My Body Image

It’s taken me a while to write this blog post, but it’s time. I’ve brooded about what I wanted to say about the body image/girls-aren’t-supposed-to-be-ripped narrative that’s taking place on Paleo blogs and podcasts across cyberspace because this topic is close to my heart.

I started rock climbing in 1997, when I was a plumper, less body-obsessed 19-year-old. College took its toll on me and I gained about 20 pounds my freshman year. Here I am then at 5’0″ weighing about 135 lbs. I’m on the left.

Thank God I found rock climbing because I had really no interest in other sports or exercise, so I didn’t move much up until that point. I started rock climbing in Sequoia National Park with my mountain man boyfriend, Major Bryant. I returned to college in Madison, WI after my mountainous hiatus from school and started going to the climbing gym. There I soon discovered what was possible in terms of muscle tone and strength from my newfound climber friends like Lindsay below.

I decided that the more ripped and lean you were, the less you had to carry up the wall with you and therefore you climbed better for it. And I had become afflicted with an insatiable desire to be a very good rock climber. I’d finally found something I was passionate about and it was a good way to get out some of my teenage anger. So I started doing strength training exercises, biking, running, and of course climbing with a fervor fueled by that hunger for greatness. I lost some weight and started thinking I was looking better. But it definitely wasn’t good enough.  Here I am on the right about 2 years after I started climbing, weighing in at around 120 (still at 5’0″).

Then I moved to Boulder, Colorado, the rock climbing mecca of the United States. Professional rock climbers abound here, which not only raises the bar for everyone around them in terms of strength, but also in body composition. Don’t get me wrong: the strongest climbers are sometimes not the ripped-est, but often they are, so we wannabes try and try to get ripped nonetheless.

If you’ve ever been to Boulder, you know the vibe. You can’t drive down the street without seeing people running or biking. Fitness is life here and it shows in the wiry bodies at Whole Foods and the pelotons of weekend warrior cyclists audaciously blocking the roads every Saturday and Sunday. For many, the mantra “leaner is better” infiltrates their lives and guides their neurotic eating and workout regimens. It’s contagious and I caught the bug. I went from 120 to 100 lbs in the 9 years I’ve lived in Boulder, and not without many neurotic moments. At first I cut out gluten and dropped from 120 to 112. Then I had an epiphany about the fact that I could stop bingeing – that I was not going to starve if I didn’t eat the whole box of gluten free cookies – and I went down to about 107. Then I had a few month stint with anorexia where I went down to about 96 lbs. I soon realized I love food way too much for that, and that I’d like to walk up a flight of stairs without almost blacking out. I’ve been steady for about 3 years now with a regular schedule of eating at about 100 lbs. I went from climbing 5.12a to 5.13c in the time I’ve lived in Boulder, too, so in ways my obsession with my body worked – I got stronger.

But through all of my success at dropping weight and “leaning out”, I’ve hated at least parts of my body most of the time, regardless of the numbers on the scale or my success with climbing. I’m brainwashed like everyone else about what a woman’s body should look like, and honestly I’m just coming to terms with that now. My posture is slumped because I don’t like my big C-cup boobs to be too prominent and because I don’t want my womanly butt to stick out. I wear black a lot. I don’t wear sexy dresses or dress up really ever because I’m self conscious about my body and my femininity. I don’t like that my thighs don’t look like a marathoner’s (and why should they when I run at most 60 minutes per week??). When I look at my stomach and I don’t see a perfectly defined six-pack, I admonish myself for not working hard enough. I don’t like that I have rounded hips or a butt because my idols (who I’m reassessing) are muscular women with man figures who don’t have to wear bras and don’t have a hip/waist differential. Turns out that some of the women I’ve looked up to for so long don’t get their periods, so they may as well BE men. What is wrong with me?

