Bridging the Gap Between Self Love + Self Improvement
I’ve struggled with body image and food issues for my entire life. I have memories of being 12 or 13 and grabbing extra food from the cupboard and stashing it in my closet ‘just in case.’ I have memories of hating how I looked as early as sixth grade when we had to wear bathing suits at school for swim class. I remember thinking I was morbidly obese and straight up hating myself and now I look at photos of me from that time and I finally understand that I was thin. I remember being in college and feeling fat so for almost two years I lived off salad, chicken, 100 calorie snack packs, and sugar free gum. I was as thin as I have ever been but I was still miserable.
It was then that I decided that my body image issues could be solved with one minor tweak: a breast augmentation. Clearly I was unhappy in my smaller body because I had small breasts. Being an impressionable, miserable, and unconfident 20 year old who was far too obsessed with watching The Girls Next Door, I went under the knife.
I didn’t realize it at the time, though in hindsight it is crystal freakin’ clear, but with that one act I did so much more harm to myself, and not just because of the aggressive act of allowing my body to be cut open. I did emotional and mental harm to a girl who was already dealing with the emotional and mental struggles of someone growing up and coming into their own. Though I didn’t understand what was happening then, I now know that after that surgery I went through my first bout of depression. I felt worse than ever but had to act happy about it because I made my choice and now had to live with it. How embarrassing would it be to let anyone know that something I talked about and looked forward to and wanted so badly was a mistake. I started barely leaving my apartment. I went to work when I had to (I worked part time on campus at this time), and skipped all my classes.
I finally got a break from all these expectations I was shirking when my husband got the chance to move us to Florida for his job. Suddenly I was without the need to force myself to go to school. I was without the need to see people. My husband traveled constantly and was hardly home (sometimes he’d be gone for weeks and home for mere hours before leaving again) and it worked out for us for those three years for me not to have a regular job (this is when I started my first business) so I holed up in our house, 1000 miles away from my former life, and spent hours a day in front of the tv, binging food and Grey’s Anatomy.
It wasn’t long before I was bored of this self loathing and decided that I was going to do something about it. I started working out a lot. I joined a roller derby team. I adopted a vegan diet (hello year round farmers markets). I lost weight again by exercising heavily, even though I was still binge eating on the reg. I looked better on the outside but these changes were superficial and again, it wasn’t long before I quit wanting to go derby practice and blamed it on a fear of being injured. I holed back up in my house and started yet another backwards slide into a heavier body.
Not long after this we found out we were going to be able to move back home as my husband got a new position at work. I was happy to finally get back home and thought being out of my far away isolation would help, but of course, it didn’t. I started exercising heavily again while still overeating and binge eating. I started a new business providing in home pet care which got me out of the house and kept me from being a shut in. I was starting to lose weight again when I got pregnant. I put on 50 pounds, stopped exercising half way through my pregnancy, and gave birth.
Fast forward a few months and I decided I was finally ready to take charge (again) and ‘get my body back.’ Don’t you just hate that phrase? My body hadn’t gone anywhere, it had transformed, and for good reason. It did something that is truly nuts if you think about it. And now it was different but it was still mine and I still had to live in it. But we joined the YMCA, I bought workout clothes for my new size, new shoes (because yeah, my shoe size changed during pregnancy as well. Nuts.), and got to work. TWO WEEKS LATER, I was pregnant again (whoops). I was only ten pounds down from the highest weight of my first pregnancy and I was so upset. I just knew that I was going to hit a higher weight, the highest weight I had ever been, and I was going to be resentful and hate myself. But I kept working out through my first trimester, until the exhaustion of pregnancy and the reality of having a one year old got the best of me. I managed to end my second pregnancy only five pounds higher than my first, though I don’t know how.
Now here I sit, one year postpartum and just now starting my journey of self improvement without self hatred. Of improving my health without taking extreme, and actually unhealthy, measures. The old me thought that exercising too much and eating too little was healthy because the number on the scale went down and that’s all that mattered. I don’t even know how the switch got flipped, but it did. I can finally recognize that I can want to improve AND be okay the way I am. I’m not perfect at this by any means, I have bad days. But I’m doing better and no longer feel myself gravitating towards extremes.
One way I’m doing this for myself is by changing my language. I’m not trying to lose weight, I’m trying to become stronger and more cardiovascularly fit. I don’t want to be thin, I want to not develop diabetes and heart issues like everyone on my maternal side of the family. I want to be in shape enough to play with my kids, run around outside, help them with sports when they’re older, and protect them.
I don’t want to count calories. I want to make sure I’m taking in nutrients. I want to figure out how to create meals that nourish my family without tons of things we don’t need. I want to eat in a way that supports my health.
I don’t want to deprive myself. I want to learn how to stop the binging cycle and make the mental switch between scarcity (having to eat it all now before someone else does) and knowing that I’m an adult and I can go out and get more if I truly want or need.
I want to overcome this negative body image before it it rubs off my kids and my daughter in particular. I don’t ever want my children to think they are not enough because of their body. I want them to learn good habits and good health from me. I want to do better for them.
Sometimes it can be hard to bridge this gap between self love and self improvement. If I loved myself as I am, why do I need to go to the gym multiple times a week? If I love myself as I am, why do I need to read book after book after book about personal development? If I love myself as I am, why do I still feel stupid because I didn’t finish college? It might be hard to see sometimes but there is a difference between loving who you are and wanting to be better. You can love yourself and still want to take strides towards a better self and a better life.
Do I go to the gym now because I hate myself? No, I don’t hate myself. It would be easy to, absolutely. Back to back pregnancies have left me with extra weight, extra skin, pelvic floor issues, bigger boobs than I started with, depression, and severe anxiety. But I don’t hate myself. I want to improve so I can be there for my kids. I want to improve so I can be more confident. I want to know I did everything I could to be happy and healthy.
So, how am I working towards this improved (but always good) self?
I’m learning to eat more nutritiously (thanks to Body Love by Kelly LeVeque).
I’m beginning to work out regularly. Nothing extreme, 30 minutes 2-3 days a week.
I’m always reading some self help/personal development book trying to learn as much as I can, especially about mindset, happiness, and contentment.
I’m following my passions and not apologizing for it.
I’m saving money for my explant surgery.
I’m doing my best and understanding that that is good enough.
So here’s to self love and self improvement. To knowing you are enough but striving for more. To being yourself and doing your best. You’re a fucking badass and you deserve the world.
Yours in business + motherhood,