Battling with self image
I had a conversation this past week with a young woman I am supporting in her weight loss journey. She saw the before and after photo I posted here with my three-year anniversary blog last week and asked if I have really moved on and gotten comfortable in my new shape and body. Or, she asked, do you still carry around that weight in your mind? This was not the first time I was asked this question.
She was asking, because although she has lost 80+ pounds, she still struggles with self image. When she looks in the mirror, she said, what she sees is how far she has yet to go vs. all of the progress she has made. Sometimes, she admitted, I don’t see progress at all. “I feel discouraged and fat. The same as before I started all of this work.”
Believe it or not, this conversation mimics conversations I have frequently with people — mostly women — struggling with self-image, particularly as they begin to lose weight. A similar conversation started up online in our Put Yourself in the Equation Facebook Group recently. It was not surprising to me to see the number of people that jumped in to say they too struggle with their image and with giving themselves credit for the weight they’ve lost and the progress they’ve made vs. focusing on the negative.
I am no expert, but I can tell you that for the most part my internal self-image matches up with my external physical body — most of the time. However, I am in my own battle with my image around excess skin due to significant weight loss. And, truth be told, I am not ready to talk about it here, yet. But I think about it and struggle with it regularly these days.
The thing that I do know from my own experience, is that to be successful and not sabotage myself, I had to embrace my imperfections and give up the notion that my body would be perfect when I lost the weight and got “thin.” Once I embraced this realization (and that nobody is perfect!) — which for me was about half way through my weight loss — things got easier. For me it became easier to celebrate progress, not perfection. I also surrounded myself with the people and systems that would serve me in reaching goal and celebrating my successes along the way.
My beloved girlfriend, Jean Voxland, documented my entire journey of weight loss in photos and was my “go to girl” when I hit goal. But she can tell you that to this day I struggle with certain parts of my body and how I photograph. I would drive any photographer crazy I am sure with my nitpicking of myself and how I come across in the image — all related to my desire to look better if not close to perfect post all of this hard work.
What helped me stay focused on the positive/progress regarding my self image during weight loss?
- Setting regular milestones and celebrating them. Rewarding myself with NON-food rewards. Whether it was a short-term physicl challenge or a weight loss milestone, or just a perfect week on the plan, I set milestones and celebrated with spa treatments, a walk with a friend, a short weekend trip, an outing with my niece or nephew, new make-up or a new piece outfit in a smaller size. For the big milestones, I celebrated with trips/travel (some that were significant to my journey) and when I reached goal I got a makeover and had a big celebration party in my happy place.
- Surrounding myself with positive people who believed in me and wanted me to be successful. I had a support team and lots of encouragement every day so it was pretty easy for me to see the glass half full or get a little nudge to do so
- Putting myself out there. I learned when my photo and story first appeared in the Star Tribune that I responded well to the public accolades. When my story was first published I was so fearful that I would be judged harshly if I failed, and part of me was afraid I would fail – publicly. But I was overwhelmed with positive feedback and support and I used that to propel me forward and indeed learned that I needed that, so I began to share my story here in this blog publicly. It helped hold me accountable but it also helped me see progress along the way — even when I couldn’t see it.
- Documenting it so I had proof . I decided early on that I had to document the progress so that when I personally couldn’t see it or feel it, I could go back to the photos as proof. My dear friend Jean was so amazing about this doing photo shoots at -100 lbs, at -150 lbs and again when I reached goal; and many times in between. This girl who hated the camera at 381 pounds suddenly loved the camera and wanted her photo taken all of the time.
My best tip to those I work with now, is to know yourself and what you need and then set yourself up for success.
Everyone is different and everyone responds to different stimuli. So this is important. Also, it is a head game and acknowledging this and that it is something many women struggle with can help. No, you are not crazy. As women — overweight or not — we are very critical of ourselves and our image. Society helps us out with that! But we do it to ourselves, too.
I certainly am a work in progress. But I am actively trying to be gentle with myself. I do LOVE my new body and how I look in clothes. Turns out, I love clothes, too! But I do have to work every day on accepting myself with my excess skin and other imperfections. I really do believe I am perfectly imperfect and it helps to tell myself that, and to embrace how far I have come.
I would love to hear from others who have tips or advice on this topic. Or, stories to share.