I’m 34 years old now, and it’s taken all this time to get to a place where I can look objectively at the measuring stick with which I evaluate myself. This year has been the beginning of a transformation for me. I started riding horses – an activity that isn’t a hardcore workout but that is FUN (and even takes away from my workout time). I’ve opened up to the idea of having children, which was out of the question before partly because my body will potentially change so much.

And this week has been even more revelatory for me, as it seems to have been for a few other Paleo women (here, here, here, and others). I am tired of not being satisfied with my body. Tired of it. This constant inner nagging about my “imperfect” body perpetuates a relentless stream of low-level anxiety, affecting everything from my work to my relationships and my climbing. I don’t want to get to 75 or 80 years old and look back on my life only to regret having wasted so much energy and time on something so trivial, so I’m stopping it.

My assignment to myself is this: every time I think something negative about my body, I have to reach down, gently touch my own butt and say to myself, ‘I love my ass.’ I’ve been doing it – you should try it. All of a sudden I feel better about my ass. It’s like magic! I’m not saying I’m going to “let myself go”, as they say, and start eating bon bons for breakfast and not working out. I love the way I eat – it makes me feel good – and I love working out and trying hard. But it’s time to be more realistic about my lovely body that I’ve worked hard to get. It’s FINE. In fact, it’s better than just fine, and these ridiculous air-brushed misconceptions of what my body SHOULD look like are not worth my time.

I noticed that something was really changing when I got all gussied up in a low cut top and a short skirt (for me, at least) the other day and asked my boyfriend to take a picture of me for the record. Then I asked him to take another one because I wasn’t satisfied with the first. In the first picture, as you can see, I was slumped over and I looked unsure of myself (which I WAS because I was in a short skirt and someone was taking a picture of me). In the second picture, as you can see, I’m standing up straight and even sticking my chest out, confidently. And here’s the best part: for once in my life, I think I look pretty good.

Picture number 1 – me not so confident.

Picture number 2, chest out and all.



  1. Wow… the first to comment on how awesome, strong and beautiful you are Neely! What an honor!

    It’s wonderfully inspiring to read how you’ve come to to place where you are. SO many of us guys want for our wives or girlfriends or even sisters EXACTLY what you’re describing…someone who is conscious about their health and fitness, but not obsessed with it. We love our women to look and feel like women! Like strong, confident, curvy, sexy, and divinely feminine women! 

    You’re leading the pack, my dear! Tear it up!

    BTW. Alice, my super-hot wife, has that same fur lined hat in the background! It’s super cute! 

    1. Hi Max! Thank you so, so much for chiming in – you’re sweet. Brought tears to my eyes, actually, so thanks!

  2. Thank you for sharing your story Neely! I know it’s not easy to admit let alone share our dark side with others but it needs to be done for ourselves and to benefit others. Every day is a new day and we can minimize/stop our negative self-talk by becoming concious of our disconnect between our body and our spirit. I love your new strategy and you definitely rocked that out-fit with your posture and energy.

  3. This is a brilliant post — thanks for sharing. I, too, am really tired of dogging on my body. In fact, I just wrote my mom and email that said I can’t believe I’m dealing with weight gain and the associated body images issues AGAIN. Our bodies are mysterious bags of water, and I’m working every day to remember that I do love my body and all it can do. It needs some work from the INSIDE OUT right now, thanks to my thyroid junk, but this body and I have been together a long time — and will hopefully be together for much longer in the future. Best to love it, in all its forms.

    Thanks, again, for this kickass post.

    1. Hi Melissa – Thank you, and know that your post really inspired me to be this transparent. You inspire women every day with your words. Abd you SHOULD love your body, inside and out. Remember, we love our asses, we love our asses, we love our asses… :)

  4. These “few”comments all refer to the YEARS it took to lose the 5,10,20 lbs.! Don’t they realize we , (I), live in an I WANT IT NOW frame of mind? haha : )

  5. Neely, I want to cry when I read this. You are so inspiring and have the amazing capacity of being so honest and still so courageous.
    You contintually bring hope and guidance through your work. Thank you.

