Thoughts By Natalie

Mirror Lies

This is part of the Love Yourself Linkup—an ongoing series by women around the web that will focus on self image and body image. In our posts, we will talk about our thoughts on these subjects, tell stories of our personal experience, share what has inspired us, challenged us, and more. Learn more about it at Anne The Adventurer, and add your post to the linkup by clicking “click to enter” at the bottom of this post.

I can remember a time when working out was not an option. It wasn’t a question of if, but when. I was a gym rat, through and through—and I hated myself. I was the thinnest I’ve ever been in my adulthood (which, I believed would bring me happiness, comfort and stability), and yet all I could see was my flaws. My stomach was never flat enough, my thighs were never thin enough, my arms were never toned enough. Today, I can see a lot of vanity in my self-destructive self-obsession, but it was also a lot deeper than that—it was my way of controlling something when the rest of the world could not be controlled.

When I was 18 years old, anorexia became the only way I could cope with my life. Along with intense dietary restriction, the gym became a source of comfort for me—a place of purpose, intention and change. I masked my pain with health food and workouts, letting others believe I was something I was not. Like a rotten apple, I looked pretty great on the outside (according to our society’s standards, that is), but was dark and decayed on the inside.

Though I was always an athlete when I was younger, exercise has never had the same joy in adulthood. I’ve had a few sweet moments, of course—the time I ice climbed Cotopaxi in Ecuador, the time completed an Olympic distance triathlon, the time I hiked up Half Dome in the middle of the night to catch the sunrise at the top, the time my hubby and I ran 13.1 miles side by side after months of training together. Despite the joy I experienced from those great successes, though, the same thing always drives me away from doing physical activities I truly enjoy—my body image.

I’ll go ahead and just clear the air here: I’m aware that I am a healthy person at a healthy weight, and I actively avoid engaging in negative body talk. However—and maybe you can relate to me here—sometimes I see something very different than that reality in the mirror. Beyond just ruining my day or leading me to wear something loose and comfortable, I’ve recently realized that I sometimes let the fear of others judging my body stop me from lacing up my running shoes and hitting the pavement.

Every day I think about how grateful I am to live in a coastal town, and how much I love to run by the beach. Yet, it has been a daily struggle to get myself out the door. If I were actually out of shape, or had a knee problem, or any kind of physical pain, really, that would make sense. But what keeps me from hopping in my car and heading to the beach for a jog isn’t one of those things—it’s a fear of others thinking I’m not good enough to be out running, a belief that I need to look a certain way to really enjoy a physical activity I already know I like.

Thankfully, I’ve identified this problem and am actively working to correct it. This week I’ve already gone for two runs by the beach—one by myself, and one with my husband—and physically challenging as they were, I loved every minute. Rather than think about what others might think when they passed by me on the trail, I focused on the beautiful scent of salty ocean air, the refreshing breeze keeping me cooled down, and the gift that it is to have legs that move me from one place to another. Even more significant, perhaps, is that exercise isn’t a form of self-torture anymore, but rather a way to naturally alleviate stress and enjoy the outdoors (the gym and I are not and maybe will never be friends again).

Life is too short to let warped body image steal my joy. Instead of believing the lies in the mirror and in my head, I’m choosing to step back and rest on what I know to be true. Instead of letting fear prevent me from enjoying exercise, I’m choosing to press on—because running by the beach is so much better than sulking at home in front of my liar of a mirror.

When has distorted body image stolen your joy? How did you overcome it?

Photo taken yesterday, by me, during a very freeing beach run.

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