Today, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror of Barnes and Noble for an embarrassingly long amount of time. Three minutes. Five. Ten. Why? Yesterday I finally “caved” – I went to the thrift store and bought a whole new set of pants, having barely managed to squeeze myself into my last pair of “fat” pants no longer.
I needed to up my size. I learned in the dressing room the need was even more drastic than I thought.
This was a bit of a shock – to go from a zero to a six – (holy I’ve been squeezing Batman) and so I found myself poking and prodding for days afterward.
How different do I now look?
Honestly I have no idea.
And am I any more or less attractive than I was before?
Well. That’s subjective, but I am feeling damn adamant that it’s about the same.
To assert in the title of this post that you lack objectivity is, I know, offensive. I apologize. Nonetheless I am certain the statement is true – it is literally impossible for me to see myself (and for you to see yourself) outside of my own current situation and time. As human beings, just as it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to other people, it is impossible to see ourselves without judging ourselves relative to a way we have been in the past or how we anticipate we might be in the future.
We have no objective standards. It is beyond important for us to realize this fact.
To help demonstrate to you just how powerful this phenomenon can be, I have compiled a wide variety of comparisons of different photos of myself taken at various points in time. Below are two photos posted with comments on them: one set from the context in which the photo was taken — the then — (so if the photo was taken in 2011, I share my thoughts from 2011), and then one set from today, the now.
Today I look back on photos in which I had thought I was egregiously overweight, bloated, jiggly, or poorly shaped and I think either ‘healthy wow’ or “skinny wow” – two sets of thoughts that were completely beyond my my current, unobjective, fearful mind.
Will I do the same thing in the future with my current self? Will I, over time, come to view the body I am in in this moment in 2014 as even more worthy of admiration and love and beauty than I do now? Will I look back and think all of my “bad” days were so unbelievably uncalled for?
I am not objective.
I do not pretend to be.
First up are photos from my pre-weight loss days.
Fall of 2009, right before I shed thirty pounds in three months, so I weighed approximately 135-7 pounds. Here, I am participating in a (unorthodox) wilderness evacuation group, having the time of my life, and in extraordinarily good health and fitness, as I lifted heavy things and climbed mountains all day every day:
Spring of 2008:
Fall of 2007: Hiking the Great Wall – after a whole summer of living and doing trailwork in the Colorado wilderness.
In retrospect, I looked good, and happy, and healthy.
Then come the post-weight loss double-zero, lean years, in which I maintain my attitude of being hyper critical and fearful:
This photo is from the Spring of 2011, from my go-go dancing days:
The fall of 2010:
This photo is from the winter of 2011, in which I thought I was having a “fat month” intermission during the lean years:
Spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:
Okay, the fact that I was worried about being “fat” in these photos is scary.
Also the spring of 2011 on a beach in Taiwan:
This photo is from the summer of 2013, right before my recent complete fertility and regular menstruation-gaining weight gain:
Then are the photos I have taken of myself since the weight gain. Since they are so recent I do not have “then” and “now” selections, but I do have “bad brain” and “good brain.”
From the thrift store when I was trying on new pants – checking in on how far apart my feet now need to be for the gap:
This photo is from last weekend, taken at 4am in the hallway of a Latin dance conference in Chicago, at which, of course, I was so happy:
So there you have it. What are some takeaways?
-You probably saw a woman much healthier and lovelier than I ever did/do – then, now, good brain, bad brain. Though I think I’m getting the hang of it now.
-Thighs are a big deal for me. We all have that one “big deal” flaw or what-have-you that is the most important to us.
In fact, this point is worth delving into a bit, since a study I participated in in college demonstrated that we seek in and judge other people the things that we are so attentive to as flaws in our own selves. So I immediately look at people’s skin and their thighs when I “judge” them – or at least these are the characteristics that stand out – because I focus so intently on my own.
-When I was 137 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs, though I guess that’s not apparent in these photos – and every time I looked at these photos on facebook I winced, thinking other people would find me unattractive.
-When I was 105 pounds I nitpicked specific body parts – mostly my thighs – and every time I looked at these photos I felt bad about myself, like I wasn’t winning the skinny game.
