I’m…how shall I put it? Rubenesque. Even when I diet and exercise, I still have padding and curves. It’s been a source of frustration and embarrassment for me since the early 80’s. Even with the scarf tied into my big hair and wearing lace in strategic places – I just never managed to look like Madonna in her “Like a Virgin” video…tres triste (according to Google translate, that means “very sad” in French – I’m attempting to come across as very cosmopolitan here…is it working?)
About three years ago, I finally managed to lose forty pounds – I still had another forty to go, but I was pretty stoked, because I hadn’t ever been able to lose a significant amount of weight on my own before. I did gain about ten pounds back, but overall, I held pretty steady and felt confident enough that I donated all of my “fat clothes” to Goodwill. Then, last fall, I spent a month in Europe. I knew that I was going to eat, for I was going to the land of chocolate croissants, Nutella crepes, and pasta (and I’m a realist, most of the time). I worked like a demon in the months leading up to the trip, determined to take off those ten pounds again, so I had some weight wiggle room in Europe as I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
My plan worked – when I came home, I had gained only 8 pounds. But after a month without any structured gym time and eating with abandon, I found it difficult – nay, IMPOSSIBLE to get back to my diet and workout routine. Since I wasn’t walking for miles every day (like I had been in Europe), and I continued to eat as if I WERE still in Europe, the scale kept creeping up and up. My clothes were uncomfortably tight – I was down to two pair of pants I could squeeze into for work, but I REFUSED to buy new “fat clothes.” To do that would make me feel as if I was giving up and accepting the weight gain. Yet, each day when I vowed to go to the gym (and didn’t) and eat only healthy foods (only to binge on bread, sweets, and salty snacks), I felt like a failure…a fat, flabby failure! The day I found some overlooked pants in the guest room closet that were the next size up, my immediate reaction was, “YES! I’ll FINALLY be COMFORTABLE!” Followed immediately by, “NOOOOO – I’m back in my fat clothes!” It was a strange feeling to be so elated and despondent at the same time.
I was starting to despair that I would ever lose the weight I had gained. I worried that I would gain all of that initial forty pounds I had lost back again, plus more. I felt disgusted with my body and myself. Then something interesting happened. I’ve mentioned before about my wonky shoulders, which are hunched forward, making me look and feel like a little old lady. My doctor referred me to physical therapy, where I found out that my scoliosis and back fusion were to blame. Since my spine doesn’t flex or rotate, my shoulders compensated the best they could, which caused them to rotate forward – and kind of freeze in that position.
I’ve been going to physical therapy for several months now, being poked, prodded, and manhandled (and not in the way I would normally enjoy). I’ve started to get some movement back in my shoulders and it’s starting to be more natural for me to stand straight, shoulders back (best they can), head high – and as my posture has improved, so has my body image! I was standing in front of the mirror this morning in my bra and underwear and found myself ADMIRING my softly rounded stomach and my curvy hippiness instead of internally lamenting about my extra padding! I have also noticed that my stress level seems to be less, I feel happier overall, and I have been more willing to leave my comfort zone, engaging in social interactions that normally I would avoid.
There seem to be studies that support this very thing. According to a 2009 article in the European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers “examined how body postures can influence self-evaluations by affecting thought confidence.” They asked participants to write down their best or worst qualities when sitting with good posture or slouched forward, and then participants took a survey in which they rated themselves on how well they would do as a future professional employee. The results clearly showed that the “effect of the direction of thoughts (positive/negative) on self-related attitudes was significantly greater when participants wrote their thoughts in the confident…posture” rather than the slouched posture. In other words, the participants who had better posture had more confidence in themselves and their thoughts than those who had poor posture.
Other studies found that “adopting an expansive body posture can…enhance a sense of power” and that even when you fake “body postures that convey competence and power” it can change hormone levels in our bodies and “generally configures your brain to cope well in stressful situations.” Basically, “if you act powerfully, you will begin to think powerfully.”
While I still would like to lose some of this weight and become more healthy (and I have started going to the gym more regularly to help achieve this), I like this feeling of my self-worth not being directly tied into my weight. So, I’ll continue to stand tall and proud, with my chin up and my chest out – even if it does put my uneven boobs front and center!
Do you wrestle with self-esteem issues? What works to help you feel good about yourself?