Why I’m toning down, not up

By Samantha Papesch

This isn’t a story about how I lost weight.  And, it’s not a tale lamenting the reasons I’ve let myself go.  Instead, it’s a blog about letting go of the weight of my body issues.

As I write this, I’m on guard.  My (almost) eight year old daughter keeps looking over my shoulder, curious to read my screen.

It’s her at the centre of my thoughts.

Like all kids she’s a sponge; absorbing every piece of information, processing it, and forming a conclusion to best guide her decisions.  I’m also acutely aware that puberty is just around the corner; her impending self-esteem at the mercy of awkward physical manifestations.

This, in conjunction with other external influences will be the basis for judging her body – and, in all likelihood her self-worth for the forseeable future.

Thinking back to my own adolescence, ‘fixing my body’ was always on my to-do list.  It was a top resolution every New Year to lose weight, get a flat stomach, or improve another part – usually by some drastic, unsustainable means.

These desires were rarely about health, and almost certainly about wanting to feel more attractive, or ‘hot’ (in today’s terms).  I recall seeing popular, pretty girls and judging my body harshly against theirs; subconsciously resolving that if I looked like them I’d be equally admired.

The thing is, needing to feel attractive is human.  We’re social beings, we have primal instincts, and put simply – we’re wired this way.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel attractive.

What is wrong, is that from a young age, we’re influenced to aspire beyond this.  We set our sights on an unrealistic and unattainable image of ourselves, and we place minimal value on our unique attributes and inner qualities.  As a result, we spend the subsequent days of our lives feeling inadequate.

I know I’m not alone on this.  I’ve had countless conversations with friends about our bodies and what we’d change with a magic wand.  But on a similar occasion, something completely changed my perspective.

Some friends and I were casually discussing a local fitness event.  There were plenty of positive and motivating reasons to join: get healthy, meet new people, have fun, be challenged, win prizes.  But, the tide of the conversation quickly turned to how it could improve our ‘body failings’.

We immediately launched into self-deprecating comments  about needing to lose the ‘spare tyre’, the ‘muffin-top’, the ‘tuck-shop-lady arms’, ‘junk in the trunk’ and our ‘side boobs’.  We joked loud and clear.

What we didn’t notice however, was a friend’s 13-year-old daughter sitting in the wings, absorbing every word of our exchange, and nodding in agreement at the distaste we’d just expressed for our bodies.

I felt horrified.  And then, something really hit home.

It wasn’t social media, celebrities, or magazines having the most powerful influence on this young girl, it was us – her foremost role models.  And, what we’d collectively conveyed in that unfortunate moment was that we were still trying to measure up.

It got me thinking.  How can we possibly change the narrative for our daughters – or our sons – if we don’t start changing it for ourselves?

Some important things happened after that day; I decided it was time to:

  1. Tone down my negative internal dialogue
  2. Start actively valuing the qualities that really determine my self-worth
  3. Practise self-acceptance and self-love

I also made a promise that any conversation held with my children about my body, their bodies, or anyone else’s would always be spoken about positively, and with a focus on the facts and health.

It hasn’t been easy trying to change a lifetime of conditioning, but by following these simple principles, and believing that they’ll make a difference, slowly, the weight on my shoulders has begun to lift.

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