Burnout Culture: When Success Means No Longer Having It All, But Doing It all

It’s late Sunday afternoon. I pour a cup of tea and sit at my desk, as I do every Sunday afternoon. Pull out my diary. Rule lines, draw graphs, make schedules, write goals. On paper, the week ahead looks manageable; better yet, conquerable. This week, I think to myself. This is the week I’ll finally smash some goals.

Two full days pass and I find myself face to face with Wednesday. I have not yet achieved one thing; in fact, I have not written a single word. It isn’t from lack of opportunity, or even lack of trying. I have spent the entirety of those two days at my desk; journal in front of me, pen poised, computer open to a blank word document ready to catch any fleeting thought that may eventuate into an article, an essay, a poem; anything.

The cursor blinks at me, in sync with the music of my heartbeat: fail-ure, fail-ure, fail-ure. Wednesday passes; another day with no words written. I flatline.

At this point, the week can go f*ck itself.

It seems there’s nothing unusual about this, of late. This has been my normal for more weeks than I care to admit. With each new day I push harder than the last to accomplish something. Berate myself louder. Discipline myself more strictly. Dig deeper into my scarcity. Strive, impel, coerce, browbeat. Only to continue to exist within this paradox where the more productive I try to be, the less I actually achieve.

Not for the first time, I wonder what’s wrong with me; why it has become so impossibly difficult to achieve a single goal, let alone multiple goals most people would accomplish with ease. Even my menial to-do list continues to get rolled over to next week, and the week after.

Mindlessly, I stare out the window. Walk into the kitchen and open the fridge. Eye off the half bottle of wine on the kitchen counter. Think, God, what I wouldn’t give for a nap right now. I’m exhausted in a way I can’t shake, nor get ahead of. It grips my muscles, weighs upon my bones, never leaves the space behind my eyes.

I thought the exhaustion would ease after holidays when my children went back to school. I thought it would ease once I got back into normal routine. I thought it would ease as life returned to some sort of The-Worst-Of-Covid-Is-Over normalcy. I thought it would ease with earlier bedtimes, or yoga, or meditation, or less coffee, or essential oils. Yet, I continue to wake each day tired and unmotivated; the dichotomy of a woman who, at this point in her life, is supposed to have it all – and yet – cannot seem to pull herself together enough to have even some of it.

I recognise the gravity of the exhaustion; that I have crossed over to the bad place and am now suffering total burnout. I search for self-compassion in the revelation, as I would offer a friend or loved one. Instead, I cannot get beyond inadequacy and guilt that I have somehow failed. It doesn’t matter that I am stretched beyond all possible and practical capabilities. We were the generation of women told we could have it all; that the measure of our success would be founded upon our ability to showcase a family, a career, our materialistic gains, our parenting achievements, our perfect bodies; indeed, our perfect lives.

Yet, we were never told the cost; that it would be our physical health, our mental health, our relationships. That it would be our entire wellbeing. That we would still have to sacrifice and compromise our own needs to support our partners in their careers all the while trying to maintain our own careers with no help or support, until something would be forced to give – most often, us.

That we would forever be found juggling and trying to keep too many balls in the air at all times because god forbid we drop one, even for a moment. That it wouldn’t matter if our world was spinning out of control, we would feel compelled to keep juggling no matter how dizzy we become. Indeed, is this not how we can best define burnout: reaching such point of exhaustion yet continuing to push beyond whatever scant resources we still manage to scrape together?

On any typical week, I am found trying to cram in part-time work as a barista, a writing career (both as a freelance writer and spoken word performer), the running of a farm business, the full-time managing of a home while raising and caring for four (tween, teen, adult) children; planning and cooking meals, growing my own vegetables, grocery shopping, running errands, doing chores, paying bills, exercising, driving my kids wherever they need to be, remembering birthdays and dentist appointments and shoe sizes and who needs what done by when, all the while trying to maintain my own health as someone who suffers complex-PTSD, autoimmune disease and at times, chronic pain which leaves me unable to sleep for days or weeks at a time. 

On top of these hours is the internalised pressure to be accessible and available at all times. For family and friends who need support. For immediate response to emails, no matter the time of day or night. To be on social media more hours of the day than I have, or want to be, for fear of missing any call-outs or submission opportunities that my writing career may hinge upon. To be seen posting content regularly, engaging with readers regularly, building my brand regularly; to be seen optimising every minute of my day with work to justify and validate my existence as a writer, especially when so many of my work hours remain unseen.

