided to try and and abolish my inner mean girl once and for all once by not say anything negative about my body for a whopping 10 days. Here's what I learned.
Day 1: Just Call Me Regina George
I barely looked up from brushing my teeth on day one in order to avoid facing my reflection, and since I didn't have any plans to leave the house, I dressed myself in clothes that were comfortable and not too tight in an effort to not say bad things about myself. But the kids were cranky and work was stressful, so before I even knew what I was doing, after the kids fell asleep I wandered into the bathroom and started picking at my face and looking over my body for things I didn't like (pretty much everything).
I went to bed feeling sad that I couldn't even make it a single day without thinking negatively about my body, but I was hopeful that day two would be different.
Day 2: Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
This morning when I was getting dressed I started criticizing my stomach aloud to my husband. He always says supportive and complimentary things about my body, and reminded me gently about the experiment. I was ashamed to admit I had forgotten — again — and realized just how conditioned I am to think mean thoughts about myself. I covered the mirror with my bathrobe and tucked the scale into the closet for good measure, since these are definitely triggers for me. Doing so felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
Day 3: I Feel Good For A Change
It's only been a few days of trying to not say or think negative things about my body and I already feel like a different person. My whole attitude seems more positive. I'm more patient with the kids, I'm kinder to my partner. And I'm more confident in my work — writing went super smoothly and quickly today because I wasn't second-guessing myself the way I usually do. I've beginning to realize how spending all that time in the mirror analyzing and berating myself for my faults trickles into other areas in my life, namely my work. When I'm not confident about the way I look, everything else follows suit.
But on day three, because I got rid of my triggers, I'm finding that I'm a happier person when I make an effort not to get down on myself for the way my body looks.
Day 4: A Slight Set Back
Even though I have a habit of getting down on myself about my body, I also enjoy showing some skin once in a while. Today it was finally warm enough for shorts and I was so excited to feel the sun again (through a layer of sunscreen, obviously). When I pulled on last summer's shorts, however, they fit, but, they weren't as loose as I would have liked. Plus, I was partially blinded from the sight of my pale thighs after a long winter in leggings. In short, I was disappointed in how I looked.
Old Me would have obsessed over my legs the entire time I was walking with the stroller, and I would have said what I was thinking out loud to my partner and within earshot of the kids, but because of this experiment, I tried my best to shake it off and focus on the fact that it was warm and sunny, and to stop focusing on the ways every little inch of my body had somehow done me wrong. I still had a couple cruel thoughts while we were out for a walk, but I managed not to say anything, and I tried not to dwell on my legs too much.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that even though I wasn't saying these things aloud, I was still thinking them, and is that really even any better? It's probably not, but when I was outside with the boys, I had less time to care about the way I looked because I was actually just pretty grateful to not be cooped up inside.
Day 5: I'm Feeling Myself
I woke up this morning feeling so good that I wanted to look in the mirror just to gaze upon my beauty. I don't know what happened, but day five felt like a huge victory in the Feel Good department from the moment I opened my eyes until the moment I closed them. I took the time to put on makeup, and I wasn't even going to Target. Who am I?
Day 6: Keeping It Up
Day six meant date night, and I ate more than I should have at dinner, because I am powerless against melted cheese and tomatillo salsa. Usually I would have spent the drive home lamenting the shape of my belly and my lack of self control to my partner, but today I decided to forgive myself for over-eating. I told myself I can't change the past, I can only change what I eat for my next meal, and reminded myself that even if I did eat too much, it was delicious and made me happy, and that's absolutely OK. Giving myself this pep talk on the drive home helped me let go of some of the guilt I carry around concerning my food. I suffered from binge-eating when I was younger so my relationship with food will always be tricky, but on this particular occasion, I let myself enjoy the night free from my negativity. I still looked at my reflection before I put on my pajamas that night, but I spent less time trying to suck in my stomach than usual, so, progress.
