Love is in the air this time of year — carefully chosen gifts, fancy dinner reservations, and single-girls’ celebrations out on the town. We put so much kindness and effort into our relationships with other people, but what about how we love ourselves?
For most of us, our internal self-talk is just horrific, on a daily basis. We put ourselves down — “Ugh, I look so fat in these pants,” “I’m such a lazy bum for skipping my workout,” “Why did I eat that cookie? I’m disgusting …” — in words we wouldn’t use to address our most hated enemies.
In fact, stats show that only 2 percent (TWO percent!) of women say they would call themselves beautiful. That doesn’t seem to add up, considering the millions of selfies posted on Instagram daily — which gave me an idea for an experiment in loving myself better.
Where does this hatefulness come from, I wondered? Are self-proclaimed “fat days” or bad hair days founded in reality? Do we feel ugly because we actually look awful — or might we be projecting something else onto the experience?
Here’s what I did: For a week, I decided I would take a photo of myself at least once a day as I left for work or went to meet friends. At the same time, I’d write down how I was feeling about my weight, mood, and appearance at that moment.
Here’s a sampling of what my week looked like:
Feeling very frumpy and lumpy. Woke up at 4:30 a.m. to catch a flight. Ate a breakfast burrito at the airport.
Having a fat day (flat shoes are not my friend). My face looks puffy — from the sushi I ate for dinner? Too tired to work out today.
Walked by the beach this morning. Feeling good and having a good hair day! Plus, this skirt and heels combo makes me feel cute! Breakfast at the hotel — Greek yogurt and berries — was awesome.
Went for a run this morning. Am feeling pretty lazy that I haven’t cut my hair since moving in September. Yikes. Looking forward to dinner with a friend tonight!
I like the color of this shirtdress, but don’t feel the style is the most flattering. Frumpy, again?
At the end of this experiment, I reexamined my photos and my notes, and made a very interesting, very illuminating discovery. My physical weight and appearance did not change day to day. The photo snapshots didn’t lie — I did not actually gain 5 pounds on Tuesday, but perhaps I was projecting the fact that I ate sushi and a red velvet bundt cake on Monday night (it was a Valentine’s Day present!)? While a sodium-packed dinner could contribute to a feeling of bloat, my face didn’t actually appear different.
And is it any surprise someone would feel “frumpy and lumpy” when she woke up at the crack of dawn, flew all morning, and ate a burrito? Odds are, if I’d had a healthier breakfast on Monday, I would have felt better throughout the long workday ahead of me. And, while it wouldn’t have changed my physical weight in the slightest, it could’ve helped my self-love if I hadn’t skipped the gym the next day.
When I thought about it later, my frumpiness on Friday truly had nothing to do with the dress or my weight, and everything to do with the fact that my hair was in serious need of a cut and color. But again, did it help to call myself lazy? It didn’t. It made me feel worse all day about something I couldn’t control right at that moment. Better to take action — throw it in a bun and make a hair appointment right then — than to put myself down, right?
Wednesday was the day I felt the brightest and best about myself — a good hair day, despite it all!
By examining my notes, it’s easy to understand that a little sunshine, a little exercise, and a healthy breakfast set me up for a day that I felt I looked great (a cute skirt didn’t hurt either).
And that was the biggest takeaway for me — the old adage, work to change what you can, and accept what you can’t change, with kindness. Here’s how:
♦ Wear what makes you feel good about yourself, regardless of trend, or your shape or size.
♦ Listen — flats make everyone, even runway models, feel a little stumpy. But you did not gain 10 pounds just because you traded your heels in for a bit of comfort.
♦ Eat what makes you feel good. Don’t eat what makes you feel bad.
♦ However, if you indulge in something that’s not the healthiest, let yourself off the hook. No one became overweight from a single meal or dessert.
♦ If you’re going out for a salty meal — such as sushi or Mexican — drink lots of extra water. Eating clean, green vegetables and fruits the next day can help flush your system.
♦ Exercise makes you feel good about your day. Bottom line. Any amount of exercise, from a short walk to a full-blown bootcamp, is worthwhile. Nothing is insignificant.
♦ A bit of vitamin D goes a long way. Drink your morning smoothie outside in the sunshine. Get out of your cubicle for a 10-minute nature break.
♦ Travel already dries out skin and saps energy — pack healthy snacks so you don’t squash your confidence further with icky airport food.
♦ Be kind to yourself, in spite of your failures, in spite of any shortcomings.
Here’s the truth — if a friend belittled you the way you do yourself, you would walk away from the toxic relationship and never look back. But as writer John Steinbeck said, “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” Time to work as hard on loving myself better as I do on perfecting the details.