From the time I was a little (not little) chunkette of an elementary school girl, I've been on a journey of self-improvement. Self improvement also known as a diet. Or a workout fad. Or some crazy juice-herb-supplement concoction.
Yes, for me, my "thing" has always been my weight. My "if only", my "if it wasn't for...", my "if I could change one thing". My weight has defined missed opportunities- "I would have gotten that job if I was skinny!". It's been the catalyst of failed relationships- "I just knew he would never want to date someone like me". It's been the ultimate ability to make excuses for almost everything- "No, I can't hike/dance/do yoga", "I'm sorry- I can't go to that pool party".
Instead, I made promises to myself of the magic that would happen when I reached my "goal weight". Of the active things I would do (skydiving!), of the men that would love me (Ryan Reynolds would sure be knocking down my door!), of the opportunities that would just land at my feet (Record deals! Published books! Successful companies! My own TV show!), and, for a long time I locked myself up until I was ready to be seen. I think it's a strategy and a philosophy many people share. I keep track of my social media newsfeeds and I watch as my virtual friends go through life transitions- breakups, babies, weddings, or just life- and their pictures become fewer and further between. The excitement they used to exude to talk about a vacation or a day at the beach is diminished. The pictures they do post are of their face. On an angle. With a filter. They go into hiding. Hiding until they're ready to be seen, and ready to live.
The problem?: Life goes on. And frankly, life doesn't give a shit if you're not ready to live it. Somebody is ready to live it. Somebody is ready for an opportunity. And that somebody is likely the person that's going to get it. That somebody is going to get the opportunity, whether they're overweight or underweight. Beautiful or ugly. As smart as you, as kind as you, as able as you. Simply because they show up, and they're R.E.A.D.Y.
So, after over 2 decades of being on my mission of self-improvement, here's the secret I've figured out.
If you want to improve yourself, you have to stop focusing on what you suck at.
It's kinda that easy (and that hard). I suck at being skinny. Actually, that's not even fair because I've never been "skinny". Not even after getting beaten up in the gym by celebrity trainers. Being skinny should be someone else's job. Someone who can eat cheetos and cherry garcia and still fit into a size 0 without hitting the gym. They're obviously awesome at it.
I suck at being skinny. But I'm pretty awesome at being strong. I'm awesome at showing up to be part of a group and socialize. Which is why CrossFit is something I've been able to stick with for the past year and a half (longer than ANY physical activity or hobby!). I don't go to CrossFit to lose weight. I do lose weight, because I go to CrossFit, but I go to CrossFit to do things I'm awesome at. That's why I show up. Sometimes I do things I suck at, too, but they're always cushioned by my favorite things, and sometimes, when I realize I suck less at them, those things turn into my favorite things, too.
I suck at starving myself. But I'm really awesome at cooking healthy foods and eating vegetables. So I cook because I love the challenge of making healthy things delicious. Not because it's what I'm supposed to do, but because it's what I love to do. I don't cook healthy foods to lose weight. But I do anyway.
You know what it turns out I don't suck at? Being in relationships. Building businesses. Making music. Making friends. Having fun. Dancing. Hiking. Kayaking. Swimming. Going to pool parties. Getting pictures taken of me.
Because none of those things- (NONE OF THEM)- have absolutely anything to do with how much you weigh.
We all want to be the best version of ourselves, so it amazes me how many of us think we will get there by treating ourselves as the worst version of ourselves. It's not just people who want to lose weight. It's people who want to gain weight. People who want a new job. Or a new relationship. Or a new life. We somehow got it in our heads that by continually telling ourselves how not worthy we are, it would trick our actions into working to get us to a point where we are worthy. What. Are. We. Doing?
Here's what I say: Do whatever the heck you want. Seriously. Do what you want. The only caveat: It has to make you feel good. And you don't get to use the consequences (being fat, being skinny, being jobless, etc) as an excuse to not do ANYTHING. EVER. Making excuses for why you're not living fully is the surest sign that you're unhappy with something and you're NOT doing whatever the heck you want, or whatever the heck you want isn't making you feel good. I eat tater tots. And milk shakes. But only when I'm not going to feel crappy about it (like, after a hard workout on a cheat night). That decision occasionally makes me happy and feel good. If I did it every night, it wouldn't. And I would gain weight and probably make excuses about not being able to dance or go to a pool party. And that is unacceptable. The result of NOT LIVING is the part that's unacceptable, not wearing a size 12 instead of a size 6.
