"Momma Bare"—aka our body-positive wellness guru, Joni Edelman—offers advice to a woman with a new body she doesn't quite know what to do with.
Dear Momma Bare,
You might be able to help me get to a better place. I've recently lost a lot of weight (almost 100 pounds, slowly over about a year and a half). I'm definitely healthier. I have a spring in my step and the little aches and pains I was developing when I was heavier have vanished. My physical body loves this new size. My mental body . . . not so much. I honestly don't recognize myself when I look in the mirror, and even though I think the person looking back at me looks "good," it's not me. Where did I go?
People (friends, acquaintances, co-workers) seem to treat me differently now, from compliments to flirting to taking a greater interest in me as a person. That's great, but what does that say about what they thought about me before, and what will they think about me if this new me isn't here for the long haul? Then there's all of the body stuff . . . my boobs are comical, my thighs look like I'm 90 years old, and my stomach looks great when I'm standing up, but when I bend over, it looks like stretched-out silly putty.
Where do I go from here? I'm not sure how to put all of these pieces together into a person that feels as good inside her own head as her lungs do while she's running down the trail.
Right off the bat let me say, WELL DONE! Take a bow! Dropping 100 pounds slowly and healthily is an amazing triumph and I'm proud of you! Is it weird for a stranger to be proud of you? Because I am. It's the mother in me.
Here's the thing about your mind and your body . . . A lot of the time, the two aren't communicating even a little. Sure, if you whack your toe on a chair your mind says, "YOU MORON! WHERE DID YOU LEARN TO WALK?" But when it comes to your physique, your mind actually works against you. You've been looking at "before" you in the mirror for as long as "before" you existed, and you're accustomed to that reflection. That person is you. New you is some stranger in your house and that's just creepy. Seriously though, body dysmorphic disorder is real. Your self-concept and actual self don't have very good communication skills.
Case in point: I lost 60 pounds and I was still trying to buy clothes that were way too big. I didn't see myself as a size 4. At all. SO I kept losing weight. All I saw was fat me. Everyone was congratulating me on how great I looked; meanwhile, I was thinking, "You must be blind."
*A side note on people: Sadly, as a whole, they are generally shallow. Like wading-pool shallow. Their treatment of you will almost always be impacted by your appearance. Because, again, they're shallow. It's hard to brush people off, but try. Please try. Because people don't matter. YOU matter. Sometimes I just like to say to myself, "Self. These people are on their own path in this life and they don't have to get you. Only you have to get you."
Back to you. You are your own mind/body therapist here. Let's get to it. As uncomfortable as it may be for you, I'll advise you as I would any friend (because we're friends now; you asked me for advice, after all): Take your clothes off and look at your body in the mirror. I KNOW. This sounds positively mad. But bear with me. Look at all the parts that you love and also the parts that you don't. Make friends with your body. Hang out for a while. And for cake's sake (I just made that up, but I'm using it forever) be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself like you would a friend. "Hey self, I love you whether your boobs are comical or not [and by the way, I have so been there with the boobs, tube socks amiright?]. You're amazing! Thanks for helping me breathe and walk and live and stuff."
The truth, as painful as it may be, is that your body is going to look different. Over time some parts may tighten up, but they also might not. Assuming you aren't getting plastic surgery, then what you've got is yours. Forever and ever. Amen.
And here's the thing: All of that worry can disappear. POOF. David Copperfield status. It's completely possible to deliver yourself from all the torture—from the concern about your current body, from the fretting about the possible return of your old body (I've been there too!), and from the stress about what people think.
At the risk of never needing to write another column forever, I'll tell you the secret:
Love yourself more.
It's that simple. I mean it's not simple, but it is. Spend time falling in love with you and the rest of the stuff will become smaller and smaller, until it all but disappears. Our physical appearance is part of us. It feels like a really big part. But let me offer an analogy: If you were to bake a cake and you left out the baking soda, the cake would sort of suck. Conversely, if you ate the baking soda by the spoonful, you would not enjoy it. That much I know for sure. The baking soda and the rest of the delicious things in cake are required to make a cake, well, a cake. This is the same with your body. ALL the parts that are you—the good, the bad, the (perceived) ugly—are all necessary to make YOU.
And you, my friend, are a beautiful person.
In love and cake,
*For extra credit, put a box of baking soda on your bathroom counter. Let this serve as a friendly reminder that you are a beautiful cake. Baking soda and all.
Have your own body-image question to ask? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.