A person’s appearance has nothing to do with their worth.
It is not a woman’s responsibility to be attractive or desirable to others.
There is nothing wrong with cellulite, fat, saggy boobs, or bloated bellies.
These are my hard-earned conscious beliefs.
The other day I got home from a strangely timed movie, and realized I was going to have to either eat dinner at 10pm, or skip dinner. I was hungry but not starving, and tired, so I decided to just go to bed and eat a big breakfast. As I lay down I was suddenly thrilled by the thought– “ooo maybe I’ll wake up with a super flat stomach and visible abs!”
What the fuck??
I don’t agree with the idea that a flat stomach or visible abs are better than my usual soft, round belly… but in that moment I was hopeful and excited about the idea anyway. Eesh.
I hear this from my female friends and clients, too. They consciously believe a woman’s worth has nothing to do with how she looks, and they know that our culture’s beauty ideals are unrealistic bullshit…. but then they also have thoughts about really, really wanting to look thin, fit, beautiful, sexy, or flawless.
I’m sharing this to demonstrate how deeply the messages about weight, beauty, and women’s bodies go, and why the work of loving and accepting ourselves is so damn difficult.
I find myself constantly explaining to people that it’s totally normal and natural and ok to have thoughts like this. In a society that praises and celebrates women for looking one way, and punishes them for looking another, is it any wonder we want to look “good”?
It’s important to remember that a person’s explicit/conscious beliefs have literallynothing to do with their implicit/unconscious beliefs.
That is, the beliefs we hold at a conscious level tell us one thing, and the beliefs we hold at an unconscious level might completely disagree. This is how someone might be an outspoken feminist or body positive activist… but then also feel insecure about how she looks, and believe the only way to be worthy of love is to lose weight.
My clients are often angry with themselves for not being able to “succeed” at body acceptance or body positivity, because they have thoughts like “I wish I was thinner,” and “I want to change this part.” They worry that having thoughts like this means they’re failing, because they imagine that once they “reach” self-acceptance, they’ll never think of a single thing they want to change about themselves, and they’ll only have positive thoughts about their bodies.
This isn’t true.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that a flat belly is better than a round belly. I don’t subscribe to the idea that thinner is better. But there I was the other night anyway, absolutely thrilled for a moment at the possibility of waking up thinner and flatter.
The thing is, even when you’re totally self-loving and body-positive, these kinds of thoughts never exactly go away. The unconscious programming about female beauty standards tend to be so deep and so powerful that even for someone who chooses not to consciously buy into them anymore, those thoughts still show up.
Luckily, your relationship to the thoughts can change.
Anytime I have thoughts like I did the other night, or I catch myself thinking I would feel prettier/sexier if I changed this or that, I take a moment to recognize that my unconscious programming has taken over for a moment, and remind myself that I don’t buy into that bullshit anymore.
In a culture that socializes us to believe it, it’s normal and natural to think your worth is dependent on your appearance, and that life would be better if you looked better. Those thoughts make sense, but (and this is important) they’re not true.
There was a time I used to believe my own thoughts; whenever my unconscious programming showed up I took action on them. If I had a thought about flat bellies being better, I would feel enormous shame about my body, and fall down rabbit hole of trying to figure out how to fix it.
Nowadays though, I notice those kinds of thoughts but don’t fall into their trap. Instead I take the following five steps:
Identify the thoughts as “old programming” (aka deeply ingrained unconscious beliefs that I don’t consciously agree with)
Remember that these thoughts are a normal and natural response to living in this society (because they are)
Laugh at them (because what better way of disempowering something than to trivialize it as silly?)
Remind myself of my conscious beliefs, and refuse to let the old programming affect my behavior in any way (this is another way of disempowering them, since they only have power if you take action on what they tell you)
Let the thoughts goooo
If you’ve ever experienced conflict between your conscious and unconscious beliefs, then you know it can be frustrating, uncomfortable, and even lead to more self-criticism as you wonder– what’s wrong with me that I’m still having these stupid thoughts!?
That’s why it’s so important to forgive yourself for having old programming about beauty, body, weight, and more. The key to moving through this stage of healing is recognizing that those “old programming” thoughts will never completely go away, and that they don’t mean you’re fucked up or weak or stupid or unable to love yourself.
They don’t mean you’re less self-accepting, body positive, or feminist, either.
They just mean you’re human.
So forgive yourself for wanting to be thin.
Forgive yourself for wishing you didn’t have cellulite.
Forgive yourself for using expensive creams or treatments to fight aging.
Forgive yourself for hoping you wake up with a flat belly.
And instead of trying to control those thoughts (impossible) I recommend you try noticing them, forgiving yourself for having them, disempowering them through laughter and a complete refusal to take action on what they tell you, and then gently letting them go.
This is how we step back into our power.
For me the other night, this meant getting out of bed to eat a snack. I was hungry, and I needed to remind my old programming that it is not in charge anymore.
Yours in re-wiring,