There’s a silent epidemic in our midst. It’s in boardrooms, in coffee shops, parks, classrooms, fitness studios, wellness centers, and living rooms on every continent. It’s the cause of depression, low self-esteem, and feelings of isolation at record levels—and women are especially susceptible.
I saw it play out again at a recent charity event. I was in a room full of established, insightful, smart, beautiful women, so the common theme was especially surprising.
At every table, the conversations were not focused on accomplishments, celebrations, and ideas, but on self-deprecation, insecurity, frustration, and shame. Reaching for another cucumber sandwich, one woman said, “There are so many carbs here, I’ll have to eat only protein for the rest of the weekend to balance this out.”
Another woman was eyeballing the pastries and said, “I shouldn’t have another one. I will have to work out even longer just to burn it off.” In my ear, a friend was telling me how much weight she’d lost on her new diet.
I sat there wondering how we let it get like this. At what point in history did women start to shame themselves for eating, enjoying food, for just plain living? Food shame is at an all-time high, and it has the destructive effect of making us feel inadequate. But feeling guilty for eating isn’t the real issue, it’s a side effect of what’s really going on. Being healthy means taking care of yourself, so what is self-care really?
Most of the women I was with have a solid self-care routine. These women all go to the gym regularly, they drink their green juice, and most of them are members of yoga studios. So why do we shame ourselves into a regimented and negativity-driven self-care routine? Feeling guilty for skipping a gym workout, eating an extra cucumber sandwich, or drinking another glass of wine. When we are honest, these are things we really want to do, but the pressure to fit in, to be and look a certain way, is the culprit to this epidemic. We are, for the most part, buying into the pressure.
The pressure almost killed me. I went through it first-hand. Several years ago, I was an endurance athlete, competing in triathlons, half marathons, and weekly century (100-mile) bike rides. I was the “image” of health with a slim, fit body; I drank my green juice every day and did yoga five times a week in addition to my endurance training. I had clear, perfect skin, and a sun-kissed tan body. I counted my calories every day, and it sure looked like my self-care routine was in tip-top shape.
But it was a completely different story on the inside. I would cry myself to sleep each night; I couldn’t look in the mirror and say one good thing about myself; I hated my body and lacked any self-confidence or esteem. Most evenings I was curled up into a ball of shame on the cold bathroom floor, suffocating on my own tears, regretting whatever I ate, fearing what the world thought about me. Was I good enough, pretty enough, would I ever be enough? I was silently suffering from bulimia, cycled in and out of anorexia, and I had body dysmorphia. My doctor diagnosed me with clinical depression, and that was a turning point for me. I realized my pursuit of “being healthy” was making me extremely unhealthy. It didn’t matter how many hours I worked out or how tight my calorie count was, I wasn’t healthy because I didn’t love myself.
In my constant quest to fit in and be enough, I was killing myself. We have to ask ourselves, how healthy are we if our self-care routine doesn’t include mental health? How we talk to ourselves matters. Are we being our own friend with compassion?
I had hit my lowest point the night before I was getting ready to go on a morning television show to talk about my first book, Find Your Happy. I was crying on the hotel bathroom floor. There I was, getting ready to talk to thousands of people about being happy, but I didn’t have one good thing to say about myself. That’s when it hit me: my lack of self-love was preventing me from living my life more fully. My constant obsessing about what to eat, when to eat, what I looked like, the size of my body was taking time and energy away from me living my life.
Suddenly it made sense: to stop hating myself is to raise the vibration and love on the planet. To stop loathing myself is to reduce the negativity and pain in the world.
So I set out on a journey to learn how to become my own best friend, what I call the self-love experiment. Learning how to love the parts of us we think are unlovable is possible, but we must stop buying into others’ point of view about how we should look or live our lives. Stop attacking yourself with negative thoughts. Don’t waste any more time on them. You and your life are far too precious.
We waste so much time condemning ourselves and putting ourselves down. What could you do with all that energy and time if, instead of obsessing, you were celebrating you, being kind to you, and lifting yourself up with positive thoughts? What kind of life could that be? That’s the life I want to live—that’s the type of world we can create together.
Stop attacking yourself with negative thoughts. Don’t waste any more time on them. You and your life are far too precious.
What I learned is self-love is not about how you look, it’s about how you live.
And your life is worth living. It starts by more loving.
This article is an excerpt from Shannon Kaiser’s new book available now The Self-Love Experiment: Fifteen Principles for Becoming More Kind, Compassionate, and Accepting of Yourself.
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