That was the snippet I heard as I was passing by.
On the surface, the hot topic at work that morning seemed to be about skinny jeans. But it wasn’t really about jeans—it was about fat knees.
Fat knees? Seriously?
So, I looked it up. And yes, a preoccupation over fat knees is, indeed, a thing. But what isn’t a thing to somebody on the planet. And judging from a recent post about jeans with windows, the appearance of our knees must be important—well, at least to some people.
Now I don’t claim to have my finger on the newest fads or fashion trends, but I do have my eyes and ears tuned into topics on health and wellness. And the discussion that morning didn’t sound like it was coming from a healthy body image. It sounded more like body shaming.
Unhealthy obsessions over physical appearance are nothing new. And, unfortunately, the media reinforces these beliefs with advertisements that remind us of how much better off we’d be if only we were more attractive.
Even celebrities aren’t immune. When Lady Gaga performed at the Super Bowl halftime in January, she was body shamed on social media for her exposed “natural” midriff. But Gaga didn’t let the shaming stop her, responding: “I’m proud of my body and you should be proud of yours too… no matter who you are or what you do.”
Whether it’s knees, stomachs, legs, or whatever part of the body we obsess over, expectations of our youth-focused and beauty-conscious society will be forever unattainable. But that doesn’t mean we need to play along with the dysfunction. Self-rejection feeds low self-esteem, which only makes it more difficult to remember that we’re always worthy of love and support—especially from ourselves.
If it’s self-love and self-acceptance we’re looking for, then we need to learn ways to give ourselves that unconditional support, even in the light of conflicting social messages. We all seek validation, acceptance, and happiness. But happiness doesn’t come from our outward appearance. True happiness comes from within. And this higher, unconditional belief comes from paying attention to both our bodies and minds.
When we gain control over our thoughts, we reclaim our power to accept and care for our bodies. And once we realize that our thoughts fuel our beliefs, we can stop creating our own fake news and start believing that our bodies can be acceptable.
Jillian Lampert of The Emily Program—a foundation created to eliminate eating disorders—reminds us that many people think it is “normal” to feel bad about their body and to never feel good enough, thin enough, muscular enough, whatever. According to Lampert,
“Enough is enough. The time is now to love the body you are in and take care of it because it feels good, not because it’ll change how it looks. Why be the enemy of your body when it is your constant companion? Eat well, move well, cope well and sleep well and your body will be what it is designed to be. Quintessentially you!”
Having a battle with your body? Here are a few ways to call a truce and find more peace:
We are who we are. And this is good. Each of us is unique and has a different body size, shape, and form. Even if we desire to be thinner, stronger, larger, or smaller, we are still going to have a natural body size due to bone structure, muscle tissue, and genetic predisposition. When we learn to accept ourselves and recognize that our beauty is natural, other details—like appearance—become secondary.
The body and mind are connected. There are significant studies about the mind-body connection and how our thoughts directly influence our health and well-being. When we discover that our thoughts and perspectives about our bodies are directly related our health, we can learn to replace old negative thoughts with healthy ones. A healthy mind feeds a healthy body.
Different strokes for different folks. Contrary to what the media tells us, not everybody is attracted to the same type of person. We are drawn to distinct types of cars: some people like sedans; some like SUVs. Our bodies also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and so do our tastes. Don’t let society tell you what is attractive—hold on to your own opinions.
Eat for fuel, not for feelings. It is important to see food as fuel for our bodies. When we use food to supplement emotions, it can be difficult to maintain nutritional balance and nourish our systems properly. If you have difficulty managing your emotions and are using food for comfort, seek help through your doctor, a counselor, or organizations like The Emily Program. Learn to see food as a positive and healthy supplement to your individual health and well-being.
Comparison can be chronic. And it’s also a losing game. Remember: We are supposed to be different. The more we compare ourselves to others, the more we may feel inferior to them. Resist the temptation to fall into the trap of comparison and remember that others are having their own body experience just like we are. Focus only on yourself and your body.
Exercise for health, not vanity. This can be a difficult shift to make, especially for chronic “gym rats.” However, the reality is that exercise is meant to help us stay healthy, and a fit physique may be a wonderful result of a healthy lifestyle—but not necessarily the reason for sweating at the gym. All exercise not need involve joining a gym; it can be as simple as moving more intentionally throughout our day by using the stairs instead of the elevator or taking a walk during lunch. Be creative!
When in doubt, reach out. If you’re having difficulties with body acceptance, don’t be afraid to seek help. With a refreshed focus on health and wellness over the past few years, there are more resources for support than ever before from health providers, nutritionists, counselors, and fitness trainers. Check with your doctor about support within your health plan and reconnect with friends, family, or others in your community who are focused on body health and wellness. We were never meant to go through this life alone.
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg helps people maintain balance during transitions in their work, relationships, and life. Learn more at michaelsunnarborg.com