According to psychologist Dr Bob Murray, humans are designed to work about 10-20 hours per week — anything above that, they need “a lot of support, praise, and positive human relationships. Otherwise, they’re pretty much in a permanent state of stress,” he says. As a full-time parent, I am already putting in an average of 14 hours of work per day before I even factor in actual work hours above and beyond this. Most women I know are working these kind of hours, and more.  

Those numbers are far from sustainable and yet, this is the minimum requirement we have been made to believe is necessary for having it all. There is no time for play, or rest. No time off the clock. Time working is seen as “good”, time not working as “bad” or “lazy”. I try and think back to the last time I took a day off. I couldn’t tell you. The last time I had a few days away, non-work related? Sometime in early 2018, I think.

It would be nice to think the answer lies here; that all I need is a day off or a few days away or to give myself a face mask and a mani-pedi and I’ll be good to go again. But anyone who has experienced burnout understands it doesn’t just go away with a weekend camping or an afternoon on the couch or meditating or reading a self-help book or drinking f*cking celery juice every morning for a week.

Burnout anchors itself fundamentally deeper and manifests as not just exhaustion, but discouragement and a loss of joy in that which we once derived enjoyment, satisfaction and achievement from. It’s an emptiness, a numbness, a feeling that everything is too hard, or too much effort. It’s a lack of motivation to work and being unable to concentrate or focus or able to follow through with commitments. It’s withdrawing emotionally from friendships and relationships as we find ourselves lacking the energy to invest; more so, the energy to even care.

But often burnout is the result of forgetting we are in charge of steering our own ship. That no-one other than ourselves can change the course of our existence. Recovery from burnout is a slow process that begins only when we are willing to acknowledge there is a need for change.

It is found in the ways we learn to set boundaries which honour our needs during recovery and beyond; less work hours, no work emails from home, switching off our phone by a certain time each night, saying no to unnecessary commitments and events.

It is found in our ability to prioritise, and to be okay with things not getting done; to let go of our perfectionist tendencies, delegate our chores, and ask for help when we need it.

It is found in the awareness there is more to rest than just sleep; that we need to rest the physical, mental, social, sensory, emotional, spiritual and creative parts of ourselves. To remember life is breath and therefore allow our lives to comprise of both the exhale and the inhale; to balance work with leisure and play and spend more time engaging with activities that have no outcome except to bring joy to our lives.

Mostly, it is found the moment we reject the ideal which lies at the very core of burnout culture: that our entire sense of identity and worth is inherently tied to our work. We must choose to believe we are not defined by what we do; rather, who we are.

Having it all is little more than an elusive concept we will never acquire; instead, we become caught in the perpetual cycle of doing it all and hoping one will lead to the other. The truth is, it never will.

I think often upon the poem, The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver: Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? I don’t have the answer right now in the midst of recovery. What I do know is I’m not so interested in trying to fit this one wild and precious life into a system designed only for profit and capitalism.

Maybe the first step is to break the system, before it breaks us.  

** Article originally published at Elephant Journal **

The Art Of Self-Betrayal

Self-betrayal is found the moment we lose connection with the truest version of ourselves.

When we live according to how others would like us to live in order to keep peace.
When we sacrifice our own needs to maintain relationship with others.
When we do not voice our opinions for fear of rejection.
When we remain in unhealthy relationships to avoid feelings of abandonment.
When we do not live aligned with our true selves because we fear the opinions of others.
When we do not honour our boundaries.
When we stay in situations that cause us to abandon ourselves.
When we remain trapped in our addictions, our busyness, our perfectionism.
When we play small to avoid criticism from others.

I have lived much of my life in betrayal of self. Knowing deep in my core how I am living is not aligned with who I really am, what I stand for, and who I want to be. Because of this, I have lived much of my life disconnected, unsettled, unclear in my boundaries, fragmented, lonely and without peace.

When we live a life of dismissiveness towards our own wants and needs and desires we abandon ourselves; we sacrifice and compromise who we are and allow others to determine the trajectory of our lives. We lose touch with our own inner voice, our intuition, our authenticity. Instead we become indecisive, unsure, lose self-confidence and self-worth, become resentful, and often wake one day and find ourselves in an existential crisis – not even knowing anymore who we are or what we want for our lives.

