By Annie Little • May 05, 2014•Writers in Residence
I watch The Today Show weekday mornings. Can’t help myself. I love getting basic news updates sandwiched betwixt light-hearted segments. And let’s not pretend that I have the brain capacity in the early morning to process much more than the puff pieces that comprise the bulk of the program.
One of the “heavier” puff pieces of late is a series called “Love Your Selfie.” And I’m digging it.
Basically, they get their regular hosts to confront and share insights about their bodies in an effort to expose our obsession with body image and offer help in creating a more positive attitude surrounding our bodies. I have to admit it’s pretty powerful to see a highly attractive individual critiquing the most ridiculous and often minute body features. Natalie Morales, you’re gorgeous. Just stop it.
Why am I telling you all this (other than to demonstrate some healthy vulnerability by admitting my weak-sauce TV preferences)?
Because I’ve seen the effects of negative body image on women attorneys. And it’s not pretty.
By no means am I any kind of expert in body image or related disorders. But when you combine the perfectionistic tendencies of a high achiever with a high stress job, the result can be painfully obvious...and downright frightening. Body dysmorphia. Exercise addiction. Overeating. Starving. Shaming. Self-loathing.
It seems none of us is exempt from the body image demons. I’m looking at you, Natalie. But every one of us deserves to feel good about ourselves -- body image included.
The Art of Feeling Good
I find that a hugely underrated factor contributing to better body image is feeling good.
In order to feel good about your body, you’ll probably need to put aside your perfectionistic ideals about what a “perfect” body looks like and shift your focus to what a happy, healthy body feels like. And since the perfect body for you is the one you’ve already got, it’s in your best interest to treat your body accordingly.
But maybe you haven’t been caring for your body in a way that makes you feel good (or I suppose “well” would be more applicable here).
- Too much fast food? Maybe a 3-day processed-food-free cleanse is in order.
- Too sedentary? Move that arse. Dance. Stretch. Walk. MOVE. Every little bit helps.
- Lackluster sex life? Try something different to spice it up -- like somewhere other than the bed.
- Working to the brink of exhaustion? Take a personal day (gasp!) to unplug, unwind and play.
Feeling Good in Action
Lately, sleep-deprivation has been a major issue for me. It’s not because I’m working too hard, but because my adorable daughter hasn’t prioritized sleep since she arrived nine months ago (ohhhhhh, she’s a diva baby). And since she is my number one priority right now, sadly sleep is not.
But I can’t exactly take a vacation from being her mama, so I’ve been using my weekends to make a dent in my sleep debt. My amazing husband handles her early morning wake-ups on Saturdays and Sundays while I sleep in. It’s delightful. And my body and mind benefit immensely.
Do I miss out on some fun socializing by using my weekends this way? Absolutely. But no one wants to hang out with a cranky-pants zombie mama anyway. And I’m tired of feeling like one! Thus, this is my way of caring for my body until baby girl starts sleeping through the night.
(She will sleep through the night someday, right?!)
The Practice of Nurturing
If you’ve already got the feel-good aspect down, you can incorporate activities directed at nurturing your body.
- Like a quick walk or one-song dance party during the long workday -- oh hi, improved mood and muscle tone.
- Taking your vitamins and putting on sunscreen every morning -- protecting your body for the future feels surprisingly empowering.
- Washing your face every night before bed -- buhbye, clogged pores and blemishes.
- Scheduling that long-overdue dental cleaning -- nothing beats that freshly polished tooth feeling. (Plus, it might motivate you to floss for that week beforehand...)
The idea is to care for your body in a very basic yet essential way. Without counting calories, measuring distance or obsessing over results.
If it doesn’t make your body and mind feel good, don’t do it!
Running on the treadmill until you’re on the verge of passing out isn’t helping your body image. Neither is drastically cutting your daily calorie intake. Or critiquing yourself in the mirror.
If you catch yourself doing any of these “feel-bad” activities, please don’t beat yourself up. That’s always counterproductive. Instead, you can immediately forgive yourself by taking a nurturing step.
Scale your run back to a walk unless and until your energy returns. You can fill up on healthy whole foods without worrying about calories. Instead of cataloging your body’s flaws, don’t walk away from that mirror until you’ve shared five kind comments about that beautiful reflection staring back at you.
Nurturing in Action
So you know that lack-of-sleep issue I mentioned earlier? Yeah. It’s not exactly conducive to getting fit and back to my pre-baby shape. But when I start kneading the dough-like skin on my belly and scrunching up my face in dismay, I’ve learned to stop myself. I no longer get to walk away dejected and hopeless about fitting into non-maternity clothes. Instead, I’ve started expressing gratitude for my body.
I thank my squishy belly for stretching to accommodate our long-awaited baby. Appreciate the silver lining of breastfeeding (I have ta-tas for once!). Remember how my boyishly-shaped teenage self wished for the hourglass figure I now have. Acknowledge that although I have a lot of excess everything going on, I’m still a fraction of the size I was less than a year ago.
By the end of this 30-second exercise in gratitude, I start seeing my body as amazing and dynamic -- not flabby or undesirable -- and no longer hesitate when I reach for my nursing tank and yoga pants “uniform”.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Who’s got time for all this life-coachy bullshit?
Because it’s not so much about the time.
Let’s get real. Most of what I’m suggesting takes almost no time at all and makes you feel good. It’s more about making the space for yourself. It’s about acknowledging how you may neglect your body in favor of your legal career and then deciding to prioritize the health of your body. It’s about taking control of one more aspect of your well-being.
You already feel validated intellectually -- as you should, you’re a wicked smart attorney or law student. But your physical self is just as important and worthy of validation. And the only person who can give deliver that validation is you, friend.
Be well. And love your selfie.
Where in your life can you integrate some mindfulness about improving your body image? If you’re already a pro at loving on your body, what are some of your strategies for doing so? Share with us in the comments!
Annie Little is a trained life coach, former attorney and the founder of JD Nation. Stay tuned for her monthly Ms. JD column full of life hacks for lady lawyers and law students. You can find her on Twitter at @thejdnation, Facebook and LinkedIn. Don't be shy; say hi!