The other day I was social distance hiking with my roommate.
It’s finally spring here in Boulder, and the quarantine mandates are lifting. The grass is growing, people are all over their lawns in a desperate attempt to carve out some alone time, and bikers are abundant. Masks and lone latex gloves litter the streets.
There’s a feeling in the air like people are coming out of a daze.
Anyway, we’re hiking and chatting about our futures (for me, the absolute unknown of it) when I look down at my leg and effectively cringe.
I hadn’t been in shorts in a few months, hadn’t hiked with a leg out-in-the-open if you will, and had that overwhelming sensational feeling of ‘ugh. My legs are aging. I’m aging. They look different.’ Cue: body image woes.
Quarantine has given all of us a lot of time, right? And with that time it’s a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I’ve been invested time into doing stuff that sparks my curiosity and learning: making walnut milk, growing a garden, playing piano, farming, etc., And also in that same sentence: loads of time to criticize shit I don’t like about my body. Side angle of a mirror: jeez, look at the brown spots on my aging face.
Also, my work outs have changed: probably for the best. But changed nonetheless meaning my body, too, has changed.
Mostly, it truly stems from feeling insecure in unemployment, if I’m to be honest.
So this post is more of a brain dump for ways I have found that help shift the narrative I get rampin’ on my body image some days. I had a guy friend message me recently asking for some tips for his own body image issues and I took what I brain-dumped on him, and have edited it to fit into a post.
My hope is that there will be a few ideas/perspectives that will help you in a random time.
It goes without saying but these practices depend on where I am in the cycle. There will be a month where I’m feelin’ good, feelin’ into my body, won’t need too much support – and then I’ll catch some side of a mirror and be like WHOA WHUT. When did THAT happen? I’M AGING. OMG. And hysteria ensues. i.e. quarantine hike day.
On a side note, I find it interesting that while my body image issues surrounding my thighs or stomach have faded, they seem to POP up in other ways and it’s always around aging.
Something about hitting 30: all of the sudden I notice every dark spot, wrinkle, and drooping skin.
Guess the moral of saying that is that if you don’t get your shit under some sort of gratitude, your body image stuff will inevitably morph over time and creep out into other areas. Alas, aging. Alas, recovery.
Alas, grace for ones self.
Alright here we go – servin’ up body image tips:
1) Write (or mentally jot) a quick appreciation of what the body does every single day… bare with me. I remember being in rehab, rolling my eyes into the back of their sockets when a perky counselor, likely my age at the time, tried to roll this practice out to a group of 10-15 women sitting cross-legged on a gross carpeted rehab floor, scowling.
I found it fluffy, juvenile and at best, silly. But I did the exercise anyway because even though I felt that it was a load of rubbish, I also hated watching the counselor squirm in her chair as we stared her down like little emo teens. So, basically, my people-pleasing sympathies got the best of me.
And the irony is that I held onto this concept overtime moreso than most of the others. It skates on morbid, but because I spent 8 years of my young life self-obsessed with getting my body to some ludicrous degree of ‘fit’ and thin, I carry expected remorse for not appreciating how absolutely abled I was at 20 to just get up and do whatever with my body with little repercussion. At 31, I’m still youthful (I know at 61 I’ll look back at this post and be like OH GO EFF YOURSELF) but I’m also more aware that I have to take care of my body if I want it to keep giving me decades more of long hikes, summits, airplane rides, long nights, dancing and non-neck pain.
Basically what I do, when the moment strikes, is write down what I appreciate about my body that’s functional: two legs that transplant me from A to B, two arms that can type this post, a back that is crooked – and yet still allows me to summit 14ers, a core that’s allowing me flexibility to practice yoga. I have two knee caps that hurt after a long run now, but when I stretch they grow more flexible. I have teeth that are in tact and chew food. I break it down.
Also, I always end with the thought that this is the only body I get in this lifetime. I can either make *mostly* peace with it or spend the rest of this life fighting the inevitable aging of it.
2.) Another practice rehab-sanctioned was writing to my body. I don’t do this one as often as I’d like but it’s an interesting perspective when you write to your body like it’s a person, even a friend.
I have written it angry notes, I have written it gratitude. But the humanizing/personifying the fact that it’s a body is helpful. “Yo knees – you’re pissing me off today cause you won’t stop aching. When’d we get this old?” down to “Teeth – you killin’ it for me. Thanks for giving me a rad smile with your pearly whiteness.”
I especially used to post that shit to my bathroom mirror if needed.
