Weight changes are a necessary part of life, but that doesn’t mean they’re ever comfortable. We can tie our entire identities to our body size, and when it changes there’s a huge loss of our former selves. You may still be longing for the body composition you had as a college athlete, your body before you became a parent, your body when you were starving yourself, or your body before you got sick. On the other hand, your body may have changed, but you may still see yourself as the chubby middle schooler or the unintentionally emaciated patient and not be able to see your body as it is now. These changes can have a huge impact on your mental health and wellbeing if you’re still associating your identity with your body size.
So how on Earth do you begin to see yourself right now, regardless of what you looked like yesterday or what you will look like tomorrow? Here’s a hint: your self-identity is not required to include your weight, shape, or size! Let’s take a look at 4 ways to create a new identity for yourself separate from the size of your body:
1. Get to Know Yourself
Think back to the early stages of dating new people or making new friends. You learn a ton about yourself very quickly! You learn what and who you like and don’t like, you can sum up all your interests in a few paragraphs, and you know how to market yourself.
Now, imagine this dating or meeting new people is happening exclusively online and the other person has no idea what you look like. They can’t see your skin color, hair color, eye color, body shape, or body size. What kind of other things would they find out about you? Choose the top 5 words you think they would likely use to describe you.
2. Imagine the Ideal You
Okay, now that you took some time to gain more self-awareness, it’s time to imagine your ideal self (keep weight/size out of it). Who would you be if nothing was holding you back? Would you still be creative and kind even if you never had to worry about money ever again? Would you still be funny if you weren’t worried about people liking you?
Pick your top 5 ideal traits. Are any of them on the list of 5 words you chose to describe your current self? If they don’t all line up, that’s totally normal! Think about what’s holding you back from becoming your ideal self. Were your ideal characteristics not realistic? Are you afraid to let your true self shine? What’s keeping you from becoming who you want to be?
3. Make Your Identity Known
Your body is often the first thing other people notice about you. Unfortunately, some people assume your physical attributes comprise your identity, and it’s your job to correct these pre-conceived judgments. Let them know you won’t tolerate being judged by the size of your body or the way you look, and show them through your actions and demeanor just exactly who you are. Because it’s great if you know what you want your identity to be, but what good is that if you don’t take your new identity out into the world so you can be known.
4. Be Open to Change
Your ideal self is going to change, that’s just a natural part of life. At different times, you might have different values or priorities. Allow yourself to change. Allow yourself to change even if your body doesn’t. And allow your body to change even as your identity doesn’t. The two variables are not dependent upon one another.
A version of this post originally appeared on Mind Loft.