Why This Work Matters: My Path to True North
My journey to True North probably began long, long ago but it really crystallized because of my boys. Davis. Will. Baylor. Three little bundles of messy, unique, beauty-full potential. Having questioned my own self-worth for much of my memory, I was blown away by the absolute perfection I saw in them. I knew from the minute they were born that they were worth the very best of me. I knew this instinctively . . . without really knowing anything about the type of the boys they would grow up to be. And as they grew, I marveled at their unabashed confidence in themselves and their bodies.
When asked what he likes about his body, my 7-year-old said, “Everything. It’s awesome! What isn’t there to like?!” My 3-year-old proudly sticks out his belly and proclaims, “Look how big I am!” Their joy in who they are can fill the room, and I love how “big” their presence can be. What a sharp contrast to how “small” I tried to become while battling an eating disorder.
That eating disorder led me to the field of psychology and I learned what it means to be a therapist. I had deep regard for my clients and their pain but there was also fear. “What if I can’t help this person? What am I doing?” That fear intensified when I had my first son. “What if I don’t do this ‘right’?” But as is the case in therapy, unconditional positive regard–accepting and respecting others, as they are, without judgment or evaluation–seemed a key component for growth. And as my son grew, I loved him unconditionally; and I realized that he had unconditional positive regard for himself as well. We are born loving ourselves, loving our bodies . . . but at some point along our path, that changes for most of us. Why? And more importantly, what can we do about it?
I look at my boys and my heart hurts at the thought of them losing that pure joy they now feel in simply being themselves. Yet, when my oldest came home from school and asked me if he has “a six-pack,” I thought, “Oh no, it’s happening.” The outside world with its unrealistic ideals for appearance and messages about who and what we should be–it’s going to change him. And yes, that is normal and even inevitable but like so many other parents, I want to do what I can to enable him to be and love himself as much as possible.
Through parenting, and working with teens in my clinical practice as well as in REbeL, I have realized that so many adults are in “the same boat.” We have these incredible young people in our lives–trusting, full of hope, impressionable–they look to us to figure out how to “be” in this world. While body image may seem like a relatively minor sphere of influence, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Our relationships with our bodies, food, and exercise color most everything we do. Just as we teach our children to read or encourage them to be kind, we must create spaces where body-positivity is present. Within these spaces, a mindful relationship with food and movement can blossom. The young people with whom I’ve worked are hungry for this shift in how we live. And I’ve learned, because of them, that advocating for a change in how we talk about bodies and appearance is not what I do. It’s who I am.
So standing firmly on my path, in my “true north,” means being authentic and vulnerable while doing what I can to help others see that the issue of body image matters. For me, right now, this journey means engaging in education and training with adults so we can all parent, teach, treat, and lead our youth in ways that honor every body. My middle munchkin described his body as “speshal.” And he’s right–it is special because it houses the amazingness of him. This is true for all of us. So how about we don’t focus on changing our bodies any longer but instead do what we can to change the conversation, and in doing so, change the world.
If you are a parent, teacher, health care professional, or any adult who wants to learn more about True North and my work, please go to www.find-truenorth.com to check out available training and learning opportunities.
You are not your body,
*Photo credit: Mollie Leach of Invy Photography