Be unwilling to have your weakness make you its bitch. The things you want to change about yourself, contrary to traditional "self improvement" beliefs, should be the things that stay out of focus. Your focus should be on falling in love with yourself and your strengths. It doesn't mean you'll love everything about yourself (you won't. I promise), but it means that the things you don't love about yourself will seem to pale in comparison to the things you do. And once you start doing and being what you love, the insecurities will either work themselves out, disappear, or seem like such not a big deal.
Right now, at this moment, wherever you are in your life, and whatever you're doing, you have the capacity to do anything you could do at your best, even if you feel like you're at your worst. Decide what you actually want (hint: my actual wants have NOTHING to do with sky diving or Ryan Reynolds) and then, along with all the love you can muster up for your beautiful, imperfect, impactful self, keep THAT at the forefront of all you do. Because you can have it all, as you are and you should. Because if you don't go for it NOW, and you wait until you're ready, well... you might just be waiting forever. Come out of hiding, own your awesome, and stop telling yourself how much you suck. You'll be amazed at how much falls into place.
So last night it happened. Someone's "after" reflected, on the outside, what so many of us "Losers" have safely and dangerously harbored on the inside, standing on a confetti-covered stage in all our spray-tanned, bleached-teeth glory.
Let me preface with this: Rachel (the winner of this season of "The Biggest Loser"), is not someone I know personally, and I clearly have no idea what her medical records say, as far as whether or not she is "healthy". Maybe she is. Maybe 105 lbs is the ideal weight for her, she's not dehydrated or exhausted, or mentally and physically drained. I really don't know, nor will I speculate.
Because this isn't about Rachel. This is about what Rachel, unfortunately for her, now represents.
I appeared on "The Biggest Loser" 7 years ago. It was a season of change- Alison Sweeney's first season hosting it, the first season with 3 trainers (Jillian, Bob and Kim), the first season NOT on a swanky ranch (nope- we were on a mosquito-ridden mental institution-turned-college-campus....not joking), and the season of Jillian's triumphant return. It was special, and it felt like it.
I was 21 years old, and had graduated college and moved 1300 miles away from all of my family and most of my friends to start a new life in Nashville. I was sad, homesick, and bored...disillusioned. Biggest Loser was an opportunity to escape that, and maybe create something new.
Prior to Biggest Loser, I actually felt pretty great about myself. I had ALWAYS struggled with my weight, and had had some temporary successes in years past, but never anything I was able to maintain. Despite being big, and knowing it, I also knew a lot of other important things about me: I was pretty (or at least "had a pretty face"...ugh. Hate that phrase), I was talented, I was smart, dynamic, interesting, loving, kind, generous. In short, my weight didn't define me. It was a small (pun intended) piece of who I was.
When I got to LA, I knew my weight would have to, by nature of the show, come to the forefront of my attributes. Yes, the casting directors were looking for someone who was all of the GREAT things I was, but first and foremost, they wanted to dig into the corners of my psyche and figure out WHY I was how I was (as in, overweight) and what physical and seemingly emotional transformation I could make in front of their cameras. I braced myself, knowing that insecurities, very private stories and emotions would undoubtedly be exposed to quite literally MILLIONS of people. "I'm strong enough" is what I'd repeat to myself. I'm strong enough to be exposed. I'm strong enough to be broken down, because at the end, I will be built back up. Surely I will.
My story played out on national TV, so I don't need to tell you the ins and outs of my Biggest Loser experience, which, for the record, was positive. The people that worked with us truly became friends. They cheered for us. They cried for us. But they didn't HELP us. Because...they were production assistants. Casting coordinators. People handlers. Producers. They were NOT therapists, family, nutritionists, caretakers. They were there to do a job, and truthfully, for them to NOT do their job would have been irresponsible.