-When I returned to 130+ pounds in 2013 I still had bad days, but the good days significantly outnumber them. “Bad brain” tries to pick apart my body and put it into these tiny, scrutinizable, dissectable pieces, but “good brain” says “hell no, woman, you are healthy and whole, inclusive of every piece of you.”
-Fear robs us of love and objectivity. In my current body, I am so afraid of being judged and rejected as substandard. But in hindsight – having already lived the time – I look back on it knowing that everything was perfectly fine and healthy.
-Even in a case in which I/we look back and find myself in less good health, I can still see how my fear made me feel unacceptable, but I needn’t have felt that way, since everything was just plain okay. And I am on a continuously evolving, surprising journey.
-Life is not neat. It is messy. This fact can be scary, but it can also be quite lovely and liberating. Looking at photos of like this demonstrates how much our bodies change even while our reactions to and fear about our bodies stays the same. I have the same fears and anxiety at 130 pounds as I did at 105, and at 137. Of course there are differences, but my anxiety about it all has always been present. Knowing this fact teaches me a bit more each day to let go of control and embrace each day as it is.
Okay! Whoopah. What do you think?
Also, I talk about these things at great length in Sexy by Nature, and I am giving away free copies and sharing parts of the book at the blog post here (!). So check it out and get free stuff.
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All I can say is THANK YOU! I soooo needed this!
The best thing about your blog Stefani, is that you keep it real. You show that life is not always perfect, there are bad days and good days but we still have to live- make things that makes us happy.
Moreover I think that right now you look really pretty and healthy.
Talking about new pair of jeans – I have my favorite pair of jeans that are really really old and have some holes . Yesterday I wanted to strech them a little after washing them – and they just … tore on my ass – not funny at all 😉
So I guess I have to go for shopping or just stick to my leggins (probably I will choose that option).
Thank you for yet another awesome blog post! I can so relate to you, having delt with much of the same eating problems myself, and now having to axept a healthy womanly body. Keep up the good work 🙂 I am really looking forward to your book.
I think this is one of your best posts. I have the worst body image issues & I know all about the “good brain bad brain” deal. You’re such an amazing person & I appreciate the positive spin you put in your work & life. Your blog has helped me in more ways than I can count & I hope you continue to shine 🙂
Hi! You don’t will believe, but I have a history exactly. Same years. body like, but I always have more weight… hahaha
I accompany your blog a long time and I lovet! Everyday if may bad brain appears, I come and read your blog. See your pictures. and I feel better.
I still be gaining weight, but I try don’t care.
I don’t speak English very good, I’m sorry. I’m from Brazil and thank you for share every this and for research about this.
My big problem is my thigh and my arms. But I focus in my hip and waist. Sometimes I stop eat junk food paleo. Sometimes I am really anxious. Lately I have eat green banana because your resistant starch (http://freetheanimal.com/tag/resistant-starch). And now, after 2 monts if 65Kg (I start if 59Kg, in 5~6 monts ago), in one week I have 66,8Kg. Probably because anxious. I don’t know. So, I, frustrated, come here and received this present. I hope if we lost totally the bad brain and, who know, be skin, healthy and happy!
Thanks and let’s go dance!!!
Yes, let’s. 🙂
I believe in you, woman. I have found that getting into cycles of over- and under-eating is one of the hardest things for my body to handle and makes my weight fluctuate a lot .Learning to handle anxiety and to eat when hungry and stop when full can be incredibly helpful not just for weight maintenance but for overall health.
I will try control myself and after I tell for you.
I think this is partly about the eating disorder and I want to finish everything that has to do with it.
