body stress

Weighting to Jump In: How Body Shame Made Me Miss the Party

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

A public service announcement for all the women

Ladies, we are heading towards the latter part of summer… and of course season change typically includes a transition in wardrobe, at least in the Northwest. And as a curvy woman, I for one am ready to be done with the pressure to find the most “figure-flattering” swimsuit coverup, and spanx to avoid the uncomfortable chafing that inevitably results from 80-plus degree weather and thick thighs in a dress.

Trending toward body positivity

In general, I believe society is making progress around body inclusivity and size diversity. Big applause for public figures like models Iskra Lawrence and Ashley Graham who are using their beautiful bodies, and more importantly, voices, to speak out against body shaming and diet culture. The publicity around Nike’s effort to support the movement with their full-figured mannequin was epic - and hopefully just the beginning of more clothing companies actively promoting size diversity. 

I’m seeing more unfiltered Instagram accounts and people, not just women, owning their realness. It’s about damn time, but we’ve still got a ways to go. By “we” I mean “we” as a collective and as individuals. We cannot expect change to happen unless we are willing to do our part individually. And I, a mental health professional who works with people struggling with body image and disordered eating, struggled to do my part this summer.

This is my confession. 

How I ended up on a party boat

It was a beautiful Seattle Saturday a couple of weeks back. As a plus-one, I attended a promotional/marketing event for Seafair because my partner works in the hospitality industry. The event was hosted on a partnering company’s boat, which meant swimsuits, skin, and a lot of women who fit the bill for “traditional beauty standards.” I overheard women talking about their month-long cleanses in preparation for the event, two-a-day workout weeks, and compliments on each others’ physiques. Many of these women have become dear friends, and to be clear, I have zero judgement towards anyone who values these things. I’ve noticed this is also how lots of women bond and connect with one another. 

When self consciousness takes over

As we humans tend to do, I got caught up in my head on that boat because I saw no other bodies that looked like mine in swimsuits. I thought to myself, Where are all the Ashley’s and Iskra’s? The diverse women I’ve been flooding my social medias with to drown out the other filtered, photo-CHOPPED ads that otherwise pop up everywhere? I wondered if I’d just created a safety bubble for myself and if actually, the rest of the world really hadn’t expanded beauty ideals. The hard work I’d convinced myself I’d done around accepting my curvy body flew out the porthole. 

A couple of people asked why I was keeping my pants on (they were whooey pants-- the really loose, wide-leg kind that go “whoo whoo” in the wind) and not getting in the water with my friends. I replied self-degradingly, “I might have accepted my cellulite but I’m not sure that the rest of the world is ready for that yet,” and laughed. OMG you guys, the SHAME.

The thing is, I wouldn’t have given a shit if I’d seen anyone with cellulite. In fact, there were probably plenty of women with this NORMAL thingy happening on their skin, and I didn’t even notice because my brain was scanning for data that confirmed my self-conscious thoughts. 

If I could do it all over again

I have some regrets about that day. If I could have a do over, I’ll be brave enough to be the Ashley on that boat...because maybe it would have helped other self-conscious women on that boat rock their water-wear as well. After all, it was really hot, and I was really sweaty and uncomfortable, but my body-conscious anxieties kept me from doing things I actually cared about. My partner spent most of the afternoon floating off the back of the boat, staying cool in the water. Instead of watching my first Blue Angels airshow holding the hand of the person I love most, cooling off in a floaty next to him in the water, I sat on the opposite end of the boat, fully clothed and overheated, and missed out on a memory with him. 

Tapping into my values

While I’m trying to be self-compassionate around not feeling ready to be an Ashley just yet, I allowed my fear of negative judgment to dictate how I chose to live my life that beautiful Seattle Saturday. I was distracted from my personal values of making memories with my best friend, a core concept of Acceptance-Commitment Therapy (ACT). If I had slowed down and checked in with myself, I would remember the Health at Every Size Model (HAES), which emphasizes that every body is a swimsuit body. It de-stigmatizes fatness and people with bigger bodies; it reminds us that fat isn’t bad, nor is it a sound indicator of someone’s health… and certainly not someone’s worth. These are some of the tools I use to help my clients with body image and disordered eating. 