But equally as irresponsible is the truth that now NBC and "The Biggest Loser" cannot escape. Contestants are broken down- their most revealing truths and deeply-seeded fears exposed, in the interest of making them "stronger". But strength, for some, is not always born in the wreckage. Contestants are trusting that they are being broken to be rebuilt, but the building doesn't come. Not from the show. Not from the way you expect it to.
I finished Biggest Loser at the thinnest I had ever been in my adult life. With an estimated 30(ish) lbs of extra skin, I went from 298 lbs to 185 lbs, from over 55% body fat to 24% body fat. I ran races for the first time. People stopped telling me I had a "pretty face" and started just telling me I was "pretty", or better yet "hot". I wore a size 10 dress and could shop wherever I wanted. I should have been flying high, and man, did I fake it well.
But while I'd been working my butt off on getting skinny (really- weight loss was my ONLY goal), I hadn't even thought about what the internal ramifications might be, and how drastically I was changing on the inside.
I knew as I got deep into the production of the show that my self esteem was rapidly diminishing. I sat for hours a week doing interviews or having filmed conversations about how "awful" it must feel to be the "black sheep" of my overly fit family. I had never felt THAT out of place until it was reinforced regularly that I *should*. I remember one day one of the people on production sat down with a group of us (pretty early on in the process) and said, "I just don't get it. Like...what do you even DO when you're overweight?". She/He literally didn't even view us as human. He/She had no inkling that I grew up climbing mountains, swimming competitively, took 7 years of dance lessons, and played for my high school soccer team. Conversations stirred up deeply personal issues- how the abandonment of my biological father "must have" been the cause of my never-ending struggles with my weight, how I "must have" used food to self-medicate through bad breakups or relationships, or struggles. How it "must have" been so hard to be SO close to being a "catch", but still be so "undesirable" because of the shape and size of my body. Internet message boards picked apart my every feature and action, and like a train wreck, I couldn't look away. I remember reading after the finale, "Isabeau looks like Portia De Rossi....only....bigger". AFTER the finale. Strangers would follow me around the grocery store and sometimes even stop me to tell me why I shouldn't put "that" in my cart.
I sucked it all up because I could see the finish line. I could see where I would be all of these things I was told I should want to be. "Limitless"-any opportunity I wanted or imagined would flow to me once I lost weight. I would finally "fit in" with my family that I had never felt like I didn't fit in with until I was told maybe I should. I would be "desirable". I would be whole, and complete and gloriously confident.
But that confidence never came. It never came because I didn't work on it. I felt like a failure standing on the stage at the finale because that's all I had been told I was, and I started believing it. It wasn't anyone's fault but my own. It was my own fault for allowing myself to believe the lies I was being told about myself, my fault for perpetuating them, and my fault for not getting help in dealing with them. What was demonstrated last night at The Biggest Loser finale, is nothing new. It's just the physical manifestation of what so much of us have felt internally- that we can never do, or be, enough. That we can never work too hard. Or lose too much. Or be too extreme. Because we seek and crave the resolution of all our dreams come true, that are seemingly hinged on whether or not we're skinny.
So, here's the truth, dear whoever-you-are. The only thing holding you back from anything is YOU. It is not your weight. It is not your finances. It is not your appearance. Well, actually, maybe it is. But not in the way you believe. Ambition and Success stem from the same root, and it has nothing to do with a number on the scale or any other "circumstance" in your life. It has to do with how you FEEL about life. How you FEEL about yourself. Are you worthy of being ambitious? Successful? Desired? Sexy? Strong? You are. You are at 300 lbs. You are at 100 lbs. You are $20,000 in debt. You are at 21 or 78 years old. You are worthy of all of those things the moment you believe you are.
After Biggest Loser, I spent several years trying to fill the void that was left when my confidence and self esteem was diminished. I sought that feeling of fullness in money and what money could buy, relationships that were inauthentic, and in choices that were guided by my mind, over my heart. I forgot who I was, and because of that, made decisions I never would have made.
There wasn't a day that things shifted, but things did. I felt like I was perpetually MISSING not just something, but someONE. And at some point, I woke up and realized that that someone was me. I missed me. I missed who I was, and all those wonderful things I had known about myself before weight became the most important thing in my world.
