Or should you feel guilty?
In an average week, I talk to maybe twenty women about how they feel about themselves, their bodies and how they look.
Phrases that come up again and again are:
"I've let myself go"
"I haven't managed to lose the baby weight"
"I hate my body"
"I don't like to look at my face"
"I hate my mum tum"
"I hate my sagging skin"
"I have cellulite"
"I used to be so much slimmer"
"I've got scars"
"I've lost weight and I don't feel any different"
All said with a constant undertone of "I look wrong. I should do better."
If I can sum up it all up on one word, it's guilt.
We have gotten to the point of feeling guilty that we don't look how we perceive we should. That if we only tried harder, we could look better. If only we hadn't let ourselves go.
And yet - the majority of women who have children, have a different body shape to the one they had, pre-kids.
The majority of people find that gravity takes hold as you age - our skin gets looser, saggier. We get wrinkles.
Operations leave scars - it's not a failing on your part to have had some kind of injury or medical intervention in your life.
Our guilt often 'crowds out' other thoughts
I spent a long time unhappy with how I looked, my weight and my body shape.
When I got to the point of not thinking 'I should look better', and decided to accept who I am, I found it much easier to start listening to what I actually want.
I want multi-coloured hair. Other people don't have that. It doesn't 'fit in'. That's no concern of mine.
I want to wear clothes and shoes that make me happy - they don't necessarily always flatter me - that isn't my problem, because if something's making me smile, that's more important.
I want time to walk my dogs every day.
I want to make my back healthier, after years and years of pain and problems.
I don't want to wear make up - I want to be able to look at my face as it is and accept it.
These are the goals that I work towards - and none of them are about what other people want from me. Exercise naturally fits in with these goals - walking with my dogs, yoga for my back - because these are what I feel I want and need, not what I should do.
Let the guilt go
If you can stop feeling guilty about what you should do, how you should look, and really think about what you actually want and need (and question a little why you want it - is it to fit in with other people's expectations, or is it truly for yourself?) you can move towards being more accepting of yourself. Because you're not battling the powerful negative emotion that guilt is.
You'll give yourself head-space and the freedom to address the things that mean something to you, not that mean something to everyone else.
Everyone has the right to feel good about themselves, as they are
Allowing yourself to feel good doesn't mean you'll never want to change anything - it simple means you are not locked in negative thought patterns that actually end up holding you back from what you want. It's the best thing you can do for your mental health, for sure, but almost certainly for your physical health too - when you listen to it, your body will tell you what it needs (having the motivation to do it may be a different story!).
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