How do you feel about your body today?
That may have been a very difficult question for you.
If you are struggling with body image - in small or big ways - then know first of all that you are not alone. I think I have barely met a woman, both within and outside of my line of work, who hasn’t or doesn’t struggle with their body image in some way or another. Me included.
My relationship to my body and food has improved so much over the years, but it definitely wasn’t in a good state a few years back where everything was about being smaller and I despised the parts of me that weren’t pretty/attractive/womanly enough. (Over the last 5 years, I have invested A LOT in mindset work, exploring the issues, learning and beginning to feel better in myself.)
However, over the last couple of months, my body-image has dipped a little bit. It wasn’t an out-of-control, raging inner self-critic like it once was, but I could feel a dip in my emotions about it.
So here are some reminders for us both:
1. It's not a fixed state
Your relationship to your body isn’t fixed, and your body image isn’t in a fixed state. Many of you might be aware of this when you might be feeling ok within yourself and then you step on the scales, or try on a piece of clothing, and that can be enough to spiral into a negative cycle.
Sometimes that means our body image can fluctuate wildly from day to day or even hour to hour. But in that space of time, our body doesn’t change.
It’s our relationship to our body that matters, not necessarily our body itself.
That also means that a ‘good’ body-image doesn’t mean you constantly feel good about yourself.
It will always still have ups and downs.
It doesn't mean you don't have bad body image days, or meltdowns.
It just means you don't have to take those as the truth about yourself.
Those feelings can exist, and you don't have to do anything with them other than just allow them.
They will pass.
You can choose to notice them, and offer yourself a different story.
For me, when I begin to notice some thoughts creeping in that might be critical of my body, it’s an opportunity to develop this relationship with myself. I can choose to believe them, or I can choose to remind myself with kindness of other things:
My body is the least interesting thing about me
Belly’s are supposed to be round
Strong and confident is attractive
I am on the same team as my body
All of those statements don’t mean we don’t want to necessarily change our bodies, but it reminds us that our body doesn’t define us, it is not a judgment on us, and we can be ok with how they are now, knowing that change is also possible.
For me, a ‘good’ body image isn’t even feeling ‘positive’ stuff about myself; it’s just that it doesn’t take up a lot of headspace. No worry, stress, criticism is turned towards my body: it’s practicing neutrality. Life is full of all of the other stuff.
Wherever you are in your journey in your relationship to your body remember this: the goal isn’t to eliminate the thoughts we have. The goal is awareness, space and choice. And that awareness and small choices over time creates change.
2. Autonomy changes everything
This is the belief that you can change things. When you feel like you have the power to create change, it entirely changes how we define it. In fact, one of the definitions of trauma is deep distress without the means to protect or remove yourself from the situation. The helplessness is part of the definition.
So if we believe our body, our body image etc is fixed and we cannot change it, then this could deepen the distress we feel about it.
The truth is, our body is constantly changing. Constantly, in response to what we give ourselves to experience. Our body is shaped by:
Long walks in the countryside
Slow mornings with coffee
The cuddles on the sofa
Stretching and lifting and getting a sweat on
Daydreaming out the window
Fun dinners with our family and friends
Your body WILL change: but it's not obliged to do so according to your time-scale or appearance ideals. We can input what we like, but we have no control our how our body chooses to use that input. It always, always has your best interests at heart. Cultivating that trust is part of the journey.
When I left teaching a couple of weeks ago, I felt almost immediately my body-image improve again. Nothing had changed at all physically apart from this, and I hadn’t started doing anything at all differently:
I now felt like I had the power to change things.
If you are struggling with your body-image then remember you are not alone - talk to someone about it (feel free to chat to me also). Don't rule out professional help: there can be much bigger feelings or past experiences buried under there.
You deserve to feel strong, confident and comfortable in your own skin. Sending big hugs.
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