It's been a long journey to get back to me, and it's meant learning to trust people again. I was taught once that opening up and being "broken" will NOT always result in being rebuilt. I've had to start believing that that is the EXCEPTION and not the rule, and that, when you surround yourself with the right people, "tough love" truly is based in love, and is meant to expand you, not diminish you.
I would be lying to say that weight isn't something I still actively work on, worry about, and allow to define certain things in my mind. But I know now that it is a paper dragon. My weight, although something I work on now for longevity and health, is back to being just one, teeny, tiny part of a crazy, wonderful person. And lucky for me, it's a piece I can (and do) work on and change. My weight may be the most challenging thing for me, but how awesome is that? It's a lot harder to undo jealousy, or stinginess, or stupidity, or irresponsibility, or complacency than it is to take off a few pounds. If my weight is the worst thing someone can say about me, then I consider myself pretty lucky.
We need to stop believing and perpetuating the myth *someone* came up with that we all must be or do or look a certain way in order to be successful. Weight loss is one of the BEST examples of this because literally EVERYONE has a different opinion and experience about what works, what doesn't, what should, what shouldn't, etc. Every conversation about our body is laced with judgement. When will enough be enough?
The only answer is that you will have to put your foot down. I remember the night before my Biggest Loser finale weigh in, I had talked my "handler" into letting me go to the gym. I worked out for 2 hours and then went to sit in the sauna with my clothes on, to burn just a few more calories. My head spun and I felt weak, dizzy, awful. Sick. I got out. Enough was enough. I remember, conversely, gaining weight with my son and beating myself up that I was such a "failure" that even after having an opportunity to lose weight on national television, I couldn't keep it together. I knew I couldn't allow myself to live like that anymore. Enough, again, was enough.
Productivity starts where shame ends. I started seeing a therapist. I surrounded myself in people that (shockingly) ALREADY think I'm fun, and interesting, smart, pretty (as a whole), desirable, talented, strong and capable. I'm allowing myself to hear when someone says "You're a badass" or "Seriously... you're so good at xyz" or "Wow, you look great", instead of hearing "You're a badass (except for your weight)" or "Seriously...you're so good (except for your weight)" or "Wow, you look great (except for your weight)". Because it's not about my weight. In a size 10, I still heard the "ps" to every compliment I received, so I know it's not hinged on what people see... it's hinged on what *I* see.
My hope for Rachel, for every other BL contestant (past, present and future) and anyone else who is struggling (with weight- with anything) is that they start mining for their strength, instead of magnifying their weaknesses. That they can silence the "ps" in their mind that tells them they won't be enough "until this...", "until this...", "until this...". The word "until" is a vicious beast that will eat your dreams and stop you from achieving anything. You know what's on the other side of massive weight loss? Nothing. It's not about the weight. It's about the permission you give yourself to LIVE. To be worthy of a career you love, or a relationship that lights you up, or a path you've always wanted to explore.
This morning in reading the articles and seeing the pictures, I was sad for Rachel, who seemingly got lost in her "untils". Again, I don't know her, or this, but the physical sure looks depleted, so I would imagine the emotional would likely mirror that. But in my sadness for her, came gratitude to the people in my life. There has been one group of people that have more profoundly changed my outlook on fitness than any other: Crossfit Vector at Nashville Barbell. Joining this community was far and above the best decision (with the exception of having Beckham) that I've made in the past 5 years. This group of athletes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities, but share the consistent thread of unconditional support, true friendship and the ongoing pursuit of excellence in all things. Being in a healthy environment that promotes fitness and strength over purposeless, manic effort is the most refreshing experience I've had, and has shifted EVERYTHING in my life, but most importantly, my relationship and my value of my body- as it is, as it was, and as it will be. Pretty freaking amazing.
Beyond my hope for Rebecca is my hope for US. Can we learn from this? Can we start understanding that reality tv is not, in fact, reality? Can we stop exploiting peoples' weaknesses for entertainment? Can we stop being so darn judge-y and just kinda love each other for what we are, as is? I think in allowing that, and by just accepting and loving, we create the opportunity for people to feel what THEY really want for themselves, instead of projecting what they THINK someone else wants FOR them.