Thank you very much for your help!
wow, what an interesting dissection of your thought process and how they’ve changed. i think MANY women (if not all) resonate with it. i certainly do. if i criticize my body at any stage of its evolution, it’s not a matter of changing my body, it’s a matter of changing my mind/heart posture. you do this very well in the post. thanks for sharing so honestly. i’m leaving inspired to consider changing the way i approach my body. xo
When I started Paleo 3 years ago, I was 5’1 and 200 lbs. I was not, by any means, “healthy”. After almost a year of low-carb Paleo, I was down to 135 lbs and felt pretty good about myself. I have PMDD and after a couple months at my lowest weight I had a month-long period. My doctor, as any would, put me on birth control. My period stopped, but my PMDD symptoms got worse. So she put me on another. I gained a quick 25 lbs on it, despite not changing my eating habits. After tons of research, including information from your blog (thanks!), I made the decision to stop birth control and attempt to regulate my hormones more naturally. Per you and Jaminet, I added carbs back in and began taking magnesium. I cut out phytoestrogens, and I threw away anything in my house with fragrance/parfum/anything else hormone-disrupting. The results have been amazing–a regular cycle without meds for the first time, very rare mood swings, little to no cramping. Awesome, right? Except I’ve only lost about 10 of those 25 lbs I gained on the second birth control and my body seems to have reached a happy weight and not be budging. My pant size has only gone up one size, and I’m swimming a mile a couple times a week and can do 20 push-ups in a row for the first time, oh, EVER. Basically, I’m the healthiest and strongest I’ve ever been and my body is the happiest it’s ever been, and yet I still find myself longing for that smaller weight on the scale. It can be frustrating sometimes because we don’t want to think that the images we’re surrounded with affect us, and we want to think we’re beyond that, especially given all of the positive changes we’ve made in our lives. Thankfully, I have a husband who can’t keep his hands off me and tells me all the time how awesome my curvy figure is. And I’m slowly learning, as you mentioned in this post, that it’s easy to look back on pictures more positively than it is to look at ourselves in the now. Thanks so much for sharing YOUR journey and for being so honest about it. It’s a great reminder to all of us women on the road to health that inside healing and acceptance is just as important as what goes on with our bodies.
Your body has been through A LOT, and it’s no wonder that it’s a bit stubborn with that weight. I love that you are learning to love and accept it as it appears it needs to be on its journey right now. This is a beautiful comment – thank you so much for sharing 🙂
Thank you Stefani, awesome post. Got to know you through Balanced bites podcast and I so appreciate your work and how real you are. You are glowing, beautiful person. This post was spot on, and I find the concept of recognizing/differentiating the voice of your own good brain /bad brain so crucial – key to truly tuning in to your emotional needs and physical needs – the true hunger.
you look seriously amazing!!! going through a similar and also lengthy process of gaining weight, perspective, and my life back, thank you. seeing your changes, mental, emotional, and physical, seriously help me. and really–you look SO hot now! yowza!
I have a question… how do you get back to eating like a “normal” person? Like regular eating patterns?
I was very underweight for a variety of reasons (mostly too many restrictions placed upon myself, food fear thanks to too much time on the internet, etc). As I worked to get back to a healthy weight, I just ate. and ate. That often meant shoving spoonfuls of nut butter into my mouth because it’s what my body needed at the time. I did it gladly because I was just DONE with what I’d been doing to myself.
But now that I’m at a healthy weight, I feel like I’m “stuck” with these habits. I try to remind myself “You are healthy. You are a good weight, you have well balanced meals (I work with a dietitian). You’re getting what you need.”, but it’s almost like I’m stuck with post-ED PTSD. I sort of get panicked if I’m not constantly eating now, even if I really don’t need to be. Does that make sense? My goal is to sit down to a meal and really, truly enjoy it. Have a little bit of hunger before the meal, be ok with that, and really enjoy the meal. Not just eat it on top of whatever I’ve been eating while preparing the meal because the feeling of hunger made me panicky/uncomfortable. Any thoughts?
I know food-related panic. Slowly but surely test the waters, is all I can say. Start out with meal preparation that is super short. Get a little bit hungrier than usual before you eat. Prove to yourself that there’s nothing to fear. Baby steps is the key here, and I promise they work for very many of us
This was an absolutely wonderful read! I do the same… diss my current pics & when I look at them 3 yrs down the line, I wonder why I was so critical.
