There are so many parts of ourselves that we may not feel at peace with, and oftentimes mainstream media only reinforces these damaging, anti body positive beliefs. This means narrowing our focus to one goal or mantra might feel daunting, since the way we feel about our bodies has so many intersections, causes, and effects to possibly sum up into a few words. But one thing we can vow to do come the new year — and that I personally feel would be beneficial to every human seeking body positivity — is to stop hiding.
I never used to take New Year's resolutions particularly seriously, having always believed that if you want to change your life that much, you can choose to implement said change any other day of the year. However, as someone who takes forever to warm up to change and to the idea of doing good things for their body, having the motivation of a new beginning and a New Year's resolution has actually proven to be pretty useful. Especially when it comes to my journey to body positivity. With 2016 fast approaching, it's helpful to reflect on my progress with self love over the past 12 months. How do I feel? How have my feelings changed? What part of my journey can I approach with special focus in this new year?
It's far too easy to hide a feature about yourself that you don't feel at peace with. Out of sight, out of mind, right? That's why I keep tucking my belly into high-waisted pants and skirts. I can hide it for now, present in a way that feels the safest, and deal with my insecurities about it at a later date. That's why I covered up parts of my body when I had sex, too. Or why I try to hide my teeth as much as possible, especially in photographs.
But when we keep hiding parts of ourselves in such a way, we fail to live our lives to the fullest. We forget our worth, and this forgetting can leak into our personal relationships and professional lives, coloring our world with discomfort and hesitation. In our efforts to stop hiding, we should give these parts of ourselves the visibility they deserve by ceasing to make concealing ourselves a priority in dressing, spending more time with our nude bodies, and taking a ton of selfies.
There is arguably no greater medicine for body negativity than a little TLC. Here and there, I do a little body pos self care through encouraging words said in the mirror, time spent in the bath with my nude body, or the occasional selfie sesh. I always feel great doing these activities, but I know I could use more consistency with them. By sticking to a routine that celebrates the parts of our bodies we'd usually cast to the shadows, we can begin to condition ourselves to think differently about what we have going on.
In addition to concealing our physical bodies behind clothes, another way we hide ourselves is by choosing to ignore the messages our bodies send us when they're sick or neglected. In other words, hiding from our bodies rather than actually hiding them.
Personally, I hate exercising. The only activity I enjoy is yoga, but I can hardly ever stick to any kind of routine. I'm vegan, but I eat more chocolate and processed food than anything else. Most of my meals come in a box from the freezer section, which I prefer to cooking something for myself any day. I once went two months without eating a vegetable, purely to avoid cooking. And I usually drink alcohol twice a week. None of these things are "wrong" or "bad," of course. But for me, they have the potential to compromise my health and quality of life.
I was diagnosed with Lyme Disease when I was 14, three years after I was actually infected. Since so much time passed with the infection running rampant in my system, it became chronic and affected every part of my body, leaving me with some long-term damage (like slower cognition, arthritis, and a couple of heart conditions).
As a person living with a chronic illness, every move that I made and everything I put into my body affected my symptoms and recovery process in some way. So I cut out all sugars, processed foods, alcohol, and animal products. I took a ton of vitamins and drank a lot of juice. I exercised when I had the strength and motivation to. But as soon as I was in remission at age 18, I slowly began to reintroduce all of these things into my life. Eating sugar and drinking alcohol didn't bother me anymore, so I returned to them with renewed excitement. I hadn't given these choices much second thought, since I've been taking my health for granted since I've stopped treatment. But a little over a month ago, I relapsed.
This wouldn't have been the first time I experienced symptoms since my initial remission. Every now and then, I have a flareup, as is common with anyone living with a chronic condition. But each and every time I felt my body suffer during these times, I would hide. I'd hide from the traumatic memories my illness and treatments left me with by denying the existence of any symptoms, instead going for another glass of wine. This time, however, the crippling pain in all of my joints and muscles told me that this was more serious.
I acknowledge that part of my reluctance to take better care of myself with diet and exercise stems from associations with my illness from the past. Exercise has the potential to remind me of all the ways my body is disabled, while healthy foods highlight my strict diet and horribly sensitive tummy. But that was all in the past. This time, I was determined to treat my body well, and give it the attention it deserves.
So I've started my New Year's resolution early this year. Over the past couple of weeks, I've cut out alcohol completely, I eat salads and vegetables often, and I start every day with a short yoga sequence. Amazingly, my body responded immediately, with my soreness lessening considerably. With the awareness that the darkest days of my illness are in the past, and the realization that I have the strength and motivation to properly navigate these relapses, I became more secure in my body's power and limitlessness. But only after I stopped hiding truths from myself.
For this coming year, let's resolve to hide our bodies less, as well as hide from them. If you want to wear a crop top, rock it with confidence. If you don't feel so secure about your belly, spend some loving time with it. If your body needs more exercise, but you personally hate routines, make 2016 the year you find a way to keep your body moving while also staying motivated. If you have persistent headaches, get to the bottom of the cause and find alternative ways of coping that are effective.
No matter what it is that you're hiding from, your body is worth taking care of, showing off, and listening to. So bring whatever small messages your body has been sending you to the light and make sure you're taking care of you first and foremost. By making the issues of our bodies visible and validated through acknowledgment and self care, we can begin to heal from our body negative tendencies for a more self-love-fueled new year.
Images: Meg Zulch