Taking a cue from the boys

What I also didn’t notice that day was any men discussing these subjects. The guys on the boat were rocking their swimmies with all sorts of body types; none were turning down the sandwiches provided to avoid looking bloated, because heaven forbid they were hungry. I didn’t hear any guys commenting on their bodies or shaming themselves. 

Gals - what if we’re mindful about speaking about ourselves unkindly? What would we hear? What if we avoided the calorie conversations at the table or the justifications for wanting the regular sized order instead of the half? We can learn to recognize that these critical thoughts are only thoughts, not absolute truths. 

It is okay and very nurturing to give your body what it needs and wants, which might be salad one day and ice cream the next. When we relinquish the rules and judgement around food and physique, food becomes less of a shame/reward system and begins doing what it’s supposed to: nourishing our bodies so we have the energy to be present for whatever it is we care about for the rest of the beautiful Seattle days to come. 

I am here

I may be a therapist, but I’m not perfect and I’m always learning from my mistakes. If you need someone to help you leave body shaming on the deck while you go for a swim, let’s talk. The party is in the water. 


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Abby Erickson is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor at People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice. She helps people with anxiety and social anxiety learn ways to better manage their angst. She also helps people struggling with low self-esteem and body image issues be comfortable in their own skin. Abby is excited that there are still a few good days of summer left to get a second chance to try out that swimsuit and enjoy the sun.

Goal Setting in 2019: Increasing your Motivation for Change

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

Photo by Luis Quintero on Unsplash

It’s the first week of New Year’s and a lot of people like you are thinking about New Year’s resolutions, goal setting, and life hacking in 2019. There’s something about a new year that hits the restart button for us. It’s 1st quarter again, the challenges of 2018 are behind us, and the hope for a new beginning ahead.

Last year, I rained on your New Year’s parade by reminding you of the realities of setting new year’s resolutions. This year I’ll share with you my struggles, how I keep at it, and urge you to move towards your goals for a better health, relationship, and life.

My burden to bear

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when my shoulder pain started. Has it been there for six or nine months? Mostly definitely after the two fender benders. Being in front of the computer most days doesn’t help. Leaning towards my clients during emotionally intense moments doesn’t either. I wake up everyday sensing the pain in my right shoulder. I make every effort to sleep only on my back. Nonetheless, I couldn’t lift my arm in the morning without significant strain.

Not a very good patient

You see, I get PT and massage every two weeks. The problem is, I don’t always follow through with recommendations. PT exercises will only take 10-15 min to complete each day, but I’m not a very good patient.*

*took a break to do one of six exercises

They’re not fun, quite boring actually, and I need to rest in between exercises before starting over. Sometimes I go off to do something else in between, leaving the TheraBands wedged between closed doors. It wasn’t until I tried to go to the bathroom and wondered why the door was shut did I realize, “Oh, PT exercises…”

The costs of staying the same

Aside from the significant pain I feel when I first open my eyes, I feel like a crab fumbling around as I dress myself. I need help getting the bed ready for house guests because my arm tires easily from pulling and lifting. I feel the strain when I do meal prep, carry heavy things, and reach for longer than 10 seconds. During yoga, I couldn’t lower myself all the way down from plank pose without my knees also coming down. I hesitate starting Orangetheory not knowing if my body will get upset with me the next day.

What I’ve tried

So I’ve read everything under the sun about setting SMARTER goals*, goals that are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Risky, Time-stamped, Exciting and Relevant. I even note PT exercises on my quarterly planner as a recurring goal. I tried to carry a TheraBand with me to work so I can do these exercises where I spend the most time, only to bring it home, untouched. I tried to set aside time in the morning before breakfast or right when I come home, but when that time passes, I’d tell myself, “I guess I’ll have to wait until tomorrow...”

The worst of it was when I tried to tie it to something that I routinely do, like, “If I don’t do my exercises, then I can’t floss either.” Yes, very strange indeed. Other people might have flossing as one of their goals; for me, I can’t go to bed without flossing. It just feels wrong. And yet, I did it one time because that was how much I didn’t want to do my exercises. I swiftly separated the associations between these two activities.

It just wasn’t working.

Why this matters

I don’t have an epic tale to tell you, one filled with a triumphant overcome, of a body free of pain and discomfort. What I will tell you is a daily reminder of why it’s important to do my exercises and why it matters that I experience less pain.