Much of our self-betrayal stems from feeling inadequate and unworthy. We hide our true selves and seek to please others because we fear criticism, rejection, abandonment. We fear not being loved and accepted for who we really are; that our true selves aren’t ENOUGH as we are. So we become the people we think we need to be. But every small choice we make that does not align with our true selves is another drop in the river that slowly erodes the outline of the person we were created to be until there is nothing left of that person. Until we are found completely abandoned, lost and homesick for who we really are.

Healing of self-betrayal happens when we find a way to come home to ourselves; to change the relationship we have with ourselves where self-betrayal is exchanged for self-compassion. We must believe we are adequate. We must believe we are worthy. We must learn to honour the truest versions of ourselves, and live fearlessly within that. We must forgive ourselves for the ways we have rejected, abandoned and betrayed our own hearts. We must choose kindness and love for ourselves. We must come to know our worth, draw our boundaries, not fear the sound of our voices and live connected to ourselves – authentic, complete, true, honest, real.

We must live a life where we no longer abandon ourselves for the acceptance of others but live in the truth of who we are.

Unbroken. Unafraid. Unapologetic.

Challenging The Narrative Of Internalised Capitalism

Lately as I’ve been seeking to prioritise my mental and physical health – which has meant less writing and more time away from social media – I’ve been delving into some of the more uncomfortable places within myself to challenge the conditioning I have been unconsciously living by in order to rewrite the narratives of my existence.

I always thought perfectionism was the biggest issue for me to work through and remain mindful of, however, when I saw this post on internalised capitalism it was such a moment of clarity for me in realising THIS HERE has been my biggest blind spot.

As I read through each of these points I realised they have been the core beliefs I have built my life upon. That these things are what society has conditioned us to believe is good work ethic. That I have been existing in a state of burnout for longer than I can remember because in my mind, rest equals laziness. Lack of productivity equals poor work ethic. Being busy equals living a meaningful life. Self-worth equals accomplishment.

Here now, I find myself in a place of physical and mental exhaustion. I literally have NOTHING left in me, because for the last number of decades I have executed these erroneous core beliefs in my life and not allowed myself to rest. Even in the midst of chronic health conditions. Even in the midst of working through past trauma and all that has brought up for me. Even at the times I have reached breakdown point.

I haven’t let myself rest because I have been so afraid of being labelled as lazy, good-for-nothing, worthless, hopeless. Because I have been so afraid of the shame attached to those labels. And because I have believed the busier I am, the less chance shame has of attaching itself to me. I have always felt the need to prove that my past does not and will not define me; no matter what it takes. No matter how exhausted. To stop means defeat, and defeat has simply never been an option for me.

But I’m learning.

I am worthy, no matter what gets done, or what doesn’t get done.

The thing I find hardest in doing less, is believing that doesn’t make ME less. That just because I’m not writing or posting or publishing as much at the moment doesn’t make me irrelevant. Doesn’t mean I’m wasting space on this earth. Doesn’t make me a FAILURE because I can’t keep up with other writing peers, or be seen to be as productive as them. Learning not to compare is one of the first steps to freedom and joy; that we may run the race alongside others but know the benefit of remaining in our lane and continue looking ahead to our own goals and not anybody else’s.

The great thing about blind spots is when we see them we can no longer UN-see them. However, it’s up to us to then decide if we will look away, or choose to gaze upon that which can be questioned and challenged in our lives and implement action that will result in change, growth and liberation from the roots of capitalism entrenched in our society so we may create space for rest, peace, joy and wellness.

Much love x    

The Art of Taking Up Space

This week has been less work and more yoga; a gentle coming back to myself. Connecting breath to body, body to mind. Being still, and present. Remembering my worth beyond productivity and performance. Working through blockages. Making changes where I can. Finding acceptance and peace where I cannot.

The thing that continued to come up this week was our worth: how we either play small, or strive and compete to be seen. How both of these things are disempowering, and exhausting.

In a world where we are conditioned to remain small, yoga reminds us to take up space. We weren’t created to contain ourselves inside the expectations of others, or inside the walls of our own fears and inadequacies. We do not need to shrink ourselves to be accepted; to remain compliant and submissive to keep those around us comfortable and unthreatened.

However, we also do not need to force our worth upon others; to push and shove and elbow our way through the crowd to be seen. We do not need to yell the loudest to be heard. We do not need to compete with others, to strive to be better than those around us so our worth is seen and acknowledged.

