We all have that one part of our body that we always zero in on and talk badly about. Mine was my belly. Even before my stomach miraculously expanded to grow two babies, I’d stand in front of the mirror and poke my stomach and say mean things. It’d make me feel so upset and totally ruin my day thinking my self-worth was determined by how fat or flat my belly was.
The negative self-talk became more than exhausting; it became detrimental to my mental and physical state. I’d restrict certain foods for the sake of flattening it and miss out on hanging out with friends or going to the gym because I felt fat in my outfit. I’d just be in a terrible mood all day, all because the bully inside me was so cruel and critical.
I’m not only hyperaware about this issue because of my emotional well-being, but also because I have an almost-9-year-old daughter. I don’t allow diet talk around her and don’t want other women to say mean things about their bodies in front of her, so why was it OK for me to say mean things about my body (even though she couldn’t hear)? Being an example of self-love and self-confidence is something I strive for, and I felt like I had to walk the walk. I can’t just tell her she has to love herself and feel proud of her body — I have to show her how.
So one day I stopped. I stopped poking and prodding and judging. And instead, I said three nice things about what I saw. Out loud. I said, “Damn, your hair looks extra curly today. Your biceps are so defined! You have a beautiful smile.” Right after I said them, I said a fourth thing — about my belly — but it was more positive. “Yeah, my belly is thicker than I want, but who cares?”
To encourage this positive self-talk, I put a photo of both my kids on my mirror that reminds me to think to myself, “Would you say this to them?” It inspires me to always speak to myself with kindness, because I’m always listening. The more complimentary things I say about myself, the more I focus on them, and the more positive and happy I feel about my body.
Positive self-talk is proven to have immeasurable benefits. Psychologist Amy Vigliotti, PhD, founder of SelfWorks, said, “Our mind and body respond to our inner talk in the same way we respond to someone talking to us. When someone criticizes us, it hurts and affects our relationship with that person. If we talk to ourselves in a devaluing, critical way, we respond with passivity, discouragement, and we tend to hide our true self from the world. When we talk to ourselves with compassion and courage, we respond with motivation, confidence, and authentic connection.” I had no idea how much this tiny little act of self-love was going to affect my outlook and interaction with the world.
I used to avoid looking at mirrors in front of my kids, but now I make a point to look and say these things out loud in front of them. “Look at my muscles,” I say as I proudly flex. And then Sadie will flex and say, “Look how strong I am!” I tear up thinking to myself, “This is working!” We have taken it a step further and say nice things about each other out loud. It feels so much better to hear compliments compared to insults.
Recently, my almost-7-year-old son, Devon, lifted his shirt and said, “Look at all my muscles” (he’s super lean!), and hugged me around my waist and said, “You’re soft.” In the past, a comment like that would have sent me in a downward spiral of sadness and tears, but I just said, “Yep, that’s because I grew you and your sister. That’s where I heard your heartbeat for the first time and the place where I first fell in love with you.” He smiled and said, “I love your squishiness. It’s a good pillow.” OK, so the next time I looked in the mirror, I didn’t say, “I love my squishy tummy; it’s a great pillow,” but I did say, “My body is amazing because it gave me the two greatest gifts in the world.”
After a couple weeks of making a point to do some serious positive self-talk in front of the mirror, it’s become a habit. I don’t let negative comments creep in at all — I shut them down. Not only has this helped me feel 100 times better about my belly, but it’s also made me happier and more positive all around. So the next time you look in the mirror, choose your thoughts carefully. Because even though you may be the only one listening, you’re the one who needs to hear those positive words the most.