Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Change The Way You See, Not The Way You Look

Good morning!  I can't believe it's already Wednesday.  Can you believe I only have a week and a half left of CPE?  My oh my ... I'm really looking forward to reflecting for real on my blog about some of my experiences.  It has been intense.

Today I'm taking part in blog-wide effort that is talking about body image.  One of my favorite food bloggers, Caitlin, is releasing her book this week.  Operation Beautiful: Transforming The Way You See Yourself One Post It Note At A Time is based on Operation Beautiful, a blog movement that Caitlin started that encourages women (and men I suppose?) to see a reflection of beauty, not of flaws, when they look in the mirror.  The concept is simple - you write a positive and affirming note on a post-it and leave it where you think someone might need to find it.

Women's lives have literally been changed by this concept.  The cool thing about this book is that she actually had those who were strongly influenced by Operation Beautiful tell their stories.

Well ... you know me.  I'm a sucker for a powerful story.  I pre-ordered the book weeks ago - it was released yesterday and should be here today!

I can't wait!  Here's the amazon link if you're interested.  You can also get it at Borders and Barnes & Noble.

Caitlin is asking her blog readers to think and possibly write about body image this week.

Body image isn't something that I usually talk about on here, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to share my story.  Here goes ... 

Growing up, I was fairly average looking.  I was really skinny, had a head of curly blonde hair and had no idea how to put together a matched outfit.  My family was really supportive of one another, but I don't ever remember us putting an emphasis on each other's inner or outer beauty.  We were a musical family, so we complimented each other on a well-played concert, not on a beautiful smile or a strong spirit.

When I was in middle school I started playing basketball.  Between my training-related increased appetite and my teenage-related growth spurt, I started gaining weight.  Not a lot, and I actually didn't really notice it, but it was definitely there.  I didn't know anything about balancing food groups, portion control and water intake.  I ate what tasted good.  Mmm, fried food and pasta.  These patterns pretty much stayed with me through high school.  There were times when I noticed the weight gain, but I honestly felt like I looked normal.

My sophomore year of college I started dealing with extreme anxiety.  For a few months I saw a therapist once a week.  I told her that my anxiety was at its worst at night and she encouraged me to get on the treadmill and run it off before I went to sleep.  I took her advice and before I knew it the treadmill became part of my nightly routine.

With the treadmill comes the calorie counter.  The calorie counter - if you've never really paid attention to it before - can be intriguing.  For me, it became a math game - how can I adjust my workout (speed, incline, time, etc.) to increase my calories burned?  Then I started to wonder if this game was helping me lose weight, so I stepped on the scale ... 

... it was.

From there the math game on the treadmill became the math game in the kitchen (how many calories is in this english muffin and if I take 5 croutons off my salad will it make a big difference in terms of my caloric intake?) and that turned into a math game on the scale (I wonder if I can drop another pound by the end of the week?).  This is where things started to get dangerous.

Let me be clear - I was never at a point where I could be categorized as anorexic.  I did, however, have some sort of disordered eating.  It didn't really have to do with how I looked or how I thought I looked - but my weight, food intake and workout routine was something I could control.  The last time I weighed myself I was 119 pounds - on a 5'5 muscular frame, this is not a good thing.

When I moved back to school for my junior year of college, I left the scale at my parents house.  In one fail swoop, I forgot about my need to control my weight - and started to gain some of the weight back.  I knew it's what I needed to do, but I didn't like it.  It's not that I hadn't been at that weight before - but now that I had seen how skinny I could be - and I wanted desperately to be that way again.  But it wasn't healthy, and I knew that.  There had to be a healthy balance, but I couldn't figure out what it was.

Fast forward to January 2007 - I met my husband and the way I see myself changed forever.  For the first time in my life, someone told me every day that I am beautiful - at first I used to laugh, tell him he was just trying to be nice and change the subject.  But he never stopped telling me that I was beautiful.  And somewhere along the way, I started to believe him.

In the 3+ years that Bruce and I have been together, I have finally managed to find some balance in my life.  I'm learning how to prepare meals through a healthier lens (mmm, vegetables and grains with the well-portioned dessert when I'm in the mood for it) and in addition to my own work outs we try to find ways to exercise together when possible.  I no longer count calories and the only time I step on a scale is when I'm at the doctor's office (and even then I turn away and ask them not to tell me what the number is).

It would make sense to say that a healthy body image comes from a healthy lifestyle - if you are healthy and look healthy, you feel good about yourself, right?  But that's not the way my story played out.  Only after I felt good about myself was I able to truly understand what it means to live a healthy lifestyle.  Once I started to live this lifestyle, I realized what it meant to be comfortable in my own skin, my posture changed and I started to care more about how I presented myself.  Now body image and lifestyle are intertwined for me - but I really do believe that the positive body image came first.

I think that I am really lucky in that I found someone - my husband - who was able to make the difference for me in terms of how I thought (and continue to think) about myself.  I have told myself several times that if I ever have a daughter, I will tell her that she is beautiful every day of her life.  But then I realized at some point last year that I don't need to wait until I (might) have a daughter to make the difference for someone.  There are women all around me that need to be encouraged and reminded that they are beautiful.

So this is where I am today.  I have become much more conscious about how I talk to my friends and the compliments that I give to people on a day to day basis.  About 9 months ago I declared Tuesday, Wear a Dress Tuesday, hoping to fight the Tuesday 'blahs', network women and encourage them seek their inner beauty through the simple act of putting on a dress.

If you get one thing from this post it is to remember that what you say makes a difference.  Never let an opportunity go by where you can offer someone a compliment and remind them of the fact that they are special.  That may be just the thing they need that day.  And that may be just the thing that brings them to the next day.

This may sound cliche, but I studied theology for 7 years so I think I'm allowed to be cliche from time to time.  The theological implications of affirming someone's true self are huge.  God looked at creation and saw that it was good.  Let's try to remind each other of that once in awhile.

Head over to Caitlin's blog to read more Change The Way You See, Not The Way You Look posts!


  1. Love this. Love you. Wish I were in ATL to give deliver a post-it in person. You are beautiful, Sarah!!!

  2. What a beautiful, heartfelt post- I really loved it! I can't believe you are almost done with CPE, that's so exciting :)

    When you get a chance, email me about what you were thinking you might want to spend, or not spend, on a photo clinic. It will help me get a better idea of what's in the realistic picture, haha, that pun was intended!

  3. beautifully written by a beautiful dear friend! Thanks for sharing the good and not so good... I know that you spoke to someone who is struggling with the way they look at themselves...

  4. Very good, Sarah! I'm glad more women will get on and tell their stories. Like yours and mine, they are not all about anorexia or bulimia, but it doesn't make it any less relevant!

    The book sounds great! Did you like it? husband tells me I'm beautiful all the time, even when I think I'm at my worst. That is amazing - because he truly means it!


Hello and thanks for commenting! Unless I have your email address, I respond to all questions directly in the comment form. Check back if you've asked one! xo, Sarah

Related Posts with Thumbnails