I have always been more inclined to shrink; to believe I am not enough. The last while, I have felt small. So incredibly small. Through yoga, I am reminded to create space — to stretch beyond the limits of what I believe I am capable of.

As I inhale space and exhale surrender, I am reminded this is how we learn to take up more space in the world: every day we breathe a little deeper and stretch a little longer and push a little further against the constraints of our society, of expectations, of ourselves.

We already stand inside the space we have been given. One we do not have to shrink to fit inside. But also one we do not need to be afraid to fill. We learn to take up more space as we learn to stretch into the bold and sure truth of our existence.

Happy weekend x

(Also, someone come clean my windows, thx)

Their Acceptance Is Not Worth Your Freedom

I spent much of my life trying to hide who I was, convinced I wasn’t worthy of being loved. After all, if I had been worthy of love, then people who said they loved me wouldn’t have left. Wouldn’t have betrayed me. Wouldn’t have hurt me. It became clear that to be loved I would have to hide my true self; this girl with the fierce mind, wild spirit and poet’s heart.

I learned to hide these things and instead be whatever I needed to be to fit in and gain acceptance. I learned how to make myself the same, how to make myself small, how to make myself submissive. I learned how to make myself silent. I learned how to conform.

I learned these things will actually gain you the acceptance you’re looking for.

I also learned the cost of that acceptance is freedom.

Their acceptance is not worth your freedom.

There is nothing lonelier than existing separated from who we really are, than spending each day in captivity to the expectations of others, than denying the true heart within us that aches to be set free.

The road to self-acceptance has been a hard one; to finally have arrived at this place where I believe I am worthy of love exactly as I am. Where I will never again settle for anything less. Where I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of all that I am. It has taken me so long to be at peace with both the light and dark in me. To see my scars as victory stripes earned by overcoming every goddamn battle I’ve faced, and not just ugly reminders of how unworthy I am; how unloveable.

Freedom comes when we learn to accept and love who we are, exactly as we are. Including the regrets, the mistakes, the choices we made when we had no other choice. Including the bad days and the messy days and the godforsaken days where darkness wraps itself around us and we take comfort in the bleak heaviness that falls upon our souls. We cannot choose to love only the parts of ourselves we think are acceptable and not the rest, we cannot love ourselves only in pieces and expect to be complete. And if we cannot love ourselves completely, we will never be able to love another that way either.

Becoming our true selves in a conformist world is an act of rebellion. I have lost many people from my life who don’t like that I no longer fit inside their boxes. How dare we be different. How dare we make people uncomfortable. How dare we be so defiant. Fuck the haters. People will rarely tolerate the freedom they see in others that they choose to deny for themselves. And if others are not capable of love without conditions then we are better off without their love. Because once we have truly learned to love ourselves with the kind of love we deserve, we soon realise that anything less than that will never be enough for us anyway.

~ ©️ Kathy Parker ~

The Busiest Person Wins. Except When They Don’t.

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I used to be a massive perfectionist. I could never rest, never relax, never have down time, never have fun. Never stop. To stop meant I could no longer run, no longer escape. And the thought of standing still, and having to acknowledge the things that silently ate away at me beneath the surface, was nothing short of terrifying.

Busyness was the vice I chose to numb my pain. It served my mask of perfectionism well. But being busy is no different from any other vice we use to detach ourselves from life a little – drinking, gambling, shopping, gaming, eating, whatever. Except, society has made busyness an acceptable vice, if not a glorified one.

The busiest person wins.

When really, our busyness, our perfectionism, our performing, is just another way we hide the shame that we’re not good enough. We think if we keep busy we won’t notice the ways we fall short, fail, disappoint, can’t keep up. We won’t notice our inadequacies. We won’t notice we’re not enough.

And we hope like hell no one else will notice either.

We fear if we aren’t accomplishing and achieving at all times then all we loathe about ourselves will be exposed and we’ll face criticism and rejection from others. We fear we’ll no longer be able to hide from the truth of how substandard we really are. How flawed. How imperfect.

How human.

Perfectionism is a slow death of the soul. It will kill our joy, our creativity, our peace, our ability to love those around us. We become servants to performance, slaves to our fear and shame. We live crippled by our comparisons and beliefs that no matter what we do, we will never be enough.

It took me years to recover from perfectionism. One of the most important things I have read, and continue to read, is this quote from Brené Brown:

“No matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, I am enough.”

