Women: Why understanding your body shape is critical to your wellness journey
We all have a unique body shape that’s consistent through weight loss or weight gain. It’s important to understand what our shape is, so we don’t set unfair expectations on ourselves, jeopardising our wellbeing in the process.
Instead, we get to ensure our aesthetic goals are inclusive of our natural shape.
This is why it’s so problematic to compare our bodies to other people’s or to see one picture of someone and say “I want to look like that”. Even if that picture hasn’t been photoshopped, you are not them!
In my own wellness journey, accepting that my natural figure is rather short and stocky was one of the most healing things I did for myself. As long as I compared myself to the more slender frames of other women, I was always going to be unhappy because I am simply not built like that. It also saw me trying to compromise my health to fit in with that aesthetic.
This is an invitation to you to give yourself this same self-acceptance.
We are all born different
There may be aspects of our natural bodies that we think are “bad” but are simply genetics we were born with. We could spend our whole lives trying to change it at the detriment to our health and still, never quite satisfied.
One common example of this is the amount of body fat we naturally carry. Regardless of how healthy we live some of us naturally carry more fat than others and some carry less. I have met people on both sides of the spectrum – desperate to gain and others desperate to lose healthy weight in the pursuit of a beauty ideal.
It’s common to get to a point where you know you’re living a healthy lifestyle. You are satisfied with what you’re eating, how you are working out, your life feels full in the best way and you consistently make time to relax…
BUT you’re still criticising your body for some of the characteristics it has which you perceive as evidence that you’re not doing enough. This then makes you think “how can I train harder?”, or eat less? Or if you’re someone who wants to carry more weight you might think about eating more than feels comfortable.
This is where it gets dangerous. We need to accept that our healthiest self doesn’t necessarily meet our beauty ideals and at this point, it’s our ideals that need to change.
One short exercise that might be helpful is reflecting on a big group of primary school-aged children, or you yourself with your classmates in primary school. Already, you had a variety of shapes and heights and sizes even before puberty hit. You might have already developed some insecurities back then you still carry to this day.
Reflecting on it in this way could help you see that we just are born different and while lifestyle plays a huge role in our body shape, it is only one of two very important factors.
Understanding fat distribution
We all have different fat distribution. For example, some of us carry more fat in our upper arms and hips. Others carry it around their lower tummies and thighs.
This is completely normal and it’s important to remember you can’t spot reduce fat.
It’s important to understand fat distribution. You could be a healthy weight but feel obliged to lose more because you are not satisfied with the way some parts of you look.
Posture plays a huge role in the way our bodies are shaped and look. When we feel less confident, we (without realising) hunch over as if to make ourselves feel smaller. We might also be hunched over a desk for work, breastfeeding, and so on.
Postural correction is one of the best things you can do for yourself at the start of your wellness journey and your personal trainer can assess you.
One of the most common postural issues we see is an anterior pelvic tilt. You can learn more about that here.
Creating illusions with muscle
We can build up muscle in certain areas to create illusions.
Building up our latissimus muscles can give the illusion of a smaller waist. Building up our calves can give the illusion of slimmer thighs. This is something you can consider.
To build muscle you need to be:
- Eating enough food
- Fatiguing your muscles regularly and consistently – otherwise your body has no reason to grow them.
If you are going to give this a go, make sure you come at it with love. I always teach my clients that the moment they jump into a mentality based on “I have to do this and this will fix everything” it will backfire, it always does.
Come at your wellness journey with “I am deeply worthy of feeling my best” not “I need to do this to be worthy”.
This could make or break your journey and define your experience of it.
Building muscle also has another major benefit which is increasing our basal metabolic rate or BMR. The more muscle we have, the more calories we burn even if we were doing absolutely nothing.
If you’re someone that really struggles to lose extra body fat or really wants to build shape you might want to try resistance training.
Questioning beauty ideals
For most of us, our beauty ideals were formed in childhood and are the product of:
- Media (from magazines and television to social media)
- Comments we overheard as children from grown ups or other children who were repeating things they’d heard grown ups say (such as our primary caregivers).
Children tend to think in totalities i.e. this = bad and that = good and funnily enough that inner child understanding tends to remain deep in the subconscious unless we actively pull it up to the surface and question it.
