While recently preparing to speak on a panel about body image, I began to reflect on the origins of my own body battle and the winding road I traveled in search of peace. I always thought that my body hatred was solely about weight; and while weight was certainly my main concern, I began recalling another reason for my body hatred.
Not only did I spend many torturous years comparing the size, shape and weight of my body to the women around me, I also compared my skin, hair, height, and other features. There were years when I either refused to wear, or felt extremely uncomfortable wearing, sleeveless shirts or open-toed shoes. This was because I had freckles on my arms and a beauty mark on one of my toes. So, my full-time inner war was not only about weight, it was also about being what I perceived as flawless. Any spot, blemish or freckle was simply unacceptable. I even recall attempting to cut that beauty mark (which I referred to as an "ugly mark") off my toe. I actually took a knife to my skin in an attempt to remove it. I had caught the cultural spell of body hatred and I had caught it big time. Sadly, I know that millions of others have too.
It's clear to me that out of all the moments I have spent on this planet, the majority of them have been spent thinking negatively about my body. I suppose, since the tide has turned for me and more peaceful years have continued to add up, this sad ratio will change. And now my deep devotion is helping others change their ratios and free up many more moments to enjoy their lives.
Before I knew that there were other issues beneath my body obsession and before I knew what those issues were, I don't think I had a choice about stopping or upgrading my bad body image soundtracks. The thoughts popped up and I was unable to delete them, let alone even know there was a delete option. I wholeheartedly believed my thoughts were the truth.
Nearly every moment, my mind played a repeat loop of body hatred and dissatisfaction, coupled with a desperate desire to mold my body into something that I was convinced would bring me attention, worthiness and love. My thoughts held me in their grip and led me into addictive behaviors that would then grip me for decades. A simple suggestion or article on body love was not about to loosen that grip. I needed major help in order to heal the deeper issues that sparked both my body obsession and the secondary issues that obsession was fueling.
I didn't know back then that body hatred was an indication that I needed help. And I certainly didn't know that the only way to truly feel loved and valued by others is to truly feel lovable and valuable, period. In our image-crazed culture, that's not easy to achieve. But it is possible. It's possible to change your mind and get your life back on track. It's possible to regain your choice about how you view and verbalize your thoughts about your body. It's possible to heal your relationship with food, learn how to deal with difficult emotions, communicate your feelings and needs, quiet your negative mind and find healthy ways to fill up and feel lovable.
It took me many years to upgrade my body image soundtracks. The old playlist had well-worn grooves: I hate you, you're ugly, you're disgusting, you need to change, you're unacceptable. If I lose weight, I will be happy. If I perfect my body, I will be more lovable.
Those were pretty much the main tracks my mind played and replayed. Not only were those messages deeply ingrained, but I was surrounded by others who were repeating the same sad soundtracks too. And for us older folks, we can now throw wrinkles, spots and sagging skin into the mix.
But we have a choice. We have a choice about how we speak to ourselves. Every single time we see, speak about, or think about our bodies, we have a choice about what soundtracks we play in our minds. And if you don't yet feel like you have a choice, you can get help to clear your path until you regain your power to choose.
These days when I look in the mirror and I notice new signs of life on earth-- a new curve or line here, a new spot there-- I automatically remember my options: hateful or grateful. What's it gonna be, girl? Regardless of the soundtracks I play, my body remains my body. It's only my misery on the line here. So, there's a new sheriff in town. I choose to hit play on the upgraded soundtrack: I love you, I'm grateful for you, I accept you.
May you upgrade your own soundtracks and enjoy many more of your precious moments on earth.
Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also co-author of The Don't Diet, Live-It Workbook and Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the "I Feel Fat" Spell. Andrea is an inspirational counselor, author and speaker who uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, HuffPost blogs and other services, please visit www.andreawachter.com