Alyssa Mateer: Body Positivity
The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have is With Yourself
By: Alyssa Mateer
Loving myself has never come easily to me. If I’m honest, it’s been a long, hard process, and I’m still on the path to self-love. I think it will always be a work in progress for me, and that’s okay. My relationship with myself ebbs and flows, but I’ve learned to be mindful about how I talk to myself because for a long time (and sometimes still), I wasn’t saying very nice things.
One of my first memories of feeling inadequate was when I was about ten years old. At the time, my “newsfeed” was Seventeen magazine, and I remember that nearly all of the girls featured in the magazine looked the same. They were all tall and skinny, and I noticed that none of them had freckles. At that moment I began to hate my freckles because I couldn’t recall one single piece of media that I had seen with a girl that had freckles. I’d go in my bathroom, turn off the light and the nightlight would illuminate the room just enough where you couldn’t see my freckles. I would think to myself, “if I could only get rid of these freckles I would be pretty.” Now, at 28-years old I sometimes find myself having the same inner dialogue with myself. If I lost five pounds I would feel better in a bathing suit. If I pose this way my arms don’t look fat. If I do more squats maybe I can get rid of the cellulite on my thighs. It’s my mind convincing myself to strive toward the unachievable goal of perfection.
I can’t exactly remember when I started treating myself so poorly, but I know that it escalated to a point where it was unbearable in my early twenties. For so long I had let others put me down that I started to think like them too. I had toxic relationships and friendships that affected how I viewed myself and chipped away at my self-worth. I was left wondering, “why am I not good enough?” When I should have focused on why those individuals weren’t good enough for me.
Over time I slowly weeded the toxicity out of my life, but the damage was done. I changed careers, moved away from home, created a circle of wonderfully supportive people around me, but I was my own worst enemy. I created this cycle of shame with myself. When something wasn’t going right in my life, and it was out of my control, I’d shift the blame back to me and focus all my energy into how I would never be good enough. In my mind, if I could achieve specific goals about my physical appearance, then I would finally be happy. This feeling would come over me and I knew I was irrational, but the only thing I could focus on was my body and how uncomfortable I was in my own skin. Anytime I saw a picture of myself I would look at it and immediately have this intense feeling of shame for how “terrible” I looked. I hated every photo of myself, and I even started to wear loose clothing because I didn’t want anyone to pick apart my body more than I already did. I had created a toxic relationship with myself.
I started to recognize that when those feelings of shame came over me, that something else in my life needed attention. The first step was to understand my trigger thoughts. Instead of letting my mind go down this rabbit hole of shame, I would sit and think about what was stressing me out. In a sense, I had to rewire my brain to react differently to certain stressors. As soon as I was mindful of what my thoughts were doing, I was able to refocus my energy elsewhere and fix the actual problem. Not obsess over how I looked in a bathing suit.
I didn’t figure this out overnight, or even on my own. I went to therapy (and I still go for mental health check-ins) and was amazed at how much it helped me work through my insecurities. Therapy was a fantastic outlet for me, and it made a huge difference in my life. The beautiful part of therapy was that I realized I already possessed all of the tools for change and healing, I just had to harness them.
It took a LOT of practice throughout the course of 18-months to start seeing a change in how I treated myself. Over time I began to put myself out there and try new things and meet new people.
Despite how scary it was, I took risks, changed careers, and even found a new fitness vertical that I loved. Most importantly, I slowly started to mend my relationship with myself. That’s the beauty of vulnerability, the best things in life often come from being vulnerable. I focused my energy on what made me happy, not what was dragging me down. I deleted a bunch of accounts from my social feeds that were fueling this idea that my body type wasn’t accepted in society. I spent my dollars with brands that supported diversity in their campaigns and models that (GASP) looked like regular people, cellulite and all. It sounds simple, but that was incredibly empowering to me.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that now my thoughts are all warm and fuzzy and full of empowerment. Sometimes they are and sometimes I find my mind wandering back to its old ways. Putting myself out there and being vulnerable is still a struggle for me. Even joining the Dames Collective earlier this year was really scary at first. I looked at the roster of talented, amazing women that are a part of this group, and my mind shifted to feelings of inadequacy and doubt that I belonged. I pushed my anxiety aside and reach out about a monthly membership. Now, here I am four months later writing this blog post.
This past February I lost my Mom to breast cancer. The last year of her life I watched as the cancer slowly spread all over my Mom’s body and it took her mobility along with it. After watching someone you love long to do trivial everyday things that you take for granted, it changes you. More and more I focus on the day-to-day tasks that I am so fortunate to be able to do on my own. Simple things like showering, driving a car and having a body that allows me to exercise. Not my lack of abs. I’m more grateful than ever for my perfectly imperfect body and all of the things it allows me to do each day.
Like anything, some days are easier than others. It takes a lot of work and mental focus, but you can love yourself in a society that capitalizes on your self-doubt. We’re all different, and we’re all beautiful. Beauty doesn’t fit into one box; it fits into many, many boxes. Maybe you’re completely comfortable in your skin, or perhaps you’re like me, and you still have some work to do to love yourself completely. Both are acceptable. I’m working on embracing my body and every curve, every roll, and every dimple.
This mental health awareness month, all I am asking is that we be a little kinder to ourselves. Have you said something nice to yourself today? What have you done lately to support your relationship with your mind and body? We put so much focus and energy into our relationships with others, but don’t we deserve the same attention? After all, its the most important relationship you’ll ever have.