Day 7: Let's Get It On
Before this experiment, part of my nightly routine was critiquing my body while I put on lotion after a shower. Since my partner usually see bedtime as the time to try and get some action, I typically going into sex with my head filled with all these negative thoughts about my body — not what you want when you're trying to stay in the moment with someone else. Because of the experiment I've been using my lotion time as a time to think of things I like about my body, and when that doesn't work, I put on a song to dance and dance around, since that always makes me feel sexy. I don't care how ridiculous it might sound, because it works. When I give myself less time to focus on every inch of my body, I don't obsess over all the ways it looks "wrong."
I'm also happy to report that my positive outlook is working wonders on my sex drive. Most nights I'm the one initiating the sex, and I'm less concerned with whether or not we turn out the lights.
Day 8: There's Hair ... Where?
My contact was bothering me today and went I got up close to the mirror to try and see where it was hiding in my eye socket, I was shocked to find the beginnings of what looked like a prepubescent 13-year-old's goatee on the lower half of my face. I'm usually scrupulous about keeping the Lairds — my stray facial hairs — at bay, but this week I slacked off. So once I spotted it, I immediately remedied the situation.
Even though I was embarrassed for myself, I realized no one else had said anything or given me any strange looks, so either I interact with very open-minded and polite people or perhaps my mind makes my facial hair out to be a bigger deal than it really is. (It's obviously the latter.) I'm still going to wax and pluck, because it's what I prefer, but maybe I don't need to examine my face every single day for rouge chin hairs.
Day 9: Self-Confidence Is Contagious
I'm not proud of it, but my kids have started to mimic certain phrases of mine like, "Gotta work these thighs, " or "Belly, belly everywhere," and when I hear them repeat those phrases, I am horrified by the way the things I've said have manifested in my boys' minds. But today Remy pulled up his shirt to look at his stomach and didn't say a single thing about it, and that made me so happy. Even though I've let the odd negative thought worm its way into my brain here or there this week, at least I have proof positive that my kids really do watch look to me to set an example about body image. That alone is enough to make me determined to keep up with the no negative talk even after this experiment is over.
I also realize that I've placed so much of my own self-worth on my body, and that's not something I want my kids to see, emulate, or internalize. They are good and worthy and wonderful people, and the fact that they are that way has absolutely nothing to do with the way their bodies look. I want to set a good example for my sons, and I'm realizing that my penchant for negative self-talk is doing just the opposite. Even though they're still little I want to do everything I can ensure that they have a positive outlook on their bodies, and I want them to carry those beliefs over when it comes to the ways they treat other people. Plus, as the mother of boys, it's extra important to me that they understand how to treat women, and I don't want them growing up with a mom who's literally put all her worth into her weight.
Day 10: Seeing Myself Again For The First Time
When I woke up on the final day of my experiment I didn't rush myself out of the bathroom or try and distract myself from my reflection with music. I look a good long look in the mirror and let my brain go where it wanted. After a few minutes it (unfortunately) started to hone in on those parts of my body I always struggle with, like my too long nose and weird birth marks, but I was happy that my first reaction wasn't to start talking badly about myself. It took time to start thinking those negative thoughts, and so I'm taking that away as a victory. Obviously 10 days isn't a long enough period of time to totally change the way I treat my body, but it's been long enough that I realize how valuable it is for me not to measure my ability and my self-worth solely off of the way I look. Self-love, for me, is a marathon, not a sprint, and it feels good to know that I've taken a step in the right direction.
Have I Banished Negative Self-Talk For Good?
I'm far from perfect, and I'm sure I'll have bad days when I let self-doubt creep in and make me think and say unkind things about my body. But after making a conscious effort to stop being so hard on myself over my appearance, I've realized just how much of my mood I'm in control of. I was a happier mom, employee, friend, and partner when I stop being so negative about my body. So on the days when I don't think I can be kind to myself for my own sake, hopefully thinking about how being nice to myself helps me be nicer to others will motivate me to keep the negative thoughts out of my head.