Even though I have worked through my perfectionism, I still fall back into it at times, and need to be reminded of this often. Be reminded that my humanity, in all its inadequacy, is not shameful – but instead authentic and real and vulnerable and perfect.

Today two things happened.

My children went back to school after being home for two weeks of holidays.

And winter broke.

The longest goddamn miserable winter I can ever remember finally, finally broke in October. And it was glorious. 

And as I stared down the barrel at my list of things to get done today – because OH MY GOD THERE WAS SO MUCH LOST WORK TIME TO MAKE UP FOR NOW THAT HOLIDAYS WERE FINISHED – I couldn’t do it.

I was so drained, so tired, so worn down still from having spent the holidays meeting the needs of others. I needed to revel in the sunshine. I needed to be refreshed. I needed to be renewed. I needed child-like joy. I needed nature. I needed to live fully in the wonder of the day. So I came here, to my favourite place, and found life again.

Life is too short to be busy, and too beautiful to be missed. Leave behind the things that hold you to your busy, to your performing, to your need to be perfect, and live. No matter what gets done, and how much is left undone, you are enough.

Kathy x

And This Is How Survival Looks On You

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And sometimes it is so hard to care for others when you can barely care for yourself. When you are tired in a way sleep will never ease. When the night goes too long and the morning comes too soon and you wonder where you will draw the strength to get through another day when there is nothing left in your drought-stricken bones.

You dress, make coffee, force a smile and hope nobody studies your eyes close enough to see the 4am loneliness that still lingers like tendrils of ivy that have crept in and wrapped themselves around your soul; relentless, incessant, determined.

You wear brave so well that nobody sees beyond the surface of your survival to the battle beneath. The way every day is another day on the frontline, no matter how exhausted and torn apart you already are. Nobody sees the fresh blood drawn from old wounds or the anguish in your muscles that are always on guard or how much it takes for you to get back up when your knees bleed from the crawl.

You do the best you can but it never feels enough. Every night inadequacy whispers its shame against your ear and soon your heart beats in time with its words. Failure. Disappointment. Hopeless. Weak. Useless. Incapable. All you ever wanted was to do better – to be better – than what was shown to you. But you feel as though you fall so short. That you let down those who need you. That you aren’t enough and never will be.

You’re so damn hard on yourself. As if it isn’t enough just to have survived this far. As if it isn’t enough to have found a way to stitch your broken pieces together when there was such little of yourself left. Instead, you’re so ashamed of not being straight lines and seamless joins and all you see are the jagged scars drawn across your body and your fingers trace over them like braille and to you they spell defeat.

Darling, let me tattoo truth inside your wrists so when you’ve forgotten who you are you need only look down. Undefeated. Worthy. Resilient. Strong. Courageous. Determined. Perfect. Enough. And if the light grows weak and the words fade before your eyes I will say them out loud and the letters will fall from my mouth and form a bridge that will lead you back to yourself once more.

You are so much more than you see. Your weakness intertwines with courage, your fear entangles bravery and your vulnerability is laced with strength. There is so much fortitude in the way you give all you have, even when you have nothing to give.

I know, today, you don’t believe me. I know today you are tired eyes and tear-stained pillows and battle scars etched upon your face. But all I ask is you look away from what you have come to believe about yourself and instead, look at me. Search my eyes for your reflection and in them you will see the truth.

That the way survival looks on you, my love, is nothing short of breathtaking.

Image courtesy http://asman0526.javanblog.ir

 

Free. 

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And she thought
to be accepted
she had to be good.
Follow the rules.
Do everything right.
Be perfect.
Keep them comfortable.
But good wasn’t real,
and she began to shrink
inside the lies of who
she pretended to be
until she became
so small her bones
crushed inside her frame
and she broke wide open,
scattered pieces laid bare
for the world to see.
A glorious destruction.
No longer hidden.
All of her naked.
Uncovered. Bleeding.
Exposed.
Free.
Real lost her many things.
But her soul it found.
And she would rather
walk alone in her
wondrous truth than
forfeit her real
for a scrap of their
shallow acceptance.

Find Me In The Space Between

Boho 2.jpgBetween who we pretend to be and who we think we should be there is a space where the truest version of ourselves exists.

We don’t often dwell in that space, but choose to exist on either side of it.

There is one side where we pretend to be someone we are not, where we project a false image of ourselves to others, believing that is what they want to see.

