When I lived in Belgium, I made a fairly conscious choice to ignore all the magazines and television that I used to watch in Canada. When I say fairly conscious, the other contributing factor was that I lived in a country where I didn’t speak the official language very well so I was able ignore the rest.
Over the course of eight months, I noticed a mental shift in my attitude about myself.
- I quit stressing so much about the tiny bits of cellulite forming on my upper thighs. I thought, “Well I’m still able to run 5 km anytime I want, time to give my legs a break and pick up some more flattering shorts.” No problem.
- I decided it was fine to go out to the grocery store without make-up on and realized a natural, fresh face is appreciated by most.
- I quit worrying so much about how I looked in comparison to others. My fitness routine wasn’t based on what works for Victoria Secret models. My new Belgian lifestyle required walking and biking as my primary transportation. Suddenly, I wasn’t thinking about trying a new ab routine to lure out my dormant ‘6-pack’; I was more concerned about navigating a bicycle through narrow cobblestone streets with a heavy backpack of groceries.
- I bought clothes that I truly loved rather than what was considered trendy. If the pants were bigger than my usual size, I was able to shrug it off and find something that fit better without a weight meltdown. I’ll admit I still worry occasionally, but I’m less likely to let it become a major stressor.
- I received more compliments because of my change in confidence. Moreover, I began to remember them and accept them rather than listening to my prior inner monologue of ‘Oh thanks, but this could be better…”
- I ran more, not for the purpose of hitting those goal measurements of 36-25-38, but because it was my moment for reflection and meditation.
- I became more aware of food quality and choosing ingredients for nutritional value as opposed to a calorie count and low-fat content. Bring on the cheese and red wine!
- My conversations with other women weren’t dominated by anything covered in fashion magazines or TV. Coffee dates were focused on personal fulfillment and goals; subjects we found to be authentic, real, and important. I felt less competition with other women and compared myself to others less. I was quicker to compliment than to criticize.
And then I came home. I could feel myself falling into the media trap once again. My Canadian lifestyle is different from my Belgian one and sometimes, it’s the little things that get me: like seeing tabloid headlines ‘Who’s Fat? Who’s too Thin?” at the Canadian grocery store rather than small bars of Belgian dark chocolate while at the check-out line.
However, after my time in Belgium, I can recognize that mainstream American media promotes unhealthy cultural values. Not every woman in the world is subjected to such unrealistic and cruel messages day in and day out.
I’m planning to do everything in my power to keep avoiding mainstream media for my mental health and confidence. I suggest you try it to because it’s liberating in more ways than you think. When more women refuse mainstream media’s messages and we voice our concerns about unrealistic body images, the more likely we are to change them.