All my life, I've struggled with self-image. I can blame any number of airbrushed models in magazines or the media or whatever I want, but in the end it all comes down to me. I've pushed myself unrealistically against personal ideals that 99% of the population doesn't attain. I think many of us are in the same position: both men and women.
As I've ...erm... aged the reasons for achieving ideals have changed, though. When I was in my teens, I compared myself to everyone else around me. I wanted to look like the most popular girl in school. In my 20's, I compared myself to media images. I wanted to be just like the women everyone watched in movies - not just look like, but be. I remember writing a list of all the ways I could be the 'cool girlfriend' everyone talked about. Now well into my 30's, I think I have a much healthier benchmark of who I push myself to become. I now want to become the best I can be. No comparisons to my peers. No more unreal expectations of being a fabricated ideal of someone who doesn't even exist. Just me, but optimized.
What that meant for me was to first understand who I am. If I'm not someone else or aspiring to be like someone else, what are the hallmarks of who I am as a human being. What do I stand for? What do I want to achieve? What is my higher purpose in life? When I look at myself in the mirror, who do I see? Can I be happy with her?
Those haven't been easy questions for me to answer. I've spent many hours over nearly three years - and being single - asking them. At first, I forced myself NOT to be in a relationship because I needed to focus on what I need for ME, not someone else. Then, as I answered those questions, I realized I couldn't be in the kinds of relationships I had been in previously because they weren't true to me and who I wanted to be. When I asked myself what I needed, the answers I came up with raised the bar on the type of relationship I wanted to have with another person.
At the beginning of 2010 (after two years of asking those questions) I realized that I was taking myself for granted. How could anyone else respect me and honour me if I couldn't do that for myself? I was drinking too much, smoking, eating poorly, never exercising, traveling too much and generally approaching my health from a blasé perspective. I didn't want to make a New Year's Resolution as much as I wanted to make a New Life Resolution. I wasn't incredibly happy. And the reason I wasn't incredibly happy is because, well, I didn't love who I was.
Still, it took me a few months and a whole lot of support from friends to start. In April, I got a gym membership, a BIXI key, started going to some classes, began working out with some friends, quit smoking, drank less (I still enjoy wine and have at least one night where I share that pleasure with friends a week - but I'm considering cutting back even more), put a damper on my travel (told my speaker bureau that I wasn't available for gigs unless they had to do with my new company), really watched what I ate (cooking more at home helps) and doing things like taking vitamins and making sure I'm paying attention when I'm worn down. At first this wasn't easy. It's much easier to be lazy, eat yummy processed food that is bad for you, do whatever feels good and "enjoy" oneself. But as my health improved, so did the benefits. I was dropping clothing sizes like crazy, feeling more energetic, radiating confidence and feeling incredibly happy.
When I treated my body well, my mind followed. Emotionally, I've been WAY more stable. I think more clearly and creatively. I have focus and I'm pretty much excited about everything in life these days.
A year ago, I would have dreamed of strapping on a pair of trainers and hitting the jogging paths on a Sunday afternoon. Today, I'm running 10km in under an hour without thinking about it and doing it several times a week! I'm actually training for a marathon! I like looking at myself in the mirror. I feel confident in a bikini. I actually like photos that others take of me (even ones where I'm not paying attention - those used to have double chins all of the time).
I didn't lose *that* much weight, either (around 20lbs). It wasn't really about that. It was more about treating my body with respect. It was more about knowing that if I wanted to find that great relationship someday where a man loved and respected me, I had to love and respect myself first. And the best way I could approach that is through action. Investing in me for the longterm.
When I was approached about a month ago by Nike Women and asked to be part of their Nike Women Make Yourself campaign, I was not only honoured, but really felt that I had worked hard to deserve it. I'm not a super athlete that has multiple hours a day to train, big dollars to pay a personal trainer or any core skills that give me an edge. I'm a regular woman who has had to prioritize and work hard at being healthy, keeping off weight and improving on my skills. The rewards aren't immediate and there are more distractions to the goal than people cheering you along the way.
I really love this campaign because it means we can help one another be our personal best. My dream is for every single woman - young and old - to get to the point where we no longer compare ourselves to others and unreal media images, but we start loving who we are and treating ourselves like gold.
Love the ones we're with: ourselves.