HOW I'M WORKING ON MY BODY IMAGE

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I always question myself when I start to write really personal posts -- Should I really be putting some of the most private thoughts of mine on the internet? Usually right after I click "publish" I regret it a little bit and spend the next half hour wondering if I should delete the post, the half hour after that determined that I'm making a difference by sharing, the next half hour questioning my identity, the next half hour giving myself a pep talk and then basically cycling through each of those a few more times until finally, someone messages me saying it meant a lot to them and I officially decide to leave it up. 

Ok, so here I go:

MY STORY

I grew up feeling totally, totally confident in my body. I didn't necessarily think I was the most beautiful person of all people, but it also wasn't my focus to become the most beautiful person of all people... I just didn't think about it that much. I actually kind of remember the first two times I had a negative thought about my body. One was when I was probably about 9 years old...I had really dry skin on my face and my friend asked me why I had it. I was embarrassed, but determined quickly enough that it was her problem for thinking it was weird and not mine. The next time was when I was 12 and I was staring at my legs while sitting down and I thought they looked huge. But then I thought "eh, they're probably pretty normal, I should just get over it." And I did. Oh, to think like 12 year old Julie again!

Even through high school I just didn't worry about my body. My parents set a uniquely good example of a healthy relationship with food. We LOVED food and having friends over for big meals, but it was also never something that was used to cope. We ate healthily and got exercise but we didn't talk about it that much. We just ate and enjoyed it.

In college was when I really started to struggle for the first time. I lived with all girls who were SO amazing and particularly determined to form a culture that promoted healthy body image, but I still experienced the culture of the rest of my campus where it's estimated that one fifth of the women met clinical guidelines for eating disorders. People would literally group purge in the bathrooms together after a big meal or before a big event. 

During that same time, I weighed about 20-30 pounds less than I do now and I was in a relationship where I was told directly that I should really try to lose some weight. (This is the part I debate sharing with you because they are LIES.) I mentioned that I was already considered to be on the low end of healthy if not underweight, but he wanted less. I quickly "learned" that my thighs were abnormally huge for the rest of my body, among other things, which was followed by conversations about how I would work on that and what we would do in the future if I got fat and didn't notice and he couldn't tell me because I was too emotional to listen to him. How could he be sure I would stay skinny for him? 

All of that ended about 3 years ago, but to be honest, it's been very hard to shake it, and I know that so many (maybe even most) of us have some version of this same story when it comes to our bodies. We can't escape our bodies or take a week vacation from them, so it's something that can end up constantly on our minds, affecting everything that we do. While I still struggle in this area way more than I want to admit to 12-year-old-Julie, I am PASSIONATE about creating a space where people experience true healing and can start to be restored to that childlike peace (ironically, that's what my name "Julie Erin" means). 

THREE THINGS:

1. STOP FACETUNING: If you are facetuning your photos as a model or photographer, STOP. My personal policy is I am willing to edit things that I could technically also edit with makeup or lighting, but I will never edit things that I could not. I will never change a person's body shape in a photo. I actually thought for a while that we were over this as a culture, until I found the account CelebFace (warning: this account is rated PG13, but just reveals how often photos are still edited in crazy ways, especially on Instagram). We need to get over this as a culture and truly start embracing diverse body types. Do your part!

2. IT SHOULDN'T EVEN BE ALL ABOUT OUR BODIES IN THE FIRST PLACE: It should be like it was for 12-year-old-Julie. "huh! my legs look big! Whatever!" We don't have to lie to ourselves on our "bad days" and try to believe we always look 100% amazing, we just need to realize there is so much more to us than how good our bodies look. Lately my face has been breaking out so much more than it used to, and I'm not going to say "wow! I love my acne! This looks so great!" but I am going to remember that my body was made for soooo many reasons way beyond showing off my skin. It's laughable to think that my body loses value if it has some tiny bumps on one part, and it's laughable to think that my value is connected to my body in the first place.

One of my roommates in college used to get teased for always comforting us with the worse case scenario (not how you think you should comfort someone normally!), but I've found that it actually can be so comforting to think that way, especially when it comes to bodies. So your stomach isn't flat... What's the worst that could happen/what's the worst thing that could say about you? Usually the answer is "well I just don't like that" or "they're going to think ___." And then you shake it off and say "I am more than my body and I'm not going to worry about this today."

3. NOTICE THE MORE SUBTLE, UNHEALTHY MESSAGES AND THROW THEM OUT: The other day one of my favorite Instagrammers posted a caption that said she had eaten so much cheese in Italy so she was excited to get a work out in. She meant it to be light and casual and a little funny/relatable, but I see this all the time and these are the comments that hurt me the most. I had a lot of cheese this week, and I'm not working out extra hours (or honestly at all this week) to make up for that. So what does that say about me? All of that goes through my mind without realizing, and that's from a fairly innocent post that didn't even show off her perfect body. I unfollowed her even though she's one of my favorites, because I know my self esteem can't handle subtle messages like that. 

Be well, work out, eat healthily and take care of your body because it empowers you to feel good and function at your best. Anything driven by shame or guilt or regret or fear is always so so temporary and unfulfilling. As soon as it takes away from your mental health, it's probably not helping you that much anyways. If you need to take a year off of Instagram, do it. If you need to unfollow your favorite people, do it. If you need to put post it notes on your mirrors or change your phone background or find a friend who gets it, do it all!! Just be nice to your body and focus on what's lasting.