On the other side is where we spend our days striving to be better than, greater than, more than, because we believe the person in the space isn’t enough. 

Both sides exist because we are ashamed of the space between. The space where our mistakes live; our regrets, our sins, all the choices we have made that have hurt others or ourselves. The space where there is nowhere to hide our failures and all the ways we fall short, our flaws, our scars, our broken, our ugly, our messy. In this space we cannot fool ourselves with the false image we project to others. We cannot pretend to be anything more than what we are right now. We can only be real, raw, honest and authentic with ourselves.

Except, most of the time we would rather not be those things. We would rather cover the space with a bridge of lies that will carry us between who we want others to think we are and who we think we should be.

We don’t mean to lie, to deceive others, to pretend to be something we aren’t. But we’re ashamed of the space between, ashamed of our own inadequacy. We turn away from our truest selves because we are afraid to be seen – really seen. We are afraid of being exposed for what we are. We are afraid of rejection when acceptance is what our heart craves. But mostly we are afraid to discover that we were right all along, and our truest selves are unworthy of being loved.

The bravest thing we can do is choose to exist in the space between. To no longer pretend to be someone we are not. To no longer live as someone we think we should be. But to surrender to our authentic selves and to know we are worthy of love even in our darkest places, even in our unseen. To know we are enough as we are. To live inside all we fear that we may overcome. To embrace our broken, flawed, messy hearts and be reconciled back to our truest selves.

Because only when we choose to live from the space between can we ever truly live at all.

Image courtesy zarias.com

How To Ditch The Diet Resolutions

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Like every woman I know, I have spent much of my life in bondage to body-image issues. For years I have ridden the pendulum between self-hate and lukewarm self-acceptance, with an occasional fleeting moment of actual, true self-love.

But these moments have been hard to grasp, and before long I am pulled back into my frenzy of media-driven comparison, where I stand naked before the mirror, before my enemy. My gaze is thick with contempt and disgust as I stare at my flaws, my imperfections, at all I see that does not align with the image of the woman I am told is beauty.

She is beauty. I am not her. I am not beauty.

I stand up straighter and suck my stomach in to create an illusion of thinness I will never have. My stance widens in an effort to create a thigh gap, my shoulders pull back in the hope my breasts will take on a more youthful shape. I am sick with discontentment, dissatisfaction, with hopelessness and failure.

I look at the clothes in my wardrobe, clothes I have bought because I loved them. But they are clothes I put on, then rip off and throw on the floor. They do not look as good on me as they did on the size 6 mannequin in the shop window.

I am disgusted at myself, angry that I cannot be disciplined enough or focused enough to be skinny. Instead, I feel enormous in my size 12 body. Hot tears stream down my face. I am overwhelmed with guilt that I have eaten too much and not worked out enough. I am drowning in shame because my last New Year’s resolution was to have the perfect bikini body and as I stand here I’m nowhere near it. Not even close.

I hate the woman in the mirror. She is not perfect. She is not beautiful. I promise myself no more wine. No more Cherry Ripes. Start to think about how many meals I could skip each day before I would lack the required energy. How I would fit a couple of hours of exercise into my day. I make my 2017 New Years resolution, to have the perfect bikini body by next summer, and mentally I begin a checklist of all I need to sacrifice and how much I will need to strive to make this happen.

Already I am exhausted with the energy it takes to hate my body, to punish it. The more I hate it, the more I unwittingly focus on it. The more I obsess over it. The more it takes me away from what I am passionate about, from the achievement of my goals and dreams. The more energy I put into hating my body, the less energy I have to enjoy my life. I am at war with myself once again, and in that moment, I realise it’s a battle I no longer want to fight.

I look at my body again, except this time I make myself see its strength. The way it conceived, nurtured and grew four babies. The pain it was able to endure at the birth of those babies. The way it nourished those babies countless for hours, months, years at its breast. I see all it is capable of, the life and joy it brings me. It can swim, surf, kayak, run on the beach. It can play games of basketball and cricket in the backyard and mountain bike ride up and down hills. It can stretch, bend and twist in yoga, hold a plank for 2 minutes and 36 seconds, and can do cartwheels and handstands on the grass with my children. As Taryn Brumfitt, founder of the The Body Image Movement, says: my body is not an ornament to be looked at, but the vehicle to my dreams.