There is no gift more precious than giving yourself and others permission to live how they see fit. To be beautiful in their own skin. To love who and what they love. To be worthy and enough. I hope we all can take this bittersweet lesson that simply exposed truths, and turn it into a revolution of caring about more than a number on the scale.
I read an interesting article today on "Skinny Privilege" and "Fat Shame". I'll try and find the link and put it below in the comments. It spoke about how larger women in America are shamed for their bodies by society AND have the internal body image issues of hating their bodies, while skinny women, although sometimes insecure, only have to deal with the latter issue, because the standard of beauty in America is to be thin.
I'm sorry...but how is this still even a thing? How are we still feeling victimized by our bodies? How are we still allowing society guidelines to govern our worth? How are curvy ladies looking at skinny chicks saying "You don't understand!" and skinny chicks are still insistent upon shouting "yes I do! See?! I HAVE CELLULITE TOO!".
Woah. We all need a nap. Who here loves their body? Like- LOVES their body? Wouldn't change a hair on their head. Wouldn't wish for longer, thicker hair, or sleeker thighs that don't touch, or more muscular thighs that DO touch, or more defined arms, or less bulky arms, or a flatter tummy, or curvier hips, or larger breasts that fill out a shirt, or smaller breasts that don't hurt when going for a run? Who here looks in the mirror and says, "Day-um. God (and me+spray tan+highlights+makeup+well-fitting, stylish clothes+a deeply embedded sense of self esteem/egomania) have done an A-M-A-Z-I-N-G job". Anyone?
Yeah, didn't think so.
There was a time I used to push myself to go to the gym. Before an iphone or an ipod with pictures existed, I would load up on Glamour or Cosmopolitan magazines and find the body I envied most to display on the elliptical as I pedaled towards my "dream body"- the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The flat abs, perfectly designed curvy hips and not-too-big-not-too-small-never-saggy chest, the long, sinewy, just-defined-but-not-bulky arms and legs. It didn't matter what my body looked like as it was "under construction" because I was headed for Barbieville...and it would feel SO good when I got there. I would be rewarded when I arrived with bountiful self-love and short shorts and bra tops. Ah...it would be bliss.
And then I went on Biggest Loser. And (as I found out after FINALLY collecting my medical records this week) I actually got down to 26% body fat! WHAT?! That's considered fitness-level body fat for a woman. But I didn't feel "fit". Because despite being 113 lbs lighter than when I started, none of what I ordered was on my table in front of me. I didn't look like Barbie. To me, I looked like I always had...just smaller. I didn't recognize an ounce of my own progress because what I saw standing naked in the mirror was not the girl on the cover of Cosmopolitan that I had aimed for. It was still just me.
The problem in our society is not that we are fat and that's unacceptable, or that we are thin, and that IS acceptable. The bigger issue is that we are trained to believe that being simply OURSELVES is not enough. If we're thin, we want someone else's fill-in-the-blank (hair, eyelashes, lips, hips, boobs, etc). If we're fat, we want someone else's everything. What's the deal? How is it so bad being ourselves?
Here's the thing: When we're growing up, we're taught what we're supposed to look like, and what we're supposed to act like...but we're never told what we should FEEL like. We're taught to work hard, but because it's the right thing to do... NOT because it feels SO good to succeed. We're taught to play sports or be active, but it's often because it's good for socialization's sake, or because we're supposed to, not because of the incredible feeling of accomplishment, and the high of physical activity. We act and look a certain way, because that has standards; a blueprint we've watched adults follow for generations, and something we can adhere to. But feeling is sticky, and hard to explain, so as adults, we don't bother trying, and as children, we never learn the overwhelming value how we FEEL about ourselves, our bodies, and our choices, should have in our lives.
I FEEL strong when I lift weights or do something physically challenging. I FEEL sexy when a man honors and cares for my body (or when I do!). I FEEL important when I get dressed up and make an effort to look nice. I FEEL included when I'm easily able to do things like go on long walks or hikes, travel, kayak, or something else that requires me being physically fit. I FEEL beautiful when, magazines aside, I look in the mirror and realize, flawed as it is, my body is a road map of every choice I've made in the past and all the choices I'm making now. And I FEEL privileged and proud when I realize my legs or arms are firmer, or my body is sore from being challenged. I FEEL gorgeous and accomplished when I am lying in a pool of sweat, half covered in chalk, with runny mascara, and bruises. GORGEOUS.