  6. Neely, you are a beautiful young woman and should be very proud of yourself and what you’ve accomplished through nutrition and fitness. God bless you!!!

  7. Neely! Thank you so much for this beautiful post! I’m intensely struggling with body image (college student, sigh) at the moment, it has become an obsession. I know I’m worth more than how I’m treating my body right now, and I’m taking the steps to get out of this mindset/downward spiral. I actually was thinking of starting up rock climbing, I keep hearing great things about it. And I’m so happy you’re a fellow equestrian! I hope you enjoy it, I know I love it. :) Best of luck on your journey, you’re fabulous!

  8. Pretty good? You look fabulous!! As one who wasted a good many years bemoaning my body (only to look back and realize it was really a good one), I encourage you to continue to view yourself through an accurate lens! You have worked hard, and it shows – celebrate your success every day. You are an inspiration!

  9. Hi Neely!
    This is my first comment on your site, and your post really hit home with me. I’m still struggling to find anything positive about my body, even though I do HIIT calisthenics and weights, am getting stronger and fitter, and eating fairly well. You look beautiful! I realized that I do the SAME thing in photos…posture #1 all the time. I have been so negative about my body for over 10 years now, and when I look back at photos of me 10 years ago, I think I was crazy and would give anything to look that good again. I worry that like you said, I’ll be 70 years old and sad that I spent my life hating my body. (My body gave life to a gorgeous son, and although I got no stretch marks and lost my pregnancy weight soon after, I still hate it…awful, I know.) Thank you for all of your wonderful articles, guidance and information! :)

  10. Thanks for sharing your story. I think it’s always helpful when awesome women like yourself share their true stories; the good, the bad and the (usually just self-perceived) ugly. At 42 and mother of 4 I’m in the best shape, but more importantly, best “feel” of my life. Yet there are things about my body that make me want to scurry into a corner and weep.
    I love the 2nd pic. at the end. Confidence is truly one of the best cut dresses!

  11. Neely, this is exactly what I needed to read today. For years, I have struggled with similar thoughts – on the positive and negative side. I love food and love the passing of the plate with friends, but oftentimes, what I consumed ended up making me miserable.

    I started running almost 3 years ago and loved the dramatic changes I started seeing in myself – internally and externally. I felt free and was elated with the physical changes. I got “high” when people commented on how skinny I was. But I realized I wasn’t strong…

    So I jumped on the Crossfit bandwagon this year and am hooked. I’ve never felt stronger, my running, work performance, sleeping, my everything has improved! And now, just yesterday, I signed up for your meal program in the hopes of taking myself to the next level.

    All of these changes have given me the courage and confidence to stand proud and realize “strong is the new skinny.”

    Thanks for being an inspiration!

  12. Neely, This post is wonderful! I joined your site today because this is exactly what I am going through now. Tired of the obsession and ready feel better! Thanks for sharing!!

  13. Aw this is such a great post. And I love you have pictures with it too! You might of inspired me to do something similar. I struggled with my body image since I can remember and went through a 10 year battle with anorexia until I won and dont freak out over what I put in my mouth and how much a i work out. Exervise and paleo have been god sends because I love to eat and drink way too much too!! Your awesome. Thumbs up!

  14. Neely,

    I cherish how transparent you are with what you share with your readers – if only more people could be so authentic just with those they love! I have found several things all come together to get me into a place of harmony or peace as some would say:
    First and foremost is what we eat – please be sure to get off wheat! and if we are taking good care to get enough sleep. Many times sleep is impaired by how we feel which can become a vicious circle. The easiest way to get to sleep is to remember a time when you felt GREAT and appreciate it and relive it! The springboard of all good things comes from appreciation – it all begins with appreciation. If you appreciate nothing you are in a really bad place! That leads me to the topic of emotions – many people complain about feeling bad. Well, start by turning off the TV – it is just a conglomerate of bad. Next begin by making a list of EVERYTHING you appreciate, no order, just as it comes to mind and you will experience something that is amazing – you see we are geared for all the good stuff but we fill ourselves with all the bad stuff and then wonder why we feel bad both physically and emotionally.

