Every year, on or around July 4th, I revise and republish a piece about declaring our independence from what doesn’t serve or support us — everything from dieting to damaging beliefs. I hope you find it helpful! And I hope you have a wonderful holiday.
Today, we celebrate our independence here in America. But wherever you live, it also might be the day you celebrate your independence, too. It might be the day you liberate yourself from certain behaviors, beliefs, objects, or people that sink your body image, your self-care, your mood, and your life.
For instance, maybe you declare independence from your bathroom scale, which you toss in the trash. Maybe you declare independence from engaging in physical activities that you don’t even like in the first place (and start doing ones you do). Maybe you start participating in activities that make you feel alive and energized and empowered. In activities that soothe and calm you. In activities that bring you pleasure. Not in activities that feel punitive or feel like a dreaded, boring, annoying chore.
Maybe you declare independence from several people who don’t seem to have your best interest at heart, people who don’t really support you, people who tend to judge and criticize, or people who hyper-focus on weight, and make comments about your size. You stop spending most of your time with them or stop seeing them altogether.
Maybe you declare independence from weight-loss books, dieting cookbooks, and “health publications,” and anything else that shames your body and makes you feel guilty about food—and terrible about yourself. And go on a recycling spree throughout your home, and instead buy publications that enlighten, inspire, and captivate your sense of wonder.
Maybe you declare independence from clothes that haven’t fit you for years, which make you feel bad about yourself, which linger in the back of your closet—like those skinny jeans—and give them to people who need them most.
Maybe you declare independence from apologizing for your appearance and your weight. Because so many of us say I’m sorry in many different ways: We bash our bodies in front of others, so they don’t think we actually like that we’ve gained weight. We never wear shorts or bikinis, so we don’t offend anyone with our size. We skip certain gym classes, so we don’t take someone else’s spot, you know, someone else who actually works out. (I used to do all these things, all the time.)
Maybe you declare independence from all the doing and going and running around. Maybe you stop. You just stop. You feel the pain you’ve been avoiding and ignoring and pretending doesn’t exist. The one you’ve been assuring yourself isn’t throbbing but is getting louder and louder, sharper and sharper by the day. Maybe you write about the pain. Maybe you listen to a song that finally helps a few tears fall. Maybe you simply say to the ache, to yourself, I’m sorry. This is hard. I’m trying to listen. Give me time. But I am here. I am with you. I acknowledge that you exist.
Maybe you declare independence from your swimsuit worries. Maybe instead of hyper-focusing on how horrible you supposedly look, you refocus on what you’re going to savor, what you’re going to enjoy. As Shauna Niequist writes in her book Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, “So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to swim. I’m going to paddleboard. I’m going to make sand castles and make-believe and make memories with my kids. I’m going to cannonball into the icy lake water. I’m going to live in the body God made me, not because it’s perfect but because it’s mine. And I’m going to be thankful for health and for the ability to run and move and dance and swim….This is the promise I’m making: this summer, I’m not going to be ashamed of my body. Or at the very least, I’m not going to let a lifetime of shame about my body get in the way of living in a rich, wild, grateful, wide-open way.”
Maybe you declare independence from damaging beliefs and practices, such as: Self-care is selfish or a time suck; I can only feel confident and good in my skin when I am thin; I need to diet or start a meal plan in order to be healthy; accepting my body means I’m giving up on myself; I need to wait until I lose weight to __________.
Maybe you declare independence from the things you can’t control. Maybe you give yourself permission to grieve some loss or to make an appointment with a therapist. Maybe you shift your perspective. For instance, according to Julie M. Simon in The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual, instead of saying, “I’ll never get this done,” you say: “I am capable of making a realistic to-do list and accomplishing it,” or “I’m learning how to go slow, practice patience, and break down large, daunting projects into small, doable tasks.”
Maybe you declare independence from blaming your body for not fitting into a certain piece of clothing, for not fitting in, and focus first on what fits you. Maybe you begin with yourself. You decide to always begin with yourself.
Maybe you declare independence from constantly trying to earn your self-care and your self-worth by accomplishing certain goals, by checking everything off your list in order to finally take a break and relax and savor your surroundings.
Maybe you declare independence from your own inner battle, the one where you see your body as the enemy, the one where weight worries overwhelm and consume you. And on the days you feel terrible about your body, you remind yourself of its power. As I’ve written in a previous piece, “Instead of complaining that I have a big stomach, maybe I can be thankful that my stomach works properly, and I get to enjoy foods of all flavors. Instead of complaining about my blemishes, maybe I can be thankful that my features are a combination of both parents (one of whom no longer walks this earth)…”
Maybe you declare independence from judging yourself for feeling painful emotions—for being upset, scared, anxious or jealous—and remind yourself that all your emotions are welcome. Because when all emotions are welcome, all of you is welcome, too.
Maybe you declare independence from your digital devices. Maybe you regularly disconnect from your smartphone, your tablet, so you can reconnect to yourself and to your life. So you can really listen to your loved ones and to yourself. So you can watch the things you don’t see when screens are present, like the sky and your husband’s eyes.
Maybe you declare independence from stories that say you’re unlovable or you’re alone in your struggles or you’re hopeless or the only way to lead a satisfying, productive life is to bash yourself.
Maybe you declare independence from fantasizing about and striving for weight loss, for a size ____, because so many things do taste better than skinny feels. Like foods made from family traditions. Like getting off the hamster wheel. Like more time, attention, energy to think, create, connect, play, invent, read, learn, laugh. So, in short, like life.
Declare one or two things. Write it down. Read it aloud. Share it with someone you trust. Then think of one way you can take action toward this declaration. I know it can seem overwhelming. Incredibly so.
But please remember that self-doubt doesn’t have to stop you. You can walk alongside your doubts and insecurities, while still taking a step forward. One tiny step. Because a tiny step is still a step. Because a tiny step still forms a path, still creates progress, still means movement. And what could be more freeing and empowering than making a decision and making a move to make it happen?
Today, what are you declaring independence from?