• Winona Rajamohan

step 3: learning to love what I see

Updated: Aug 23, 2021



In my series of steps taken to understand discomfort this past year, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about introspection.


Step 1: Changing my mindset. What does that mean? Recognizing inherent flaws in the way I perceive the world, and learning to uncover beauty in the present.


Step 2: Chasing the right goals. I've learned to set goals that reflect a stronger and more optimistic mindset. I focus on what I really need to accomplish, and they don't have to be impressive. They just have to be mine.


And now, step 3. Learning to love what I see. My face. My body. The self that I present to the world.


Why is this necessary to understanding and overcoming discomfort or pain? It's pretty simple.


There's a vehicle to carry these sentiments into the reality I live in. Loss, judgment, disappointment. I witness my emotions unfold through my own facial expressions, habits, and movements. I feel with my body and it's the most honest unfiltered form of expression. That's exactly why the relationship between the mind and the body is so fragile. I guess you could say the body scares the mind a little bit with its truth.


When a thought sits at the edge of my consciousness, it begs for something to devour. Something to give it closure, a conclusion to accept or renounce.


Where does it go?


It looks for stability, something constant that it can depend on and trust for some answers. For as long as I can remember, I would find those answers in the reflection staring back at me. I think many girls can agree that one of the purest forms of self-expression is the way we want to look. It's the way we want to perceive ourselves, and the way we want the world to perceive us.


I've come to learn that it's really impossible to put a strong mindset to work if the confidence I have in that reflection is low.


My body belongs to nobody but me. It's the single most powerful sense of ownership a woman can have, and it acts as an anchor for the person I am and the person I want to be. If I don't build a loving relationship with who I am on the surface, I'm never going to make progress with the person I am within.


Confrontation


It's a strange sense of hopelessness looking in the mirror and being thoroughly disgusted by what you see. It's a reflection that bites back and it hurts. It hurts knowing that this reflection is genuinely and authentically you.


It feels like a betrayal. You think to yourself, "My body's betrayed me for being this way. It's not what I want, and it's too far away from who I want to be."


And then you fall into a harsh cycle of disbelief and confusion, unable to digest the amount of hostility you've just exerted onto yourself. This is the betrayal that stings the most when you realize you've turned your back on the one thing that makes you, you.


I started trying to lose weight when I was 12 years old. I rapidly cut down the food I ate, emptying out more than half of the things on my plate. I hated every second of it, but I felt like I had no choice.


I was trying to shed more than just a couple of pounds. I was trying to shed whatever image people had of me. I didn't want to be her anymore. I didn't think she was taken seriously. I didn't think she was respected enough. And for some stupid reason, I was under the impression that my confidence came from everyone else's approval.


The good news? I lost a lot of weight! The bad news? I didn't get any happier. Quite the opposite, in fact.


I learned that self-depreciation was addictive. You never get enough of it.


The weight I shaved off didn't matter as much because a couple of weeks later because I found something new to hate. The more I changed, the more I needed to change. The more I failed at doing so, the more I accepted that having any form of confidence just wasn't for me.


The pivot


Over the past decade, I've taken my relationship with my body through sporadic changes. I wanted to be thin, then I wanted to be athletic (team sports really isn't my thing and never will be), then I wanted to be strong. I've done a good job at taking care of myself physically, out of fear that everything I put myself through when I was 12 would go to waste.

I may have said this a million times by now, but 2020 really changed the way I looked at myself.


I call it a period of intense scrutiny, and it was as daunting as it was enlightening. Nobody likes admitting to themselves that they're doing things wrong — especially when it's something that gives you a sense of security and reciprocated acceptance.


When 2020 started, I had a consistent gym routine where my goal was to lift heavy weights and break my PRs. I was never a gym person up until 2019, and it started off as an exciting journey. I thought I had made a big breakthrough with my confidence and self-respect.


But there was always this nudging restlessness in the back of my mind that told me I could be doing something more. At first, I thought that meant amping up my workout routine.

Maybe I wasn't pushing myself enough, why else would I feel unsatisfied? It took a busted lower back and a pandemic to show me that the weights and the number of times I went to the gym weren't the answer.


Being at home for the past 8 months forced me to confront that reflection in the mirror like I never had before. I needed the distance from everything, and it gave me the time to think about what I was expecting from my body and where these expectations were coming from.

I realized that my intentions were all wrong.


Somewhere in the excitement of doing something I've never done before and seeing results I've never seen before, I turned this journey into a battle of comparison. Another vicious loop of addictive self-depreciation.


That was my wake-up call. I have to do this for myself.


The mindset that I've been building to protect me from nightmares and anxiety is the same mindset I need to protect my body from the distorted view I tend to subject on it. Going back to the three building blocks of this mindset I'm talking about: I need to be appreciative, remember my intentions, and admit my mistakes.

  1. Appreciate the steps I've taken before counting the steps I need to take.

  2. Practice intentional body movements and eating habits that prioritize focus and consistency over speed and results.

  3. Be honest about my body's limits and what it can take

I call this my 3-step plan to better mental health for even better physical health. I really can't have one without the other.


Acceptance


I haven't gone to the gym in close to a year now but I've found Pilates to be the most effective start in marrying mental health and physical health together.


The Blogilates YouTube channel introduced me to my earliest and fondest memories of working out, and I decided to start there. Following Cassie Ho's weekly challenges in my early years of high school helped me get my first real taste of transformation — it was how I started developing strong abdominal muscles, which is still the strongest part of my body today.


I went back to Blogilates because I remember doing it purely for myself in the confines of my room, not worried about what anyone was thinking or how I looked with sweat beading on my forehead and staining the underarms of my shirt. It was liberating to get back to that again.


The changes I've felt my body go through these past few months have far exceeded my expectations. I feel these changes, I don't just see them. I know I'm stronger now than I ever was and that's proof that I was too caught up in things that didn't matter back then.

My heart and my mind can agree on one thing — they depend on my body for balance, purpose, and action.


So it's not the number of times I go to the gym in a week, the number of weights I lift, the number of miles I run, or the number on a scale. It's something that transcends measure. It's a warm pool of energy that sits in my core, radiating outwards and pulling broken pieces back together.


It's a reason. A reason to love, respect, and trust me and my process. I've really needed that.

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