I’ve attempted to share this for a few years and I stop myself every time. Well, not this time.
For the past three decades I’ve not only struggled with body image and disordered approaches of trying to “control” what I look like and how I feel about myself. I’ve been in a battle with my body since age 9. It’s been a knock down, drag out fight in the dark. I’ve tried to manufacture my self-image based on external factors such as the scale, the mirror, the feedback, the clicks, the clothing size, the recognition, the calorie count, the carb count, the miles clocked trying to run off the shame … you name it.
And I’m done.
And yet I’m still a work in progress.
How can those two statements co-exist? Let me try to explain the perceived contradiction. I’ve done a lot of work and healing over the years, yet I still deal with this daily. “It” will never go away but from my experience “it” does eventually evolve and get lighter.
This conversation is heavy but it is not new. Frankly, the topic is fatiguing to me because I’ve spent 30 years with this being the NUMBER ONE force in my life. That’s hard to type out loud. That makes me sad. But it’s true. There’s been nothing more consuming in my life.
As I choose to join this “conversation” (Is that how we’re saying it?), I don’t have a clear path or idea of what that even means yet I know I must simply dive in and share before I talk myself out of showing up and shining some light.
There are countless angles and layers to what I want to say and I’ve been trying to organize this nice and neat. It’s not neat though. The entire experience is messy – it’s a beautiful mess. My intuition is saying (loudly) to me, “Amy Jo, share why you haven’t shared until now. Start there.”
These days, when that little voice whispers, talks and sometimes shouts, I try to be brave, cowgirl up, listen and (eventually) take action.
Reasons why I’ve kept this private until now:
I don’t have credentials in this area. Who am I to speak about this? Is it irresponsible to share? My logic was to “figure it out” first and then share. I love a linear, calculated approach. (Insert the Universe laughing.) My plan was to understand why I’ve been experiencing and doing this for so long so I could offer solutions to the problem. The sequence would be: Do the work, learn, dissect, understand and then share my prescriptive “formula”.
Well that’s presumptuous. And naive.
Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked this way and we could wrap up our juicy learnings into a pretty bow and share from the “I’m fixed, let me tell you how to do this.” platform? Turns out, it doesn’t really work that way. I’ve done a lot of work and I’ve uncovered a great deal around the “why”, worked through a bunch. Yet when our society, culture and many generations are involved in the creation of something, it’s possible we will never truly “figure it out”. Instead we learn how to move forward.
I’m learning that sharing as I’m going through the process is actually more beneficial to myself and others versus attempting to share from “the other side” down the road. I’m not actually convinced “the other side” exists but I do know we can create a healthy, healing distance from the eye of the storm (or war, in my experience).
Side note, on the credibility side of things, I do have 30 years of data and experiences to draw upon so there must be some expertise to offer here having lived this for so long. Those decades include an array of therapists, coaches and tools gained over time. So I’m retracting my own self-discredit.
What if people consider me weak, look at me differently professionally and this damages the credibility I’ve gained to build my career? What if it negatively impacts my business and future opportunities? A portion of my business involves the corporate world and this “shame and vulnerability thing” isn’t exactly embraced in corporate culture.
Logic plants those seeds of fear in my mind yet my experience tells me that the opposite is quite true. I literally wrote a book about humanizing brands and the ROI of connection. I know this inside and out. The more you show up in a genuine and authentic way, the more the world will reward you personally and professionally. I’ve leaned on fear-inflicted, false excuses for so long and I’m finally calling myself out. Confrontations with yourself are valuable … awkward and uncomfortable, yet valuable.
What if I hurt someone in the process of sharing? What if someone in my family feels responsible for my pain? What if my stories are tough for people close to me to hear? What if it makes them uncomfortable?
These are all worthy concerns and I really struggled with this one. Yet it can’t be the thing that blocks my truth, my desire to heal and my desire to help. I do believe there are ways to gracefully navigate opening up when it’s rooted in good intentions and love.
Are we really still talking about this? The conversation is so old.
Yet it’s just starting. There really is nothing new or unique about women struggling with body image. If you’ve been born on this planet as a woman, it’s very likely you’ve had your fair share of trauma around body image. Yet so many of us are searching for something outside of ourselves to make us feel unique and special. It’s an inside job and it might be the most important, and hard, job we’ve ever had.
I personally have become bored with my old narrative. I feel my situation and my story gets old, it’s been a shadow for so many years. It’s tired. It’s stale. And that was motivation enough to change the narrative because I knew keeping quiet wasn’t an option any longer.
I was convinced that I was chasing my tail by “discussing” my struggles. I wanted to do something about it and take action. Less talk, more action.
Turns out we take action by discussing and sharing.
Reasons I decided to share today:
I type this as my newborn sleeps on my chest. He wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t listened to my body, partnered up with my body, and seeked help when I was going into preterm labor. If that would have happened a few years ago, I likely would have tried to “tough it out” and get on the next flight during my layover, dismissing my full blown labor as “false labor”. If I would have gotten on the next plane, Lincoln would not have survived.
This experience has demonstrated the power of partnering with my body. I’m grateful for the work around body intelligence that I’ve done the past few years because “toughing it out” would have led to the biggest tragedy of my life. Partnering with my body, truly listening to it, led to the biggest gift of my life. (Typing with tears right now … immense gratitude.)
I share this today because I want you to know that I see you.
To the young girl learning to count calories, crying in the dressing room of the clothing store as she goes school shopping, I see you.
To the college student who takes a long detour route to her class across campus because she feels like her jeans are too tight and she doesn’t want anyone to walk behind her, I see you.
To the business woman who chooses not to go to an event because she feels bad about what she sees in the mirror or on the scale, I see you.
To the Mom who wonders if she’ll ever feel good again in her own skin again, I see you.
To the woman who has never walked around in her bathing suit without a towel or cover up, I see you.
I see you because that person is me too, in every single one of those situations. Some days is “was” me. And some days it still “is” me.
For me, there came a point when my mind, body and soul just would not participate in this war anymore. They surrendered. And that’s the very moment they partnered up.
I have so many other things I want to share, and I will. Thirty years worth of data and stories. My goal in sharing is to help myself continue to work through and heal from this. I also hope to help someone else avoid the large amount of time and pain this has consumed me. Looking back, my biggest regret is the loss of time and energy spent on this hidden, all-consuming demon.
There comes a point when you become sick and tired of being sick and tired. I hit that point for the first time several years ago and I started to confide in one person at a time. Slowly. People very close to me. It started with my husband, then a therapist, then a few more friends, a few more and now it’s much easier to discuss.
A friend of mine who’s going through some big life things, recently said to me “Shame loves the darkness of secrecy and dies in the light of vulnerability.”
If you’re reading this now and you’re feeling like you’re ready to feel better, you’re ready to start helping yourself, then hat tip to you. That’s the first step. In my experience, it’s best to share with someone who feels safe. Someone who will not judge you, try to “fix” it for you or interrupt you. Someone who will support you and who simply wants what’s best for you. That could be a therapist, family member, partner, local support group or a friend. For me, taking that very first step was horrifying and it also felt so relieving to say it out loud.
You might be surprised when you start confiding with people. Turns out there’s been a massive invisible Army of women we didn’t know we were a part of … we’re finally starting to show up, become visible and help one another in a big way. What an amazing gift we’re giving ourselves and each other by doing so.