Make Peace With Your Body

By Geneen Roth

Hot weather is here.

Time to lighten up on clothes. Time for shorts, sleeveless tops, swimsuits.

Translation: Time for bare thighs, bare arms, bare back.

Sigh.

sunshine_

I have a friend who dreads summer because of what she calls the unveiling of her body. Peeling off her clothes, she says, reveals "the horror of it all." The back fat. The cellulite. All the new cellulite that mysteriously appeared over the winter. The belly bulge that makes people ask, "Hey, are you pregnant?"

Do you share my friend's dread of summer? If so, I am here to tell you something: What you say to yourself about the shape of your body shapes your feelings about yourself. Be careful what you tell yourself, because you will believe it. Be sure you're telling the whole truth. Be sure you're letting yourself see the whole truth.

Let me explain.

During one particularly crazy year of my 20s, I decided that I was going to be cliff-hanger thin. I'd had it with being fat. Had it with the multiple folds in my thighs, and the upper-arm fat that almost reached the muffin-top above my waist. Had it with hating myself for being overweight. So I followed the program in a book someone gave me. On what I called the Breatharian Diet, I ate 150 calories a day (raw vegetables only), jogged four miles every evening, and fasted on water for three weeks at the turn of each season. The ultimate goal was to detoxify and purify my body to the point where it would no longer need food. Instead, I would be able to eat sunlight, drink silence, and metabolize air. (I told you I was crazy that year. You probably thought I was exaggerating.) Truthfully, I wasn't so interested in the clear or pure part. I figured that anyone who ate sunlight and drank silence was going to be thin. Very, very thin.

I was right. I lost a lot of weight — quickly. I got down to 80 pounds, wore a size zero, and was finally as thin as anyone could dream of. At least, that's what my friends said. But here's the catch: When I looked at myself, I saw the same body I'd always seen: the thunder thighs, the sagging arms, the moon face. Whether my body weighed 80 pounds or 180, to me, it always seemed fat.

If you look at the world through shattered glasses, the world looks shattered. If you look at your body through "fat eyes," you see fat everywhere. To change how you see yourself, you must change the eyes with which you see.

You're probably thinking, Yeah, right, now what about all my cellulite? Well, what about it? It's there. You're not perfect — so what?

Being well is different from being perfect. It's important to take care of yourself, to eat in a way that gives you the energy to live your life exactly as you want to live it. But being well isn't the same as being thin. This is important: You can be well — yes, you can be happy — even if, in short sleeves, your arms don't look anything like Madonna's.

If you agree, then think about how you talk to yourself. Imagine what it would be like to be with a friend who always criticized your body. "Oh, my God," she'd say, "have you actually taken a good look at yourself recently? Next thing you know, you'll need two seats on an airplane.

"Oh, and I just noticed the eyelid droop. Can't you fix that? Get some work done...in Brazil, maybe.

"Is that a french fry in your hand? Do yourself a favor and stop eating for a year or two."

If a friend spoke this way, what do you think you would do? Ask her to lunch? Thank her for being so honest? Or kick her out of your life? And yet we talk to ourselves in exactly this way, and it hurts.

This kind of talk makes us feel small and hopeless and ugly. It doesn't take into account the things about us that cannot be weighed or measured — and yet these are the most important things, the things that matter most.

Talking to yourself like this doesn't lead to change; it leads to feeling so awful that you have to eat a pint of ice cream to feel better.

Talking to yourself like this needs to stop. Today. Right now.

How do you stop? Sometimes, when I'm teaching a small workshop, I ask each person to come up to a mirror, look at herself, and tell the group what she sees. The responses are always similar: fat face, mountainous thighs, stringy hair, saggy boobs, thick fingers. Nary a positive thing is said. Then I ask the person who is speaking to turn away from the mirror and notice how it feels to say those things to herself. When she stands back for even a moment, she is shocked at the level of cruelty she directs at her body.

I ask if she would ever let anyone talk to her like this. She says no.

I ask if being cruel to herself ever helped her lose weight. She says no.

Then I ask her to turn to the mirror again and tell me what she sees when she looks at herself with her heart instead of her "fat eyes."

Most often, she says something like this: "I see a mother, a wife, a person who is trying hard to do her best. I see clean hair. I see a fleshy belly left over from having kids. I see wonder in my eyes. I see what I saw in myself as a child. I see possibility, even after all these years."

And to that I say, "Wow.... Yes!"

This summer, try looking at yourself a new way. See your real self. And don't forget to kick that inner critic in her big old sassy butt.

You can learn a whole new way to relate to food – and explore the foundation upon which you build your life and your relationships – at my next retreat, this coming November. Six days of immersion in constant support, endless kindness and ever present awareness. Such a blessing. Once you know those things are possible for you, you can never go back to believing that they're not. If this resonates with you, you can find out more here: http://retreats.geneenroth.com/fall/.

 

36 responses to “Make Peace With Your Body

  1. As always, thank you. My heart is filled with gratitude. I am hoping you have a workshop out east this year. My gift to myself is to attend. I have been following your words of wisdom from the beginning.

