You should hear the things people say when they think no one is listening! I’m often in the back row at the gym, and people tend to mumble as if no one is listening back there. Well I’m on to them! I’ve given them a rule to follow, and the rule is starting to spread beyond the back row. Once people adopt this rule, I hear reports that it is really effective not just in the gym, but in other areas of their lives. One woman shared the rule with her husband and when she was about to break the rule at home he said, “You know, Dorrie would want you to rephrase that.” And so she did, and then promptly reported how this little rule really makes her think and be a little kinder to herself. So now it’s like I’m listening at home too.
Language is really powerful, and the messages we tell ourselves have a great impact on what we believe. Sometimes we don’t realize these messages are being delivered behind the scenes, but when they are shown the light of day by speaking them, it becomes obvious. And so I developed this rule to edit these messages. It is this: Only say things about yourself that you would say to my face about me or another friend. Seems simple enough, right? We are all taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all, but somehow we think this doesn’t apply to talking about ourselves.
The first group of phrases we eliminated at the gym were lines like, “I am a sweaty mess;” “I am a wreck;” “I am not graceful;” “I can’t do that;” “I am such a wimp;”etc. I would call them out on it and say, “Are you saying I’m a wimp? Are you say I’m a mess?” Realizing these words were hurtful directed at someone else made them realize they were damaging words for themselves. Together we rephrase things. “I am not coordinated,” becomes “I am working on my balance.” “I can’t lift that,” becomes “I am getting stronger.” “I am a sweaty mess,” becomes “I am working hard.” Changing these subtle messages brings a kinder internal voice and gradually builds confidence.
Our culture makes it hard enough to go easy on ourselves. We receive very loud messages that our value is based on our appearance and furthermore that our appearance should meet a certain criteria. I cringe when I hear people talking about getting ready for bikini season, or having to get their summer arms. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good and feel good – but what upsets me is when people feel bad because they don’t see themselves meeting a certain arbitrary standard. What we have to embrace is that we are all different and we are all beautiful (and handsome) in our own way. Our bodies are built differently, respond to exercise and food differently, and are meant to be lived in differently. There is no right way to look. All bodies are good bodies, and it is truly powerful when we tell ourselves this. Thanks to the million messages we receive from media and our society we are bombarded with insults about how we look and how we need to conform to an external set of standards. When we succumb to these messages it sends another hurtful message: “I am not loveable as I am, but I will be when I reach x,y,z…” I am throwing the nonsense flag up on that. You are loveable right now. The work you do at the gym, and anywhere else to be the best version of you is fantastic, and you are not less than extraordinary before hitting any of the goals you set there.
When I meet someone or talk to a person I’m paying attention to what she says and how she acts. This informs me about her character. I want to live in a world where being kind, funny, loyal, passionate, smart, interested, and interesting are valued above how someone looks. Our bodies are not objects or ornaments, they are instruments for living. I look in the mirror and say, “What am I capable of?” not “If only my arms were smaller.”
The road to body positivity can be long and winding. I’m inviting you to walk it with me. Along this road I remind myself that my goals are my own. I don’t compare or compete with my neighbor. I don’t have her body, and my hips are unique as my fingerprints. Most people don’t stare at their finger tips and say I wish they swirled a little more to the left. We don’t go around fingerprint shaming ourselves! We shouldn’t go around body shaming ourselves either. In a group setting it can be natural to compare or assume the same goal as your neighbor, but I remind myself that their bodies are different and we will have different goals and outcomes. Similarly, I keep my focus on performance goals as opposed to aesthetic goals. I want to be stronger, healthier, and more agile, etc. This keeps my mind focused on my standards that I can feel, not someone else’s that they can see.
My theory is that being kind to ourselves breeds acceptance and builds confidence. On this path of body positivity stick to the rule. Only say things about yourself that you would say about a friend right to her face. Talk about yourself with kindness and encouragement and you will propel yourself forward on your wellness path.