I want to ask you to question the validity of the stories and myths you tell yourself about your past.
When we’re going through a tough time, we have a tendency to look at our past and see just the pretty parts. We also tend to alter or mythicize the truth in order to make sense of where we are now.
It’s a common theme in our lives.
This happens when we are in a job that isn’t a good fit for us. A previous job that was stressful and draining and all consuming starts to be remembered in a much fonder way.
We’ll find ourselves doing this when we’re single and missing some of the benefits that come with a romantic relationship. We suddenly remember an old boyfriend as being more handsome, more interesting and kind than he was in reality. (He was a dirtbag and you still don’t need him, I promise.)
It’s not hard to find more examples of this in every area of our life. When we’re bored or stressed about the responsibilities of raising families, keeping a home and paying ever mounting bills, we think about how carefree we were in our early 20s. We conveniently forget that we didn’t have health insurance, our car starting was a daily gamble, and our diet consisted of ramen noodles and frozen burritos (that might be a year old) because we often didn’t have any money for food after paying our bills. It was stressful and awful in a different way but we forget that.
We remember eating better (we ate terribly). We slept better (we hardly slept). We had more energy (we napped all the time). We were more fun (we were just as anxious as we are now). We were more outgoing (no, there were just more opportunities to socialize). More interesting (we just liked to hear ourselves talk about everything we were learning).
The list goes on and on.
The way we remember things and the way we view ourselves isn’t always accurate. We glamorize and mythicize to suit a “need.” The thought is that if we can make ourselves feel that the past was better, maybe we’ll be motivated to make changes or take action to change now.
The most common example I see is in glorifying the myth of the girl in the body from our past. Most commonly the smaller body from our past.
You may believe this myth yourself when thinking of your younger days. Or you may have even seen it shared publicly from someone else, as we tend to do things since the advent of social media! Usually it comes in a “I miss this girl” kind of post on social media. Sometimes it comes in the form of a before / current photo and talk of starting their journey back to their pre-x, y or z weight. (complete with a photo of them drinking an expensive powdered shake in a plastic container).
You know exactly what I’m talking about.
Someone posts a photo of themselves in their younger thinner years, usually in a bikini, short shorts, or other various states of light clothing wearing.
It’s always the same.
They’re young. They’re pretty. And they are in a smaller, seemingly imperfection-free body.
They express a desire to get back “there”. (We do this in our heads too – social media isn’t necessary for this kind of myth perpetuation.)
The woman they are today (and that most of us are today) has probably been through a lot and on the way, her body has changed. She’s gained some weight, maybe she has stretch marks and cellulite. Maybe she has wrinkles or gray hairs. She may have dealt with some health issues. Her physical body is overflowing with the marks of time and life.
When I see these photos like this or hear statements of “I miss this girl” and “I was so much better then” it makes me so very sad.
First, because in hindsight, we see the younger, thinner version of ourselves as being free from worry, free from problems, and having the body that we would desire to have now. It must have been so fun to have that body then, right? We must have appreciated it and loved it and treated it with respect and great care.
The sad thing is that we didn’t appreciate it. We didn’t love it. We didn’t respect it.
Those of us who are reeling from our current bodies are partly in the place we are in because we treated our younger bodies abysmally.
Raise your hand if you started dieting as a pre-teen and your entire teenage years were consumed with thoughts of needing to stay small or lose a few pounds so you’d be as small or smaller than your friends.
Raise your hand if your norm in those smaller bodied days was to go as many hours as you could between meals and to eat as little as possible at each meal, filling up on rice cakes, fat-free cottage cheese and cucumber slices or anything else that your teen magazines told you were low-cal.
Raise your hand if you remember the hours you spent in tears because the boy you liked didn’t like you back and you attributed it to your thighs (and how large you thought they were).
Raise your hand if you started smoking to reduce your appetite, started drinking coffee to lose weight (you didn’t need to lose in the first place) and bought jeans a size smaller than you wear so that you would be too uncomfortable to eat.
Raise your hand if most of your actual memories of those years are not of all the fun ways you lived in and enjoyed your body but instead are flashes and pieces of hunger, thoughts about food or feeling badly about your body for various reasons.
We don’t usually land in our today bodies accidentally.
When we spend time fantasizing about the girl in the body from our past, we are indulging in a myth. When we say “I miss that girl” in our thinner and younger photos, what we are really saying is:
- I miss feeling in control of my life and my body.
- I feel invisible and too visible at the same time.
- I want to feel beautiful, powerful, and carefree.
- I want to feel confident and happy.
That girl you were wasn’t necessarily any of those things just because the you of today thinks her old body was better. If we’re unhappy now, we tend to look at our past selves with rose-colored lenses.
Please, don’t make the mistake of glamorizing the past in favor of crapping on your now.
The body you had when you were 16 or 20 was probably treated often with the same disgust and disdain that at times, you have treated your body of today with. That body didn’t bring you joy and you didn’t feel half as confident as the you of today thinks you were.
The problems you see with your body today were likely the same things that bothered you then (even if there is or isn’t a discernible size difference between the two). And these things will always be a problem as long as you believe they are a problem, no matter what diet or workout routine you take on.
The best thing you can do for the you of yesterday and the you of today is to not wish to be someone from another place in time. Instead start practicing love, respect and appreciation (or at least just acceptance) of the body you have right now.
Don’t sugar coat or gloss over your past. Don’t pretend things were perfect. All that does is set you up for failure. If things weren’t perfect then and you weren’t happy and confident then (before bills, before kids, before work, before LIFE), then how in the world do you have a chance of achieving happiness, confidence and perfection now??? The answer is you don’t. So don’t hold yourself to an impossible and imaginary standard.
If you want to radiate the confidence and beauty you think your younger self is the epitome of in old photos, you don’t get there by making yourself feel bad for where you are today.
You get there by practicing kindness to yourself, always, by caring for your body physically in ways that make you feel good (move your body joyfully, feed both its needs and wants) and by removing the pressure on yourself to look a specific way.
You live your life in the present moment.
If the girl you were in your high school days could speak to you today, do you know what she would say?
She’d tell you that she’s always loved you, she just didn’t know how to show you that. She wishes she had spent less time focused on staying thin and being pretty and more time enjoying the freedom those younger years usually bring.
She wishes she had eaten to fullness, laughed with her friends, gone out for ice cream regularly and never started to smoke in the first place.
She wishes that you appreciated all that your body still has to offer you now, exactly as it is and before it’s too late.
She hopes you will stop wishing and missing the girl you were and start paying attention to the woman you are and can still be.
She hopes you raise your own daughters to love, respect, appreciate, and accept their bodies for enabling them to breathe, love, create, dance, run, climb, laugh, and live. She doesn’t want you to miss the girl right in front of you, right now.
Go out and love and appreciate her.