    Arline Fawcett

  2. I got an encouraging e-mail from a friend this week and I found it hard to believe. I AM so much more than my critical self allows me to be. Thank you for helping me see that . . .

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this today. It was extremely helpful and right on target. I appreciate your concern for all of our well being, even though you don’t know us. We are all kindred spirits through this shared experience/struggle. Bless you.

  4. Geneen, thank you so much for this article! It makes the most sense of anything I have ever read about trying to lose weight! And I am a registered dietitian – who is always trying to lose a few pound myself. You are a very wise soul! Thank you for making my day, my week and my month!

  5. Hi Geneen,

    You present very authentically and beautifully.
    Intuitively, I sense you are right, yet it takes so much discipline to even remember to Be present to the food I’m eating. And in Malaysia we really have some much delicious variety.
    Hmmmm…I just wonder how to achieve this.

    Peggy Lee

  6. When I was in college I had a terrible eating disirder and hated myself and my body. One day a friend said, “I’m coming to get you. It’s a beautiful day. Put on shorts and lets go for a hike.” I said, “I can’t wear shorts bacau se I haven’t been running and my legs are flabby.” He said, “so what? They are your legs. Love them anyway.” It had never occurred to me that I could love myself inspite of my imperfections.

  7. So true! I recently lost 55 pounds — looked pretty darned good — STILL saw fat and shopped int he ‘Plus’ Size area. Now, to my dismay, I have gained 5 pounds — and boy has my negative talk to myself jumped right back into my thoughts!! Crazy, huh? OKAY — things are back — or getting back – to where I need to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually, so the 5 pounds will disappear — maybe even 6! THANKS FOR THE INSPIRATION — as they say, I could not have done it without you!!!!

  8. A very healthy spin on the old “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is to start with yourself. I wish it were as easy to do as it is to type, however. Instead, I and perhaps others tend to take the Dorothy Parker approach: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit next to me”…and drip poison into my inner ear for the next thirty or forty years!

  9. Thank you. I looked in the mirror and I saw a women who has bore 3 children. I saw stretch marks that looked like artistic drawings so unique was this design that it cannot be duplicated , I saw the indentions of these designs and I stared in wonder for when I was a little girl small and thin they first appeared and I stared in wonder then only I forgot. I saw a grandmother who loves her seven grandchildren with all her heart and soul and if she could they would want for nothing in love , on earth, in earth or in heaven or even underneath the earth if there is such a place or ( state) I saw a sister beloved by her brothers so much that as her brother Jerry lay on his death bed in a hospital after having a blood vessel burst in his brain was on life support and she was told he would never speak or regain consciousness did wake up spoke and called her name ” shell , Shell “. I saw that same women spend the night in the hospital with him so her mom and aunts could get some rest as he lay suffering and gasping for breath and moaning because his blood pressure was so high and he was took week for his dialysis and had to have a feeding tube inserted without being put the sleep the next day, I saw that same woman laying on that hospital chair thinking as long as I can hear his labored breathing I know he is still alive and heard another man say just on yesterday that has survived a heart attack last year and was given up to die that ” breath is so important” I see a women dedicated and committed to teaching her students and loving them with all her heart and giving her best and seeing them blossom and not even knowing herself how all of that came to be but giving credit to her God. I see a woman 59 years old who is always mistaken for much much younger because of how her Creator has directed her to take care of her body temple and feed it food, not genetically modified , chemically based food stuff artificial food is designed for artificial intelligence which seems to rule this world at times but that is the real illusion. I see a woman 59 years old graduated from college at 56 years old and about to graduate with her masters degree on August 10, 2015 who did not even finish high school got a GED and found out in colledge that she is smart and can do the work . I see a woman that realizes that it is not her current situation that is the problem , her problem has always been with how the artificial intelligence manifest it self as various obsessions and conpulsions in her life and the gateway in through her mouth not through her mind as previous suspected. The gateway is on her plate and in her glass and on her spoon an fork. She seem to have lost God on the plate and now she knows she can find God on the plated and that is where she is looking today. Because it is not what comes out of her mouth that defiles her life , her spririt her psychic and attemps to annihilate everything good and true and beautiful in her life. It i what goes in her mouth that has set some terrible cycles or self destructive abuse into motion. I saw today someone I can love. Thank you Geneen . I love you.
    Ayana Mishelle Hendricks

  10. What you say rings so true. Those nasty criticisms really bite. It’s interesting – my experience is that when you begin to speak kindly to yourself, you act more kindly to yourself. Thanks Geneen. I love your writing. It’s like swimming in a warm, soft freshwater lake.

  11. Geneen, I love your newsletters! I always feel so good after reading them. The uplifting and positive is needed daily. Thank you for sharing your life with us and all that you have been through. Having someone to relate to and has “been there” you understand our daily struggle. You are a wonderful influence.

