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  • Laura Machado, PsyD

What to do on a Bad Body Image Day

A bad body image day is not a sign that your body is flawed - so don’t take feeling as fact. A bad body image day is just a common thing that happens to almost every human, regardless of size and shape. We humans have tired days, energetic days, motivated days, lazy days….and intertwined in all the normal fluctuations of life are bad body image days, too. It may be normal, but it doesn’t feel good. Here are some tips on what to do on a bad body image day, in no particular order.

1. Ground yourself in the facts. Monitor your self-talk and make it a rule to only speak about your body in facts. If you are making sounds in reaction to seeing/sensing/thinking about your body (“ugggh”) - no, that is a sound. Try again. If you are calling your body “gross,” - no, that’s an opinion. Try again. If you are referring to yourself as a “pig,” - actually you’re not; you’re a human. Try again. If you are calling yourself “fat” and you personally feel negatively about that word - then remind yourself that you are not “fat” any more than you are a leg, or you are muscle or bone. You have a human body that has fat. Yes, so does everyone. Oh, but you say you have “too much fat?” That’s an opinion - try again. Get back to facts. At the end of the day, the only factual way to describe yourself is something like “I have a body that has a shape.”

2. IRRELEVANT. Bad body image is IRRELEVANT. Keep that word in mind, tape it to your mirror, your desk, wherever. So you feel badly about your body? Okay, that’s fine, but that has nothing to do with your self-worth, how you should spend your time, how you should eat, etc.

3. Dress comfortably. Don’t punish yourself with your clothes. Wear clothes that don’t remind you that you’re feeling yucky about your body. For example, if you’re feeling self-conscious about your stomach, don’t wear pants that have a tight waist. Wear different pants; wear a skirt. Wear clothes that help you forget about how you feel about your body and make it easier to focus on life.

4. Don’t remind yourself about your bad body image day. I’m not suggesting you replace your negative self-talk with excessively body-loving statements. You don’t need to go from “I hate my body” to “I love my body.” Instead, as soon as you begin to say something negative about your body, interrupt yourself and say, “I know.” So it goes like this…. MIND: “I hate….” YOU: “I know, no need to remind me.” Look, there’s pretty much no chance you’re going to forget that you are not lovin’ your body, so there’s no need to remind yourself that you don’t love it. Just stopping the repetitive, negative reminders can help.

5. Deliberately Change Focus: If you can’t stop, ease, or accept the thoughts, then pick something else deliberately to focus on. One day, several years ago, on a particularly bad body image day, when it was hard to focus on anything but the bad body image, I decided I was going to count all the big leaves I saw when I was outside. So, although my brain might have naturally kept zooming in on my body, I used my brain like I was working out a muscle and consciously, deliberately, with effort, shifted focus to leaves. I scanned the trees and looked for large leaves and counted. After about 20 minutes, I had noticed I had been able to just be present and not stuck in my head. It doesn’t have to be leaves, of course. It could be anything; try it!

6. Just accept the bad body image day. How about you decide it’s just okay to feel badly about your body? Decide that today, you’re playing a character and embracing your body. It doesn’t have to feel like you. It can feel like you’re acting; that’s okay! Let yourself be a character that proudly stands in their body. Throw on a hat you like, some shoes you like, some jewelry you like, hold your head high and let it be.

7. Practice your “Meh!” Literally look in the mirror, look at your face, smile a bit, shrug your shoulders and throw your hands in the air and say, “Meh!” Then move on!

8. Find the story in your supposed “flaws.” Every body has a story, and we should respect it. For example, part of my mind tends to tell me my eyes look dull and tired. You know what the story behind that is? I’m a sleepless, dedicated mother. My eyes show my love for my child. Maybe your body feels not toned and “too soft.” Maybe you think it’d be more toned if you worked out or worked out more or worked out differently. But maybe you don’t work out because you’re focusing on improving your relationship with food for the long haul. Or maybe you don’t work out because your life is full of other things--you’re dedicated to your family or your job, etc. In that way, your body tells the story of your priorities, which likely say something admirable about your character. Maybe your body’s natural shape is bigger or smaller than you’d like and it’s just genetic. Well in that case, it tells the story of where you come from - of your ancestors long ago, who maybe immigrated here and sacrificed a lot. Your body is physical evidence of that immigration story. Somewhere in your story, there’s something to be in awe of, and that can be found in your body.

9. Keep eating normally. It can be tempting to over or under eat on bad body image days. Try to resist by realizing how that will make things worse in the long run. Overeating will make you feel worse pretty immediately. Under eating will make you overeat later, making you feel worse in the long-run. And, maybe most importantly, disordered eating will keep your attention and focus on your body and prohibit you from jumping into your day and just living.

10. Thank your body. When you think of it, hating on your body is kind of an unbelievable thing to do when you consider what your body has done. Your heart has been beating since before you were born. You have been breathing since you were born. Your inner body is a complex, perfect system keeping you in balance. Your eyes blink so they don’t dry out. It has survived a possibly harsh history. And to think that we give it no room to just have the shape it has…. Well, that’s a little mean. Take some time to think of every single thing your body does right. And thank it.

11. Think of body image role models. Think of people in real life or on body positive social media or celebrities who have bodies that are not reflective of the societal ideal but who hold themselves in confidence and whom you admire. Let them inspire some body acceptance in you.

12. Remember it’s not permanent. Body image fluctuates. Don’t act like it’s an emergency when you feel badly about your body. You might feel better about your body in 2 hours, or 2 days… bad body image is not here to stay.

13. Find your true beliefs. Ask yourself what’s so supposedly “wrong” with your body? It’s too soft, too big, too small, etc. Then ask if the truest you, the most authentic you, actually believes that bodies should not be soft, or fat, or small, or tall, or whatever it is you’re criticizing. Notice if your inner body-image critic is holding yourself to a standard that your Truest Self doesn’t even believe in.

14. This body equals this life. Life first, body second. Don’t fit your life around your body. Pick your life, live it, and whatever body comes is the body that comes. So if you like most of your life, realize that this is the life you get with the body you have… so, yay! Thank you, body, for you are the body that comes with this life. I get this life because I have this body.

15. Actually, you don’t have bad body image. Do a little exercise with me here. Right now, listen for your next thought……………....................................................................................

........................................................................................................................................................ Okay, YOU are the listener--not the thought. Do you hear that? YOU are the listener; not the thought. So, YOU are not having bad body image. A part of your mind may be feeling bad about your body, but YOU are much more than that part. See if you can keep connecting to the YOU and not the part today; it'll give you some space and relief from the bad body image. (More on this topic to come in another post).

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1 Comment

Feb 22, 2019

Thank you for the post! This made my day :)

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