3.) Here’s where I get a little esoteric: the concept of the five ‘Whys’. I read somewhere that basically all issues you can get to the core of it by asking why five or so times. It goes something like this:
1.) I hate my stomach today – why?
2.) Because it’s soft and not tone – if that’s true, why does that matter?
3.) Because I’m worried my partner/someone else/society won’t be attracted to me – why does that matter to me?
4.) Because I often don’t feel adequate to others – why is that?
5.) Because I don’t feel like I’m as smart as the people I surround myself with and that I don’t have certain skills … you get the picture.
Eventually it just leads to an understanding that it’s not really about your stomach, it’s a bigger issue in your beliefs.
4.) Goes without saying but here we go again, screaming the obvious from the rooftop: filter the shit out of your social media feeds. Personally, I don’t follow celebrities (okay except Kate Moennig and randomly Jake Gyllenhaal)… also Trevor Noah. I don’t follow fitness accounts. I don’t follow models. I don’t follow hot people doing hot things. Everything’s photoshopped. Everything is posed in some ‘best practices’ pose and basically everything is bullshit. I don’t need to feel shit about my life by seeing a model waltzing along the beach.
I DO, however, follow accounts that show how people are photoshopped. Here’s an interesting video on it too. Sometimes, I’ll just google stuff like this and this for a reality check. Also, there are HILARIOUS people online who show the ridiculousness of this. I follow this person and this person who totally just nail the bullshit.
5.) Attempt to recorrect the shit body dysmorphic patterns with clothes, which for me generally means wearing large clothes to cover my whole body, which further drives home whatever bad body image I’m feeling. Now look, we’re in quarantine. Do what you want. I’ve been in joggers for days.
What I mean is I try to wear clothes that fit my body and make me feel confident (and by confident, I mean clothes that make me feel like they’re my style and individuality), and have thrown out a lot of my ridiculously overlarge sweaters.
6.) Alright, so here’s an instance of how easy it is to talk outta both sides of the mouth. I try (and still fail a whole helluva lot) to not engage in mutual body hating convo OR diet convo with friends. It happens more often than we realize. But, if someone comments about how much they hate some part of their body I try not to immediately respond with “I know right? I hate my X.”
Instead, *try* to divert… or at the very least compliment them in a non-body part area and move on. Because what they’re saying about their bodies is not a direct reflection on yours. It is their own projections, insecurities and pain spilling out.
7.) When I’m feeling especially shit about not being a certain height/weight and level of tone – sometimes if I’m not lookin’ for something appreciative, I’ll spend an hour educating myself on how society contributes to that belief.
There is SO much research online about body image (here’s one) and how affected we are through marketing schemes, messaging, subliminal messaging, social media, and advertising. Thought of this article. And this one on male body positivity specifically! This one too!
It helps to feel like I have a grasp on how that has subliminally affected me throughout a lifetime of being alive and having an ED for 8 years.
There’s something about being deeply aware of the bullshit that helps fight off the demons.
8.) This one may feel obvious but yo sometimes you just have to get the eff out of your house.
When I’m really struggling, like looking at my body from every angle of the mirrors in my house as I pass, I’ll force myself to leave and go walk.
Put on a podcast that’s educational – and learn something. I don’t know what it is about that but sometimes it helps alleviate the neurosis I spin. When I re-direct my thoughts to learning something, it quiets them a bit.
Lately, it’s been World War 2. And then I’ll jot down notes about the War and start researching certain battles or things I found interesting. It helps alleviate the obsessive cycle of thought.
9.) Little self-care. I know. Another eye-roller.
I don’t expect that my body image plague will leave me on the days it’s intrinsically bad, but I have noticed a sense of feeling like I’m at least ‘handling it’ when I do little acts of self-care.
Like shaving my legs. Or trimming my nails. Or deep conditioning my hair. Or flossing. Or hot lemon water. Or organizing my space. Or decorating for a happy hour with myself or a couple of my roommates. (Seen below)
There’s something about proactively taking care of my body or doing something that brings me a bit of joy, a bit beyond the norm, that helps. And you don’t have to spend a bunch of money to do it.
Alright, so there we go. Here are some tips. Maybe I’ll come up with some more, maybe I won’t. What I do wanna end this on is links to some social media influencers worth following, and also a reminder that the growing #fatpositivity movement on IG is a solid place to explore too.
Let me know if you have any additional tips in the comments. I’d love to include them <3
Social Media Influencers (there’s so many I can’t even begin to create a coherent list)
Dr Joshua Wolrich
Dr Colleen Reichmann