(TW/CW: Weight loss, weight gain, dysphoria, eating disorders, self harm)
One of the biggest issues that the body positive movement has is the concept that you can solve all of your body image issues by loving yourself.
Learning to love yourself is a long journey, and the Internet often presents it as a black-and-white thing – either you love yourself, or you don’t. No-one talks about how a key part of the process is taking baby steps towards a more positive relationship towards your body.
The issues we often have with our body image are extremely nuanced and personal. I’ll have different issues with my body image than people with dysphoria, eating disorders, or chronic illnesses.
While you can spend time learning to accept the body you live in, your body image issues can’t be swept aside by a nice meme that says “love your body”.
Even when we spend time learning how to accept our bodies as they are, and even if we plan on changing our bodies to make us more comfortable in our skin, we’re going to have days where it feels like our body image has hit rock bottom.
Having a bad body image day is perfectly normal.
In a society like ours that places more value on certain bodies over others, we’re inevitably going to have days where we don’t feel okay about how we look. We know that we shouldn’t feel that way – after all, all bodies are valuable – but it happens.
If you find yourself struggling with a bad body image day, here are 11 things that can help you heal and reconnect with your body.
When you notice yourself criticising your body, stop what you’re doing (if you can).
Really pay attention to what you told yourself, or was about to say if you interrupted yourself. The first thing to do is accept that you had that thought – and don’t shame yourself for having it.
Once you’ve accepted that thought, spend a minute to figure out how you’re actually feeling. Is that negative energy coming from a place of frustration? Anger? Regret? Sadness?
It’s okay not to know the answer, but it’s important to acknowledge that thought happened – and to let it go.
Tell yourself, whether out loud or internally, that you don’t believe that, you disagree, or that you’re wrong.
My favourite way to deal with these intrusive, negative thoughts is to personify them to make them easier to dispel and ignore.
So, for example:
Intrusive Thought: I’m fat and I can’t believe I’ve let myself put on so much weight, I’m disgusting
Me: Fuck off Piers Morgan you dusty wanker, I’m a queen and you WILL respect me
By imagining your negative thoughts as coming from someone you disagree with on every level, it makes it easier to talk to yourself kindly in response to them.
2. Externalise It
Externalising your negative body image is about discerning what external factors are influencing your thoughts.
So, ask yourself things like:
- Why do I believe my body is bad?
- Which companies will profit from me wanting to change my body?
- I wasn’t born hating my body, so why do I hate it now?
By looking outwards at how your thoughts have been influenced by society, it’ll help you identify why you feel like you hate your body. Many health and beauty companies profit from the insecurities of people like us so they can sell us the solution.
Remember the appetite suppressant lollipops that were all over Instagram a few months ago? They wouldn’t exist if society didn’t demonise larger bodies like mine, and didn’t see fat people as people who couldn’t control their eating habits.
Because, if we weren’t made to feel immoral by daring to love living in a larger body, these companies wouldn’t make a profit.
3. Journal It
Journaling can help you address your body image issues, and bring you relief through actively working through your thoughts.
It doesn’t matter if you already journal or not, whether you prefer to use prompts, or if you free-write; the simple act of physically writing down your thoughts can be extremely cathartic.
Journalling as a technique is very personal, and there’s no right or wrong way to to do it. Personally, I prefer to free-write my thoughts – if you’re unfamiliar with free-writing, it simply means writing down the first thing that comes to mind without hesitation.
However, using journal prompts can help if free-writing feels like too much pressure. This post has some awesome suggestions for body-lovin’ prompts to help guide those thoughts onto the page.
Journaling is a technique I’ve used throughout my mental health recovery, and I find it extremely useful as a tool to help me focus on my thoughts. In most cases, I’ve found that the thoughts that I’m writing down sound different on paper. You may even find that, on a second pass, these thoughts aren’t actually representative of how you actually feel – and that’s okay!
The whole point of journaling is to help you confront your inner thoughts, focus on them, and analyse them in detail. If you want to take this further, then you’ll want to take a look at the next step.
4. Use CBT Techniques
Honestly, I will always recommend CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and its techniques to anyone.
The key principle of CBT is that our thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and physical sensations are all connected, and we can get trapped in a vicious cycle of negative patterns if we don’t deal with any part of that cycle.
CBT is the only therapy that’s ever helped me deal with my Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder, and it’s been a huge factor in my recovery. I’ve used CBT techniques to deal with my beliefs over my body, particularly as those beliefs fed a lot into my mental health condition.
There are two fantastic CBT techniques I learned when I went through therapy that can definitely help you address bad body image days.
First, you take a behaviour that you want to ‘test’ – let’s say you don’t wear dresses or skirts, because you think that people will laugh at you if you do. This is your hypothesis.
Then, decide how you want to test this. You don’t have to go straight into going out in your dress, but you could post a selfie on Instagram while you’re wearing it, or send a picture to your friends. You’re not throwing yourself into the deep end, but you’re taking baby steps towards feeling comfortable.