I have been doing “primal” eating for about 1&1/2 year now. I am 5’5 in height and went from about 230+lbs (didn’t weigh myself before starting – was too ashamed) to roughly 140 lbs. I wear a size US size 2 in top & 6 in bottoms and yet after all of this – I still feel “Fat” as my weight loss has stalled in the last 4 months. I got further triggered by a “study” I read last night that compared the stats of runway models v/s playboy v/s modern women. I fell between the playboy & modern women stat and started to instantly feel “unsexy” and like a failure for not losing the last few inches off my waist.
And after reading your post I realized that you are right – I am not being Objective – the very body that I am being critical about today, was my ultimate dream before I started eating Primal. Thanks for this post – it came at a very good time for me!
Stef, this was so encouraging. I’ve hated my unwanted fat baggage that goes directly to my thighs. I’ve been doing reverse jacks from http://www.enhancementscosmeticsurgery.com/target-acquired-toning-thighs/ for 2 weeks now along with fire hydrant exercises which was a bit overwhelming at first. I’ve only set my goals and I’m not doing it to look better but to be healthy and control my eating habits.
Wow, thank you Stefani! What a phenomenal reminder that we as women are not alone. I am 27 and have remained the exact same (healthy) weight for the duration of my young adulthood, plus or minus 5 pounds here and there. Despite this, I am constantly in a mental battle wanting to be thinner. Love and acceptance of our bodies is so hard, but I’m really working on it. And your blog posts are so helpful and inspiring. Just knowing I’m not alone in this struggle is huge. Thanks!
Stef, you are a truly amazing and inspiring woman. Thank you for being so blunt and honest, we need a little bit more of that in the world! I’m cheering you on and sending you loads of positive energy =)
Ahhhh! This is wonderful! I have yet to see a post like this online. How awesome of you and your brain to think of the way we think and put it into pictures (heyo visual learners)! Anyway. Totally relate. Obvi. I don’t weigh myself but I do know when my body is changing for whatever reason. Life has ups and downs and so does the weight. I’ve been slowing growing up and going up in size and it’s OKAY. turning 30 made me try and look my age. Also I notice that I focus less on my body when I am lived happy and focused on living a really cool life. The mirror is the devil and the brain can be too. Sometimes ignoring stuff is okay! Mugabe it’s not even ignoring because we are too worried anyway. Bottom line: yay!
you all should be eating a whole food, low fat, high carb, high calorie green veggie based diet, with plenty of exercise. you would thinner, stronger, faster, more flexible and you would feel better, not to mention you’d spare yourself colon cancer from red meat, the 35 lbs you’ll gain from contracting adenovirus serotype 36 from chicken, a virus roughly 1/5 of the Western World has been exposed to, and you’ll also spare yourself stroke, heart attack or aneurysm, when eating fish shuts down your endothelial cells that regulate blood flow in your arteries.
you should be eating 3000+ calories a day, and the fat on your body should be melting off like butter, if only you were eating the right things, because the only reason anyone loses weight on these extremely unhealthy diets, is because of caloric restriction, but don’t be a fool like me. I started training jiu jitsu at 17, I took on a paleo diet, and maintained it until about 24. I now have ulcerative colitis that will some day turn into colon cancer from all that animal protein, most of it which, I probably couldn’t even metabolize.
if you went high protein high calorie green veggie/whole food based vegan, whatever you want to call it, you wouldn’t have to deal with all this “good brain bad brain” stuff, you’d just be thinner, more toned, faster, more flexible, stronger, and you’d feel better. also, you wouldn’t tear up your colon with carcinogenic, diseased and mutated meat. for me it has nothing to do with any other than my own health, and the simple fact of the matter, is that SEDENTARY vegans, who don’t excersize at ALL, and since they don’t excersize its probably safe to assume they dont’ eat right either, they are STILL healthier than marathon runners on ANY other diet. If you take population samples of people’s BMI’s, you’ll see that vegans are the only group where the mediant BMI of the group is actually within the recommended parameters set by the CDC. even vegetarians don’t make the cut. if you look up nutrition by victoria, you’ll come across a high calorie high protein vegan blog, and mind you, see has METABOLIC DAMAGE, and still is in PERFECT physical shape. most people with metabolic damage would be deteriorating into obesity, very rapidly, regardless of how little they ate, or how much they worked out.