Acknowledging my body dysmorphia. Quite a blog post title right? And quite a removal from our usual content. Bear with me, friends. I think this might help a lot of you.
Recently, a fellow blogger released a video on her Facebook page where she candidly explained that her blog is changing to include more of herself, what she loves, who she is, and what makes her happy. She explained in her video that she is making a shift from the expectation to the authentic and that struck a serious chord with me.
I don't care that for the past 4 years my blog has only been about one thing. I am not only about one thing and I want my blog to be a reflection of my best self. – Erin Tafford
Her boldness and willingness to be transparent with her audience really inspired me and also hit me right in the gut. This past year has been a whirlwind in the best way possible. I married my best friend in the whole world, we started a business together (this blog), we've been traveling, exploring, writing, and really leaning into our new reality. It's been incredible. I feel lucky as hell that I get to wake up every day and do what I love most in the world – and get paid for it! I am a full-time travel writer & marketing strategist and I couldn't have imagined that would be possible.
But, during all of that, I also let a little bit of myself go. My fitness self. Many of you probably don't know this because I've kept dashboard completely (and deliberately) separated from my past life as a health & fitness professional. I don't feel like I hid that from you per se, but I certainly didn't put it out there and there are lots of reasons for that. I'm going to tell you about one of those reasons today.
So, this is me, being perfectly transparent and embracing all of the parts of who I am. Moving forward, Dashboard Living will continue to be filled with travel, food, culture, and adventure but it will also be home to some more intimate, personal posts about who we are outside of travel writers & content creators. And I'm starting here…with a very touchy subject.
Discovering & Acknowledging My Body Dysmorphia
I work on two separate operating systems (plus my laptop). My home computer sits in my office and rarely gets turned on any more while my “dashboard” computer sits front and center in our living room and is where I spend the vast majority of my time editing, writing, and working. This week I got a Facebook notification that said “Your followers at BodyMindPlate haven't heard from you in a while”.
You're likely thinking, “what the hell is BodyMindPlate?”. It's a community I've built over the last 12+ years as a fitness professional and health & wellness coach (yep, that was me for a very long time).
On a whim, I posted on that page simply asking, “are you guys still here?”. After all, it had been 3 months since my last post and the entire year before that my presence was sporadic at best. To my surprise I got a big response full of “yes, I'm still here's”. My first reaction…a wave of guilt. I feel like I abandoned that community. How could I have done that? These people have been with me for years and I basically just disappeared.
Remember those “reasons” I was telling you about? Well, one of them is that I don't feel like a healthy role model anymore. I had gained a bunch of weight in the two years following an ACL reconstruction and I just felt “unqualified” to be giving anyone advice about weight, nutrition, or fitness. But, all those people are still there…and they're still listening…and I think they have many of the same struggles I do…and I'm just not ready to give up that part of myself…so I decided to tell a piece of my story in hopes that it may help someone else.
I saw a meme recently that said: “I wish I was as fat as I was the first time I thought I was fat”.
It's supposed to be funny, I know, but it's not. If you're someone who has truly struggled with body image you know exactly what I mean. I knew what this post would be about but what I wasn't prepared for was the stark realization that I would have along the way. I went back to my home computer (the one I rarely turn on) and found a file called “Sara Progress”. The images that appeared in front of me were shocking, to say the least, and in the name of full transparency to you, our readers, I'm including them here…something I've never done before.
My Shocking Reality
If I saw these pictures today of another woman I would think, “Wow, she looks great” but what was really gut-wrenching about finding these photos (which aren't all that old) was that they were my “BEFORE” pictures taken prior to yet another weight loss program. WHAT. THE. FUCK. I realize now how severe my body dysmorphia was and probably still is. I thought I was disgusting in these photos and would have NEVER shown them to anyone, ever. And that moment, staring at these photos was the first time in my life I think I truly acknowledged my body dysmorphia.
It was crazy. I was obsessive about my weight. I was extreme with my fitness plan. And I wasn't a happy person in these photos. I was participating in dangerous behaviors, taking extreme measures with my diet & fitness, and turning to others for validation (which, by the way, never worked). Turning compliments into insults, picking myself apart on a daily basis and being a slave to the scale we all part of my daily life. I distinctly remember a man I was dating (who knew I was trying to lose more weight) say, “I don't want you to lose any weight – you look amazing right now”. It was a compliment but I took it to mean “he must like big women”.
I spent so much time worrying about my body that everything else suffered. My happiness, my health, my relationships, my career, all of it. And as I sit here now looking back, I realize that it was all in my head…and it's probably in yours too. We need to find a way, as women, to love our bodies at any size and to do things that bolster us rather than tear us down.
Self Love Rather Than Self Loathing
I still think it's important to take care of ourselves, to maintain (or achieve) a healthy weight, to have a certain level of fitness, to eat well and exercise but I now know the difference between that and what I was I was doing when these photos were taken. That wasn't self love, it was the opposite. It was damaging and self-destructive and I'm not doing that anymore.
I have always lived my life in extremes – it's just who I am. I go all-in with everything I do. If we're honest, that's probably not going to change anytime soon. Frankly, it's served me well in most cases. I married the man of my dreams, I'm doing my dream job, and I'm living a life that most people thought was impossible all because I take big risks and extreme measures to achieve results. However, that's not how self-love works. I've learned that it's a daily practice and takes patience and time to cultivate.
So here's the plan, friends…
Let's all agree to take one small step that makes us feel great about ourselves every day. Let's be ruthless in the pursuit of stopping the negative, self-deprecating, over critical, mean-girl voice we use on ourselves. It doesn't help, it only hurts. We all deserve to feel amazing in our own skin, whatever that skin looks like. The goal, for me anyway, is to approach health & wellness from a place of love, patience, and kindness rather than a place of self-hatred (which is, absolutely what I was doing before).
I'm pledging to stop criticizing myself and others, that's just bullshit and I'm not here for that life. I'm adopting a zero-tolerance policy for any negative self-talk from here on out. I won't accept it from myself and I won't accept it from the people I care about. What I can get behind is a positive space for people to gather. A place to cheer each other on, share ideas and build each other up. All of us are working towards goals but this community (Dashboard Living) will be just as much about celebrating where you are NOW as it is about helping you achieve your goals. We're not just talking travel, food & drink anymore. We're also talking ruthless self-compassion.
So, what's one thing you can do that makes you feel amazing? For me, being outside with my feet on the ground is always a good start so I pledge today to walk – on my own – at least once a week. No running, no crazy fast hiking, no beating myself up. Just one walk a week that is dedicated to reflection and self-love. What's yours this week?
If this resonates with you, please feel free to join us!