Navigating Changes in Body Image

I've been reflecting on how much my body image has improved in the last few years (amazing as I'm "over 35".) We were doing an exercise on body image in a group last week and I was surprised with my positive thoughts and feelings about my body. I like the way my jeans fit now and how my arms aren't so skinny. I shun fashion magazines and the "heroin-chic look” of some models. Fifteen years ago, I thought I was huge at this weight. Now, it feels right. Had I finally learned to love and accept my body?

But then, the Olympics started. I noticed all those strong bodies, the athletes' work and determination, the idealization of those who push themselves to the limit. That little voice inside of me started to say, "You should be more like that." Suddenly, the flesh around my middle felt more ample and my arms looked too soft.  I didn't feel so good about my physique anymore... was I back to square one? 

Not quite. I reasoned with myself – I've never aspired to be a great athlete. Those athletes don't put their bodies through their workouts to achieve a certain look – they develop their muscles for their sport. They don't look like that all the time – it's for competition. My body needs to be strong for the activities of my life. This line of reasoning was reiterated by trusted individuals when I told them about my concerns.

While I'm walking my dog in the morning, I often observe groups outside doing gentle dancing or Tai Chi. Each person moves his or her body with confidence and flow, celebrating the body he or she has. Their ages, sizes, and shapes vary – but all are accepting of who they are for that moment. Sometimes the dancers chat or laugh between songs. There's a beauty to it all. 

I was disappointed with my negative thoughts about my body, but when I deconstructed what was going on with me, it was more than just thinking I was "fat."  A lot of stressful events have arisen lately. It was also "that time of the month," so my body was going through some temporary adjustments that were contributing to the heavy feeling. With this in mind, and after doing a reality check with others, I started to feel OK about my body – and recovery. And I feel good again in my jeans.

Karen Cox is a social worker, health educator, and peer supporter in Toronto. She is also "in recovery."