…and how the HECK did that happen?!
Well, because there’s a revolution that is taking the world by force to showcase that every BODY is beautiful, and health can be found at every size. Let me just say that body image is something I have ALWAYS struggled with – whether it was my ballet teacher (who was also my grandmother’s best friend) telling me that I needed to watch my weight when I was in 5th grade, my ex-boyfriend from high school telling me that I was too fat to ever become a SeaWorld trainer, and then when I did make it as a SeaWorld trainer (that’s right – the sweetest revenge there ever was: telling my ex that I. fucking. did. it.) I was surrounded by a majority of my coworkers that looked like they were no bigger than a size 4…to say the struggle was REAL is a massive understatement.
Not to mention the fact that our society has brainwashed us to believe that there is a certain picture of “health” that looks like 5% body fat, washboard abs, and ripped bis and tris. We’re constantly bombarded with ads that are tailored to trigger our insecurities, get to the root of what we’re most unhappy with our bodies for, and capitalize on that to make money on their products – and there’s not just one company that is guilty of this, there are SO. MANY. And it has been happening for as much of my lifetime as I can remember.
So when I saw an opportunity for me to step up and help Not Only Pants, a brand created to focus on empowering women to feel confident in their bodies, incorporate more body diversity into their marketing – I couldn’t pass it up. I almost did…but I found the courage to let myself be vulnerable. For so long, I have been preaching body acceptance, self-love, and building your confidence muscle – but lately I have had a hard time practicing what I preach. Yes – I have come an EXTREMELY long way since I began my journey as a group fitness instructor, but it is still A LOT of work!!! When I was working with my therapist a few years ago to help challenge that negative self-talk, especially the voices that kept ringing in my ears from voices of the past:
“You’re too fat…You’ll never be skinny enough…Why do you think you can be a fitness professional? You can’t even get yourself in good shape!...who is going to want to work with you when you’re out of shape like this?...How in the world will anyone ever love you and your fat rolls?...You’re broken, and nobody is going to want to be with you…You can’t be a dancer at your size, so watch your weight…”
And if it wasn’t my own thoughts that were influencing my body image, it was hearing how other people talked about themselves: hearing my mom criticize her appearance when I thought she looked beautiful – so if there’s something wrong with her, there must be something wrong with me…listening to the girls in the SeaWorld locker rooms – “OMG I gained like 3 pounds and am over 130 now…ugh I feel SO fat in this costume…I just want to be skinny…” when they already were – so if there were thinking that about themselves, what could they possible be thinking about ME and the way MY body looks?!
The worst part was – as I was learning to become a counselor and knew the skills to practice challenging those negative thoughts – it was EXHAUSTING. These thoughts were on a constant loop and became even worse as I started to enter the fitness world (can we say MAJOR imposter syndrome?!) but I kept trying and trying to challenge each of those thoughts as they came up with something more realistic, more helpful, more positive…but it never got me to a place where I could fully believe those replacement thoughts. So what – does this mean I suck as a therapist now too?! UGH!
That annoying “mean girl” voice in my head just wouldn’t. go. away…and I started getting too tired to fight off the things that voice was telling me. I couldn’t muster up the energy to practice my positive affirmations, or think of the evidence against the thought, or try to replace the thought with a more helpful thought…I was exhausted from trying to fight off that “mean girl” and started believing the things she was telling me more and more – which led me to plenty of self-sabotaging behavior: overeating because I already knew I was “too fat” so why bother trying to change? Drinking my feelings away because I could just wallow in my sorrow and tell myself “See? This is exactly what I was talking about…” And I was just so tired of fighting to try and change my body and change those negative thoughts…
That’s when I started exploring a different way of doing things – a book called The Happiness Trap kept popping up in some of the therapeutic activities I wanted to do with my groups, worksheets on goal-setting and clarifying values, to help them progress in their own transformations. And reading this book introduced me to “Defusion,” a way of relating differently to your thoughts – to help take away some of the power from those thoughts.
This was a total game changer for me.
The way it defined thoughts, provided a menu of techniques to take back some of the power from those thoughts, and just simplified the entire process was exactly what I needed in my life. As someone who has struggled with anxiety throughout my life, this was the “A-HA” moment to start remembering that “mean girl” voice is just a small part of me. I won’t dive too deep into all the different techniques that have been helpful for me, but I highly recommend reading any books by Dr. Russ Harris (I may have also purchased his The Weight Escape, The Reality Slap, and The Confidence Gap to read once I’m finished with The Happiness Trap!). The most helpful techniques for me were dropping the struggle against the thoughts, naming the “stories” that my mind tells me, thinking the thoughts in a silly voice, thanking my mind and naming my “mean girl” voice – her name is Felicia so I can think to myself: BYE FELICIA!
So let’s come back to how this relates to the photoshoot – I almost backed out on the day of because I was feeling so nervous that I was almost feeling sick to my stomach, but thanks to my solid mindfulness practice and this newfound way of relating to my thoughts – I still showed up, even my self-doubt and insecurities. You can bet your last freaking dollar that my mind was a freaking flurry with all those self-conscious thoughts, especially working around three professional models! I mean – c’mon, how is that NOT supposed to be intimidating?! All those stories came flooding back into my mind and throughout the entire time I kept thanking my mind, because I know it was only trying to protect me, thinking “bye Felicia!” and reminding myself of WHY I was there in the first place – to be part of a representation of the Not Only Pants brand mission. Not only that, but I was also thinking of my own community – my Achievers who have trusted me to guide them on their own wellness journey! So what kind of leader would I be if I didn’t get out of my own comfort zone to do this to help inspire them?
And do you know what…?
Something magical happened while I was at that photoshoot and when I saw the photos that came from it…I began naturally feeling confident and empowered through the process. Slowly but surely, the more comfortable I started getting with being uncomfortable, the more my armor of self-consciousness began falling away and I started feeling a radiance of something that I hadn’t felt in quite some time: ACCEPTANCE and SELF-LOVE. In that moment, I experienced my own internal transformation that I had been struggling to rediscover for soooooo long…
I wish I could say that every day since then I’ve been able to wake up with the same sense of loving-kindness towards my body – but that would be totally untrue. What I can say is – it has been much easier for me to let go of those thoughts that once caused me so much distress and unhappiness. And I’ve been asked to help out with another NOP photoshoot tomorrow, and this time instead of feeling nervous, scared, and intimidated – I JUMPED at the chance to enthusiastically say “YAAAAS QUEEN!!!” and I cannot wait to be reunited with those same ladies and absolutely crush it on set again!
Life is too short to be miserable – and through learning that I might never get rid of these thoughts, my relationship to them has completely changed for the better and I can’t wait to continue living a valued and fulfilled life. With that, I’ll end with a quote from Lori Harder and one of my favorite podcasts, Earn Your Happy:
“You’ll never grow into the woman you know you’re meant to be until she’s forced to come out. It’s your job to create a life she can’t hide from.”
You are beautiful. You are amazing. You are a warrior. You are resilient. You are the only you that exists – and that’s why we need every part of you to show up and shine your light in the world.
Melyssa with a WHY