Stand naked in front of a mirror for a long time, under unflattering light if possible. Trace the rises and falls of the little ripples on your skin — the scars, the dimples, the cellulite — and think about how much you try to hide these things in your day-to-day. Wonder why you hate them so much, and if this hate stems from somewhere within yourself, or as a result of being told all your life that it’s wrong to have physical flaws. Wonder what you would think of your body if you never looked at a magazine, if you never thought about celebrities and models, if you never had to wonder where someone would rate you on a scale of 10. Look at yourself until the initial recoil softens, and you can consider your features in a more forgiving frame of mind.
Listen to the music which makes you want to both sob and dance with uninhibited joy, and allow yourself to repeat any song you want as many times as your heart desires. Think of the person you are when you have your favorite song in your headphones and are walking down a street you feel you own completely, swaying your hips and smiling for no good reason — remember how many things you love about yourself during those moments, how much you are willing to forgive in yourself, how confident you are for no good reason. Try to think of confidence as a gift you give yourself when you need it, instead of something you have to siphon from every unreliable source in your life. Dance because the music makes you remember how much you love yourself, not because it allows you to forget the fact that you don’t.
Write a list of all the things you like about yourself, even if you think it’s a self-indulgent and narcissistic activity. Start as early as you like in your life — put down that time you won a trophy playing little league soccer when you were eight and then got an extra-large shake at the DQ on the way home, and don’t feel silly for remembering it. Try to understand how many sources in your life happiness can come from, how many things you could be proud of if you chose to. Ask yourself why you so tightly limit the things you take pride in, why you set your own hurdles for happiness and fulfillment so much higher than you do with anyone else in your life. Let your list go on for pages and pages if you want it to.
Touch and care for yourself with the attention and the patience that you would someone you loved more than life itself. Rub lotion in small circles on your elbows and hands when it is cold and your skin is dry and cracked. Make soup for yourself when your nose is running and curl up, with your favorite movie, in a pile of expertly-stacked pillows. Light a few candles and let their glow flicker against your body. Admire how gentle they are, how delicately their warmth touches you — wonder why you don’t let yourself do the same. Soak your feet in warm water at the end of a long day, until they have forgiven you for walking on them for so long without so much as a “thank you.” Listen to your body when it aches to be touched, and don’t be afraid to give it every orgasm that you may have been too ashamed to ask for in someone else’s bed.
Be patient with yourself, and don’t worry if a switch doesn’t flip in you which abruptly takes you from “crippling self-doubt” to “uncompromising self-love.” Allow yourself all the trepidation and clumsy, uneven infatuation that you would with a promising stranger. Try only to be kinder, to be softer, and to remember all of the things within you which are worth loving. Listen to the voice in the back of your head which tells you, as much out of sadness as anger, “You are ugly. You are stupid. You are boring.” Give it the fleeting moment of attention it so craves, and then remind it, “Even if that were true, I’d still be worth loving.””
HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF DURING A BAD BODY IMAGE DAY:
1. Recognize that fat isn’t a feeling.
There are always underlying emotions that we attach to feeling fat. When the “I feel fat” thoughts start up, try to identify what you’re feeling underneath the body dissatisfaction. Are you feeling lonely? Anxious? Invisible? Scared? Ashamed? Inadequate? Whatever the feelings are recognize that they are separate from your body.
2. Treat yourself as you would a friend.
Because it’s difficult to be kind to ourselves in the moment when the body hating thoughts take over, try responding to your thoughts as if you were supporting a friend. What would you say to someone you loved who was battling your same struggle with body image?
You wouldn’t tell them to not eat for the day in order to compensate for what they ate the previous night. You wouldn’t tell them to punish themselves for their body size through over-exercise, self-harm, or abusive eating habits. You wouldn’t tell them they were worthless or unloveable because of their weight. So why do you tell yourself these things? Break the cycle and start treating yourself like a friend—you deserve that kindness and love from everyone, especially yourself.
3. Recognize that you are so much more than the size of your body.
What you look like does not define you. It doesn’t discount your worth as a human being. You are so much more than a number on the scale. As a living, breathing, feeling human being you have inherent value. You are special and important and loved. You exist and therefore you matter.
Your appearance is such a small part of who you are, and it certainly doesn’t warrant enough power to discount the person you are inside. You aren’t your body or your weight—you are your goals and dreams and passions and values. You are your strengths and talents and insight. You are a soul and a spirit and a force of nature. Your body does not define you.
4. Shift your focus from the external to the internal.
Make a list of all the people you look up to and are inspired by—not because of their weight or appearance, but because of who they are and what they do. Write out all the qualities they have that make you appreciate and value them.
Use the list as a reminder that it’s the internal things—our dreams and passions and goals and morals and insight and character—that truly define who we are and draw people to us; not how we look.
You are no exception to this. Try making your own list of things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with appearance or body size. If you have a difficult time creating one, ask some friends and family to help you.
5. Think about what you want to be remembered for after you die.
I don’t want people to remember me for what I looked like, what size jeans I wore, or what I weighed. I want to be remembered for the person I am. I want to be remembered as someone who brought about positive change in the world. I want to be remembered as loving friend, partner, and family member. I want to be remembered for my passions and my creativity and my strength. I want to be remembered as someone who made a difference. What do you want your legacy to be? Chances are, it doesn’t have to do with weight.
