I try to go on a walk every morning. It gives me time to wake up my body, my breath and let thoughts flow in and out of consciousness without placing too much emphasis or focus on any one thing that comes to mind as I move my body through the morning air.
I take the time to notice the heat of the sun or the chill of the morning, the slight breeze as it touches my skin and I tune into the sounds of nature.
This morning, for some reason, my thoughts kept circling back to how I’m feeling about my body these days. I tried to ignore it at first but since the thought kept coming back in, I decided to examine it. What was I feeling that I needed to deal with to bring myself back into the present moment?
At first I thought about how much more comfortable I am with my body here in the south of France than I am in America, and how much more loving I am towards it, even through I’ve put on five pounds since I arrived seven weeks ago.
I thought about how differently I dress here. Each morning, I slip on a pair of bikini bottoms and a loose dress. No leggings cutting into my waist, no bra straps pressing down on my shoulders, no tight shirt showing off my extra curves. Since I am wearing less clothing, I can feel the elements of nature more – the breeze caressing my skin and blowing my hair in different directions, since I’ve given up on pulling it back into a constricting ponytail every day as well. I adorn my fingers and wrists with rings and bracelets in colors that shine and glitter in the sun. I don’t have to worry about them getting in the way all day like they do in the winter when I spend eight hours a day typing on my computer at the law firm I work for. I’ve given up on blow drying my hair, letting it dry a tangled mess in the sun. And the only makeup I wear is a light golden sunscreen on my face and a lightly perfumed oil on my body. If I wear shoes, its a pair of glittery flip flops or pretty flat sandals.
This style feels right, it feels good and it feels less constricted. It’s so different from how I dress back in Utah which is where I spend my winters.
I’ve let my skin get golden brown from spending days in the sun and swimming in the sea and this suntan almost feels like a second skin on my body. I don’t use 50+ sunscreen, I don’t wear a hat and usually I’ll just cover my eyes with a pair of sunglasses. After covering up for so many years, I almost feel like I’m living dangerously. I’m sure my Vitamin D levels are off the charts! I throw on a long beaded necklace that hangs down to my waist and I’m ready to go from early morning until the time I go to bed.
But as I continued to think about why I feel better about myself here in France, I realized that it’s not just dressing differently. It’s a lot of other things as well.
At first, I wasn’t very happy about putting on an extra five pounds. I struggled to be okay with it. I feel a bit rounder, a bit softer but I am slowly getting used to it and even getting to like it.
One of my favorite expressions here is “petit cousin d’amour” which translates into “little love pillow”. It’s used to explain a few extra pounds of cushioning on your stomach in a loving way. It means your belly has a softness for your boyfriend or child to rest their head on. I hear so many French women use this phrase every single day. Instead of saying, “oh, I’m fat” or “I’ve put extra weight on my tummy”, they simply say, “mais oui, j’ai un petit cousin d’amour maitenent”. (well yes, I have a little love pillow now)
It’s incredible the impact that words can have upon us and how important it is to be conscious of our inner voices. In the beginning, I’d touch my tummy and say, “ugh, gross, I’ve put on five pounds. I need to stop eating all of the amazing cheese and bread and wine here so that my tummy is flat again”. But the reality is, while I am here is France for the summer, I do want to eat all of the wonderful French cheese and drink the gorgeous wine. So I decided to take charge and start talking to myself differently. To begin thinking about myself in a more loving and forgiving way.
It was difficult at first, but now, I find myself touching my tummy and thinking, well yes, it’s just my little love pillow. I’ve made an effort to do this many times a day, every day for the past few weeks. Each time a negative body image thought comes up, I replace it with a positive one. And so much more accepting of myself and my body and my extra five pounds.
Our self talk is a very powerful thing. And we have the power to stop and notice how we are talking to ourselves and to make sure it is in a loving, gentle, forgiving, accepting and positive way.
We are not supposed to be perfect. Not our bodies, our minds, our souls, our relationships, our lives or our tummies. We are not supposed to stay the same size and shape throughout our lives as we grow older.
I think of all of the years I worked as a personal trainer, pilates and yoga instructor, training clients from the ages of fifteen to seventy five and none of them were happy with the shape of their bodies. All of them wanted something different. A flatter stomach, leaner legs, sculpted biceps and of course, they all wanted to be thinner. It’s the American ideal is it not?
