My Advice for Bad Body Image Days
An article of eight things I do when I'm feeling down about my body
Since you have decided to read this, chances are you're struggling with your body image and self-esteem. I understand, because I have problems with the same thing. My own issues started when I was ten-years-old, almost twelve years ago. I would get bullied for my appearance often and would listen to people openly, and loudly, judge other peoples' bodies. It ended up affecting how I saw, felt, and treated myself; even leading to the development of an eating disorder not long after. It became impossible for me to see myself in any kind of positive light. I went from thinking my body was the problem to thinking I was the problem when, really, the problem was how I was being treated and how I was letting that treatment affect me.
For the past three years, I've been pouring a lot of focus into personal growth and healing. I've gotten rid of people who choose how to treat others based on how they look, I've burned a lot of fatphobic magazines, and I've learned a few skills to help me with my insecurities and anxieties. These days, I usually feel good or at least content with my appearance. I still have days and moments when I feel like human trash, but they no longer drag me down or affect how I treat myself. I've managed to find the most effective ways of dealing with my low self-esteem. I'm hoping that by writing this article, I'll be helping someone else. Of course, it's never guaranteed that something will work for other people. If you read through all of this and you find that the advice here isn't for you or it's not helpful, that's okay. That just means you need a different kind of care than I do. Either way, I hope you're able to find something that will help you out when you're feeling low.
Without further ado, let's get to the advice:
Affirmations are positive statements that are meant to sound true. These are often used to manifest certain things into our lives; including good feelings about ourselves. These can range from statements about how beautiful your body is - such as "I am pretty" or "my body is a work of art" - to statements that are more about body acceptance and neutrality. The latter are my favourite ones to use. A few examples of body neutral affirmations are: "there is nothing wrong with the way I look", "my appearance does not have an affect on my worth", "my body is the physical form my soul takes, and it deserves my care", and "I am more than my body". The affirmations you decide to use don't have to be exactly those. You can pick and choose whatever you want.
I'm sure everybody and their grandmother are getting tired of hearing this one, but meditation can be useful for getting over negative thoughts and feelings. Meditating on body image can be like a therapy session with yourself. You start the same way you would with any meditation - creating a space of total relaxation. I like to put on some lo-fi music, shut off bright lights and my TV, and sit with my legs crossed. Then, I go through deep breathing exercises and clear my mind of all thoughts - which can be as easy as focusing on your breathing, how your body feels, or just thinking of a solid colour. You want to slow down the other thoughts, not actually end all thinking. From there, you consider how you feel emotionally - how is your body image right now? How do you feel about your body, and why? Is it coming from stress, depression, something else, or are you just having a bad day? What do you think you can do to take care of this? You can ask any question you want that gets to the root of the problem, then try to work through it. When you feel like the meditation is complete, you can choose to close it off with an affirmation or two as a reminder that you are not the negative thoughts.
3. Talking about it
If you have a therapist, a close friend, or anyone who could help you, talking about how you're feeling can be a great way of getting some of that negativity out of you. If you don't feel like you have anyone you can turn to, you can get on freelance websites and see if you can buy a cheap, one-hour therapy session. An alternative to this is writing a rant post in a journal or on some social media site. Even if you're the only person who can see it, you aren't holding those emotions in. That can prevent them from worsening.
4. Cognitive reframing
I use this one frequently when I'm struggling with my self-worth. It's as simple as taking a negative thought and rewording it into a neutral or positive one. This doesn't have to be reserved just for struggles with body image. You can use cognitive reframing for thoughts of worthlessness, insignificance, and more. It doesn't always work instantly, but it can have a great effect over time. To give you an example of how to use this method: Let's say you aren't feeling great about yourself. If you have the thought "I'm ugly", you can take that thought and turn it into "just because I don't feel attractive right now doesn't mean I'm ugly" or "there is more to me than my appearance". You can use any thought, word, saying, phrase, or affirmation that you want as long as it's the opposite of the first thought. You can also utilise this method by agreeing when someone compliments you, and reminding yourself that their opinion doesn't matter when they insult you. Another way I practice this is by doing the opposite of that thought. If my brain tells me I should skip a meal or not wear my favourite outfit, I put that outfit on and eat whatever I want. The idea is simply to take a negative, turn it into a positive (or neutral), and it will eventually rewire your brain to think less like that.
5. Don't follow advice found in (most) magazines
You know the ones. They have the headline "how I fixed my self-esteem" and it's all about dieting, exercising, surgery, losing weight, and firming up. Don't listen to those. The answer to improving your self-esteem and body image doesn't lie in weight loss or changing your appearance in some other way. If those things help you feel good, that's great! There's nothing wrong with that. But for a lot of people, those articles just make things worse. So I recommend not listening to them and giving yourself a break. Have a mental health day, not another workout day.
6. Pros & cons
In recovery from my eating disorder, I was told to make a pro and con list of what I get from recovering versus what I get if I don't. You too can use this even if you don't struggle with disordered eating habits. Make a list of things you like about yourself - it can be about the physical or about your personality. If your self-esteem is really bad, you can write a list of things you don't hate instead. When you're done with that, you can start writing a list of things you don't like about yourself. You can do this in either order you prefer; pros first, cons first, alternating between the two, or writing them as you feel like. The con list helps you get those negative feelings out, while the pro side helps you focus on the positive. Alternatively, if you feel like writing a con list would make your self-esteem worse, you can remove that and just focus on the things you find lovely about who you are and what you look like. Do whatever works best for you - just make sure you get down some things you enjoy too if you use this method.
7. Dress confidently
If you wear clothes that make you feel confident, powerful, sexy, strong, or anything else of the sort, you'll feel good about how you look. If you feel good about your appearance, you won't be loaded down with anxious thoughts about being "ugly" or somehow not worthy. It doesn't matter what outfit you wear, or whether it's the popular idea of dressing confidently. Sometimes it looks like a well-fitting suit or a tight dress, sometimes it's sweatpants and a loose overshirt. As long as you feel empowered, it doesn't matter what the outfit is. The goal is simply to be comfortable and confident. I'm not saying your clothes will cure your body image, it doesn't work like that, but if you dress in a way that makes you feel ethereal, they can help get you out of the mindset that you look like trash. That encourages the healing.
8. Pose for yourself
You don't have to be a photographer to take good selfies - you just need to have a camera. What I like to do is prop my phone up against something, put on the self-timer, get myself in a comfortable and good mood, then I take all the photos I want. Sometimes, I'll change my outfit once or twice in between. Seeing myself posing, smiling, possibly laughing, reminds me that there is more to me than my appearance. That reminder ends up boosting my mood and how I view myself. Depending on what kind of person you are, you might it more beneficial to pose in the nude or to be partially nude. No matter what you decide to wear, or not wear, the most important thing is that you're comfortable.
I hope that this article helps you somehow or, if not, that you're able to find something that does. Please know that no matter what you look like, there isn't anything wrong with you or your body. You aren't less or more of a person because of your appearance or insecurities. No matter who you are or what you look like, you deserve freedom away from these struggles. You deserve to be happy, content, or even just neutral with the way your body appears in this life. You're worthy of that. I hope that you are able to find a way there as you go through your journey. Best wishes, and warmest regards.