In her recent documentary, Embrace, we see the journey Taryn has taken to not only learn to love her own body, but empower other women to do the same. We see the mother of three’s struggle with her post-baby body, and how she believed cosmetic surgery was the quick fix she needed to find happiness.

Until she looked at her daughter and realised how much it broke her heart to think that her choice to change her body would set her daughter up to want to change hers too, and what kind of message was she giving to her daughter about her body? She was unable to go through with the surgery, but was still left with a body she hated.

Desperate to know what the perfect body felt like, she entered a body building contest, and for 15 weeks trained until she had the perfect body. Taryn stood on stage knowing she had made it. But she wasn’t happy. It had been too much time, too much energy, too much sacrifice, too much obsession. It wasn’t worth it. Taryn’s entire mindset changed, and she set out on her quest to learn to love and embrace her body exactly as it was.

I recently watched Embrace. I watched as beautiful women shared their beliefs about themselves. That they are disgusting, too fat, too ugly, need smaller thighs, bigger breasts, a flatter stomach. That they are not enough just as they are. I cried for them, and I cried for me. For the culture we live in that defines what we must be in order to be beautiful. The lies. So many lies.

Because, as Taryn points out, we are only shown one type of woman. She is young, flawless, perfect, blonde haired, blue eyed. She is not real. She is Photoshopped to a level of perfection that will never be attainable. We kill ourselves to be like her. We compare ourselves to her. We do not see our own beauty, for we are too consumed with worshipping hers. When all the while, our beauty lies beyond measure, unnoticed by our critical gaze.

We believe the lie that thinner is better. We suffocate under the pressure to be hot, no matter what our age or circumstance.To be young and hot. To be pregnant and hot. To be postpartum and hot. To be a mother and hot, a cougar and hot. It’s no longer uncommon for women in their 30’s and 40’s to battle eating disorders that once affected mostly teens and women in their 20’s. The spectrum is so much wider now and nobody is immune, from 50 year-old women being pressured to be the new 30 — because God forbid they look their age — to over 50 percent of 5-12 year old girls who believe they need to lose weight.

And as parents of these daughters, we are frantic with not knowing how to shield our girls from the onslaught of media and advertising, as well as the sexualisation of their bodies from such a young age. They are bombarded with messages at every turn. Thin is sexy. Thin is beautiful. Thin is what will make boys like me and girls want to be like me.

Being thin has become their measure of success. Who can eat the least? Who can exercise the most? The thinnest girl wins. And it is utterly heart breaking that this is what our girls face, and what most will succumb to in order to find their acceptance and their worth.

How do we change this?

In the words of Taryn, we embrace.

We stand before the mirror and see the beauty of our bodies, we see them for the strength they possess, for all they are capable of, for all they do for us, and we thank our bodies for how amazing they are, for being the vehicle to our dreams.

We embrace our flaws, knowing the moment we do that, we will no longer judge others for theirs, and we will find ourselves at a place of peace. We stop comparing ourselves to what we see in the media, and to each other. “It’s not about us versus them. It’s about women coming together and saying we’re all beautiful, let’s work together, let’s show the world we can be beautiful together.” ~ Taryn Brumfitt.

We speak to ourselves the way we would speak to another woman, the way we would speak to our daughters. You are beautiful. You are perfect as you are. You are more than just a body. You are strong, brave, intelligent, creative, a life-giver, a universal force, a complete miracle of creation, the very essence of all that is feminine in this world. We say these words out loud and believe them in our minds, embed them in our hearts.

We nurture our bodies with good food to fuel us, we run and jump and play and move because it makes us feel better to do so, we do things that bring us life, bring us joy. And then we eat a piece of cake that our kids make for us and pour a glass of wine with our friends and enjoy the balance that is paramount to a healthy life.

We do not waste another day of our lives being at war with our bodies, and instead we love them. And then we take all the time and energy we spent on hating our bodies, and we use it to instead do what matters. We use it to contribute. We use it to accomplish. We use it to make a difference, to make change. We use it to become the people we were made to be, before the media told us who we were supposed to be.

We take the New Years resolution of the perfect bikini body and laugh in the face of it. We are already beautiful, because we get to define beauty. We get to call out the lies of our culture and rewrite truth on our hearts, and on the hearts of our daughters. There are no prerequisites to beauty. It is not measured by a size, by a number, or by comparison to another.

Beauty is ours the moment we choose to embrace it.

Originally published on HuffPost