And I saw the pain, the damage, the self abuse, the frustration and the self loathing that it caused them. I think of how many years I tried to make my body “perfect”. Dancing all of my life and then modeling , there was always so much pressure on my weight, on being really thin. But the reality is, I’m not dancing or modeling anymore and I’m past midlife, past the age of 45, so why would I still strive for a hard, lean, sculpted body?
Looking back, I think of all of the hours I wasted in the gym exercising with the intention to burn calories and stay thin. I could have been working on more important things like relationships and experiences with loved ones or spending more time out in nature.
In the end, I feel like it’s just another distraction to focus on, trying to control our weight, what we eat, how many calories we burn and how much we weigh. Just another distraction to avoid looking at the feelings that underly our body issues. The feelings of not being enough. The feelings of wanting to be loved. The feelings from the past that we have not dealt with.
A perfect body does not exist and a perfect body does not bring happiness or connection or love into our lives. Not lasting anyway.
Why do we spend so much time criticizing ourselves? Why do we place so much emphasis on our bodies? In all reality, we are not our bodies and it does so much damage to our self esteem, our mood and the way we feel about ourselves to be constantly striving for unattainable perfection.
I started to think of the word skinny. What a loaded and horrible word. Why does our American culture place so much importance on being skinny? Screw skinny.
What has skinny ever gotten me really? Maybe during my career, it helped me get hired for certain jobs where that was the requirement. But if I look at the word now, I’ve decided it needs to be completely deleted from my vocabulary. Will skinny make me happier? No. Will skinny make me feel better about myself? Actually, no. Skinny doesn’t solve my problems or pay my bills or help me raise my son or make me feel anything but worse about myself, perpetuating the myth that I am not enough.
I am absolutely and completely enough. And so are you.
America wants me to be skinny and busy and working and tired. France wants me to relax and eat and drink and enjoy life, to do more things that feel like play and to have a little more flesh on my body, to have a little love pillow on my tummy and to feel good about it.
I will try my hardest to never again pinch the skin on my stomach and say gross, fat, yuck. I will try every day to lovingly rub my belly, like rubbing the belly of a buddha to bring good luck and repeat the words, my little love pillow.
So, with each day that passes as I spend this summer in France, I peel off the layers of unrealistic expectations of American culture and I find that my life is simpler here and that there is more authenticity in the way I live each day with this comes the ability to begin to love myself exactly as I am. I see all this as nourishment instead of starvation. Nourishment for my body, my spirit and my soul. These days I work on my soul while taking care of my body.
I don’t go to the gym anymore. I don’t worry about doing cardio or lifting weights or burning calories. I simply go on a walk outside in nature each morning for an hour or two. But, my intention is not to make this daily exercise. It’s simply my time to breathe, to connect to the world and myself, to simply let my thoughts and ideas flow in and out of consciousness.
This new way of thinking feels right to me. It feels kinder, better, more loving. I trust my feelings and I am defining my own opinions about what beauty is in my own shape and form.
How have the voices I’ve listened to for so many years chanting to me endlessly about striving for perfection helped with my happiness? How have they made me feel whole and loved and beautiful? They haven’t and so I’m done with them. Screw skinny. Screw perfection.
I don’t want to reach the end of my life and look back on all of the hours I spent working, organizing, doing and achieving.
I want to look back and remember the feeling of the sun, the taste of the sea, the smell of the morning air, the long morning walks, the time spent with friends and family, the taste of fresh french bread and cheese and wine, the new softness of myself and my life here this summer.
I want to spend the rest of my life loving myself and loving others, loving life and loving this world. And holding onto this new feeling of being loved. By myself. Completely. As I am today. I’m just beginning to taste this for the first time. And this means accepting all of my flaws, my imperfections, my messiness. But this is where the real beauty lies. Each of us will always be a mess in one way or another. Perfection is a painful myth. I’m learning to love myself unconditionally and wholly. Without judgement there is only acceptance. Without striving for an unrealistic goal there is only being and experiencing what is.
And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good
~ Jon Steinbeck