I want to spend less time commuting to this or that appointment. I want to be able to carry a Camelbak with 2 liters of water and to do so with ease when I hike in New Zealand next month. I want to start Orangetheory and see that my body is capable of healing from what has developed into more of a chronic problem. I want to put my arm around my husband’s waist like he does mine when we’re walking side-by-side.

The truth of the matter is, this shoulder pain has really limited me and I don’t want to live like this.

What’s working

I no longer set a definite time for when I need to do my exercises. My TheraBands are readily available and you don’t know this but I actually completed all my exercises for the day in between writing this blog. Every time I pass up an opportunity to do my exercises, I ask myself, “Why not now?” and use that minute to do a prep. I vary the order of the exercises so they feel fresh to me. Over time, I notice less pain, greater range of motion and that encourages me to keep going.

I still fall back into my old ways but I know it’s never too late to pick it back up. And, I don’t have to wait until it’s the beginning of a new year, the beginning of a new quarter, or the beginning of a new anything to do so. It can happen right here, right now.

But, that’s me. So, what about you?

Let’s talk change

I’d encourage you to reflect on the following questions** as you set goals for 2019:

  1. Why do you want to make this change?

  2. Are you capable of this change?

  3. How might this benefit you?

  4. Why does this change matter to you?

Can you remember why you’d be willing to disrupt your routine to make this change, even when it’s inconvenient, boring, uncomfortable, or even painful? What are the costs of things staying exactly the same? What might you gain if you put one foot in front of the other? If you give up soon after the new year’s, who is there to support you to get you back on track?

When you ponder these questions and answer truthfully, it’ll firm up your “why” for making this change. When you’re invested in the process and the outcome, it’ll increase your motivation to see your goals to the end. But don’t stop there: While you can read and think about goal setting all day long, the most important step is still taking actions towards the things that matter to you. As you eat, live and breathe the change you want for your life, ask yourself, “How do I like this new normal?”

You can always tweak and adjust as you go.

Change is slow

No one likes to take it slow. Everyone, to some degree, want things to happen yesterday, with lasting effects and little effort. Sorry to break it to you, but Rebecca Solnit, an American writer, says it best -

“Even earthquakes are the consequences of tensions built up over long spans of time, imperceptibly, incrementally. You don’t notice the buildup, just the release. You see a sick person, an old person, a dying person, the sight sinks in, and somewhere down the road you change your life. In movies and novels, people change suddenly and permanently, which is convenient and dramatic but not much like life, where you gain distance on something, relapse, resolve, try again, and move along in stops, starts, and stutters. Change is mostly slow.”

If you want to make sustainable changes that will last throughout the year, we’re here to help. We’ll be truly human, seeing you through your “stops, starts and stutters” without judgment, while moving you closer to the life you want to live. Give us a call today.

* Borrowed from The Full Focus Planner
** Borrowed from Motivational Interviewing


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Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. A day after writing this blog, she went to her first Orangetheory class. For the next few days, she walked around the office like a crab. She will go back. “You’re not out of shape,” says Jake who checked her in, “We just need to get you feeling stronger.” So it is.


Holding Orlando in my Body

Shortly after writing and beginning to process the two tragedies in Orlando, a 3rd happen. I cannot imagine what it's like to have been there, to be the family, to be witness to such loss, to hope that it wasn't the case, to wish it away every time I think about it.

Microgen/stock.adobe.com

Microgen/stock.adobe.com

There is a tendency for me to enter into the experience of another and to carry this tension, this stress in my body. For days, I went around, trying to keep going, ignoring the signs that it's not possible. My neck and shoulders were sensitive to touch; I couldn't carry my usual backpack without having to put it down at every opportunity. My body was telling me I wasn't well. I didn't want to listen, until I could no longer ignore it.

I have a 4-day conference to attend and my backpack will be my constant companion. I finally made time for some mindful yoga, of slowing down to care for my body, to pay attention to it and let it know it is important. My body responded in kind.

I don't mean to undermine the magnitude of all that have happened in Orlando by talking about yoga as a solution. I do invite you to care for you, to listen to what you might need. Given all this, what would be helpful right now? What would still keep you close to the things and people that matter to you?

My body is crying writing this and it begs for another slowing down, another stretch. Just know that I'm here if you need anything.