Health & Medicine

Comfortable within your skin

I’m celebrating another birthday this week. And I plan to give a gift to every woman that I know.

This year I want to accept my body in its entirety, to embrace every wrinkle, stretch mark and imperfection. I want to celebrate this marvelous bone-and-sinew vehicle that transports me up a trail on Bishop Peak or into a down dog on my yoga mat.

As I become more comfortable in my female skin, other women are likely to follow suit. If just one of us stops fretting needlessly about our hips, our hair or our eyelids, more of us have permission to do the same.

Because I was born with two X chromosomes, I’ve been subjected to physical scrutiny since I was tiny. My height, shoe size, bra size and hair color have been fair game for public comment. Sometimes the opinions have been positive: “Ooh, I’d give anything to be 5-foot-10.” But for the most part they’ve been downers: “Your hair would be so much prettier with blond highlights.” “We could make those lips look fuller.” “A little padding would help that dress fit better.” “You look kind of chubby in that photo.” I eventually turned the editorializing inward and accepted the opinions as my own.

I’m certainly not alone. Every woman hears a different version of the same messages. “Your thighs are too (fill in the blank).” “Your tummy is (add a condescending adjective).” New mothers make seemingly innocent yet derogatory judgments on their infant girls’ appearance. An increasing number of parents give their teenage daughters breast augmentation surgery as a graduation present.

Even Kate Middleton, the incredibly fit and healthy future Queen of England, is being barraged by fitness and nutrition experts who monitor her every calorie and workout lest she — gasp! — gain weight before her April wedding.

Men seem to be immune to the disparaging phenomenon. They’re far less likely than women to be critical about how they look. In fact, males frequently hold an inflated view of their physical appearances, telling themselves they’re svelte and sexy when they’re actually overweight and out of shape.

Of course, being healthy is a completely different matter. It’s vital that we eat appropriate amounts of nutritious food and that we make time for regular exercise. These behaviors tend to be infused with an air of self-caring and are generally devoid of the loathing that accompanies physical criticism.

Dressing nicely is wonderful, too. It’s emotionally uplifting to wear fun, attractive clothing that makes us feel special and attractive. It’s another way of stating, “I’m comfortable with my appearance and I celebrate the terrific female that I am.”

As I prepare to turn another page on my personal calendar, I ask all of you to join me in taking a nonjudgmental pledge. We vow to look into our mirrors and think, “I love and honor what I see.” If there are areas that we feel need improvement, we can certainly do what needs to be done. But those changes are made with joy and acceptance and not because we don’t measure up.

Tips for cultivating body acceptance

Need help in accepting your appearance? Follow these ideas:

You are what you think. The words that pop up on your internal screen determine how you feel about yourself. If your mind is crammed with negative thoughts, they spill over into everything you do. Notice what your inner critic tells you and how it makes you feel.

Watch your language. Do you openly berate yourself in front of others? That behavior is a drag on all who hear you. Listeners waste energy bolstering your sagging ego. They’re also more likely to be critical of themselves. Do everyone within earshot a big favor and keep your negativity off the public airwaves.

Reprogram yourself. If you’re truly committed to changing your body image, you’ll need to erase all previous psychic programming. Download only positive messages, such as “I look fine” or “I’m so much more than my physical appearance.”

Get moving. Research shows that women who are physically active have healthier, more realistic opinions about their bodies than their more sedate counterparts. Work out with a personal trainer or take a hike to feel instantly better about yourself.

Find like-minded partners. A healthy attitude is contagious. Choose friends who feel the same way you do.

Spread the word. Tell every female you think she’s awesome. Repeat the same message to yourself on a daily basis. We can free ourselves from the tyranny of criticism, one woman at a time.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her visit lindalewisgriffith.com

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