By testing your behaviours – whether it’s something you do, or avoid doing – you’re proving to yourself if the thoughts behind them are founded in truth. If you post a selfie and your friends laugh, then clearly, you need better friends. But when they send you “😍😍😍🔥🔥🔥🔥”, this directly goes against your hypothesis, doesn’t it?
It’s not a quick fix by any means – CBT takes time to apply and work through. But, progress is still progress. On bad body image days, sometimes you need to prove yourself wrong.
In a similar vein to behavioural experiments, this is about looking at your thoughts and beliefs objectively. This can also be paired with the journaling technique.
Let’s say you think “There’s no way I can be great at pole because of the size of my body”. Write down this thought, and next to it, write down (as a percentage) how much you believe this. After that, write down all the things you can think of that support that thought.
Then, write down all the things that disprove your belief. As many things as you can think of. More often than not, this list will be waaaaay bigger. That’s completely normal – trust me!
Now, re-write your original thought, taking the evidence into account. If I was doing this, my reworked thought might be “I’m proud of me for my progress, and my body size doesn’t dictate my progression”. Finally, take a look at your original thought, and as a percentage, write down how much you believe it now.
It might not stop the thought from popping back up, but I can assure you that once you’ve analysed it in this way, you’ll start to be able to catch it and correct yourself to a thought that makes you happier.
Love them or hate them, affirmations can be a useful way to lift your mood and affect change within your thought patterns.
You don’t even have to say them out loud, either, because let’s face it – talking to yourself can feel very uncomfortable.
If you haven’t come across using affirmations before, they’re short phrases you tell yourself in order to challenge and overcome negative thought patterns. You can either make a habit of repeating your affirmations at a set point during the day, or use them when you’re faced with a particular thought or behaviour.
It can be something short, like “I accept my body”, or something longer, like “The numbers on the scale do not dictate my worth”. As long as it’s meaningful to you, and it’s positive, have as few or as many affirmations as you like!
If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few body positive affirmations to get you started:
- My body is a powerful tool, and helps me to live my life
- My worth isn’t measured in pounds, kilos, or inches
- I deserve to treat my body with kindness
- Food is not my enemy, and I deserve nourishment
- I am not responsible for how other people see my body
And here’s a few fill-in-the-blanks, for good measure:
- Today, I will show my body love by ______
- I currently feel ____ about my body, and I acknowledge that
- I love my ____ for everything it does for me
- Thank you, body, for giving me the ability to _____
- I deserve to eat ____, regardless of what I have done today
6. Honour Your Hunger
When we’re struggling with our body image, and particularly if we’re currently uncomfortable with the size of our bodies, there might be a small voice in your head telling you to restrict your food intake.
However, your body still needs calories and nutrients to keep functioning, regardless of how active you are.
It needs carbohydrates for energy, no matter how much social media tells you that carbs are the devil. You need fats to help keep your brain and organs healthy. Protein helps your body function normally by powering your cells and repairing vital systems.
Diet culture tells us that hunger is something to be ignored, tricked, or pushed back in order to ‘control’ it. Hunger is just your body’s way of telling you that it needs nutrients, and it isn’t something that’s healthy to ignore.
When you don’t respond to your hunger cues, particularly long term, your body responds by slowing down your metabolism – this is commonly known as ‘starvation mode’. Your body is recognising you don’t have enough food coming in, so it protects you from starvation by reducing your energy usage.
When you’re struggling with your body image, honouring your hunger cues can help you heal your relationship with food.
When you start to feel hungry, check in with your body, and notice how you’re feeling. Take a moment to think about what food you’re really craving right now.
Do you need something sugary, sweet, and juicy? Are you after something salty, crunchy, and dry? Is last night’s pasta calling to you, or are the apples on the counter calling your name?
Whatever it is that you’re hungry for, honour your hunger by eating those things, and being mindful as you do. Enjoy the sensations of every bite, and tune into your body to notice when you start to get full.
Remember, no matter how you feel about your body right now, you deserve to eat.
7. Mindful Skincare
All too often, the media gets across people being unhappy with their weight by having them look forlornly at their body, tugging and grabbing at the parts of them that they’re insecure about.
It’s easy for us to pick up this habit too. Before I read this bit of advice myself, I used to scratch at my stomach (the area I’m most insecure about) and dig my nails into my skin. Partly because I wanted to feel something when I was so deep into my depression, but also because I didn’t place any value on that particular part of my body – so I didn’t think that treating it harshly mattered.
However, reading Body Positive Power by Megan Jayne Crabbe (@bodyposipanda) made me rethink how I treat my body.
In her book, Megan’s advice is to change how you touch your tummy (or, any part of you that you’re insecure about). Instead of poking, prodding, or pulling, caress the skin and enjoy how soft you feel. Most importantly, to touch your body with kindness, love, and acceptance for how it is right then and there.
I decided to take this one step further, by turning it into a mindful skincare ritual.
The first step is to pick a moisturiser, being mindful of what your body and mind needs at that moment. I have a massage bar that smells like white chocolate and caramel, if I need indulgence, a white chocolate/honey smelling scrub bar, if I need exfoliation, a massage bar with clove oils and earthy smells that helps relax my muscles, and Aveeno, for if I need gentle smells and deep hydration.