6. Instead of focusing on the size of your body, start focusing on what your body allows you to do.
The human body is an incredible force. When we get caught up in the number on the scale and size of clothes however, we forget just how lucky we are to have a fully functioning vehicle to engage in life with. So stop hating your body for the way it looks and start acknowledging and appreciating your body for all that it allows you to do.
Make a list of each activity and feat your body helps you to partake in and accomplish. If you want to be even more specific, list out each body part and describe all the things you wouldn’t be able to do without it. Your body is strong, powerful, and beautiful, regardless of it’s size. Choose to treat it with love, compassion, and gratitude instead of hate and judgement.
7. Challenge your negative thoughts.
You may not be able to change the way you feel about your body today, tomorrow, or a month from now, but you can begin the process by challenging the thoughts in the moment. Write out a dialogue between your negative voice and a healthy voice. If you have a hard time coming up with positive counters to the negative thoughts, pretend that you are speaking positively about a friend or loved one.
Even if you don’t believe the things you say to counter the voice, it’s still important to speak out against it, because each time you argue with the thoughts, you are taking away some of their power and reclaiming your own. The more you challenge the thoughts, the less you will believe them. The more you argue back, the easier fighting the voice will become.
9. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
There is a lot of built up energy and emotion underlying the way we feel about our bodies. Holding in how we feel or engaging in behaviors to numb out may make us feel better in the moment, but in the long run, it doesn’t remedy the pain we feel. It doesn’t make us feel better and it keeps us stuck.
Releasing the energy and painful emotions underlying our body shame requires us to feel our feelings. Whether that means throwing a tantrum on the floor, venting to a friend on the phone, punching a pillow, screaming in your car, or crying in bed, you need to allow yourself to feel your feelings. Let go of the judgement you have about what you feel and recognize that you are feeling these things for a reason. Give yourself permission to release your emotions and let everything out.
10. Do self care.
When you’re struggling with body image, distract yourself with healthy coping mechanisms. Take a bubble bath, get a message, ask for a back scratch, cuddle with a pet, make plans with a supportive friend, watch your favorite movie, get a manicure, listening to calming music, do deep breathing—whatever it is, make sure it’s something self-soothing and helps you get out of your head.
11. Be kind with yourself.
You may not be able to control the way you feel about your body, but you can control what you do in response to how you feel.
Instead of beating yourself up, you can choose to treat yourself with compassion. Instead of engaging in unhealthy and abusive behaviors, you can choose to do self-care. Instead of treating your body as an enemy, you can choose to treat it as a friend. Instead of isolating yourself, you can choose to reach out for support and surround yourself with positive people who make you feel loved and accepted. Instead of agreeing with the negative thoughts, you can choose to challenge them.
***You have more power than you think—don’t let the way you feel about your body keep you from living.
Coping with bad body image days may not be easy, but it is possible.
Don’t give up.
You aren’t alone.
Things can and will get better.
“ I’m so sick of weight-loss shows. I’m sick of people coming out and revealing new bodies and then belittling the old bodies they once had, bodies that some of us possess. Contrary to popular belief, being fat doesn’t mean you hate yourself, it doesn’t mean you lack self-respect, it doesn’t mean you deserve to be humiliated, degraded, ignored, and dehumanized; it doesn’t mean you’re ugly or stupid or worthless, but that’s how society wants us to feel and I’m just sick of it. If I’m not dieting, if I’m not spending every moment of my life counting calories and apologizing for the size of my body; if I’m not taking the abuse and the punishment and the cruel looks and the hateful words, if I actually dare to accept myself, then I’m crucified. I’m sick of living in a world that tells me on a constant basis that I am not good enough, that if I just lose weight I will be worthy of the conditional love it has to offer. I don’t want any part of a world like that. I will fight that world and, in it’s place, I will create a new world, one that is my own, one that is made of art and poetry and feminism and compassion and intelligence and pleasure and love, love for myself and love for others, love that has no conditions and no limits, love that too many of us are denied. ”
A Timeline of One Girl’s Relationship With Her Body
“My sister and I are both alarmingly tall for our ages. I’m sitting on the bus next to a friend, and we’re both propping our knees up on the seat in front of us. “Look!” she says, innocently enough, “Your legs are like, twice as big as mine!” We weren’t old enough for it to be a snarky girl comment, it was just an observation, but regardless, I am horrified beyond all belief. I never prop my legs up again, and from that one comment, I feel myself turning inward. I feel my shoulders hunch, I feel myself trying to shrink, to become smaller than I am. I don’t see my height as an advantage, I see it as a monstrous growth I have to apologize for.”
Margaret Cho: “Our revolution is long overdue.”
The Support All Kids project is a grassroots activism project started by Ragen Chastain, author of the blog Dances With Fat.
The project was created in response to interventions, like Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s Strong4Life campaign, that use images that shame children in an attempt to encourage better health, despite the fact that Research shows that these so-called “tough love” interventions often have the opposite effect.
There is a better way. Focusing on kid’s weight and making them ashamed of their bodies is not the answer. If we are truly interested in healthy kids, then it’s time to start having real conversations about health for kids of all sizes.