I seriously cannot remember a single time in my life when I haven’t critiqued my body – either positively or negatively while catching a glimpse of it in the mirror. There have been times I spotted things that made me gasp, like a new wrinkle, some pronounced varicose veins or a larger than usual muffin top. Other times, I noticed good changes, like more muscle in my arms or a temporary flat belly after a few days of eating no carbs. Women over 40, especially, are ultra-critical of themselves when it comes to their bodies.
Most women over 40 that I know, have bad thoughts that outweigh (no pun intended) the things we like about the way we look. Women – and men, too, are undoubtedly their own worst critics when it comes to physical appearance.
So when I heard that there was “Love Your Body Day,” I was intrigued, and visited the website of the National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation, the organization that spearhead the day.
According to the NOW website, Love Your Body Day is aimed at challenging the message sent by the media and by the beauty industry that a woman’s value is best measured by her willingness and ability to embody current beauty standards. In other words, it sounds like they’re telling us to ignore the supermodels’ airbrushed photos and just love your body!
But what exactly does it mean to love your body? To answer that question, I talked with Dr. Susan McClanahan, licensed clinical psychologist and certified eating disorder specialist. McClanahan said loving your body means being kinder and gentler to yourself.
“In the media, it is not OK to be a grandma anymore. There’s a bias against getting old and gaining a few pounds and it is perceived that if you don’t have that perfect body, you are complacent or lazy,” said McClanahan, a 25-year veteran in the industry who is the founder and president of Insight Behavioral Health Centers and the chief development officer for Eating Recovery Center. “Being gentler to yourself means recognizing and appreciating the amazing things our bodies can do. That means breath, movement, walking, and expressing ourselves.”
McClanahan said negative body image issues are an extension of other negative feelings, such as guilt, inferiority or lack of self-love.
“When you are feeling bad about something or experiencing insecurity, fear or anxiety – something totally unrelated to your physical appearance, it’s easy to blame your body,” she said.
Some of the dangers of bad body image: lack of self-confidence, social isolation, poor work performance, avoidance of job interviews and eating disorders.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, 43 million adult women in the United States are dieting to lose weight at any given time and another 26 million are dieting to maintain their weight.
I find that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to have gratitude for health and body functionality, and I focus less on looks than I used to.
Does that mean I think it’s OK to eat deep dish pizza for dinner every night, or that there’s no need to hit the gym anymore? Absolutely not. But regular workouts and healthy eating have countless benefits that mean a lot more than having a perfect physique, one of which includes loving your body.
I know if I work out for several days in a row and eat lots of healthy foods – greens and fruits and nuts and seeds, I not only feel better emotionally and physically, but I like myself more for the simple reason that I am nurturing my body by feeding it food that fosters productivity and better overall well-being. The weight loss is a side effect and bonus of this kind of behavior and thinking.
Also, there is something to be said for enjoying life, and to me that does mean eating deep dish pizza if I want it. Food is enjoyable, and everyone deserves to treat themselves once in awhile.
I do want to bring up one last thing about loving your body, which is the importance of loving it when you are with your spouse.
“When women are having sex, a lot of times they are focused on body parts that they are embarrassed for someone to see or touch,” McClanahan said. “Men tend not to be as self-conscious about their bodies and are just enjoying the connection. They are thinking about how good the sex feels, not about the wife’s muffin top.”
I recently had a conversation with a guy who just broke up with a woman because she was too uncomfortable in bed and didn’t like her body.
It’s great to celebrate Love Your Body Day, but you should love your body every day – not just one day a year.