Once I’ve picked one (which isn’t always an easy decision), I’ll gently massage it into every inch of the body part that I’m struggling with at that point. I’ll focus on things like how soft I feel beneath my fingers, how my muscles feel, or for changes in skin texture that might signify that I need to work more product into that area.
Focusing on myself in this way is an act of body love for me. It forces me to focus on how my body is, rather than my negative thoughts around how I wish my body was.
8. Have Sex/Masturbate
On bad body image days, it’s hard for me to feel ~in the mood~, because I don’t feel like I should be attractive to my partner.
However, actually having sex is, for me, a way of healing from that negative energy. It’s totally based in vanity, but it’s a very physical reminder that my partner finds me attractive and I have sexual worth in my relationship. Having someone who worships your body in the bedroom can help you externalise your feelings of attractiveness and understand that you’re not unattractive – you’re just not your type.
Whether you’re doing it with a partner or going solo, having a sexual encounter can be a very healthy way of reconnecting with your body and how it reacts to physical stimuli. It can help you focus less on what your body looks like, but rather how it feels in the moment.
If sex or masturbation is something that you enjoy, here’s some tips for making your sexual experience less about what you look like, and more about what feels good to you:
- Turning the lights off can help you feel physical sensations even stronger, and mean you’re less worried about what your body looks like.
- Wearing something sexy might not be high up on your list if you’re already struggling, but seeing your partner go wild for you can help you feel more attractive and desirable. Even something as simple as fancy underwear, or wearing something that your partner finds sexy, can help get you in the mood for lovin’.
- Communicate with your partner. Tell them if you don’t want them to touch a certain part of you, or if you want them to focus there.
- Take it slow. Whether you’re alone or someone is pleasuring you, try slowing things down to focus on what sensations you feel in different parts of your body.
- Focus on your partner. See how their body reacts to yours, and focus on what they’re doing in the moment. Trust their reactions, too – if they’re gravitating towards a certain part of your body, you can be sure that they find it attractive!
9. Dance in the Mirror
And I mean, really dance. Put on your favourite song and throw some shapes in the mirror.
I’m very insecure about my stomach at times, particularly if I’ve gone through a period of weight gain. Moving to my favourite song without any expectations of what my dancing should look like helps me to feel how my body moves when I give it the freedom to do what feels good.
It also helps me reconnect with my body when I feel out of control. When I’m dancing I can feel how my jiggly bits move, and find joy in how they wiggle when I catch myself in the mirror. By connecting my movement with visual stimuli of my body, it helps me to connect with how I actually look, rather than what I wish I looked like.
If you don’t feel comfortable with exposing the things you’re insecure about just yet, then there’s no shame in that – it’s your body, your recovery, and you choose the pace.
You can still feel the benefits of dancing in the mirror whether you’re fully clothed or naked, or anywhere in between. The point of this is to have fun and enjoy the body you live in, not rush yourself to reach a point in your recovery you might not feel like you’ve reached yet.
10. Engage With Your Body
Find a way to move that makes your body feel good – and do that.
One of the biggest lies that the fitness industry feeds us is that exercise is only for people who want to lose weight. That we’re supposed to hate exercising, but we need to do it anyway. That our punishment for enjoying that burger we’ve been craving is burpees, pull-ups, and squats.
Whether you already have a form of exercise that you love, or you’re not sure what kind of movement makes you happy, undertaking physical activity can help you connect with how your body responds to different kinds of movement.
There’ll be some trial and error, sure – but with each new thing that you try, the more you learn about what movement works with your body.
It doesn’t matter how much exercise feels comfortable to you, or how intensely you like to move. Finding ways of exercising that makes your heart happy is an awesome way to show your body and mind some love, regardless of what you do, how you do it, or whether the fitness industry says it’s the “right” form of exercise for you.
11. This Too Shall Pass
This day will end. At the end of today, your head will hit the pillow, and you’ll wake up tomorrow with the fresh perspectives that sleep brings.
Today might have been a one-off thing, where another negative thing going on in your life was influencing how you feel about your body.
Or, it might just be another day in an ongoing struggle over how you see your body.
If there’s one thing I can promise in this crazy ass world, it’s this –
One morning, you’ll wake up, and you’ll no longer look at your body with hate.
You’ll dance in the mirror and giggle at how your thighs clap together. You’ll realise that when you check out your stomach in the mirror, you touch it with love instead of hate. You will, one day, smile at yourself in the mirror with the understanding that you are more than your body.
It’ll take time, hard work, and courage. It’s hard to learn to love something you’ve grown to hate. Hell, I’m 23 and I’m still undoing the opinions I learned about myself when I hit puberty.
It’s a long journey – but it’s worth it.
Because the first time you see yourself in the mirror and your first response is one of love, you’ll realise just how far you’ve come.
You are worthy of love. Always.
Do you have any advice for people struggling with their body image? Have you learned something that helped your body image, and want to pass it on?
(Hey, if this post was useful, I’d super appreciate it if you bought me a coffee. Running a website isn’t cheap, and it’ll help me to keep bringing you great content)