Oh vanity — we all have a little bit, right? We all want to look our best at least some of the time, don’t we? I’ll admit that the beginning of my journey into the health and wellness field was fueled by equal parts vanity and curiosity. I wanted to know why I ate better food and less of it than friends who were thinner. I wanted to know why my skin wouldn’t clear up. I wanted to know why I could work so hard in the gym and never lose any weight, why I had constant dark circles under my eyes. I wanted to pick apart everything I didn’t like about myself and fix it with food and nutrition. That’s what got me started on my path, and to be completely transparent, some of those feelings of insecurity haven’t gone away even though some of the problems have been solved.
The truth is I’ve been playing tug of war with my self-image my entire life. Most people who know me — even those who know me well — consider me one of the most confident people they know. For the most part, it’s true that my confidence is above average, but there’s definitely a darker side to my self-image. I have battled those few “vanity pounds” my whole life. I’ve struggled with my shape, been frustrated with the size of my waist, gone as far as asking my best friend and roommate in college to say, “Don’t eat that, cow,” if I wanted to eat something fattening while I was dieting (he refused — good friend that he is).
Confession: I’ve been known to look at an old picture — say from high school — and think “Wow, I thought I was fat then! Look how thin I was. Now I’m really fat.”
Raise your hand if you’ve done this.
CUT IT OUT!!!
Old Habits Die Hard
I grew up hearing my tiny grandmother say, “I gotta get rid of this belly!” It’s something I’ve always made a joke about (it was super endearing), but in retrospect, I wonder if it didn’t affect the way I saw myself and my value when I was forming my identity. I learned that being small/skinny was a better way to be — and this message was reinforced everywhere around me in the usual ways: TV, magazines, pop stars (I was obsessed with Madonna as a kid). Nothing new here, right?
In the 80’s people were obsessed with leotards, leggings, and sweat bands. I had a “workout” birthday party in elementary school. I practiced Jane Fonda exercise videos and danced to Body Electric on TV at a laughably young age. I was strangely obsessed with Karen Carpenter and her anorexia story, even though I myself have never had an eating disorder.
In pictures and in life, at around age 8, I started noticing that my waist was bigger than those of my friends. I was tiny, but I was already comparing myself to everyone else. I was shorter and thicker than my friends and it bothered me, even then. Before puberty, before boyfriends, I noticed it and it bothered me. And that’s been the case my whole life, even at my absolute fittest.
I got married in 2012, and I lost about 12 pounds leading up to my wedding. I’ve since gained nearly all of it back. It took me almost three years, but rest assured, it’s back. At my wedding weight, I was obsessive. I weighed myself literally every day. I monitored all my food. I freaked out if I gained one pound. And still, at my goal weight, I wanted to be shaped differently. I wanted to lose weight in different places. I looked in the mirror and squeezed my belly and wished it would go away. I bought clothes just a tiny bit snug to “motivate me” to lose more.
Over the last 2.5 years, I’ve slowly inched back toward my original weight — a weight I was fine with until I started losing. But I wasn’t until I got hurt that the last 7(ish) pounds brought me back to square one. And it was really bothering me until I realized something I wish I’d realized a long time ago.
The Eye of the Beholder
I realized that my mood was more a determinant of what I saw in the mirror than my weight.
I realized that if I’m feeling good about myself, I look awesome in the mirror at any weight. I realized that 12 pounds ago, I was trapping myself in this paranoid box obsessing about every little thing I ate, and it was sucking the fun out of being a thinner me. Maybe I’ll return to that weight now that I’m back in the gym consistently, and maybe I won’t. Either way though, I want to be HAPPY in my own skin and not constantly monitoring the scale in the crazy, militant way I was 12 pounds ago.
When I look at the pictures from my honeymoon, I might see the slight difference between then and now, but I realize today that I didn’t feel any better about myself back then — and that’s what matters in the end. Back then I felt desperate to hold on to my new thinner body, yet still unsatisfied with it, which made the accomplishment of losing the weight bittersweet. I didn’t appreciate it as much as I’d fantasized I would before I lost it. In fact, at 130 lbs, I felt a little weak and tired and actually chose to put a few pounds back on.
I realized that I am happier now, not standing on a scale every day, enjoying indulgences in moderation without guilt. I realized that chasing those few vanity pounds just makes me feel bad, and that as long as I am healthy, feel strong in my body, fit into my clothes (which I do), take good care of myself, and enjoy my physical form, that little bit of extra weight doesn’t matter.
In the end, chasing those few pounds doesn’t accomplish anything except self-criticism, but self-acceptance frees up that space in my mind to focus on the things that really matter. Like this guy.
Today I challenge you to appreciate what you have and who you are. I challenge you to be present in the moment and in your body, to love yourself just as you are, to find beauty and gratitude in the mirror. There will always be aspects of our physical form that we wish were different. Some are urgent and real health risks, but some are just a result of early programming and “old habits” that we have the power to undo and free ourselves from.
I challenge you to examine your health and fitness goals and assess what’s real and right for you.
Maybe your high school weight isn’t a realistic goal for you at this point in your life, and getting there would compromise your vibrant health. Maybe you realize that you’ve been ignoring something urgent and finally make the call to your doctor that you’ve been putting off. And maybe, just maybe you realize that what you see in the mirror is a perfect reflection of who you are, and those 10 vanity pounds really don’t matter as much as you thought they did.