By VANESSA HAMPTON
If you know me or follow my column, you know that I try to be transparent about who I am and about my own personal journey. I believe we all have experiences and fears that we keep to ourselves because we don’t think any one else really understands or struggles with them, but I know that’s not true. In working with so many people and walking hand in hand with them along their own journey, I have learned that many of us have a lot more in common than we think. With that in mind, I am getting very personal this week.
These last few weeks have been an emotional challenge for me. Quite simply, the mirror and I are not getting along. This used to be the case all the time, but it’s been a long while since I have been this frustrated with my reflection. I have never been the person that is completely comfortable in my skin. In fact, most of my life, I have been a person that is extremely self-conscious and insecure in my body. I have reached a much better place in the last several years, but I guess the deep rooted emotions don’t ever fully go away….maybe.
I am not sure exactly where the disconnect began in my relationship with the mirror. It could have been as far back as when I was teased in middle school for being overweight. Or maybe even further back, as a young girl, when my grandmother used to justify my weight to people by labeling me “just a big girl”. Somewhere along the way, though, I placed an expectation in my head of what I should see in the mirror, but the mirror never seemed to agree.
This dysfunctional relationship with my image has caused a lot of pain and a lot of tears over the years. Even when I was at my smallest, training for figure class body building shows and experiencing eating perfection, I still looked in the mirror and thought I was too big (or not good enough…or whatever). In fact, I will never forget one experience. It was literally the day before I was to step foot on stage for one of my bodybuilding shows. I was in a store trying on some shorts. I turned to see how they looked from the backside, and I literally burst into tears. My heart rate shot up and I was immediately questioning how I could do the show. After months of two-a-day workouts, endless meals of tilapia and asparagus, a week of intentionally dehydrating myself, and fitting into a size 2 shorts, the only thing I saw in the mirror was ugly cellulite. It breaks my heart just writing about this right now because I was so extremely hard on myself.
In the last few years, I stopped placing such harsh expectations on my image. I gave up bodybuilding shows because, despite the fact that I enjoyed the extreme discipline they require (I know…weird), I knew that it was not a healthy headspace for me. I changed my focus to my strength and began the practice of being kind to my image. Don’t get me wrong. I have never stopped the habit of waking up in the morning, looking in the mirror, and turning sideways to see how far my stomach is sticking out. (What is up with that anyway? Where did THAT stupid habit come from and what am I hoping to confirm??). Obviously, the deep-rooted insecurity is still existent. I just don’t typically let it define me anymore.
Since I started doing so much work on changing my focus, I have gotten a lot more comfortable with what I see in the mirror and how I feel in my clothes. I gave up weighing myself more than a year ago. Completely stopped. I realized that it really brought nothing positive to my life. In fact, it really didn’t matter what the number showed. I was never ever satisfied with it, and it only proved to be self-defeating…every single time. I always encourage my clients to minimize their scale use and so I took my own advice and just gave it up all together. It has been very freeing. Depending only on what I see in the mirror and how my clothes fit has helped me find a more peaceful place of self-confidence.
A few weeks ago, however, I back tracked big time. Suddenly, what I was seeing in the mirror did not match what I was looking for in my mind. Getting ready in the morning started taking longer because I was changing clothes at least 3 or 4 times before I finally settled with the least offensive outfit. Now, I am pretty sure nothing major physically changed overnight (In fact, I know it didn’t). I was looking at the same body that I had viewed the week and month before, but somehow it suddenly wasn’t good enough.
I began expecting to put on my jeans (that I only wear on the weekends) and have them not fit over my hips any more. That didn’t happen. I told my husband (who thought I was ridiculous because he could see nothing different) that I felt like I was hanging on to 10 pounds of water. I actually used the words “I feel fat”. I actually said those words! If you know anything about me, then you know these are like curse words to me because I HATE hearing others say them. I lived with those words in my head for so long that I swore them off. When I revert back to saying that…or even thinking it just once, then I know something is seriously awry.
I started doing some soul searching to determine why I have been feeling this way and where this negativity was coming from. I was desperate to figure out if hormones were playing a part and I truly was holding onto a lot of excess water, or if this was totally just the head space I was in and, if so, why. The answer came to me pretty suddenly. I finally realized that a few weeks ago I went to the doctor and they weighed me. I don’t usually pay any attention to the number anymore even at the doctor, because my clothes seem the same, but the number this time took me by surprise. I was up about 5-7 pounds from where I was the last time I weighed more than a year ago. I really didn’t think much about it at the time (probably because I was sick and didn’t care in that moment) but I believe it stirred up insecurities of long ago.
It’s the same thing I always preach about to others…”Don’t let that number on the scale define you”. “There’s so many factors that go into the scale and it’s not a reliable benchmark”. “Who cares about a certain number on a little piece of metal and plastic?”. I am passionate about this subject and everything I am telling you is exactly why. It can be brutal for many of us. The number caught me by surprise. Something I placed no value in prior to that trip to the doctor, somehow got in my head. I emotionally retreated to a previous life of fear and extreme insecurity. That is not who I am anymore. It’s not who I want to be and its not who I will allow myself to be.
So today I am working through it. I am fighting my way back to a better relationship with the mirror. I won’t lie. I am not there yet. I still have to convince my reflection that our worth is not rooted in a number. I have to remind myself that I have not failed and have not done anything wrong because the scale moved. I’m getting there, but I still have some work to do to get back to a place of peace. This whole experience has just reminded me that there truly is no destination in this life. There’s no place of perfection to reach. We have different legs of the journey and we can continue to get better, be better, do this life better, but there will always be bumps in the road. The goal is to just keep moving forward….One kind, gentle, loving thought at a time.
Vanessa Hampton, owner of Body Balance with V and Body Balance Massage & Wellness, is a personal trainer, yoga instructor, Fitness Coach, and CrossFit coach (CrossFit Cool Springs, Brentwood). Follow her on Facebook or Instagram @bodybalancewithv @bbmassageandwellness or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.