When you look in the mirror, who do you see looking back at you?
Do you see her? I mean really see her?
All of her - or just parts and pieces?
I don't remember when I started slicing the girl in the mirror into fragments of a whole.
Hyper-analyzing. Tugging. Pulling. Sucking-in. Staring. Comparing.
I know it was sometime around my 15th birthday. I had recently given up soccer - my first love + passion - to commit to swimming year-round. In less than five years, I went from a girl who barely made the swim team to competing on a national level. And. It was around this time that I wanted to quit swimming and life.
I purposefully got kicked out of practice.
I missed soccer. I missed my friends. And I hated putting on my bathing suit.
There was nowhere to hide.
My body was publicly analyzed.
My flat chest scrutinized.
. Comments made by coaches I trusted.
Comments made in front of teammates - male and female.
They laughed. I laughed.
And then I turned inward to numb the pain. Withdrawing.
A seed was planted. My inner critic was born.
Something is wrong with me.
Four years later, after a change in club teams and fresh off my gold-medal run at the Olympics, the inner critic grabbed hold of my life and sent me into a free fall.
To my rock bottom.
Distorting the girl in the mirror. Shredding her into a million worthless pieces.
Disgusting. Gross. Fat. The voice said while I tugged at that girl's body parts.
Everything is wrong with me. Just try harder.
The voice booming between my ears told me I was worthless. A failure. That I would never be good enough.
Thankfully, my college coach noticed and sent me to talk to someone.
That someone changed the course of my life - that someone was Greg Harden, often referred to as the 'secret weapon' at Michigan because of the profound impact he makes on the lives of student-athletes. An impact that extends so far beyond sport.
I was in his office every week for two years. We worked together to dig underneath the pain - the never-enoughness - to build a skill set that would allow me to SEE the inner critic so I could set it free. We did a lot more work together too - the messy stuff.
And, things started to shift.
The girl in the mirror - I started to see her again. To really see her.
It took me SEVEN more years of diving into the hard work - of FULLY shedding my perfectionist armor and practicing compassion before I could really, really see that girl looking back at me.
All of her.
No more chunking into pieces. No more grabbing. No more pinching.
It took me understanding how perfection + shame are co-pilots on a flight to hell.
It took me understanding how perfection + shame show up in my life before I could develop the resiliency needed to find deep, lasting joy.
It also took me understanding the impact our cultural expectations have on shame - especially when it comes to body image.
Hang with me here. This is tough to read.
In Brene Brown's book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But, It Isn't): Making the Journey from What Will People Think to I Am Enough (2007), she shares the following sobering stats:
-Approximately seven million girls and women suffer from an eating disorder.
-In one American survey, eighty-one percent of ten-year-old girls had already dieted at least once.
-A research study found that the single largest group of high school students considering or attempting suicide are girls who feel they are overweight.
-Among women over eighteen looking at themselves in the mirror, research indicates that at least eighty percent are unhappy with what they see. Many will not even be seeing an accurate reflection... Increasing numbers of women with no weight problems or clinical psychological disorders look at themselves in the mirror and see ugliness and fat.
Man. This is a conversation we need to have. Together. For ourselves. For our girls. For our boys. This affects all of us.
When you see that girl in the mirror, what is it that you want from her?
When I was at my sickest, I was chasing an ideal image of me. I was chasing perfection.
What IS that anyway? What does that really mean?
A friend shared this with me and I found it to be so powerful...
Next time you see that girl in the mirror, thank her.
Touch the parts of your body you want to separate from the whole - and thank them - out loud.
And then, look into her eyes and thank her - and offer her compassion + grace.
AND. Love her. All of her.
I'm willing to bet, she's doing the best she can.
As Carl Buchheit said, "When you are at war with yourself and you win, who loses?"
We are bombarded daily with messages of perfection – in parenting, work, life, and especially with our bodies. What does that even mean? Truly.
When we hear the critical voices, do we ask ourselves WHY?
Where are those messages coming from? What are they based in?
I shared this photo on social a few months into my postpartum journey after Reese - my body felt STRONG. I was so proud that I held plank - progress from just a few week prior.
I was reminded of this post last night on a radio interview - when the host asked me if I'd ever pose for the ESPN Body Issue. I said, YES. Because, it's time to stop hiding. It's time to be seen. Fully + completely. Exactly as we are.
Shedding the shield of perfectionism is a daily decision.
Today, I choose to look at my WHOLE body. Today, I choose to say – thank you.
Today I choose self-love.
What do you choose?
Samantha Livingstone is an Olympic Gold Medalist, transformational speaker, empowerment coach and mama of four. She empowers others to cultivate the courage, compassion and resilience needed to let go of perfection - so they can achieve their own gold medal moments AND live a life that is filled with freedom, balance and lasting joy. A mama of heart warrior and mama of twins, Samantha and her husband, Rob, live in the Berkshires with their four girls.
You can learn more about Samantha at www.samanthalivingstone.com.