Reshaping Painful Body Programming • Selene Milano
Welcome to our newest series about all body love, shadow and acceptance, hosted by Selene Milano of The Gain. Last month she shared about Owning Your Shadow Around Your body. We believe that Body consciousness and Body Image are deeply important subjects to consider when UNBLOCKING. This is why we are so grateful to have Selene here to inspire us on how to navigate programming surrounding the body so that we can get back to our purely authentic nature.
All genders, ages and backgrounds receive messages early on about their body. Some come from our culture and environment and others are more personal and directed specifically toward us. Even though, as Lacy says, we come into the world as a blank slate, we receive imprints early on that become a part of our identity. I have a friend who calls this the mythology of our lives. We end up hearing stories about ourselves that become a part of our identity, regardless of whether or not they are based in fact.
Going through Reparent I made a really deep discovery. When I was a toddler—still drinking from a bottle—my doctor told my mother I was gaining too much weight and I needed to switch from cow’s milk to goat’s milk. I had been told this story as a child (though truly had not thought of it in ages). During the DI, it came back to me, I pictured myself as a little baby basically being deprived of the milk I loved because of my size. Essentially, that was my first diet.
What I love about Lacy’s work is that we can allow ourselves to have these memories and experience the pain without blaming anyone. I truly think the doctor and my mother had my best interest at heart. But the message I received when I heard the story was that I was not okay just as I was. The goat’s milk wasn’t for health it was for weight, plain and simple.
Another memory I unearthed was of my mother talking about my two cousins. They were older than me and I really have no memory of them being overweight but my mother said of their mother, “She put them on a diet and she made them stick to it!” She said this with great reverence for their mother, she was so impressed by her ability to force these two teenagers to stick to what was probably a fad diet. My mother could be strict and certainly stubborn (she’s a Taurus) so the way things appeared mattered a lot to her. Every time I “failed” at dieting for the rest of my life, those words echoed like a chorus in my ears. “She made them stick to it!” Why couldn’t I?
When I wrote about exploring our shadow in my last column, I asked people to think about their own shadows around their body and their weight and to share them if they felt comfortable. The answers that poured in were so vulnerable and deeply painful and personal, they have stayed with me. So many men and women in all stages of their lives talked about being bullied for their weight early on—many times by siblings. Another big trend was what many people overheard their own mothers say about their weight or their looks. Watching their mothers diet, watching their mothers struggle with their weight and the incredible value they placed on getting thin and staying thin.
On the other end of the spectrum there were many women that were so revered for their bodies and their looks from such an early age that they struggled to find other value in their lives outside of that. When their bodies inevitably changed as they aged, their self-worth plummeted.
Into my teens I would tell people I was going on a diet for a reason many young women do – fishing for compliments. On some level I just wanted for people to tell me how crazy I was for wanting to lose weight. Sometimes they did… and sometimes they didn’t. My hopes of being made to feel okay about myself by seeking this outside validation backfired and people would say things like “good for you.”
I believe the impact of negative messaging shows up similarly to physical ailments. We’ve all heard of people who smoke their whole lives, lay in tanning beds or engage in other unhealthy behaviors and never have an adverse reaction. Then someone who is a health nut might develop a chronic illness. I think of harmful messaging the same way. It’s the reason siblings can grow up in the same house and one may experience it as toxic and harmful and the other as a completely loving and safe environment. We ingest the world differently. If you are holding on to a traumatic memory, don’t let anyone try and invalidate that. If it hurt you—then it’s hurtful. You need to give it space and start to reprogram.
Ask yourself these questions: What were you told about your body? What did your care givers think about their bodies? What were your values around food? Did you grow up in a culture where eating as much as possible was valued or where having a small appetite, “eating like a bird” was the more desirable way for a woman to exist, while focusing on being fit was a more desirable way for a man to exist. When you eat now do you still have those voices in your head? If you are in pain about your weight I invite you to go back and think about the earliest messages you received, whether they were on TV or personal to you that told you weren’t good enough. When did you first feel that shame?
I grew up in an Italian American family where life was centered around food. It was a joyous celebration to sit around the table and laugh and tell stories. The ritual of food is so sacred to me to me to this day. Unfortunately, I took in so many negative messages about my body and blamed food for everything that was wrong with me, my relationship to eating became disordered and toxic. These mixed messages around eating can be found everywhere in our culture. Everyone now identifies as a “foodie,” there are 1000 food shows on TV, recipes bombarding every social media feed, yet the dangers of food lurk around every bend. If there is something wrong with you, your weight must be the problem and the food you eat the real culprit. I recently heard Lacy speak on her podcast and she said “food was just never a healing modality for me.” I found it so incredibly refreshing. Because today everyone in wellness says food is the cure for everything. I understand that people have serious aversions to certain foods and discovering that can feel like a miracle recovery, but cutting out foods and chronic restriction can be just as harmful to your mental health.
i. As I started to gain weight as an adult, I searched everywhere for answers, for a “cure” but I didn’t need a cure for my weight, I needed a cure for my pain. I needed to heal. If you struggle in this way, I encourage you to go back into Reparent and Shadow and look at things specifically from that viewpoint. Dig deep and reprogram those earliest messages.
ii. Finding expanders is also critical. People who have bodies like yours, but more importantly find women who are just comfortable in their own skin. Who feel easy with themselves. Women that you experience as powerful and strong that are not totally obsessed with their bodies.
iii. Make space for yourself to feel attractive and sexy just as you are. Not some vision you have of yourself in the future. Right now, as you would have been before you took in all this negativity and trauma. As crazy as it sounds, eat what you want. Seriously, try it. When you become obsessive about cutting out a certain food or food group, you are giving away all of your power. You are in charge, you know what you need.
iv. Talk openly about the mythology of your own family. Really open yourself up to your own story. Instead of being in pain about your arms or your thighs, feel the pain and rage about how you were treated. Again, the great thing about Lacy’s work is the removal of blame. You can be angry as hell and still know whomever sent you that message whether it was your brother or your mother or a man you dated, you don’t have to carry that anger toward them at all. That was such a big part of my healing.
v. Something I try and remember is “fat is not a feeling” – you can’t FEEL fat. So when you feel bad about your weight or your body, tap into what you are really feeling. Shame, hurt, rejection, pain, worthlessness. Tapping into those early messages about your identity tied up in your weight need to be reprogrammed.
vi. Write down the things that happened that shaped your identity around your appearance. Try and reprogram them one by one. Those are blocks and they aren’t only standing in the way of your happiness, they are standing in the way of you manifesting what you want. It’s time to rewrite your story. You were born whole and perfect and you are still whole and perfect. The only one that needs convincing of that is you.