How to calm the voices that tell you your body isn’t good enough.
Recently a reader sent me this question: What do you do when shit gets real and all the body love work you’ve done doesn’t feel like enough? How do you calm those voices? What is your favorite way to connect with and inhabit your body?
When I read this question I think of another question. That question is as follows:
If you lived in a weight-neutral, body positive world, what would you do to take care of yourself?*
The reason that I think these questions are one and the same is that often times, for me, when things are really off with my body image, it is because I feel like shit in some other way (from stress, physical pain, bad digestion, or even childhood trauma stuff that can and will come up on a regular basis). When I feel these things my brain immediately goes to my body being “bad”. When I stop to consider WHY this might be the case I can’t help but notice that the messages around me don’t seem to really point towards having a positive body image. My body type is not the kind that TV, magazines, etc. seem to think is “nice” and “pretty”. I’m not small, I don’t really know how to wear makeup, heels hurt my ankles, and in my spare time I lift heavy stuff. I identify as femme, but just, you know, not like THAT. And I am completely, totally okay with that fact. Except for when I’m not. It just happens and when it does, I try to take the feeling out of the context of my body.
Once I read a book written by Kate Bornestein titled Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws.
The book was one big list of suggestions on avoiding suicide. The options were not always picture perfect, and they didn’t claim to be. They were simply better things to do than outright kill yourself. I say this because what I am going to say next is not the ultimate, best- ever long-term relief to low self esteem. Okay? Okay.
Sometimes, when I feel bad about my body I exercise, and I eat things that I feel extra good about.
It took me a LONG time to be able to work “treats” back into my diet, and when I feel really bad about my body I tend to just not eat those things for a few days.
I think there are a ton of factors at play here. Exercise releases endorphins! Green smoothies give me natural energy boosts from their amazing micronutrient powers! Treats tend to not digest as well as simple old standbys! Despite these facts, this is not the best solution for me, in the larger scheme of things.
Why? Because I believe that companies are profiting off of the moral net cast on food choices (kale “good”, cupcakes “bad”). My work these days is to look at the things I believe really deeply and ask myself where those messages came from. While I think exercise and healthy food is great, I want to be careful to note that someone somewhere taught me how to think about these things, and I would like to make those decisions for myself, thankyouverymuch. Taking corn chips off my plate for a few days is an extremely temporary solution to a more permanent battle.
I talk to people when I am having poor body image. I say “I am having a bad body image day” and they say “why?”. What comes of that is usually a conversation where I talk about my feelings around many different aspects of my life (hardly ever my body) and my friends help me brainstorm solutions and tell me I am beautiful. I believe my friends tell me the truth and wouldn’t lie about my babe-liness. Sometimes that is enough.
I have sex. If my partner isn’t around I do the job myself. Orgasms feel awesome and connect me with my physical body in ways that not many things can.
I write. Usually, I write a blog post meant to help other people, and that’s a double whammy because writing is the most important thing I do and helping other people inherently gives me self-esteem. Sometimes the act of just thinking about something other than myself is helpful. Low self-esteem is a clingy little thing, something that has worked to control my mind. When I find ways to not give it my attention, it grows less powerful.
I dress up like a mega babe. Remember how I said I don’t know how to do makeup and heels hurt my ankles? Well, sometimes I throw those facts to the wind. I put on some wedges and a cute skirt, go to my roommate or the Sephora counter and I get a makeover. I have them give me bouffant hair and cat-eye liquid liner and red lips. That shit looks AWESOME, even if I take the shoes off immediately.
If I have money I schedule a talk therapy session, an acupuncture appointment, a massage, or a tarot reading. I talk to the various radical healers I know and I seek their wisdom. Making plans to feel good often gets me into a positive mindset.
I hang out with good influences, people that love their bodies and use them to be awesome.
I do yoga and I meditate.
I take walks and try to smell all the smells and see all the people. I smile at other pedestrians. I pet their dogs.
I visit the ocean.
I sit in the sunshine.
I write a gratitude list.
I clean the ever-living shit out of my house.
And sometimes I just let myself feel bad. There is no perfect solution to faltering body image, no fail-safe way to feel excellent all the time. On the days where nothing seems to work (or when I feel too bad to be willing to try) I call it a wash. I lay in my bed and I cry. I make myself as comfortable as possible and try to get a good night’s sleep. I wake up the next day and again, I try to feel good.
I feel lucky to have lots of opportunities to try.
*Question brought to you by Be Nourished