15 July 2013

Body Image: Letting Go

Source: Isabelle Bertolini

As I started simplifying my life and closet, questioning my style led to many more questions about body image, identity, self esteem and confidence. Lately, I've been digging around the concept of "letting go", and I'd like to introduce it on my blog by discussing body image.

The very first element I realized when I decided to reset my style is that I was dressing to hide the aspects of my body I didn't like, and not according to my taste and body shape. This was mostly unconscious, a way to hold on to the idea that maybe, I could change these parts of my body I didn't like.

An example: my height

I would wear high heels all the time because I wasn't comfortable with my small height. When I started wardrobe editing, and all this questioning about my life 2 years ago, I decided high heels wasn't really my style, and started wearing flats. And I felt much better, more comfortable with the image my style was reflecting to other people.

You may wonder: but how did I suddenly wear flats and feel comfortable about it if I was uncomfortable with my height in the first place? By letting go. I decided to let go of the idea of an ideal body that would be 15cm higher than mine. It is never going to happen, so I decided to accept my 1m56 and make the most of it.

Letting go of the idea of an ideal body

The global concept of letting go, that I will probably write again about in the future, to simplify, consists of accepting things one can't change, and decide to live with them instead of using up time and energy trying to change them anyway. The most iconic example being to accept that your ex left you, and move on with your life.

For the specific theme of body image, letting go means accept your body with all its flaws, and let go of an ideal image, whether it is one from magazines, a younger and slimmer you... This leads to accept one's body the way it is now, and improves self esteem quite dramatically. I am no psychologist or relooking professional, but I wanted to share with you a few ways I have found to let go myself:

Look at the globality of your body: When we have insatisfactions with our body, we tend to focus on details: ears, nose, breasts... I have learnt to look at my body in its globality, see how these "flawed" parts compensate with other wonderful parts, giving a whole body that is just fine the way it is.

Find a flattering style now: Many women I know wear, as I used to, outfits to hide their insecurities, which result in hiding the good things as well, and say they will change it when they lose XX kgs for example. I decided to change my style according to what my body looks like now. It doesn't mean wearing sexy things if it isn't what you like (and it isn't what I did), it means finding shapes, colours, associations that flatter your current silhouette and match your taste now. This can really do wonders to self confidence.

Practice some physical activity: I really started practicing sports a little over a year ago, and it did wonders to my relation with my body. During exercise, you feel a physical connection to your body, as the breath changes, your muscles contract... It is a way to remember that we are whole, we are our body, it isn't an alien thing, an enemy. Of course, it doesn't mean suddenly doing intensive sports or enter competitions, there are kinds of sports for anyone. It can be walking, yoga...

Become aware of external pressure: As I already discussed about, there is a very strong external pressure on our bodies, from society and media, but also from other women. Becoming aware of that external pressure helped me a lot getting to terms with my insecurities, as in, not only realize their existence, but also realize their impact on my body image. For example, I never liked my large hips, but I realized this little bump at the top of the legs are usually photoshopped out of pictures in magazines. Becoming aware on the effect of that standardized body shape on your body image can help a lot letting go of an ideal and accepting your body the way it is.

As a conclusion, I would say that letting go doesn't mean becoming inactive. Accepting your body the way it is now doesn't mean you have to stop taking care of it, or abandon long term objectives of fitness or weight loss. On the contrary, I realized that by accepting the current situation, I was much more motivated to implement changes and move toward a long term goal (in my case, getting more fit by practising sports).

Because you let go of an ideal, you don't have unreasonable expectations when you try to lose weight for example, you feel better in your body now, you apply less pressure on this objective, and you don't beat yourself up as much when you don't reach a certain objective in a certain amount of time.

In the end, paradoxally, because you let go of an ideal and accept the body the way it is now, it becomes easier to implement new habits and change it on the long term... What do you think? Are you familiar with the concept of "letting go"?


  1. I loved your post and I am going to share it on my blog if you don't mind :) I think it very important to just let go and be yourself, we only have this body right? So we better start loving it and just let go of the insecurities. Thank you for sharing :)

    1. Thanks for the appreciation! Of course you can share, that's the whole purpose of having ablog, sharing ideas with other people :)

  2. I love this post, Kali. I am a similar height (you have one cm on me!) and build (hippy). I let go of the height thing a long time ago and it was hugely freeing. Now I'm working on the body shape and weight thing. I have been wearing more of what I feel like wearing and trying less hard to hide myself. It is very freeing.

    I know I've brought up meditation a few times on here, and I also see this as being related. For me, accepting my body has to do with being present in it now and accepting it as it is right this moment. I used to be a lot more focused on what my body will look like "later" (after I change my eating, after I exercise more). Now that I am working on being more present, I feel better, and I actually eat better and am making progress in my sport too.

