Let's Talk Negative Body Image With Ledbetter Coach Annika Swanson

Body image is something I never used to care about. When I was in middle school chowing down on my cosmic brownies and mac & cheese, I put zero thought into what my body looked like in the mirror or to others. I played sports, I ate whatever I wanted, and that was that.

It wasn’t until I hit high school that dieting, body image, working out, and obsessing over all of the above really hit me. The group of people I surrounded myself with definitely didn’t help matters, and when I broached the subject of wanting to lose weight, I received negative comments that in so many words told me I should. From there, it spiraled. I never went to extreme measures like not eating or anything serious, but the mentality I had about my body every day mine as well be considered ‘extreme’. I obsessed to no end, thought I always looked ‘fat’, and constantly had friends who were counting calories to make me feel even more self conscious. 

Eventually I just considered my negative body image normal. Now looking back, especially at pictures from high school, I realize that I was nowhere near overweight. And yet, I wasted so much energy focusing on ripping my body apart in front of the mirror. This trend escalated throughout college, until I found weightlifting and crossfit. I felt more in control of my body, and started to spend less time worrying about every roll, every bit of cellulite I found. 

Since then, I have gone through a lot. Mentally, physically, emotionally-I’m a different person. And with stress, change, and moving I felt all of my negative body image issues flooding back.

Luckily, around the same time I found Ledbetter as well as my coach Annika Swanson. Annika and the Ledbetter team pride themselves on losing or gaining weight in a healthy way. A way that will lead you to ‘live every day better’. I was placed with Annika, and knew right off the bat that she was the right coach for me. She was patient when I felt like failing, she encouraged me when I needed it most (and I haven’t even met her in real life), and although I’m not looking in the mirror saying ‘I LOVE MY BODY’, I feel like I am so much closer to that point because of her. I’ve never seen Annika preach anything that she hasn’t tried or been through herself. So, I knew that she was the perfect person to interview about negative body image and overcoming it all.

Stepping away from body shaming ourselves, especially as women, is by no means easy. No matter what stage in the game you’re in, it’s a constant battle to just be happy with who you are in every stage of your fitness journey and life overall. 

It has obviously been something that I have struggled with myself, and I imagine many of your reading this as well.

So if you’re anything like me and are catching yourself saying one too many negative things about your body, keep reading to see what Annika has to say.

What would you say, looking back, triggered your own body image issues? 

My body image issues initially started when I began prepping for my first (and only) bikini competition two years ago. This was the first time that I ever made a conscious effort to look a certain way, according to someone else’s standards. It was also the first time that the idea of being “tight and tiny” became ideal, and from then on I felt I could never be small enough.

What comes to mind when you think of a ‘negative body image’?

When I think of a negative body image, the first thing I think of is picking oneself apart in the mirror. Seeing all the “flaws” in one’s body rather than appreciating it and loving it for what it is and what it can do. I would also consider it a persisting feeling of not being “enough” – lean enough, skinny enough, muscular enough, strong enough, or never feeling happy about your current appearance.

Did you ever go to extremes because your negative body image/perception of yourself took over (i.e not eating, not eating enough, excessive workouts, binge eating, etc.)

When I prepped for a bikini competition a few years ago, I was on an extremely restrictive diet with excessive cardio compared to what my body actually needed. I had no knowledge of proper training or healthy nutrition at the time. As a result of this, I was obsessed with strictly sticking to my diet to a “T.” If I had a small slip up or treat, I completely lost it mentally and emotionally. This resulted in binging on things like chocolate and peanut butter. Any time my anxiety or stress was high, it resulted in binge eating.

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What was competing on stage like for you? Did it have a negative impact on your body image because you had to maintain a certain figure?

Competing on stage was a very nerve racking and negative experience for me. This was partially because my coach at the time had not taught me a posing routine (only set poses), along with “first time” nerves, but it was also the first time I intentionally subjected myself to being judged and critiqued by someone else. I personally did not feel that the stage, particularly in the bikini division was the right place for me. I personally didn’t feel comfortable subjecting myself to intentional judgement like that, and the feeling of being judged carried over into my day to day life as well. This experience is different for everyone, so my experience won’t be the same as others’. 

Was there any specific moment where you said ‘enough is enough, I can’t keep hating on my body’? 

A few months after that show, I felt very insecure in my body, particularly after gaining weight post show. I had no idea how to achieve my fitness goals though. That summer, I took the leap and signed up for a self guided Ledbetter Inc. Reverse Dieting Program. I told myself I would do everything I possibly could to achieve a body I could feel confident in, and to eventually love myself and find confidence again through that process.

