Recently, I went on a spontaneous vacation to San Diego with a friend. San Diego means beaches, and beaches means swimsuits. The night before we planned to go to the beach, we both put on our bikinis and stood in front of the mirror for a full hour – I wish I was exaggerating – discussing what we didn’t like about our bodies. An hour! And not once in this hour did we say a single thing that we liked about our bodies, either. This is not good.
As someone who was a gymnast for 16 years, I’m no stranger to body image issues. But this really made me stop and think about how we talk about our bodies. We are incredibly mean to ourselves. Think about it. How often do you wish you had a smaller stomach, a bigger butt, more toned arms? Now, how often do you think about the things you like about your body? I’m willing to bet there is not an even comparison.
We willingly label the parts of our bodies we don’t like. Our stomach pouch, our love handles, our thunder thighs. Do these ‘cute’ names make you like these parts of your body? Of course not. You’re still talking down to yourself, thinking that maybe if you lost your love handles you would be happy with your body. If only you had a thigh gap, maybe you would like what you saw in the mirror.
Girls, it’s time to change the way we think and talk about our bodies. Instead of being upset that your thighs touch, appreciate the muscles that carry you across campus with a heavy backpack. Next time you wish your stomach was flatter, take a minute to be thankful for the good food that has filled it. And next time your friends tell you what they don’t like about their bodies, remind them how smart they are, how funny they are, and how much you value them as people. Not for what their bodies look like.
This isn’t an instantaneous change. We have become so deeply entrenched in disliking our bodies that training ourselves to think differently will not come easily. Does that mean that we can’t make it happen, though? Absolutely not. You are not defined by a number on a scale. You are so much more than a perfect six-pack; you are a student, a friend, a daughter. You are a human being with so much to offer the world.
Your body does amazing things for you. It lets you run, jump, swim, laugh, sleep, think, eat, and so much more. So next time you start to think about what you don’t like about your body, stop. Instead, find one thing that you like, and remind yourself of that, over and over again. Help your friends to do the same. It may not be easy, but together we can develop healthier, and more constructive, ways of talking about our bodies.