  12. I have the good fortune, in addition to saggy boobs and belly fat, to have two teeth missing on the upper right side of my mouth. One is an implant yet to be completed and the other broke off this morning while I was eating breakfast. My inner critic has been lurking about all day, explaining that the book I am writing is doomed- who would listen to an ugly fat lady with missing teeth?
    It’s perfect that I read Geneen’s article today-about seeing myself with new eyes. I deserve love, especially the kind I have denied myself for most of my life-love from me to me. I look in the mirror and I catch a glimpse of my Soul in my eyes, and I tell her I love her, over and over until I see something Beautiful- a light that is beyond the physical. Anytime I put back on the “shattered glasses” of my self critical thoughts I cannot see the light in my reflection. It is a good day. I choose self love today. Thank you, Geneen.

  13. I could relate to your story about getting serious about my diet – and health and ending up 80 lbs! I was just trying to be healthy and thin. I did end up with no belly (the only time this ever happened for me) but I looked like death. It was an intervention by my sister, parents and a therapist that got me into rehab. I have never returned to that weight thank God, but I do see how thinking negative things about my body can lead to the desire to take control and fix things. Thanks for the reminder to see something other than a defective body when I look in the mirror. It does take continual reminding after years of abuse.

  14. Wow, you said it,,,,,,,every summer….since when…..I don’t know……I truly don’t know. but now at 61, how much I desire to give it up…..the constant judgments and criticism. What a drain on my relationships…..with myself, with others, and with God…….All I seem to think is……oh man shorts! Bathing suits……it wasn’t until I picked up your book did I discover other women have obsessed over 20 lousy pounds!! Honestly……I seriously thought I was the only one…..I am very, very grateful for your work! Thank you so much!

  15. Hello Geneen,

    I am so happy, getting your news here in Germany. So far away from You. But what you talk to me to us is so close to me, to my heart. Just a few minutes ago, I was standing beyond the mirror and critizised my belly and my hips (hanging hips). I put my hands strong and hurtfully into my fat and thought, “when this hanging fat is gone, then all will be good”. A few minutes later I have red your words. It is so difficult to stop this cruel mind and hands, which are automatically trying to stop me from being happy and lovely with myself. I understand very well, what you`re talking about. I try to exercise again and again, when I am listening to the cruel words of my mind, to say to myself “I am lovable.” Sometimes I hear only this sentence, without feeling it. (The cruel words to feel is a deep program) Thank you so much reminding me again and again to appreciate and love my real self. I believe, that the own attitude to ourselves can help to behave mor peaceful with each other. Spreading out love and acceptance in our next circles. Mila.

  16. Your notes and comments speak to me and I look forward to your positivity. I only wish I could hold on to the sentiment after I shut my computer off. When I venture out I see a 59 year old woman who has had 3 children, supported a husband and family and always managed to justify supporting others in ‘their’ lives and I am the after-thought. I walk through the stores looking for new clothes (and I hate shopping), and sales clerks direct me to plain clothes without a great fashion presence and when I wander about I see younger woman who look through me. They hate to see what they might become. This is the head space that I dearly want to shake. I am not there, I am a work in progress. As long as there is another breath, there is hope.

  17. Geneen, what would I do without you?
    I think that you are the only human that understands me!
    I have followed you and devoured your wisdom from the very beginning…yes, I have tried “Other Ways”.. but always come back to your principles as a safe haven for my body issues.
    I live on the east coast, and have mobility issues, but I love all your books, cds, and this new “monday morniing” post.
    PLEASE….. don’t ever stop sharing… I need you in my life…
    Gratefully,
    Pat

  18. You have literally opened my eyes. I would never talk to my best friethe way I talk to myself. I can’t thank you enough. I think I’ll go have a good cry now and apologize for all the awful things I’ve said to myself.

  19. I love this. Geneen, about 22 years ago my therapist turned me on to your books and I haven’t binged since. At 62 I’m still working on accepting my still not thin body, and I am making progress. Through OA I try to help others stop bringing.

  20. I continue to be enriched by your genuine and pure and hopeful insight. We can move past the model of critical and judgmental rejection, be it from others or the one that lives within ourselves. You help us all in our journey.

    Love!

  21. I typically curse at myself when I drop/break something, forget my sunglasses, take the wrong road, and any number of other non-mortal sins. I would NEVER curse at anyone else for doing these innocuous things, or even truly bad things. Geneen, thanks for the reminder that I’m OK and I need to be kinder to myself.

  22. I was doing Pilates the other day and I had a revelation. Normally I say such horrible things to myself regarding my chunky thighs and legs. Whilst doing leg exercises in Pilates, I was about to curse them for being so heavy and then I thought how ungrateful I was. My legs may be big but they are so fantastic at how they carry me around and allow me to move in life. What about disabled people who don’t have the opportunity to use their legs like I do? Suddenly I felt ashamed and then cross that I was so judgemental and unkind about a body part which was so useful. I vowed from that day on to be more appreciative and to learn to be grateful for all my body parts. To quote my teenage daughter “YOLO ! (You only live once) – she is sooo right. Let’s be kind to ourselves, like Geneen suggests, and say nice things to everyone including ourselves,

  23. Thank you Geneen. You are the best. That article made me cry & helped me to be kinder to this amazing body which has served me very well for 61 years.

  24. An aha moment:
    During a period of much self loathing, I was in bed, adoring my cat who was purring on my chest. It occurred to me, “If I can love this little cat so deeply, surely I could love myself.” Simple, but the beginning of a profound shift.

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