How has coaching helped your personal battle with body image or body shaming?

It’s always easier to provide a fresh perspective to others than it is to apply that same perspective to ourselves. Coaching has allowed me to apply the develop the objective, healthy perspective I  have towards others, and learn to apply it to myself. 

What has helped you maintain a positive outlook on your body?

The most important thing that helped me create and sustain a positive outlook on my body was shifting my focus from losing weight, to building muscle and strength. This went in phases and did not happen overnight, but by focusing on things other than ab definition, I have been able to see my body progress in new ways. When I switched my focus to getting physically stronger and healthier, my mindset became stronger too and positive physical changes happened almost as a side effective. 

Would you say your negative perception of your body affected your relationships with others, and has that changed now that you are in a different mental space about your body?

When it was something I actively struggled with, my negative body image definitely affected my relationship with others. I was obsessive about eating and just in general had a negative outlook on life- which stemmed partly from not feeling inherently good about myself. Now that I am in a different mental space about my body, this has definitely changed. I’m no longer obsessive about eating, and I make a point not to let those obsessive food habits creep into time with my loved ones. This results in me being more present in the moment- not fearing that I’ll get “fat” from what I’m eating, and not obsessing over tracking my macros to the exact gram, either. I have some days when I feel great physically, and some days when I feel not so great. On the days when I don’t feel so great, I have had to make a conscious effort not to let that negative body image create an entirely negative day. I swore to myself I would never allow what I saw in the mirror to dictate my happiness again, as long as I was living a healthy lifestyle. Instead, I focus on what changes I can make to my habits and routine to feel better not only physically, but mentally. 

How has social media impacted your body image (negatively or positively!)?

Social media can be a slippery slope. There is a lot of potential to create a negative impact on one’s self image based on what we see on social media. I have fallen into the comparison trap – comparing myself to images on social media and feeling inadequate because I wasn’t as lean or muscular as those people. When that happens though, I’ve learned to shift my focus to myself and what I love about myself, not what I feel I’m lacking. In the positive sense, I have been able to connect with many other young women out there who are empowering themselves through a healthy lifestyle, which has not only been encouraging but refreshing to see.

How do you handle people leaving negative comments on your more vulnerable pictures on Instagram? 

Anytime someone leaves a negative comment it’s extremely important to remember that it almost always stems from their insecurity. There were times when I did feel very upset about comments people left on my page, and I allowed that to bring me down emotionally. Objectively, I know that the most important thing is how I feel and what I’m doing for myself to live a happy and healthy life- any one else’s opinion of that really doesn’t matter. So I try to take any negativity with a grain of salt. If comments are really bad, I simply delete them as I don’t need that kind of negativity and neither does anyone else. 🙂

How has working with Ledbetter changed your idea of what a woman’s body should or shouldn’t look like?

It’s interesting because I don’t really think there is a particular way that a woman’s body should or shouldn’t look. I don’t believe there is a specific way any woman “should” look, as that’s all personal preference to decide how we each feel best! How I would like to look may be different from the woman next to me. However, I do believe women should practice healthy habits and exercise in some way on a regular basis. Working with Ledbetter has helped me develop that mindset by focusing on health as a priority, always.

What has been the most rewarding part of coaching women who come to you with a lack of confidence about their body?

The most rewarding part about coaching women who start with a lack of confidence is to see them grow and transform not only their body, but their mind. It’s fulfilling to see that spark of self love and confidence slowly start, then grow with time to become something that no longer depends solely on the mirror. 

When you look in the mirror now, what do you wish you could say to the girl you were when you weren’t as confident with your body?

I wish I could tell her, “You are more than that mirror. You are more than what you look like or what other people think you look like. You are strong and capable and beautiful in your body as it is. If you have a goal, make the changes you need to get there. But you only have one body, so treat it with love.”

Is there any advice that you would give to women who can’t seem to get out of that body shaming mentality?

See above. 🙂 Also: we are each made different from one another. Your best will be different than mine, and mine will be different than hers. But feeling and looking our best can only happen when we focus on treating our own bodies with love and self respect. Shame has no place when self love and respect are present.

There you have it, and for more inspiration and really cute pictures of her dog Teddy (because as a fellow obsessive dog mom I have to shout him out) follow Annika on Instagram here: @annika_joelle_fitness and Ledbetter here: @ledbetter_inc

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If negative body image issues and body shaming is part of your day to day, make it a priority to change your thinking around. Find a program like Ledbetter that works for you, find a coach that inspires you to be more positive, take a class that makes you feel awesome. It’s a work in progress on my end, but if we don’t actively try to become more loving towards our bodies, we’re just sending this negative message out into the world.