    Once you have experienced the little amazement with the appreciation exercise then you are ready for much more and much deeper. The reason we get trapped in cycles of bad is due to our self-image and we need to change that. It has been said that if we treated others the way we treat ourselves, we would have no friends at all. For a detailed explanation of these cycles get the book “Making Your Mind Magnificant” by Steven Campbell. Suffice it to say your life experience has gotten you to where you are and that will not be rebuilt in a day, a week, a month, or even a year. Having said that, I am compelled to emphasize that the most amazing results come from a focus of appreciation and finding the best in life – it gives you a pattern of thinking that asks “Where is the good?” over and over and over… A mind that is constantly seeking good is a pretty powerful little thing!

    Once you have re-oriented yourself with better eating habits (no crap junk food and no wheat, especially), better sleeping habbits (at least 8hrs per night on an average over a month!), and are mentally positioned to find the best there is in life, at last you are well-equipped to deal with people, ringt?! Or so you think… Unfortunately, your life experience has got you here & your ego (Edging God Out) gets in the way as well. Ok so a little tweak will make a massive difference here too (like the appreciation orientation above). What if all your interactions with others existed merely to give you clues about what you need to do in your interactions with yourself? What if all the relationship stuff is not about them, but instead about yourself?
    Try this on for size: You exist in a friendly universe all designed to support you (wether you appreciate it or not) and help you to learn. If you decide to stay in resistance any lesson will increase in magnitude until you learn it – that is a given. Your relations with others are there to point out to you what you need to do with yourself. You see you cannot find anything in another that you do not first find within yourself, period. That is the way it works. The more harmony you share with others, the more you are sharing internally. The worse things are ‘out there’, the worse they are on the inside for YOU. The inside stuff is exponentially more prominent than what you can see on the outside. The math is easy: internally we communicate with ourselves at about 600wpm, while most conversations go at about 200wpm. Anytime you have a thought about another, it begs inquiry – check out to find out what inquiry is and by all means TRY IT!

    Once you 1. Are eating right & getting enough sleep, 2. Have improved your self image to where you feel deep down that you truly deserve the good in life, and 3. Have no issues with anyone, you will find yourself feeling like a little kid with the universe becoming your playground! Solstice – and amazing place (that is the wrod that was escaping me at the beginning).

    I wish you a lifetime of playing!


  15. Wow u look awesome Neely! I’m considering rock climbing as well since i don’t have an interest in doing regular workouts. Does til climbing work on your butt as well? I need to lift and tone mine! :) thank you!

    1. Jeanette A – Ha ha! I don’t know if it works directly on your butt, but what I’ve learned is that you can’t really lift and tone anything without eating properly first :) It mostly has toned my arms and back, I guess, but it (along with eating well) helps to keep all of my friends and me pretty trim all over. Give it a try!

  16. Neely,
    You are beautiful and amazing. I’m so thankful to you for sharing your story. I, too, have struggled with anorexia and am still trying to find happiness within my own body. Thank you again for your inspiration.
    Lots of love.

  17. Neely: You are a darling young woman! Your post reminds me of my health/image journey almost 50 years ago! I was eating the Paleo diet before it was invented. It makes total sense. So glad you have stopped judging your body type against others’. Health and fitness are not the end, but a means to a long and fruitful life. Please have your picture taken by a professional. Do it for you! My best photo shoot what when I turned 60! Then use your photos on your sites and with your articles to inspire others! Oh, and have children. We have three, and 7 grandchildren with another on the way. God designed you to be healthy, unique, and gorgeous, which you are.

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