So for example if we overheard our mother despairingly say “I look so fat in this dress” as a child we hear “fat = bad”. If we see a magazine cover that says “find out how __ got rid of her cellulite” we think “cellulite = bad”.
Most of us then spend our own adult lives judging ourselves and others based on these ideals without ever questioning them.
Now, we have a choice. We can choose to question, change and expand our beauty ideals so that they include first and foremost ourselves. When we do this, we’ll find we are a lot more inclusive of others too.
Ask yourself: what is beauty to you, really?
What would your best self really look like if you were to shed all the standards and expectations that the world projected onto you?
In exercising this freedom we all hold we get to reclaim our right to be here in our imperfection, vibrance, glory.
Your healthiest self might not meet your ideals
If we haven’t really taken the time yet to question what we think a healthy endpoint would be for us specifically, for most of us, our healthiest self won’t be satisfactory.
There comes a point where the pursuit of an aesthetic goal is detrimental to your health.
It’s SO important that you are able to recognise if and when this is where you are.
This is one of the reasons why you can reach certain goals such as a dress size or weight and still be unhappy. You expect certain aspects of your figure – which are simply your natural shape – to go away.
You thought those features were evidence that you weren’t healthy enough.
So now you’ve been so good and the “flaw” is still there, so why??!! It can feel so frustrating.
But the problem isn’t you – it’s the impossible standards we place on ourselves.
Questioning your beauty standards
One of the most empowering things we can do is change our own beauty standards to be far more inclusive.
We get to ask ourselves – what does beauty really mean to me?
You’ll want to do this in a calm space without distraction so you are able to reflect on this properly.
What does beauty mean to you, really?
To me, beauty is that radiant glow that is the result of being content with oneself and a lifestyle that integrates self-care into its very foundation.
When someone is truly standing in their power, that to me is the very definition of beauty. And when you think about it like that, it seems laughable that we’d define it any other way, doesn’t it?
Body neutrality and body positivity
The body positivity movement has done wonders in changing the way we see our bodies. It feels like it was our first major step into rejecting a lot of the expectations we hold over ourselves and each. other.
However, for some of us feeling positive about the way we look, or even saying “I love my body the way it is” is just not believable for us yet.
Some of us even end up feeling worse because now we have a new thing to feel bad about, first we disapprove of our bodies then we disapprove of ourselves for not loving our bodies!
And this is where body neutrality comes in.
Body neutrality means to be okay with your body either way, for better or for worse, and is vital to your wellness journey. Body neutrality means appreciating your body for all it does for you and all it allows you to do, and being content with it for that.
If and when you find yourself hinging your sense of self worth on the way your body looks, you need to stop what you’re doing immediately and address that first.
Your worthiness for joy, pleasure and confidence is completely irrespective of your size or shape.
You were born with this worthiness. Recognise when this mindset of “I need to earn it” is showing itself and stop it in its tracks.
Remember that just like our old beauty standards this is programming from childhood and not something we need to include in our current realities.
After a lifetime of being told exactly the opposite of this, I am by no means saying you can bypass all that and just start thinking differently overnight.
Of course it’s going to take time, attention and will be a whole journey of its own. But it’s a journey worth going on and there’s freedom on the other side.
It might feel impossible to let go of beliefs that have been with us for a lifetime but with time it does it get easier.
Neural pathways that aren’t used will wither and new ones that we create and exercise will get stronger and stronger and soon become the default.
It’s just a practice like any other – a muscle we must keep strong.
It’s so important to our wellness journey that we understand our own body shape and are not basing our own progress on comparisons against others, whether that be people we know in real life, media, and what other people say is ideal.
We need to accept certain aspects of our bodies that simply wouldn’t change without putting our health on the line, so we can truly experience wellness.
Part of this process of accepting ourselves is questioning our own beauty standards and freeing ourselves (and in turn each other) by making them way more inclusive. At the end of the day, it is us that gets to choose.
Even if you can’t honestly say to yourself “I love my body” or “I love my body shape” then maybe you can say “I appreciate my body for what it lets me do” or “I appreciate my body for the pleasure it enables me to experience”.
You always have a bigger and better reason to embark on your wellness journey than the way you look – because you deserve to feel amazing and stand in your power.