My Journey of Overcoming Negative Body Image

Growing up, I was different from the other kids in my neighborhood; I was vegetarian, I practiced yoga and meditation, and my favorite past-time was reading Gandhi. Although I was smart enough to not be negatively influenced, I was severely impacted and emotionally scarred by constant bullying. I was getting beat up on almost a daily basis, to the point where I feared going to school, so I would often play hooky. The kids would call me names like “chesty,” “pancake ass,” “iron-board butt,” “flat-ass”, and the list goes on.I found refuge in sports; I joined the basketball and track teams at my high school and I began studying martial arts, which helped build my confidence and self-esteem. Because I excelled as an athlete, I received an athletic scholarship to Clark Atlanta University, where I ran track.

As a young adult, I continued to struggle with negative body image and low self-esteem, and even though people complimented my physique, the earlier messages from my youth were pummeled in my sub-conscious.  I found the courage and support to pursue print modeling and was fortunate to work with some really great companies; however, my self-esteem was so low that I was not able to see my own potential and unfortunately, I lost out on numerous opportunities.

Having suffered with negative body image for many years and studying its detrimental effects, I have great empathy for those who struggle with this disorder. Feeling trapped in a body that one dislikes or is repulsed by can lead to a myriad of symptoms, including depression, suicidality, anxiety, loneliness, withdrawal, chemical dependency, and self-mutilation such as cutting and other destructive behaviors.

Because body image is shaped by one’s attitude, feelings, beliefs and subjective experiences held in the mind, there isn’t a one size fit all approach to healing from the disorder.  My path to healing included Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (a modality of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which helped me to reframe and challenge negative perceptions about my body.

Additionally, I practiced yoga and other movement therapies that facilitated a healthy connection with my body, and I did daily visualization exercise and mediated.   Eventually, I found peace and came to a point of self-acceptance and love.

In the deepest part of me, I have come to accept myself AS I AM and I genuinely love me.  At this stage in my life, I cannot imagine seeking validation from another person about my body image and how I look. Who has a right to dictate what an “ideal” body type “should” look like anyway?

As a culture, we have lost our way and we cannot afford to let the media or the entertainment industry define the standard of beauty for our young girls. If we do not intervene, our young girls will end up on someone’s couch trying to fix something that was never broken.

It takes a degree of courage and intestinal fortitude to show up in the world as your authentic self, and I encourage everyone to do just that. Dig deep and pull out the best of who you are and share your gifts with humanity. Do not allow anyone to define your life, your values or standards.

Always remember…

Loving yourself is the beginning of others loving you. This is a key ingredient to happiness. No, it’s not self-centeredness! Self-love is at the very core of well being and your ability to enjoy life as you want. Even if you had everything else in life you desired, you would not be able to enjoy it if you are not at peace with yourself.

The value that we place on ourselves and what we think about ourselves determines whether or not we are aware of our self –worth. How we respect ourselves, perceive ourselves and talk about ourselves eventually becomes our reality.

My soul honors your soul.

Love,

Thulani