And you know what? When I feel all of those amazing things- the other stuff just doesn't matter. The flat abs, and long, flowy hair and perfectly curved hips-- they're just not as important. Does it mean I'm immune to wanting them EVER? Absolutely not. But when I shift the emphasis away from them, I fall in love with where I am, and where I- MYSELF- am driving my body to. Because, I wouldn't in a billion years wish for flat abs and perfect breasts if it meant NOT experiencing the feelings I already am experiencing-- imperfections and all.
America- our bodies are not the problem. Our bodies are strong, and capable of doing ANYTHING we ask of them. And you know what? Society is not the problem. Judgement of others is not the problem. The problem is our own distribution of love. We're worshiping the abs of one person, the quads of another, and have NOTHING LEFT TO GIVE OURSELVES.
It sounds so trite to preach the "love yourself before you can expect anyone else to" message, but it's so true. At my lightest- 26% fitness-level body fat- I couldn't look at myself in the mirror. There are probably less pictures of me then, than at any other point in my life (minus the whole being-on-tv thing). I can't say I was a big fan of mine at my heaviest, either. But what I've come/am coming to realize is that my value in myself has nothing to do with what I look like or what I weigh. It has EVERYTHING to do with how I think about myself, and, in accordance, how I treat myself.
Working out used to be something I shamed myself into: "Get to the gym or be fat forever and die alone". Woah. I wish I were kidding.
Now, when I go workout, my inner dialogue goes something like, "Woohoo. We're going to the gym and TODAY is going to be the day you're going to master double unders. You're such a bad ass". My coach jokes that despite my (very verbal) hatred for running, I smile when I run (I mean, not all the time...but often). It's because now, when I run, I say "Woah... ok. This actually feels BETTER than it used to." or, worse case scario, "Ok- you've done 2 laps... 2 more and this will be done and that's incredible and you're such a rock star".
Today I woke up 2 lbs heavier than I was yesterday (yeah, I weigh myself everyday, and yes, I know it's water weight, blah, blah, blah), and something like that could have, and would have before, sent me for a serious shame spiral. But ironically, I've been catching myself *strutting* the whole day, thinking how awesome I am.
I don't know how I transitioned to a healthier place, so I can't write a guide book. But I can tell you what I have had to avoid, and will always avoid:
Lastly, can we all agree none of this matters? Let me rephrase: None of this matters to anyone worth it mattering to. Sure, are their snotty 13 year old girls on the beach that have never seen cellulite that are going to "fat shame" you? Yes. There ALWAYS will be. But their day will come. And who cares about them anyway? There is no smart, accomplished, sexy, strong, driven, ambitious person on this earth that is worth your time that would allow your body shape or size to play a determining factor in how they treat you or if they will allow you into their lives. That's 8th grade crap, and adults who are happy with themselves are too busy working towards their own goals to belittle you for not fitting into some ridiculous, abstract, ever-changing standard.
Find people that hold you to a standard of feeling, AND seek it out for themselves. Stop talking to girl friends who want to wear a size 2 and start talking to girlfriends who want to run a marathon, or hike a mountain or do a crossfit competition. A size 2 isn't a real thing. It's not a feeling. I've been my "perfect size" and you know what I felt? NOTHING. I've also been an imperfect size and felt awesome, accomplished, beautiful and hot. Stop talking to men (or women) who are only interested in you when you're skinny (or whatever) and start talking to men who think you're awesome for the work you do, the ideas you have, and the confidence you exude. You become who you are most often with, so choose wisely...and then, when you're alone, get to know YOURSELF and fall the eff in love. At the beginning and end of our lives, it's ultimately you and you alone. People and relationships are the colors of our world, for sure, but we create the lines and spaces in which they fill. If you don't find a reason to fall in love with you, as you are, as you've been, and as you will be, you will be spending the rest of your life- UNTIL YOU DIE- waiting for someone to do for you what only you can do for yourself.
So skinny privilege, fat shame....who. cares? The only person that owes it to you, to LOVE you, is YOU. So, get on that. You're pretty awesome, after all. ;)