    As a side note, I have been thinking a lot lately about your posts on "details." I found them really helpful and they have affected how I shop.

    1. It is true that it is freeing to accept a thing you can't change. Like you, I'm having a harder time letting go of the body shape itself, maybe because we have the illusion that we can change it by losing weight, whereas there is not much to be done about height.

      I can imagine how meditation can link to the body sensations and lead to better knowing and accepting it now, I still have to implement the habit though. I'm so tired I tend to fall asleep when I try to meditate.

      I'm happy to hear you actually can do something about these details post, sometimes I feel it is very abstract and I wonder if readers can actually make something out of it. Thank you for sharing!

    2. I find that your posts are actually very concretely helpful. I have read a lot of your wardrobe building posts twice - the first time, they seem abstract, and the second time they seem really concrete!

      Yes, I think you are right on about not being able to change height, but having the impression that we can change our shape. I have stopped trying to lose weight or change my body, and instead I am focussing on appreciating myself and giving myself the nourishment and exercise that my body is telling me it wants. Not an easy road, but very worthwhile. Also, I remember that even when I was an under-weight child, I still had substantial thighs!

      I tried to start a meditation practice for over a year. In April, I committed to doing 56 days in a row, because studies have shown that there are changes in the brains of meditators after 8 weeks (56 days) or eleven hours of practice. Somehow that made it "stick" for me, and just yesterday I hit day 100! Sometimes I just meditate for a minute, sometimes longer. I keep telling myself that consistency is what matters the most.

  3. For understanding external pressures and body/mind connections (and what it does to our view of our bodies) I highly recommend "Bodies" by Susie Orbach. She's a psychoanalyst and feminist and her book helped me a lot. Actually, feminism and sociology in general rocked my body image. (I know that feminism has a negative image today, but that's because of many misunderstandings and there are many different kinds of feminism out there, so there's a corner for everyone :) )
    This comment comes many months late, because your blog is one of those that are always worth rereading and rethinking.

    As you know, I'm also 156, but that never was any issue for me. Probably partly because there always have been small people in my social environment and partly because people always liked me being tiny. Funny thing is, we often think something's not good about us, but actually many people like the things we're insecure about. I have a broad, child like nose I don't mind but I'm not particularly in fond of, but my BF loves my nose.
    Something I'm managing to let go at the time is my teenage figure. I have had an elf-like tiny figure when I was 16. I never had any body issues until I went to university. I never thought about eating or not eating or exercising or anything else. I didn't even understand the struggles of my class mates, dieting all the time (but getting heavier anyway because of dieting), worrying about the shape of their bodies, about their bellies, butts and so on. But then, at about age 20 I started to slowly gain some weight. Not much, rather than becoming fatter (but that, too, a bit), I was becoming a woman. My fragile looking bone structure remains, but on top of it came feminine curves, i.e. hips, butt, thighs. Suddenly I was worrying about my body shape, I was not happy about it, it rather depressed my quite a lot. But I'm just not the elf any more, I'm a woman and no matter how much weight I loose, the body type stays the same.
    *sigh* I'm still working on this. Thank you for this post!

    1. Oh and another thing: I learned to channel discontent into the right direction. Instead of being discontent about my body not fitting into clothes, I'm angry at the textile industries and the designers. Instead of being frustrated about me looking so damn young, people who just look at my appearance rather than listening to what I say (and how! - then they would realize I'm not 17) really annoy me. I take advertising personally and I often am really affronted by it - rather than subconsciously thinking I have to look like this.

      Channelling discontent into the wrong direction (into our bodies and minds) is what they want us to do. If our thoughts, willpower and ambitions are absorbed by mundane things like the shape of our hips or our body fat percentage, we don't have any capacities left for the really important things in life like critical thinking, politics, loved ones, being smart and independent. If all our willpower is used on calorie restriction, we can't use it on conscious shopping. If all our thoughts are occupied by becoming slimmer, we can't think about the world's future.

    2. It's always interesting to see late comments, I'm happy to see that archives keep creating debate :)

      Thank you for the book recommendation. I agree that "feminist" reads help a lot with that, even if it is a loaded term :) They question the idea of beauty as a goal and unrealistic beauty images in media and it made me think a lot too. I love Mona Chollet's "Beaut├ęs Fatales", but it's only in French unfortunately. I've been recommended Naomi Wolf's book, "the Beauty Myth" on the same subject, but I haven't read it yet. As an online resource, Beauty Redefined is a fantastic mine of well-documented, research backed information on all these topics of body image, beauty etc. http://www.beautyredefined.net/

      As of discontent, I try to remove it, when possible, by focusing on what I'm grateful for instead, but I see your point - it is healthier to focus on external issues rather than self consciousness and discomfort I suppose!